Ada Bello is an influential LGBT rights activist whose work in the late 60s and early 70s acted as an important bridge between pre- and post-stonewall political activities. I first discovered her work in Marc Stein’s comprehensive book, City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972.
Born on November 6, 1933 in Havana, Cuba, Bello attended the University of Havana from 1953 until 1956. She left Cuba to study at Louisiana State University after US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, closed University of Havana in response to the student organizing against his dictatorship. In 1962 Bello moved to Philadelphia where she became involved in social and political organizing in the area’s LGBTQ community, joining what was called by some in those years, the homophile movement.
Bello was a founding member, in 1967, of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), a national lesbian organization that started in San Francisco in 1955. Bello and fellow activist, Carole Friedman, edited the newsletter put out by DOB-Philadelhpia and both were influential in the decision in 1968 to dissolve DOB and form a new organization called the Homophile Action League (HAL). Bello continued her editorial work on the HAL newsletter, contributing to the publication significantly both by her willingness to write under her own name and through her insightful commentary that gave language to an increasing radicalization amongst LGBTQ activists. Through her work in HAL and beyond, Bello and her fellow activists confronted the systemic police harassment facing LGBTQ people when and where they chose to be public (including the continuous harassment of LGBTQ people in bars, clubs and cafes around Philadelphia).
The group’s work joined that of many post-war collectives and organizations around the country who pushed to move the narration of and about LGBTQ lives out of the discipline of psychiatry and into the hands of LGBTQ people themselves.
Bello participated in the last of the Annual Reminder Day protests at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Significantly she was able to participate that year only because she had secured US citizenship that year. Then as now, the risk non-US citizens take on to participate in political protests is huge.