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2.2: Activism Gains Momentum

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    IN SAN FRANCISCO IN 1962 , gay bar owners and bartenders organized the Tavern Guild to combat police harassment of their bars and patrons. The Society for Individual Rights (SIR) formed two years later to push for broader LGBTQ rights. SIR combined social functions with political activities to become the largest LGBTQ organization in the United States. In 1966, it opened the nation’s first LGBTQ community center.

    A coalition of San Francisco gay and lesbian activists and religious leaders formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) in 1964. When police raided a CRH sponsored New Years Eve event in 1964, religious leaders stood side-by-side with gay and lesbian activists to condemn the police’s targeting of LGBTQ people. The protest brought about a temporary halt to police raids on LGBTQ establishments and demonstrated the untapped power of coalition politics.

    In Los Angeles, the first reported LGBTQ clash with police occurred in 1959 at Cooper’s Donuts, where a mostly black and Latino LGBTQ clientele responded to the harassment of drag queen patrons by chasing officers from the establishment. Eight years later, PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education) led hundreds in protest when police raided the Black Cat bar in Los Angeles and brutally beat patrons and the bartender. The next year, bar owner Lee Glaze led a crowd of flower-carrying protesters into a Los Angeles police station to protest the arrests in his bar.

    In Washington, D.C. in 1961, Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols revived the Mattachine Society of Washington and fought to reform the federal government’s anti-gay and lesbian policies. The group initiated a massive letter writing campaign aimed at federal staff and politicians, and in 1965, helped organize some of the first gay and lesbian pickets. They enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had previously ignored LGBTQ discrimination claims. The Mattachine Society of Washington provided support to Scott v. Macy (1965) and later Norton v. Macy (1969), both successful legal challenges to the federal government’s discriminatory policies.

    In New York in the early 1960s, Randy Wicker, the one-man member of the Homosexual League of America, provoked mainstream newspapers and magazines to cover homosexuality and homosexual issues. Wicker, and members of the New York Mattachine and the League for Sexual Freedom, organized the first LGBTQ picket in 1964 when they protested military security lapses in regards to the confidentiality of gay and lesbian records. The New York Mattachine Society staged “sip-ins” the next year at New York City bars to protest the state’s ban on serving alcohol to LGBTQ patrons.

    In Philadelphia in 1965, the Janus Society, a homophile activist group founded in 1962, led a sit-in at Dewey’s restaurant in response to a decision by the owner to refuse service to those in “nonconformist clothing.” In 1967, Charlie Brydon organized Seattle LGBTQ activists into ASK/US (Association for Social Knowledge of the United States), which later became the Dorian Society. This organization raised the visibility of the LGBTQ community in the Pacific Northwest and provided services to the community through its Dorian House. Bob Basker founded the Mattachine Midwest in 1964 in Chicago to combat a heightening of local harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ people. In 1966, the Mattachine Midwest led a picket at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times to protest the exclusion of LGBTQ news and advertising.

    In 1963, Frank Kameny helped bring together the Janus Society in Philadelphia and Mattachine Society chapters in New York and Washington, D.C. to form East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO). In 1965, ECHO led small protests at the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and Civil Service Commission, and initiated the first in a series of Annual Reminder pickets outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In 1966, gay and lesbian activist organizations came together in Kansas City, Missouri, for the first North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO). By 1967, the coalition claimed a membership of 6,000 individuals and organizations. By 1968, they had formalized a national campaign behind Kameny’s “Gay is Good” slogan.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Black Cat Bar protest in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, 1967
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Frank Kameny 1925 - 2011

    IN THE 1950S, FRANK KAMENY WAS FIRED as an astronomer for the federal government when his homosexuality became known. Blacklisted from working in his profession,
    Kameny turned his frustration into political activism. Although he lost a four-year court battle for reinstatement as a government astronomer, he helped revive the Mattachine Society of Washington to agitate for reform of the federal government’s discriminatory policies. He helped to organize some of the first gay and lesbian protests, enlisted the support of the American Civil Liberties Union for gay discrimination claims, and inspired LGBTQ activists with his fiery speeches and tireless activism.

    Kameny’s early battles with the federal government convinced him that the fight for gay and lesbian rights would be forever hindered until the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed its listing of homosexuality as an illness. Although others had broached the issue, his inspiring speech before the New York Mattachine Society in 1964 ignited a heightened activism around the cause. Kameny remained actively involved in the issue for the next nine years, even speaking at the 1971 APA annual meeting, and helping end the APA listing in 1973.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Reed Erickson 1917 - 1992

    REED ERICKSON WAS BORN RITA ALMA ERICKSON in El Paso, Texas. Independently wealthy, Erickson began his trans-gender transition under the care of sex realignment surgery pioneer Dr. Harry Benjamin in 1963 and changed his name to Reed. In 1964, Erickson founded the Erickson Educational Foundation, a charitable foundation primarily created to support research and services in transgenderism, gender identity, and sexual diversity. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Erickson supported conferences, publications, educational services, and media outreach on transgender topics. Erickson donated over two million dollars to various organizations including the Harry Benjamin Foundation, Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic, National Transgender Counseling Unit, and ONE Incorporated. Through his generous philanthropy, Erickson advanced transgender medical and support services more than any individual or organization in the 1960s and 1970s.

    This page titled 2.2: Activism Gains Momentum is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kyle Morgan and Meg Rodriguez (Humboldt State University Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.