Harry Hay was the founder of the homosexual rights political movement. He started the Mattachine Society in 1950; the first gay rights group with staying power. Ever since 1950 gay rights political activism has been continuous and growing. Harry Hay was born in 1912 (died in 2002). Harry first recognized that he was probably homosexual at age 11. At the age of 14 Harry got a job on a cargo ship where he met a sailor named Matt, a decade his senior, and had his first homosexual experience. At the age of 19 Harry first came out to friends and classmates at Stanford University that he was “temperamental”, a code word for homosexual at that time. Harry joined the Communist Party at the age of 22 (in 1934). Harry entered into Jungian psychotherapy at the age of 25 where the psychiatrist told him that maybe he was interested in a “boyish girl” rather than a “girlish boy.” At age 26 Harry confided in his fellow Communist Party members that he was homosexual and they to encouraged him not to act on his homosexual feelings and to get married. That same year he married a fellow Party member in 1938 and ultimately divorced in 1951. He continued his homosexual relations with men throughout his marriage.
In the spring of 1948 Alfred Kinsey published a book called “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”; Chapter 5 being about gays and lesbians. This is what launched Harry Hay into dedicated gay activism. With a copy of the Kinsey Report under one arm and a sheaf of papers under the other he went through the entire gay community that he was aware of in his area of Los Angeles trying to drum up support for the new homophile group he wanted to start. For his first two years he got no takers whatsoever, everyone was too terrified to join him. Then finally on July 6, 1950 he met Rudi Gernich who would become his lover in short order. He was also Harry’s first political supporter for the homophile group he wished to start. After Harry and Rudi got together they then were able to set up a discussion group and get other homosexuals to join them. The gays joining the discussion group always brought a cover girl, a mother-in-law or aunt or cousin, to appear as their girlfriend so as not to attract suspicion while attending the meeting. The discussion group would always talk about an issue out of Chapter 5 from the Kinsey report. On November 11, 1950 the first formal meeting of the Matachine Society was held in Los Angeles.
Membership in the Mattachine Society got a big boost after founding member Dale Jennings was arrested for lewd behavior in a Los Angeles park in February 1952. The Mattachine Society then publicized Jennings’ case as much as they could under the name “Citizens Committee to Outlaw Entrapment.” In the trial Dale Jennings admitted to being homosexual but denied the specific charge. The jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in Jennings’ favor. After the Jennings’ trial the Mattachine Society expanded rapidly. The founders of the Mattachine society were left wing and the group was organized in a way similar to how the Communist Party was organized. The new people joining the Mattachine Society were from a broader political spectrum, they were more right wing and they had more money, and there were more women getting involved. By the time of the May 1953 Mattachine Society Convention there were an estimated 2,000 plus members with as many as 100 people joining a typical discussion group. This more mainstream support for the Mattachine Society led to the new members seeking a more moderate political platform and to their not wanting to be associated with “subversive elements” or Communism. At the May 1953 convention the original founders of the Mattachine Society resigned and more moderate leadership filled the void.
At a Mattachine meeting on October 15, 1952 the idea of launching a magazine for homosexuals was brought up. This lead to the creation of the organization ONE in November 1952 and the launching of One Magazine, the first pro-gay publication in the United States, in January 1953. ONE Magazine was sold openly on the streets of Los Angeles. ONE readily admitted women as members and in October 1956 ONE and the Mattachine Society helped launch Ladder Magazine, the flagship publication of the Daughters of the Bilitis; the first lesbian political activist group in the United States which got started in October 1955.
The Mattachine Society got started as a single national organization in Los Angeles; beginning around 1956 the headquarters of the Mattachine Society moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco chapters of the Mattachine Society also got started in New York, Washington D. C., Chicago, and other places. In 1961 the national organization of the Mattachine Society broke up and the individual chapters in different cities became their own organizations; usually retaining the name “Mattachine” in their title. In 1963 the East Coast Homophile Organization (ECHO) was formed to coordinate the activities of homophile groups from New York City, Washington D. C., and Philadelphia. In 1966 the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO) was formed to help coordinate homophile groups across the United States and to prevent the gay movement from being taken over by “fringe elements, beatniks, and other professional non-conformists” in the words of NACHO founding member Foster Gunnison.
On July 4, 1965 the first demonstration ritual; where demonstrations were held year after year on the same theme; got started. This was the so-called “Annual Reminder” held every July 4th at Independence Hall in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1969. It was an “annual reminder” that gay citizens were still being denied their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as laid out in the Declaration of Independence. These were silent demonstrations where a strict suit and ties for men and dresses for women dress code was enforced in order so that the demonstrators would look respectable. These demonstrations attracted about 40 participants each year and were organized by ECHO. On May 21, 1966 (Armed Forces Day) a multi-city (Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington D.C.) gay rights protest was held protesting the exclusion of homosexuals from the military. This multi-city protest was organized by NACHO shortly after the group’s founding. There was also the Compton Cafeteria Riot in August 1966 in San Francisco and the Black Cat Tavern Riot on January 1, 1967 in Los Angeles which were sparked by police harassment of gay establishments.
Finally, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 a police raid started at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in New York City. This marked the beginning of the Stonewall Riots and the end of the Homophile Era in gay activism to be replaced by the Gay Liberation Era; a much bigger and more assertive gay movement that was not focused on assimilating gays into the wider society and a pre-occupation with wanting homosexuals to be “respectable” but was instead based on a more frontal attack against the traditional family and gender roles. In 1969 the Gay Liberation Front included in its statement of purpose “We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society’s attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature.” At the time of the Stonewall Riots there were 50 to 60 gay groups in the country, a year after the Stonewall Riots there were at least 1,500. This surge in the gay movement coincided with the surge in the feminist movement; both gay liberation and women’s liberation being centered on the goal of abolishing traditional gender roles.
Illinois was the first state to decriminalize homosexual acts in 1962; before that homosexual acts were illegal in every state. It wasn’t until 1971 that any other state legalized homosexual acts; many states legalized homosexuality in the 1970s. Still in 2003 at the time of the Lawrence vs. Texas ruling which legalized homosexuality nationwide sodomy was still illegal in 14 states. In a CBS Reports program called “The Homosexuals” in 1967 Mike Wallace reported “Two out of three Americans look upon homosexuals with disgust, discomfort, or fear. The CBS News public opinion survey indicates that sentiment is against permitting homosexual relationships between consenting adults without legal punishment. The severity of the punishment varies from state to state. The homosexual, bitterly aware of his rejection, responds by going underground. They frequent their own clubs and bars and coffee houses where they can escape the disapproving eye of the society that they call straight.”
In a documentary program called “The Homosexual” that aired on WTVJ in Miami in 1966 Florida Detective John Sorenson of the Dade County Sheriff’s Department of Morals and Juvenile Squad lectured an auditorium of 8th graders on the dangers of “turning queer.” Detective Sorenson warned his audience “There may be some in this auditorium. There may be some here today that will be homosexual in the future. There are a lot of kids here. There may be some girls that will turn lesbian. We don’t know. But it’s serious, don’t kid yourselves about it. They can be anywhere. They can be judges, lawyers; we oughta know we’ve arrested all of them. So if any one of you have let yourself become involved with an adult homosexual or with another boy and you’re doing this on a regular basis you better stop quick because one out of three of you will turn queer. And if we catch you involved with a homosexual, your parents are going to know about it first. And you will be caught; don’t think you won’t be caught. Because this is one thing you cannot get away with. This is one thing if you don’t get caught by us, you’ll be caught by yourself and the rest of your life will be a living hell.”
On the same program, “The Homosexual” in 1966, Richard Inman of the Mattachine Society in Florida was interviewed. When asked by the interviewer Ralph Renick what laws Richard Inman was after Inman replied “Let me say first of all what types of laws we are not after because there has been much to do that the [Mattachine] Society was in favor of the legalization of marriage between homosexuals and the adoption of children and such as that and that is not at all factual at all. Homosexuals do not want that, you might find some fringe character someplace who says that that’s what he wants.” When Inman was then asked in the interview if he himself was a homosexual Inman replied “That’s yes and no. I was a homosexual. I first engaged in a sex act when I was 14 years old. I was never seduced by an older person or anything like that. But I gave it up some years ago. Over four years ago. It’s not my cup of tea.”
Such timidness from a homosexual activist leader would never be seen today. We are obviously in a different time now. Gay marriage and homosexual adoption is front and center among the demands of gay activists today. Instead of students being lectured on the dangers of homosexuality and being threatened with criminal punishment if they get caught in homosexual acts instead we have the spectacle of Dylan Meehan and Brad Taylor being voted the “cutest couple” by their fellow students at Carmel High School in suburban New York. Instead of the priority for gay activists being the legalization of homosexual acts in their state the goal now is to try to get the Supreme Court to declare homosexual marriage a constitutional right nationwide; a goal the current majority on the Supreme Court seems favorable to.
So is the problem of homosexuality solved by declaring homosexuality to be normal and healthy and without negative consequences? This is the great error of society’s response to the homosexual movement. Homosexuality does not become good because people declare it to be good; homosexuality retains its problematic characteristics regardless of how homosexuality is viewed or perceived. Embracing homosexuality as a norm means destroying the prior heterosexual distinct male and female gender role norm. By declaring homosexuality to be good you are necessarily declaring heterosexuality to be bad because homosexuality is different in important ways from heterosexuality. Many gay activists indeed openly admit that their campaign for homosexual acceptance means the trashing of the heterosexual family model; in particular the trashing of traditional male and female gender roles which is what heterosexuality is all about.
Harry Hay – Wikipedia
Stonewall Uprising – American Experience
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