Awaken A Sleeping Giant

The 1960s is an iconic turning point for many areas of political history. On one hand, there was Vietnam, on the other the Civil Rights movement and sexual revolution. Although most people hadn’t yet started thinking of ‘civil rights’ and ‘gay rights’ as the same thing (a truth that still exists today), the 1960s saw the loud beginnings of the gay rights movement.

Twenty days into 1960, a United States Federal Claims Court overturned the Other Than Honourable discharge of Fannie Mae Clackum from the USAF. Clackum had been accused of being a lesbian, and subsequently discharged. This was the first time a federal court had overturned a homosexual-related discharge from the US military. The case, however, was one of due process and did not affect the US military’s ability to issue discharges based on suspicion of homosexuality. In June 1960, the National Assembly of France (the lower house of French parliament), passed the Mirguet Amendment. France, which operated under the Napoleonic Code, had legalised sodomy in the 19th Century. The Mirguet Amendment declared homosexuality, along with prostitution and alcoholism, a social scourge and urger the French government to outlaw homosexuality. A version of the amendment passed on 25 November 1960. It doubled the penalty for indecent exposure in the case of homosexual activity, although it did not adopt the suggested criminalisation of sodomy.

On 20 March, 1961, SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal of Frank Kameny, who had been fired from the US Army Map Services (now the USGS) under Executive Order 10450. Kameny, who had been fighting the legality of his firing since 1957, founded the Washington DC chapter of the Mattachine Society with Jack Nichols in November 1961. Although the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari wasn’t an admission of the legality of Executive Order 10450, it also never took a case involving the firing of a federal employee under Executive Order 10450.

On 28 July 1961, Illinois became the first US state to decriminalise sodomy. Laws of Illinois 19671 revised the state’s legal codes, including a repeal of the anti-sodomy law. On 31 August, Victim premiered in the United Kingdom. Victim, a Basil Dearden movie starring Dirk Bogarde and Denis Price, tells the story of barrister Melville Farr, his romantic entanglements with Boy Barrett, and blackmailers. The film was the first to use the term homosexual, the first to use obvious homosexuality as a plot device, and the first to show homosexuality as anything other than immoral.

Although highly controversial in the UK, including several newspaper editorials denouncing the film on moral grounds, Victim was allowed theatre time. In the United States, however, the movie was initially banned. The film used blatant homosexuality as a plot device, which the Hollywood Production Code had banned several years prior. In 1962, they lifted the ban on homosexuality as a plot device, and Victim was allowed into the United States. When the movie was released in the United States, it was classified as an ‘adult film.’ When the Motion Picture Association of America took over classifying films from the Hollywood Production Code a few years later, Victim was given an ‘x’ rating. When it was released on VHS in 1986, the rating was changed to PG-13.

San Francisco has always been associated with gay rights, and 1961 was no different. On 11 September PBS in San Francisco broadcasted The Rejected, the first documentary on homosexuality in America. Although well received in San Francisco, it found little ability to be aired elsewhere in the United States. On Election Day, José Sarria, a candidate for San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the first openly gay candidate for public office, received almost 6,000 votes. This vote showed the potential the gay community had to be a substantial voting bloc. It would take time for the world outside of San Francisco to acknowledge the potential, and even more time before candidates on a national stage acknowledged the gay community as its own voting bloc. In 1962, after a scandal revealed that San Francisco police officers were demanding payoffs from gay bar owners in exchange for not arresting their patrons nightly, officer Elliot Blackstone was appointed as the first liaison officer to the homosexuality community. By the end of the 20th century, every major city had a designated LGBT liaison officer.

On 25 June 1962, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of MANual Enterprises v. Day. In MANual, SCOTUS ruled that magazines which consisted largely of near-nude or nude male photographs did not violate the obscenity rule as established in Roth v. United States, and were mailable through the United States Post Office. This ruling, combined with a few others, left the Warren Court open to severe criticism from moral rights groups, and a few national candidates, including Richard Nixon in 1968.

In 1963, the United Kingdom saw its first lesbian political organisation, the Minorities Research Group. In October of the same year, following a fifteen year battle, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control revokes the liquor license of Black Cat Bar, an early gay rights activist hangout. Black Cat found itself in dire straights without it’s liquor licences, and by February 1964 Black Cat Bar had permanently closed.

In Manchester, UK, the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee was founded. It called for repeal of all homosexual based laws, because the premise of those laws were flawed. It also called for a repeal of the assertions that homosexuality was a mental illness. In 1969, the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee would become the national Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

On 19 September 1964 the first gay rights demonstration in the United States happened at the Whitehall Street Induction Centre in New York City. A small group picketed the centre after several gay men’s draft cards were made public. On 2 December, four men picketed a lecture held in NYC by a psychoanalyst who asserted that homosexuality was a mental illness.

Although 1960 had begun with a proclamation of a Great Society in the United States, the first half of the 60s saw very little progress for gay rights. The Civil Rights movement in the US, the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Cuban Missile crisis, the death of a President and a former Prime Minister, and escalating Cold War tensions all took political motivation away from politics of homosexuality. For gay rights, the political party was just getting started.

Part XVIII: Homosexual Politics and the 1960s- pt. 2


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