Cultural Earthquakes

In San Francisco, the first day of 1965 was a rough one. A fund-raising ball for the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, an organisation whose sole purpose was to reconcile homosexuals with organised religion, ended badly. The ball was intended to be a costume ball, and had been targeted by the SFPD from its conception. The SFPD attempted, several times, to force the owner of the rented hall to cancel the event, resorting to threats and bullying when the owner refused. The night of the ball, SFPD arrested several participants for a variety of things, including public indecency and gross immorality. Among the arrested were also several Methodist ministers, who had organised the ball on behalf of the CRH. The arrests, and police presence, led to a brief riot, which led to more arrests. This would be the theme of 1965 in America.

In April 1965, gay rights activists, led by the East Coast Homophile Organisation (ECHO), picketed the White House on the 17th in response to a Cuban policy which placed homosexuals in forced labour camps. On 18 April, they picketed the United Nations headquarters in NYC. On 25 April, approximately 150 people, using tactics learned from the sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement, participated in a sit-in at Dewey’s restaurant in Philadelphia. The manager of Dewey’s had refused service to to several men because he thought they “looked gay.” Four people were arrested, charged with, and eventually convicted of, disorderly conduct, including one of the leaders of the Janus Society. The Janus Society subsequently leafleted outside Dewey’s, and eventually negotiated with the owners for an end of the denial of service rule.

Throughout the summer of 1965, several ECHO pickets were held in Washington, DC, including pickets at the White House, Pentagon, Civil Service Commission and State Department. On 16 June, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit made one of the most important rulings in the history of gay rights. In Scott v. Macy the DC Circuit Court ruled that the US Civl Service Commission could not use ‘immoral conduct’ based on the labels of homosexuality and homosexual conduct as grounds for disqualifying applicants for federal employment. This was, ostensibly, the first ruling toward employment non-discrimination.  On 4 July, ECHO organised a picket at Independence Hall in Philadelphia as an ‘informative picket.’ They would picket on 4 July, every year, until 1969. In September, over thirty people picketed in front of Grace Church in San Francisco in response to actions taken against Rev. Cannon Robert Cromey for his involvement in CRH. On 23 October, ECHO organised its last White House picket, believing that the medium had lost its effectiveness.

1965 in the UK saw the most progressive gay rights legislation to date proposed. Lord Arran floated a measure in the House of Lords which would have decriminalised all male homosexual acts. Unfortunately for Lord Arran, a public opinion poll reports that 93% of respondents still believe homosexuality to be a mental illness. The House of Lords ignores his proposal. A year later, Conservative MP Humphry Berkeley introduced a bill to decriminalise homosexuality per the Wolfenden Report. Berkeley was unpopular, and his bill wasn’t put up for vote before Parliament dissolved. Berkeley lost his seat in the 1966 general election, which he blamed largely on his homosexuality bill.

In January 1966, South African police raided a gay party outside of Johannesburg. The resulting public attention, which led to politically attention, created an expansion of South Africa’s criminalisation of homosexuality. On 21 January TIME magazine published an article, which was unsigned (and really, that’s cowardly), entitled The Homosexual In America. The article, which called homosexuality a sickness, gave an opinion of homosexuality that was not unpopular amongst the masses. In Kansas City. Missouri, on 18 February, what will become known as the North American Conference of Homophile Organisations was born. It became the largest gay rights group outside of California.

As the result of a sit-in on 21 April 1966, the NYC human rights commission determined that a regulation prohibiting serving alcohol to homosexuals is discriminatory and could not continue. Los Angeles, on 21 May, saw  (what has since been declared) the first gay pride parade. Demonstrations in other parts of the country, which coincided with Armed Forces Day, protested the exclusion of openly gay serving members of the US military, saw picketers and demonstrations. In LA, the protest was accompanied by a 15-car motorcade.

On 18 July 1966, activists picketed Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco when the manager brought in Pinkertons to harass gay and transgendered customers. In August, customers rioted at Compston’s which resulted in heavy damage to both the restaurant and the surrounding neighbourhood. In September, in Chicago, the midwest branch of the Mattachine Society picketed the offices of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune for refusing to publish press information sent to the paper form the Society. The Tribune ignored the picket, and the Sun-Times mentioned the picket in a column, but did not mention it was one of the targets.

On 1 January, the LAPD started of 1967 with a raid on the Black Cat Tavern. Several patrons were injured, and a bartender ended up in hospital with a fractured skull. In response, several hundred people demonstrated on Sunset Boulevard. On 11 February, in one of the first, and one of the largest, solidarity protests, 200 gay rights activists watched as 40 people from other harassed subcultures (including hippies and peace activists) demonstrated in front of the Black Cat Tavern.

On 7 March, CBS aired the first ever national documentary on homosexuality. “The Homosexuals,” which aired as part of CBS Reports, was an intense and detailed counter-argument to mainstream anti-gay propaganda. In November, Craig Rodwell opens The Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in NYC. This was the first bookshop dedicated to selling works by gay and lesbian authors.

In the Britain, the recommendations as set out in the Wolfenden Report in 1957 finally saw the light of day. Labour MP Leo Abse, from Wales, introduced the Sexual Offences Bill of 1967, which was first supported by MP Roy Jenkins, the Labour Home Secretary. The bill received royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II on 27 July after intense debate in the House of Commons. The Times the next day quoted Lord Arran, who’d floated a similar bill during a 1965 session in the House of Lords, as saying “I ask those [\homosexuals to show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity… any form of ostentatious behaviour now or in the future or any form of public flaunting would be utterly distasteful… and make the sponsors of this bill regret that they had done what they had done.”

The Sexual Offences Bill of 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts, with these caveats: they must be done in private between two men (which meant there could be no others present, and a hotel qualified as a public space), both men must be 21 years of age (the age of consent for straight men was 18), and it did not apply to the Merchant Navy nor the Armed Forces.

Also in 1967, Wainwright Churchill published Homosexual Behaviour Among Males in which he argues, in a scientific study, that homosexuality is a scientific trait, not a choice, and coins the term ‘homophobia.’ In a case that would become important decades later, a Justice Sir Benjamin Ormerod declared, in Talbot (née Poyntz) v. Talbot, that there was no possibility of a divorce settlement, since their marriage was invalid. One spouse was a post-operative transexual, and Justice Ormerod determined that, since marriage was a relationship based on sex, not on gender, that their marriage was illegal. This case, along with Hyde v. Hyde and Woodmansee would be used as precedent in gay marriage debates beginning in the late 20th century.

Canada, in 1967, began to flex its progressive muscles. Pierre Trudeau, the Minister of Justice, introduced an Omnibus Bill which was intended to overhaul Canada’s criminal laws. The Omnibus Bill included a sweeping decriminalisation of Canada’s homosexual laws, which were laws passed when Canada was a British colony. Trudeau argued that the bedroom was no place for the state, and that the Criminal Code wasn’t concerned by happened in private between two consenting adults. The Ominbus Bill stalled in Parliament for 18 months, and was subjected to intense scrutiny both in government and in the press. In 1969, the bill became law, decriminalising all homosexual acts in Canada.

In July 1968, The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “U.S. Homosexuals Gain In Trying To Persuade Society To Accept Them.” The article gains The Wall Street Journal some very angry letters, a drop in subscribers, and the denunciation from several conservative groups. In August, after two men were arrested at The Patch in Los Angeles, a gay bar, the owner and several other patrons walk to the police station, buy out the flower shop next door, leave flower garlands outside, and bail out the two men.

State Assemblyman Willie Brown, in 1969, began an annual tradition of introducing a bill repealing California’s sodomy law. In April, journalist Gale Whittington used his column and came out in print. He was subsequently fired by the States Steamship Company, a group of activists calling themselves the Committee for Homosexual Freedom picketed outside the company’s San Francisco office between 1200 and 1300 for weeks. Whittington did not get his job back.

In May 1969, South Africa passed the Immorality Amendment Act which created a a “men at a party” clause. Although sodomy and “unnatural acts” were already criminalised, the Immorality Amendment Act extended those laws to include criminalisation of all sexual acts between men (including ones where both men had all their clothes on) at a “party” (which was defined as any occasion where more than 2 people were present). It also raised the age of consent for homosexual activity from 16 to 19, although none of it was legal.

On 1 July 1969, the DC Circuit Court made a second ruling that termination of a federal employee for immoral conduct, based on alleged homosexuality, was illegal. In Norton v. Macy, the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration was ordered to reinstate an employee fired under Executive Order 10450. Although the DC Circuit Court did not rule on the legality of Executive Order 10450, Norton v. Macy marked the second time the Court had declared employment discrimination on grounds of alleged homosexuality illegal.

Between 28 June and early July 1969, New York City saw the start of what history has deemed the beginning of the modern gay rights movement (although, in reality, it had started years earlier)… although it is, without contention, the single most important event in the in the early gay rights movement. The demonstrations were violent and destructive..an explosion after a long history of suppression, illegality, and set inside the cultural revolution of the 1960s. At 0120, four plainclothes officers entered the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NY and announced that they were “taking the place”. The Stonewell in, which was owned by the Mafia, was a safe space for homosexuals. As was custom in the mid-20th century, normally employees would be warned prior to a police raid, so patrons could be evacuated safely. The warning never came. Later, it was insinuated that the raid had been ordered by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, who thought the alcohol being served was bootlegged. The ATF has never outright denied this insinuations, only said that it was NYC police officers who conducted the raid, not the ATF.

Unfortunately for the NYPD officers, things did not go as planned that night. SOP was to line all patrons up against the wall, check identification, and allow female officers to escort anyone dressed as a female to a separate room to determine gender. If it was determined that a man was cross-dressing, he’d be arrested. Instead, men refused to give their identification, all those dressed as women refused to leave the room. Compounded with the lack of cooperation, the patrol wagons which were to accompany the officers for both arrested persons and to seize all alcohol inside the Stonewall Inn, were late. Patrons were held waiting, standing against a wall, for over 15 minutes. Once the patrol wagons arrived, those who were not being arrested were ordered to leave the premise and disperse. They did not.

During the time officers were inside the Stonewall Inn, over 100 people had gathered outside, and the released patrons added to their numbers. During the ensuing confusion, which included shouting and singing, a scuffle broke out when a woman in handcuffs repeatedly escaped from police hands, eventually fighting four officers at one. The scuffle lasted ten minutes, when the woman looked at the crowd and shouted “why won’t you guys do something.” Then all hell broke loose. The crowd became a mob, and violence broke out. The situation quickly escalated beyond police control. The ensuing riots sprung up around Stonewall and various other locations in Greenwich village over the next several days. Rain hampered some, and the rioting was sporadic.

Not everyone was pleased with the turn in the gay rights movement. Several organisations, including the Mattachine Society, all who had fought to promote equality and sameness as heterosexuals, felt that the Stonewall Riots were a detriment to the gay rights movement. Some spoke out against the riots, insinuating that the behaviour of the rioters gave face to every bad homosexual stereotype. In an attempt to create normalcy without the movement, ECHO and the Mattachine Society did their annual picket in front of Independence Hall on 4 July. The movement, however, had changed in the week since the Stonewall riot, and the 1969 picket was the last.

The months following the Stonewall Riots saw a complete public change in the gay rights movement, most importantly the creation of the Gay Liberation Front on 24 July. GLF was a radical, leftist, progressive organisation that was a direct result of the social culture it was created in. Between July and December dozens of local GLF chapters sprang up throughout the United States. By October 1970, the GLF had made its way across the pond.

The 1960s was an era of social change: women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights; also, a time of intense domestic and international political change for most of the world. The United States was still embroiled in a war with no end, Europe was still cleaning up, politically, from the Second World War, Britain was settling into the Welfare State, and the world held its breath hoping no one pushed a big red button.

Part XIX: Homosexual Politics and the 1970s


[History Note: The Pinkertons have a long, complicated, and fascinating history…they’re often used in historical mysteries, and are all around cool in the historical sense. In reality, they were basically paid mercenaries, used to police mining towns and break up strikes…and in this case enforce hate. The Pinkerton’s were founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton…at one point in its history (1890) Pinkerton Agency had more agents than existed in the US Army (which was mostly out west fighting Native Americans)…today they still exist as a subsidiary of a Swedish company, Securitas AB where they do ‘risk management’–which is a fancy way of saying private, armed, militarised, agent-like, security guards for people who get shot at a lot. ALSO: I didn’t use Britain incorrectly… the Wolfenden Report recommendations, as passed by the UK Parliament, ONLY applied to England and Wales. Sodomy laws still existed in N. Ireland, Scotland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man (where it’s still illegal). ALSO: in case you ever wondered why most Gay Pride parades are held end of June? Stonewell Riots, that’s why.]

[Note: If you want to read the Time article mentioned above, it’s here…but BE WARNED. It’s horrible: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,835069,00.html… you need a subscription, or some Google detective skills. (try: TIME essay: Homosexual in America) Ironically, the Halloween 1969 cover of TIME Magazine was this (here: http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19691031,00.html)%5D

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