Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The 60s: Dr. Franklin Kameny and Early Politics

Dr. Franklin Kameny
In 1957 Dr. Franklin Kameny was fired from his work at the U.S. Army map service because of his homosexuality. Kameny was outraged by this decision as he had a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard and was qualified for the position. This act also barred him from other career opportunities as it was now on his records that he was homosexual. In 1961 Kameny co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C. and was elected its president. Through the Mattachine Society Kameny would prove himself as one of the most influential gay activists of his time.

Kameny's first priority was his fight with the federal government over the ban of homosexuals from civil employment. In 1962 Kameny's Mattachine Society wrote letters to government leaders in Congress, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, and the White House. Over the course of the year Kameny and his supporters continuously pressured officials for meaningful dialogue on the topic and eventually got the American Civil Liberties Union to change its stance on gay rights. Originally (1957) the ACLU supported sodomy statues as well as the bang of GLBTQ individuals from government jobs. However, by 1964 the organization had changed its stance and even encouraged its branches to take on gay rights cases.

Kameny strongly believed that homophile organizations remove homosexuality as being a psychiatric disorder.  In 1964 Kameny gave a speech in which he stated that the "entire homophile movement is going to stand or fall upon the question of whether homosexuality is a sickness, and upon our taking a firm stand on it." In 1965 the Washington Mattachine approved an anti-sickness resolution and GLBTQ organizations joined in an annual conferenced called the East Coast Homophile Organization (ECHO).

Daughters of Bilitis
Daughters of Bilitis was the first lesbian rights organization in the US. Organized in 1955, the organization began to release a newsletter titled 'The Ladder' for lesbian women. In 1963 Barbara Gittings, editor of 'The Ladder', met Kameny at an ECHO conference. The two became close friends and through working with him Gittings became more frustrated with the Daughters of Bilitis's dependence on authorities who had little concern over GLBTQ matters. Gittings thus changed the presentation of The Ladder and made it a more provocative and liberal piece. Unfortunately reactions were mostly negative and soon Gittings and other radical DOB members left to work independently. 

 California: the Homosexual Capital 
In 1959 San Francisco mayoral candidate Russell Wolden attempted to win paranoid votes by stating that San Francisco was quickly turning into the homosexual capital of America. Unfortunately for Wolden this tactic lost him votes as newspapers attacked him for "stigmatizing" the city. Though he lost the race the implications he had made had cemented-- San Francisco was becoming America's gay mecca. In 1961 famous drag performer Jose Sarria would run as a city supervisor. Though he lost the race, this did stir the homosexual community and made it clear the LGBTQ community could have political power.

In 1961 a San Francisco homophile group, the League for Civil Education, started publishing LCE News and distributing them at the city's gay bars. Attempting to reach out to LGBTQ individuals who attended bars had never been tried before and it turned out to be huge success printing more copies in its first year than ONE, The Ladder, and the Mattachine Review had combined. 

At the same time a group of San Francisco gay bars formed the Tavern Guild to provide coordinated legal defense against arrests and harassment of gay establishments. Then in 1964, Bill and Nancy May, Bill Plath, and others formed the Society for Individual Rights o focus on building a community of homosexuals in San Francisco. The SIR was largely organized and focuses around the interests of the members. Because of the SIR's willingness to appease it members, within two years the SIR became the largest homophile organization in the country. 

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