Thursday, January 6, 2011

The 60s: San Francisco and Randy Wicker

San Francisco, 1965
In the early 60s progressive clergymen would often take to the streets to minister to marginalized peoples. Rev. Ted McIlvenna (picture below) was one of these clergymen. Working for the Glide Urban Center, a Methodist organization in San Francisco, Ted witnessed the oppression of young homosexuals and hoped to improve the relationship between clergy and LGBTQ individuals.

Ted decided to bring homosexual activists together with protestant ministers to discuss how to create positive conversation between the two groups. Through his efforts the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) was formed. The CRH thus became the first organization in the U.S. to use the word "homosexual" in its name.

To raise money for the CRH a costume ball was to be held on New Year's Day, 1965. Though the event was  simply to raise money, the 600 ticket holders arrived (many dressed in drag) to be greeted by scores of police who harrassed them as they entered the ball. Soon the police demanded to enter the event, but were blocked by CRH lawyers. The outraged police then arrested three lawyers and one ticket taker.

The next day the heterosexual clergy of the CRH held a press conference in which they criticized the reaction of the San Fransisco police and accused them of harassment towards the gay community. The mayor and a city judge sided with the CRH and the police complied with a public apology. This event is one of the first instances in American history in which the community came together to organize for gay rights.

Randy Wicker 
By the early 1960s public discussion of homosexuality had increased. Lesbian pulp novels, written mostly for straight men, gave solace and comfort to women attempting to understand their homosexuality. In 1961 Hollywood's Production Code was revised to allow homosexuality to be portrayed in film. Such films as 'The Children's Hour' and 'Advise and Consent' attest to this-- both showing sympathetic portrayals of homosexual characters. Even newspapers joined the conversation as such writings as The New York Times, Newsweek, Life, Time, Look, and Harpers began running articles on the homosexual subculture.

Many of these articles were arranged by Charles Hayden, a gay activist who used the fake name Randy Wicker. 'Randy Wicker' in his youth attempted to advertise and build up the Mattachine Society-- one of the earliest homophile associations in America. Wicker wanted to increase the visibility of the LGBTQ community, however Wicker found that many gay New Yorkers were apprehensive about bringing their lifestyle to the surface.

Wicker increased his efforts in 1962 when he founded the homosexual League of New York. Ironically this 'league' consisted of only Wicker himself. Presenting himself as representative of the league, Wicker brought attention to the gay community by broadcasting a show in which seven gay men spoke about their lives. Wicker would then continuously send out press releases, and before long was one of the lead voices of gay visibility in America.


  1. There's a great online exhibit on the Council on religion and the Homosexual in 1960s San Francisco:

  2. Thats pretty neat, before this I had no idea that religious groups and the LGBTQ community had been able to work together-- especially as early as the 1960s.

    I'm actually considering maybe one day doing a more expansive tutorial on Queer History. There is an insane amount of American Queer History and I severely underestimated how early the beginnings of a gay rights movement began.