Part of this is adapted from an earlier diary which I published here. For those who hate such duplication, I apologize. However, since our schools don't teach this, I don't think it can be written too much.
Gay rights history is not taught in our schools, but should be:
How homophobia played a role in American history
The story behind the politics of this DADT repeal legislation is deeper than what most would realize because we weren't taught these things in school, and, frankly, the media has never fully informed us of these events, though they are well documented.
Most journalists have talked about how this repeal ended a seventeen year long fight. In fact, many liberals across the blogosphere undersell the duration of this fight, some believing that it is a recent issue that arose only at the onset of the Obama administration. It isn't just heterosexuals who are woefully under-informed about the fight to end discrimination in the armed forces or the duration of the gay rights fight, some gay writers are misinformed as well.
LZ Granderson, a writer for ESPN magazine and ESPN.com, wrote an op-ed for CNN.com last year where he undercut the duration of the gay righst movement by more than a hundred years, and understated the duration of the military's anti-gay policy by over 217 years. As an openly gay sports writer one would think that Granderson would be at least nominally informed about gay rights history.
But then again, we don't teach about this transformative movement in schools. You have to take special gay studies or “queer studies” courses in college to learn anything significant about the movement's history. I think we would agree that this movement played an integral role in American history, as has homophobia.
Politically “gay baiting” has been used by both the right and the left against their opponents. It was effectively used by the left to help shutdown anti-communism witch hunts when rumors spread about some of the leading figures in the anti-communist extremist movement of the '50s and '60s that helped discredit J. Edgard Hoover, and Roy Cohn.
Interestingly enough, accusations of homophobia helped to discredit some witch hunters as well. New Orleans DA Jim Garrison's attempts to bring down New Orleans' most prominent gay man, businessman, International Trade Mart founder, and French Quarter preservationist Clay Shaw by accusing him of being in a right wing conspiracy to kill JFK, was done-in as much by Garrison's apparent homophobic vendetta against Shaw as his incredible witnesses. Garrison's constant gay baiting was so relentless and tiresome that even a conservative 1960s New Orleans rejected his case with accusations that Garrison was only pursuing Shaw because Shaw was gay. Garrison initially accused Shaw of being involved in a “homosexual thrill killing” with Oswald, and David Ferrie.
Tragically, it was likely Garrison's gay baiting that lead conspiracy theorists to follow Garrison's lead and try paint Shaw as some kind of deep cover operative, and mastermind of the Kennedy assassination. But that's another story. The point here is, again, how homophobia, and people's perceptions of it, shaped American political and cultural history. The whole JFK conspiracy theory likely persists, as much as anything else, because of how Garrison and his progenitors successfully painted a picture of Shaw as a mysterious, decadent homosexual in books and films for years to come.
In any case, gay history is a part of American history, and the gay rights struggle should be just as well documented in our schools as the women's suffrage movement, the African-American civil rights movement, the workers movement, the farm workers movement, or any of the social movements that are documented in history texts.
The American Gay Rights Movement vs The European Gay Rights Movement:
Why DADT Repeal is the first national success of the American gay rights movement
What makes the historic repeal of the military's ban on gay and lesbian service so profoundly appropriate as the first national legislative victory for the American gay rights movement is that the roots of the American movement, while inspired by the European movement, was different in that those who brought the movement forward had profoundly different backgrounds than those who brought forward the European gay rights movement.
The European gay rights movement finds its infancy in the advocacy by Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs in Germany of the 1860s. Ulrichs was an intellectual who advocated for gay rights. Ulrichs coined the term “urnings” or “uranians” for gay men like him (the word “homosexual had yet been coined). Ulrichs published the first known gay rights essays and books in history beginning in 1862, initially publishing under the pseudonym of Numa Numantius. And he was the first known person to speak out publicly for gay rights when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists to pass a resolution against anti-homosexuality laws in 1867. He was shouted down.
In 1870 he published a manifesto in a pamphlet entitled “Araxes: a Call to Free the Nature of the Urning from Penal Law", and in 1879 he published his final book, Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love.
Edward Carpenter, a poet in Britian , further promoted gay rights by arguing that homosexuals were a “intermediate sex.” He also saw homosexuality as a form of utopian love. Noting that gay men often consorted with men of other classes, Carpenter proposed that the acceptance of homosexuality could help society do away with class divisions.
One of the most successful campaigners in the early gay rights movement was Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was a sexual researcher, a sociologists, and even a filmmaker. He circulated a petition among German intellectuals demanding repeal of Germany's infamous Paragraph 175, the law which would later be ruthlessly used by Nazis to murder gay men, and send thousands of gay men to concentration camps. Hirschfeld's petition garnered no less prominent signatories than Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Albert Einstein. And so, the European gay rights movement was clearly grounded in its intellectuals; it was, in short, a movement of elite intellectuals.
The American gay rights movement doesn't really begin until the 1920s, and while influenced by Hirschfeld's efforts, it was founded largely by a different class of men altogether: war veterans, the poor, and the working class. One of the reasons for this might well be the early 20th century anti-gay purge from America's leading universities, most notably Harvard.
Harvard University not only purged the gays from their campus, they took overt actions to destroy their lives altogether. So, if you were an elite gay intellectual in the US, you probably learned the sad lesson of keeping completely quiet if you wanted to maintain the privileged life you knew. That left the work to the proletariat.
While stationed in Germany during World War I, Henry Gerber learned of Hirchfeld's work in founding the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. When he returned home to Chicago after the war, Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights (SHR).
The Society for Human Rights was the first recognized gay rights organization in the US having received a charter from the state of Illinois. It published the first gay interest magazine in the US, Friendship and Freedom. The SHR was unable to attract more prominent gays in the US; thus, it was mostly a movement of poorer men.
However, a Chicago police raid destroyed the group when they arrested several of SHR's leading members for “obscenity.” In the 1920s any publication advocating for equality for gays and lesbians was considered obscene under the Comstock Act, and all copies of Friendship and Freedom were confiscated. Gerber was ultimately successful in defending himself on the grounds that no warrant was issued for his arrest, but it cost him his life savings.
But that didn't stop Gerber. Although the Society for Human Rights was forced to disband because of the police raids, Gerber continued to organize for gay rights, although with mixed results. But his work would influence other organizations later.
Harry Hay found out about Gerber's effort from a man he met on a one night stand, and that influenced him to found the Mattachine Society in 1950 in Los Angeles. The Mattachine Society was the first sustained gay rights organization in the country.
Hay had been involved in left wing politics most of his life. He worked with the union movement, and participated in agitprop theatre to entertain strikers on the picket lines.In the 1930s Hay signed a petition on behalf of Henry Wallace's presidential campaign. Hay also approached other gay men about starting a “Bachelors for Wallace” movement in 1948. Later Hay was called before the House on Un-American Activities Committee in 1955.
He refused to testify saying that he did not "confide in stool pigeons or their buddies on this committee." Calling him insignificant, the committee dismissed him.
The mainstream gay rights movement abandoned Harry Hay because he was seen as too extreme and radical. However, his successful founding and organizing of the Mattachine Society cannot be forgotten as it was a turning point in the gay rights movement.
The Mattachine Society's defense of its magazine One was successful. One, Inc. v. Olesen went to the Supreme Court, where the court, without comment, unanimously ruled that the magazine was not obscene. Thus, the court, without an utterance, said something profound: gay rights advocacy in the US was legal.
The next part of this story actually begins back in the 1940s with President Harry Truman's executive order making the US military's ban on gays official. After Harry Truman mandated expulsion from the military for its gay members, President Dwight Eisenhower would go further.
Eisenhower enacted an executive order banning gays from all federal employment, and mandating that all contractors with the US government also clear their ranks of gays and lesbians. During the height of McCarthyism more people were fired from federal jobs because they were gay than because they were Communist.
In 1957, a World War II Army veteran named Frank Kameny was dismissed from his job as astronomer for the US Army Map Service because of his homosexuality. Kameny refused to accept his fate. Although he lost, his was the first case reviewed by the US Supreme Court that challenged anti-gay discrimination by the US government.
Kameny founded the Washington chapter of the Mattachine Society to begin a “new militancy” on behalf of gay rights. This advocacy got him called up before Congressional hearings in 1963. Congressman John Dowdy attempted to challenge the Mattachine's Society's right to solicit funds. Kameny used Dowdy's attempt to shut the organization down as a platform for gay rights, arguing in testimony that gays were a distinct minority group deprived of its civil liberties, and refuting accusations that the Mattachine Society was “recruiting homosexuals.”
He organized the first protest against the military's ban on gay service in 1965 in front of the Pentagon. And that, 45 years ago, was the first time that the issue of gays in the military was brought to the public's attention. Signs used in the protest are now preserved by the Smithsonian.
Kameny brought the military ban to the forefront of public thought, and would later recruit Technical Sgt. Leonard Matlovich to challenge the military's ban on gay service in 1975, garnering national news coverage, and a Time Magazine cover story. But Kameny's biggest success was in finally convincing the Civil Service Commission to halt its ban on employing gays and lesbians in 1973.
Kameny also challenged the APA for their pathologizing of homosexuality without scientific proof (in fact psychological research by Evelyn Hooker in 1956 discredited the notion that homosexuality, per se, was a mental illness). Kameny coined the phrase “gay is good” to this end. But he not only had to challenge larger society with respect to their views on homosexuality, gays and lesbians had so internalized society's negative attitudes that many of them bought into these attitudes as well.
Ultimately, armed with better science, Kameny won the argument both in and out of the gay community. In December of 1973, Kameny sarcastically remarked that gays were “cured” by psychologists when, at long last, the APA voted to remove homosexuality from its lists of mental disorders.
Stonewall Riots to Harvey Milk to White Night Riots
In the 1950s and 60s American gays and lesbians faced a legal climate that was worse than it was in some Warsaw Pact countries. Many states and localities banned gays from gathering in public. It was illegal in many places for two gay men to walk down the street together. Some states made it illegal for restaurants and bars to serve homosexuals. Following Eisenhower's ban of gays from federal employment most states did the same. Most efforts by gay groups seemed to be failing or moving at a snails pace as legal rights were nowhere to be seen. Anger and hostility started to boil over as gays and lesbians saw other movements gaining acceptance, while their situation seemed to worsen.
This lead to several upheavals. In 1959, at Cooper's donuts, a hangout for drag queens, transgendered people, and street hustlers, a riot broke out when customers were harassed by LA Police. It was a small upheaval, but a foreshadowing of things to come.
In 1966, another upheaval called Compton Cafeteria Riots would breakout. Transgendered people found themselves at the margin of margins in society. It was illegal to cross dress, and they were unwelcome just about anywhere, including gay bars. But they were welcome at Compton's Cafeteria. However, as some customers became raucous, Compton's management called the police. The police arrived expecting to easily manhandle the transgendered customers, as they usually did. However, one transgendered woman fought back, throwing coffee in the police officers face. From there a fight broke out, police called for back up, and a full-scale riot ensued.
The results of the riot are described in wikipedia
The riot marked a turning point in the local LGBT movement. According to the online encyclopedia glbtq.com:
In the aftermath of the riot at Compton's, a network of transgender social, psychological, and medical support services was established, which culminated in 1968 with the creation of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit [NTCU], the first such peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.
But the biggest upheaval would occur in 1969. It would have the most enduring impact on LGBT psyche than any event in US history. On the night of June 27, New York City police began what they all thought would be a routine raid of the city's most well known gay bar. None of the legal establishments were willing to serve gays and lesbians so gays and lesbians could only safely gather at spots like the Stonewall Inn that were run, at least in part, by the mafia. That meant the bar was unlicensed, and that became and extra excuse to harass the gay patrons inside. Raids of gay bars were fairly routine. Police would burst into the bar and the gay patrons would meekly submit to all forms of police harassment and humiliation. It turned out to not be such a routine raid. As the deputy police inspector said in reflecting on that night in Time Magazine decades later:
"For those of us in [the] public morals [division], things were completely changed ... Suddenly they were not submissive anymore."
The Stonewall Riots didn't get ton of media coverage in the US. The New York Times only ran a few short unsympathetic articles about them. In fact, it even suppressed the few photographs its photographer from the incident until recently, and those photos are only from the final night of the riots after the police successfully subdued the crowd.
The riots did get more coverage in the Village Voice, and in alternative sources, and the news spread rapidly throughout gay communities in the US, and it emboldened gay activists in the country. All previous efforts were mostly about trying to win "hearts and minds" by educating the populace. Direct confrontation with oppressors was off-limits.
The riots weren't planned. They were spontaneous. Gays, lesbians, and transgendered people simply had enough. It was a case of one police raid, one act of police and societal harassment too many. It was the gay community's "I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!" moment.
It was on the night of June 27, 1969, that a routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Christopher Street hangout for gays, run by the Mafia, prompted not cowed obedience from the customers but uncharacteristic fury and outrage. It was not unusual for the police to raid gay bars, and they did so regularly, to arrest transvestites and harass the customers. What made the raid of the Stonewall Inn unusual is that the gay and lesbian patrons spontaneously fought back, tossing beer cans, bricks and anything else in reach at the police officers, who responded by beating many of the protesters and arresting dozens of others.
Just why Stonewall's patrons fought back is anybody's guess now. Some say it was the heat of the night. Others say it had something to do with the death of Judy Garland five days before in London. Whatever the reason, patience had run out.
More protests followed im the days after the raid, marking a cultural shift at a time when few people were willing to be publicly identified as homosexual. In the aftermath of the melee, gays and lesbians left closets, never to return. At the end of the decade that had witnessed marches on Washington on behalf of civil rights for blacks and protests against the war in Vietnam, gay pride was born. Its time had arrived.
The Stonewall Riots encapsulated the character of the American gay rights movement. The participants were mostly young, poor, working class, many living in hostels, boarding houses, and run down tenements, in other words, they were in complete contrast to the early 20th century European movement that was made up of mostly bold but effete intellectuals. The participants were also a diverse set: they were drag queens, leather men, lipstick lesbians, butch lesbians, and femme boys.
As the riots carried on for several days, they eventually drew heterosexuals from far left organizations who saw the riots as a great demonstration of defiance against authority. But the Stonewall Riots weren't really about defiance of authority, it was about a straightfoward demand for a profoundly simple right: the right to be left alone.
Then there was Harvey Milk. Harvey Milk was a charismatic, flamboyant, and inspirational political leader who stood, first and foremost, for gay rights, but also for all, as Milk put it, "the Us's" that were outcast from society, who were demeaned and belittled by society, who were simply not given a fair and just opportunity. He supported and worked with unions, for the poor, African-Americans, hispanics, the elderly, the disabled, and anyone underprivileged and under-appreciated.
Milk was the first openly gay politician elected to office in California when he was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, and he was the first openly gay politician elected to office in a major city in the US. Milk used his office to pass a ground-breaking gay rights ordinance that the New York Times called the most stringent in the nation.
He also successfully fought off the viciously homophobic Briggs Initiative. From Wikipedia:
California Proposition 6 was an initiative on the California State ballot on November 7, 1978, and was more commonly known as The Briggs Initiative. Sponsored by John Briggs, a conservative state legislator from Orange County, the failed initiative would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. The Briggs Initiative was the first failure in a movement that started with the successful campaign headed by Anita Bryant and her organization Save Our Children in Dade County, Florida to repeal a local gay rights ordinance.
Harvey Milk was instrumental in fighting the measure, and opposition from Ronald Reagan helped defeat it.
Milk was assassinated by former supervisor Dan White along with Mayor Moscone on November 10, 1978. As an example of just how easy it is to get a jury to nullify in a case with a gay victim, Dan White claimed the crime was the fault of a nascent junk food habit which affected his mental stability in what has become known as the Twinkie defense, and White was found guilty of only "voluntary manslaughter" and was sentenced to less than eight years in jail. Gays and ethnic minorities were banned from the jury.
That injustice led to the White Night Riots.
When it was announced over the police radio in the city, someone sang "Danny Boy" on the police band. A surge of people from the Castro District walked again to City Hall, chanting "Avenge Harvey Milk" and "He got away with murder". Pandemonium rapidly escalated as rocks were hurled at the front doors of the building. Milk's friends and aides tried to stop the destruction, but the mob of more than 3,000 ignored them and lit police cars on fire. They shoved a burning newspaper dispenser through the broken doors of City Hall, then cheered as the flames grew. One of the rioters responded to a reporter's question about why they were destroying parts of the city: "Just tell people that we ate too many Twinkies. That's why this is happening." The chief of police ordered the police not to retaliate, but to hold their ground. The White Night riots, as they became known, lasted several hours.
Later that evening, May 21, 1979, several police cruisers filled with officers wearing riot gear arrived at the Elephant Walk Bar on Castro Street. Harvey Milk's protégé Cleve Jones and a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Warren Hinckle, watched as officers stormed into the bar and began to beat patrons at random. After a 15-minute melee, they left the bar and struck out at people walking along the street. The chief of police finally ordered the officers out of the neighborhood. By morning, 61 police officers and 100 rioters and gay residents of the Castro had been hospitalized. City Hall, police cruisers, and the Elephant Walk Bar suffered damages in excess of $1,000,000.
Harvey Milk, like Henry Gerber and Frank Kameny before him, was a veteran of the US armed forces. He was a diving officer aboard the submarine rescue ship the USS Kittiwake during the Korean War. Why the US gay rights movement was so influenced by war veterans may have a lot to do with the United States' propaganda about those war efforts: that they were fundamentally about human rights, human dignity, equality of all human beings in contrast to the repressive nature of its enemies. It may well be that these gay war veterans fully bought into that message, and believed that, as our nation's warriors, they were entitled to, at home, what they fought for abroad.
And that is why it is so appropriate that the first piece of gay rights legislation to pass the US Congress and be signed by a US President is one to clear the way for equal rights and dignity for gay and lesbian soldiers.
Henry Gerber has been long dead. Harvey Milk's life was cut short at the age of 47, he would be 80 years old if he had lived to see this day. But Frank Kameny did live to see this day. He is 85 years old. He said if his service in World War II, “I dug my way across Europe slit trench by slit trench, practically." And, I guess, after you prove to yourself that you have that kind of courage, then you can easily find the kind of courage to go proudly public in demanding your rights when the world was certain that you had nothing but shame.
And that's why President Obama invited Kameny to the signing of the repeal law. And it was there, (at the Interior Department because the White House didn't have the space to accommodate all who wanted and deserved to be there) that Kameny saw his dream he first publicly expressed 45 years ago become reality.
Note: One of the reasons that San Francisco became a major gay haven has a lot to do with the ban against gay service in the military. In the 1940s when the military responded to Truman's orders by purging gays from its ranks, it often relocated the troops they were expelling to San Francisco.
Note: I didn't learn any of this in school.
Other diaries to read on this issue:
The excellent Triumph of a movement by Clarknt67
As pointed out in the comments, I originally omitted the Compton Cafeteria Riots. I don't know much about them (as I said they don't teach this in school), however, I have added a description above.
(H/T to BobSmith415)
Edit: Thanks to Community Spotlight and History for Kossacks for the republish.
12:03 PM PT: I also wish to point out that pico is absolutely right in the comments. There's a lot more to LGBT rights history than this. This, for all intents and purposes, is the "Reader's Digest" version. I promise that my next publication on LGBT history will include much of the rest of the story.