This post continues a new series on The Closet Professor about the history of the early gay rights movement. Most if not all of you have heard of the Stonewall Riots, and though most people credit Stonewall with the beginning of gay rights, there were precursors to the movement. This series is based on a paper I once wrote about the gay rights movement but has been updated to some extent. I hope you enjoy it and find it informative.
Not all gays believed that the riots and “revolution” were a good thing. The older and more wealthy gay men who frequented Fire Island in the summer either ignored the riots or were embarrassed by then. They belonged to the beliefs of the Mattachine Society who believed in assimilation and accommodationist tactics. The Mattachines wanted gays to act like heterosexuals and thus blend into the greater society. The differences between the accommodationists and the liberationist will be a trend in gay politics to this day.
On the evening of July 4, 1969, the New York Mattachine Society called a meeting. The purpose of the gathering was to stop anymore riots and to get gays and lesbians to follow more closely their view of how the revolution should proceed, mainly for them to act like straight people and gain respect among normal society. Most of the gays in the room that night were tired of the Mattachine’s tactics. They wanted a new movement, one that challenged what normal was, one that was more militant, and one in which they did not have to change who they were. That night, the gays and lesbians at the Mattachine Society meeting formed the beginnings of the Gay Liberation Front.
The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) never had the same organizational hierarchy that the Mattachine Society had. The GLF allowed for each chapter to move in its own direction and determine how best to achieve their overall goals in their local area. The GLF was also more visible than many people actually preferred to be, but for the GLF to succeed they had no choice but to use the “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” tactics. The GLF had their share of splinter groups and unlikely alliances, such as with the Black Panthers.
The gay liberation movement also moved into more proper politics in the early 1990s. The AIDS epidemic took a great deal of the steam out of the movement that had continued to build during the seventies. In the early nineties, groups like the Human Rights Council, the largest gay and lesbian political action committee, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund tackled legislative and legal issues pertaining to gay and lesbian rights. Gays and lesbians even entered the political arena with a branch of the Democratic Party, the Stonewall Democrats, and with a branch of the Republican Party, the Log Cabin Republicans. The same old issues of whether gays should assimilate into society or make society accept them for who they are and at the same time have equal rights are still apparent in the splits that exist within the gay community.
James T. Sears, Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001), 60, 64.
Benjamin H. Shepard, “The Queer/Gay Assimilationist: The Suits vs. the Sluts,” Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine 53:1 (May 2001): 49-63.
“ 4 Policemen Hurt in ‘Village’ Raid,” The New York Times, 29 June 1969.
Duberman, Martin. 1994. Stonewall. New York: Plume.
“Hostile Crowd Dispersed Near Sheridan Square,” New York Times, 3 July 1969.
Meeker, Martin. 2001. “Behind the Mask of Respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. 1:78-116.
“Police Again Rout ‘Village’ Youths,” New York Times, 30 June 1969.
Sears,James T. 2001. Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Shepard, Benjamin H. 2001. “The Queer/Gay Assimilationist: The Suits vs. the Sluts.” Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine 53:1, 49-63.
Smith, Howard. “Full Moon Over the Stonewall,” The Village Voice, 3 July 1969.
Suran, Justin David. 2001. “Coming Out Against the War: Antimilitarism and the Politicization of Homosexuality in the Era of Vietnam.” American Quarterly 3: 452-488.
Truscott,Lucian, IV. “Gay Power Comes To Sheridan Square.” The Village Voice. 3 July 1969.
“Village Raid Stirs Melee.” New York Post. 28 June 1969.