Wednesday, December 29, 2010

1961: Kameny Supreme Court petition regenerated the gay civil rights movement

In 2011, we celebrate 50 years of militant and successful gay civil rights in Washington DC and nationally.

Dr. Franklin E. Kameny laid the philosophical foundation for a new militant self-affirming homosexual civil rights movement with the submission of his petition for a writ of certiorari on January 27, 1961.

With occasional outbursts of anger, Kameny sets out in seventy plus pages a new radical assertion of the normalcy of homosexuality. Kameny asserts the innate right of all homosexuals to ALL civil liberties granted by the constitution of the United States Constitution.

In sentences ringing with indignation, Kameny wrote of homosexuals in 1961

"This is a group comparable in size to the Negro minority, and roughly the same order of magnitude as the Catholic minority, a group some 2 1/2 times the size of the country's Jewish minority and equivalent to the world's Jewish population. It is a group that has borne and is bearing the brunt of a persecution and discrimination of a harshness and ferocity at least as severe as that directed against these other minorities, but which persecution instead of being mitigated and ameliorated by the government's attitudes and practices has instead been intensified by them ..."

Kameny's anger at overreaching bureaucrats' imputations of immorality finds voice in the writ where Kameny declares

"Petition asserts, flatly, unequivocally, and absolutely uncompromisingly that homosexuality, whether by mere inclination or overt act, is not only not immoral but that, for those choosing voluntarily to engage in homosexual acts, such acts are moral in a real and positive sense, and are good, right, and desirable socially and personally."

In less than two months, on March 17, 1961, the US Supreme Court unanimously declined to review Kameny's petition.

The decision stoked fires of political determination already lit in the 38 year old Kameny and 23 year old Jack Nichols, whom Kameny had met the previous autumn and who shared Kameny's views. Meeting over the summer of 1961, they organized a militant new civil rights organization to assert and defend the rights of homosexuals nationally and locally: the Mattachine Society of Washington.

Washington's Mattachine introduced itself to the world, and most particularly to the federal government, on November 15, 1961.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

LGBT History Month

In 1994 Rodney Wilson a Missouri teacher nominated October as Gay History Month to celebrate queer history. October was significant because it was the month in which the first two queer marches on Washington (in 1979 and 1987) took place. One of the outcomes of the 1987 march was the February 1988 War Conference at Airlie House in Warrenton, VA where it was decided to have an annual Coming Out Day on October 11th (the date of the second march on Washington).

Philadelphia's Equality Forum has recently resurrected the queer history month with profiles of key LGBT figures each month at the GLBT History Month site. This year, on October 14th, Patsy Lynch, a Rainbow History Board member and well-known documenter of the gay community in Washington, DC, will be profiled on the history month site.

Catching up and moving on ...

It has been a long while since I last posted on Visible Past. Now that I am no longer heading Rainbow History Project, I hope to have time to catch up on our Visible Past.

September's slew of suicides has also spurred me back to the keyboard. It shouldn't have to be hell to be a gay kid but it has long been that way. A very good article by Brian Moylan, on Gawker, maps the agony of gay teens: What It's Like to Be a Gay Teen .

Among DC's first gay activist efforts by the Gay Liberation Front at 1620 S St NW and Deacon Maccubbin's Earthworks on 20th St NW were the scheduling of support groups for gay youth, especially those living on the streets.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And speaking of preservation ...

It has been almost exactly 9 months since the District of Columbia's Historic Preservation Review Board declared the home and office of Dr. Frank Kameny a historic landmark in the District. It is still only a local landmark.

Rainbow History had expected, hoped, that the next step would be taken by the Historic Preservation Office: nominating the site for the National Park Service's Register of Historic Sites.

Hasn't happened. We're still hoping. Unfortunately this isn't something Rainbow History itself can do. The nomination has to be made by the state/District historic preservation officer to NPS.

Losing the Blade, Saving Our History

November 16th, 2009 the sun set on the Washington Blade, Washington DC's venerable newspaper of record for the queer community. Forty years and 41 days since Nancy Tucker and Art Stone launched the periodical on October 5, 1969, Window Media's misadventures sank the paper. The venerable local and national institution is lost. But the good news is that its staff are working to recreate again under another name in an employee-owned venture.

But that won't save our history!

Now that the entire Window Media organization is in receivership and owned largely by the Small Business Administration, the Blade's collection of forty years of photos (beginning with Nancy Tuckers' photos) is in jeopardy and may be lost to the community. Forty years of the company's records, topical files, and journalists' files are in equally serious jeopardy.

Historic preservation is about preserving memories. Certainly preserving the documentary and photographic archives is as, if not more important, than preserving sites in our history.

What will our queer community - local and national - do to ensure that those archives are not lost, dispersed, or junked by the Small Business Administration?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It's Time

The plaque stands across the street from the Stonewall Inn just behind Segal's unthreatening same-sex statues.

Ten years ago a group of historians, preservationists, and archivists nominated New York's Stonewall Inn as a historic site. The nomination was taken up enthusiastically by New York's State Historic Preservation Office which landmarked the site and then pushed the nomination to the National Park Service where in 2000 the Stonewall Inn joined the other 2000 plus National Historic Landmarks. It is still the only queer site on the national list.

It's time the National Park Service recognized this queer civil rights struggle by adding sites important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

It's time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's Left of Our Communities?

So ... there used to be a couple of offices in LA where the Mattachine Society and Foundation operated. Gone - now a parking lot and a modern office building. There used to be a whole neighborhood of clubs and entertainment spots in DC, including the city's longest running and best drag show. Gone - obliterated when the city fathers wanted to build a baseball stadium for a team so bad that Montreal sold it.

Can we start saving our historic places instead of kissing them goodbye?! Queer America is still getting into the history business - writing up its past and collecting its documents and artifacts. We have hardly even begun preserving our historic sites. Ten years ago the Stonewall got listed as a historic national landmark. Nothing else has made the list. No one has pushed anything else on to the list. Between California and New York, virtually nothing has been saved or preserved, with the exception of Henry Gerber's house in Chicago. [see earlier posts]

Forty years after Stonewall, it's time for local queer communities to tally up the spots that celebrate their history, document them and get them onto the historic preservation/landmark lists before they're gone. And where there is already local preservation as with Milk's home and camera shop and Gerber's home, local communities need to press their state historic preservation officer (that's what they call the guy who recommends sites to the national register) to submit those local sites to the National Register of Historic Places run by the National Park Service, and maybe even to the National Historic Landmarks list.

With a new administration coming in, there is more of a chance that queer history won't be shoved into a closet the way it was during the Bush years.

We're a people with a past and we're a people with historic places. We need to keep those places safe, organize walking tours, and invite straight society to learn about our civil rights struggle.