Gays A Struggle For Acceptance Essay Research

Gays: A Struggle For Acceptance Essay, Research Paper

Gays: A Struggle for Acceptance

“When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the

angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference, that reward will

go to those who dared to step outside the safety of their privacy in order to

expose and rout the prevailing prejudice.”

- John Shelby Spong

Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, NJ

November 21, 1996

During World War II and especially the twenty years after brought great

political and social changes to the U.S.. Undoubtedly, one of the major changes

was the new awareness of homosexuality. If this new awareness was to the

advantage or if it was really wanted by the gay and lesbian population is a

question that arises; if they really had a choice in the matter is another. I

think gays’ relentless struggle for acceptance into mainstream society came from

the American constitution itself. After all, the gay liberation movement started

in America, the land of the free, where all men are created equal and with an

inalienable right to pursue their own happiness. No one should be able to take

these rights away from anyone. Also, in the 1950s, the civil rights movement

became active and words like desegregation and equal rights for all became

synonymous with the American way of life. Stand up and fight against those who

have done you wrong! This is what gave homosexuals such a conviction to start

fighting for their own cause. This paper will follow the progress of gay and

lesbians in the twentieth century before, during and after World War II. What

was their position in the armed forces during the war and what was government

and military policy during and after the war on gays in the army and in

government positions? How did gay and lesbians respond to the new policies after

the war and why were organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters

of Bilitis founded? On December 7, 1941 at 7:55 a.m. local time, Japan attacked

Pearl Harbor. The Unites States declared war on Japan and was suddenly a

participant in the largest war in the history of mankind. A massive military

force of 12 million men was assembled. American soldiers were sent to Europe and

Japan to participate and win the Big One. The military bureaucracy grew

accordingly and thousands of new jobs were created. With the military’s enormous

demand for personnel, drafted American men found themselves in isolated gender

segregated environments. All the big war movies depict this with the GI’s

longing for leave so he could go downtown and find himself a prostitute. What

these movies do not show is a new community, within the military, of homosexuals

who until now lived socially isolated lives because they were either unsure of

what they were or of their sexual preferences or just plain scared of what

people would think if they found out their secret. In the military, these people

found other gay men who were in the same predicament. They weren’t alone.

Before the war, gays and lesbians were almost invisible from society. They were

not mentioned in the popular media and the general population was oblivious to

their existence. An occasional arrest or school expulsion of a Asexual

psychopath@ were the only vague signs that the public would hear about. Now that

the military accepted or at least needed the cooperation of all men, including

homosexuals, an important page had been turned in the progress of gay rights,

however, it also set the scene for discrimination and prejudice. Homosexuals

were in all branches of the armed forces, from paper pushing to front line

combat. Before enlisting, interrogators had forced them to describe their

lifestyle, which in turn made it impossible for homosexuals to continue hiding

in the closet but instead had to take the first step in living a new open

lifestyle. They were classified as Asexual psychopaths@ on their military

records, however, they were not being discriminated by the military at this

point in time. An apparatus was even set up to accommodate gay personnel.

Through this apparatus, the military ended up with quite an extensive record of

homosexual behavior and was considered an expert on the subject. Military

scientists much later said that through studying homosexuals’ behavior could

find nothing to support evidence that gay and lesbians were in any way

psychopaths or had any form of mental disorder. This report came out after the

1940s and 1950s; until then, the military denied having made any research on

homosexuals. After World War II, the military suddenly made a decision not to

have gay or lesbians in the armed forces anymore. They would be discharged

without any benefitsa even though they hadn’t done anything wrong. This caused

gay veterans to unite and fight against sexual discrimination and some were

later the founders of organized gay rights movements. Exposed by the war, gays

and lesbians decided to continue living their lives in the open, although many

still preferred living quietly in discrete suburbs, coming out only under

pseudonyms in articles or books. Bars for gays and lesbians became a major

gathering place. Here they could mingle and be themselves. These bars became

wide spread and were not only confined to the major U.S. cities but were

established in many small towns as well. The general public and media started

noticing this growth and with the common knowing of homosexuals being perverted

sexual psychopaths, child molesters, sex offenders and sex degenerates, a fear

spread for the safety of women and children who could be snatched by these

dangerous people. This fear initiated the anti-gay policies and sex psychopath

laws of the late 1940s and early 1950s, where gay and lesbians were witch hunted

and fired from their work place. The policy that had the greatest impact was

President Eisenhower’s signing of Executive Order #10450, stating that sexual

perversion was reason for prejudice hiring and firing of workers Gay veterans

were a select group of American patriots, who, for the most part wanted things

to go back to how they were and just lead secure and stable lives. These new

policies caused much irritation and the veterans felt they were constantly being

mistreated, which gave them all the more reason to speak up. They could have

continued to live quiet lives but they were pushed into the open by the

government, and now that they were exposed, they weren’t going to go back in the

closet without a fight. The new strict moral values of the postwar period and

the nuclear family did not help gays and lesbians blend into society. Instead,

homosexuals were being scapegoated and considered sex deviates. The idea of

deviates and wave builders went well together with the red scare and homosexuals

were feared even more than before. Communist homosexuals would mean the downfall

of western society as we know it….at least that is what the government wanted

us to believe. The theory of homosexuals being sex deviates was also supported

by psychiatrists who wanted more influence over the criminal justice system and

allowed for the incarceration of homosexuals into mental institution. This

caused arrests for sodomy, perversion and indecency to skyrocket and many men

and women ended up in these institutions. The military’s turnaround and postwar

treatment of homosexuals and the homophobia and irrational fear of gays that

they caused, made its way to the civilian bureaucracy. In the 1950s, senators

launched an attack on gay employees. Senator Joseph McCarthy led the crusade

against homosexuals and communists and was feared by nearly all American; he had

the power to dismiss you from your place of work and put you in an institution.

Homosexuals were even considered to be easier targets for communist propaganda

and were also the main reason for the purges in the government sector. People

were afraid gays would deliver U.S. secrets to the Russians. Even though gays

and lesbians were hounded everywhere, they didn’t defend themselves from the

attacks. Homosexuals had no one to speak up for them at that time and were

unsure of what to do. Instead they isolated themselves and bottled up the anger

and fear they felt for society. Gay veterans were no exception, however, they

didn’t accept the circumstances and conditions that had been set before them.

They understood it was impossible for them to live the way they used to; in

order for them to lead an open life, the hounding had to stop. They had fought a

war to preserve their liberty and no one should be able to take that away from

them now. The first organization for gays was founded in Germany. The Scientific

Humanitarian Committee wanted to abolish the German anti-gay penal code and to

educate the public on being gay. The movement was short lived and was

disintegrated when the Nazi regime came to power. There was also an effort for

gay organizing in Chicago during the 1920s but they dissolved without major

recognition. Then came the Mattachine Society. It was founded in 1950 in Los

Angeles as a response to anti-gay campaigns in Washington, the constant police

raiding of gay bars and that gays were an oppressed minority and should have

someone to speak for them. The Mattachine Society would help gays out of jail,

consult gays and refer them to psychiatrists, if they needed one. However,

staying above budget was not easy. Call says the active members were doing more

than they were getting paid for. Publishing the Mattachine Review, a gay

magazine, was a demanding occupation and member fees did not cover all the work

that had to be done. A bar directory was also published by the Society together

with the Daughters of Bilits’s own magazine, the Ladder. The original founders

were gay veterans from WWII and consisted of Chuck Rowland, Bob Hull, Harry Hay,

Rudy Gernreich, Konrad Stevens, Dale Jennings, Stan Witt and Paul Bernard. The

most charismatic of these was Chuck Rowland. He himself was an army veteran and

an idealist. After the war, he had joined the American Veterans Committee and

later the communist party. Being a member of the communist party would later

cause him his seat with the Mattachine Society. These founders had a vision that

all homosexuals would eventually come out and parade down the streets of LA.

Until then, they sought refuge under pseudonyms when publishing anything of

homosexual nature. Many joined the Society but no one knew who ran the

organization. Rowland and the others thought it safest to keep it that way in

the beginning. In 1954, the founders decided to become an open democratic

organization and a vote was held as to whom should be the leaders. Rowland and

the others wanted a radical group of expansionists and protesters. Hall Call,

their opposition, wanted to take a more conservative approach. He meant that for

the group to survive, they did not want to attract unnecessary attention to

themselves; also to have an open organization, they had to eliminate everything

that could give the government, especially McCarthy, an excuse to shut the

organization down, which meant removing the communist faction from the group.

Call won the vote and most if not all of the original founders were asked to

resign. This decision left them very bitter and the question whether they had

done the right thing by going “public” they way they had is still asked. Rowland

claimed Call was the reason for the Mattachine’s downfall, having not an ounce

of organizational spirit in his whole body. Call on the other hand, who was a

journalist, saw the McCarthy threat as real and if the Mattachine Society wanted

to enhance the Society and do some good, staying low was the only answer.

Membership later decreased in the late 1960s and members instead joined a

seceded branch of the Society called SIR. Up until 1950s, no Aopen-minded@ study

had ever been made of male homosexuals. However, in 1956, Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a

professor at UCLA, presented a paper to the American Psychological Association

in Chicago, in which she had conducted an experiment of homosexuals and

heterosexuals to study their Afundamental personal behavior@ using the Rorschach,

the Thematic Apperception and the Make a Picture tests. The judges were

internationally recognized scientists and were not told who had been taking the

tests. The result came out and the judges could not find any relation between

the subjects’ sexual preferences and their answers. Dr. Hooker received the

Distinguished Contribution Award for her study. Dr. Hooker was also confronted

by many lesbians, asking her to conduct a test on them as well. She refused on

the grounds that a woman conducting tests on women would be considered biased

and not be taken seriously. In 1955, lesbians in San Francisco founded the

lesbian equivalent to the Mattachine Society; they called it the Daughters of

Bilitis. The movement was unsure on how to proceed; whether they should engage

in picketing and other civil rights activities or whether it should challenge

the medical profession’s claim that homosexuality was an illness. Their task

consisted of counseling lesbians and educate mothers who thought their

daughters might be lesbian. One sad case was when a daughter confronted her

parents and told them of her being a lesbian. The parents didn’t take it as well

as she might have hoped for. Instead they raised a gravestone with her name on

it and declared her dead by listing her in the obituaries in the local newspaper.

In June of 1969, the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, was considered the

dawning of the gay liberation movement. A police raid caused homosexuals to riot,

not accepting the constant terrorizing from the authorities. The three day

rioting led to the beginning of a new mass movement, the Gay Liberation Front,

derived from the controversial Vietnamese National Liberation Front; wanting

radical change, much like Chuck Rowland and the founders of the Mattachine

Society and fighting fiercer and with more pride and confidence than before.

Gays and lesbians began joining forces and recognized their common cause; to

stand up for their rights as human beings and not willing to be suppressed any

longer. This historic event is every year embodied in New York’s Gay Parade.

There was a nationwide protest against the discrimination of gay military

personnel but it didn’t have much impact. Military policy is still very much

biased against homosexuals in the armed forces; even after government

institutions loosened up their restrictions on gay policy. The military argued

that homosexuals in service would threaten the moral and job performance of

enlisted personnel. The discharge policy backfired. Instead of producing Asexual

security@ for the soldiers, it reinforced hostility and prejudice among

personnel. This policy goes against the secret military reports that say gays

are suited for the military and the gay history of World War II, which showed

that gay men could be just as courageous as straight men. It only leaves us to

believe that the military has no respect for gay personnel and are only using

them when in a crisis and being in need of cannon fodder. Looking back, the

Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were the pioneers for all gay

and lesbians. They created a sturdy foundation on which to build a national

recognition and understanding of homosexuals. Without them there would most

probably not have been a Stonewall Inn incident. Who is to blame for homosexuals

having to fight for recognition and acceptance against what seemed to be the

entire American public? Before World War II, the public was uneducated and

unaware of the gay and lesbian society they lived with. Like a child, they were

easily affected by government doctrine, justified by the government’s need to

keep the economy growing by uniting the people with false anti-Communist anti-

gay propaganda and thereby creating an illusionary external and internal enemy.

From a purely economic view, the government wanted Keyen’s AAnimal Spirits@

(herd mentality) to be positive and united and not have them go into another

depression of pessimistic thinking. The postwar years were the first time the

government had this much control over industry and officials thought it should

stay that way. To do this, the public had to be satisfied and not worried about

another recession. Communism and the gay threat were just the excuses the

government needed to unite the population. They would foster the American ideal

on how to be and act and deviance from this ideal, would cause the ARussian

Bear@ to invade the American peace loving neighborhoods. I think homosexuals

were used as scapegoats and were a minority that could be sacrificed for the

governments proclaimed Agood@ of the nation.

SOURCES: – The American Record; volume II: since 1865, by William

Graebner & Leonard Richards, McGraw-Hill, Inc. – Making History; The

Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights 1945 – 1990, by Erik Marcus,

HarperCollins Publishers



The Stonewall Inn, (named after the Confederate General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson),

was a gay bar (said to be sleazy and Mafia-run) at 51-53 Christopher Street just

east of Sheridan Square in New York’s Greenwich Village. On the night of 27/28th.

June, 1969, a police inspector and seven other officers from the Public Morals

Section of the First Division of the New York City Police Department arrived

shortly after midnight, served a warrant charging that alcohol was being sold

without a license, and announced that employees would be arrested. The patrons

were ejected from the bar by the police while others lingered outside to watch,

and were joined by passers-by. The arrival of the paddy wagons changed the mood

of the crowd from passivity to defiance. The first vehicle left without incident

apart from catcalls from the crowd. The next individual to emerge from the bar

was a woman in male costume who put up a struggle which galvanized the

bystanders into action. The crowd erupted into throwing cobblestones and bottles.

Some officers took refuge in the bar while others turned a fire hose on the

crowd. Police reinforcements were called and in time the streets were cleared.

During the day the news spread, and the following two nights saw further violent

confrontations between the police and gay people. The event was important less

for its intrinsic character than for the significance subsequently bestowed on

it. The Stonewall Rebellion was a spontaneous act of resistance to the police

harassment that had been inflicted on the homosexual community since the

inception of the modern vice squad in metropolitan police forces. It sparked a

new, highly visible, mass phase of political organization for gay rights that

far surpassed, semi-clandestine homophile movement of the 1950s and 1960s,

exemplified by the Mattachine Society. The Mattachine Society newsletter

described the rebellion as ‘the hairpin drop heard round the world’. The event

has been commemorated by a parade held each year in New York City on the last

Sunday in June, following a tradition that began with the first march on 29th.

June, 1970, and by parallel events throughout the United States.@


The confrontations between demonstrators and police at The Stonewall Inn in

Greenwich Village over the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 are usually cited as the

beginning of the modern movement for Lesbian/Gay liberation. What might have

been a routine police raid on a bar patronized by homosexuals, became a signal

event which sparked a movement. The Stonewall riots have developed into the

stuff of myth, about which many of the most commonly held beliefs are probably

untrue. In 1969, it was illegal to operate any business catering to homosexuals

in New York City-as it still is, today in 1991, in many places in the United

States and elsewhere. The standard procedure was for the New York City police to

raid such establishments on a semi-regular basis, to arrest a few of the most

obvious ‘types’ and to fine the owners prior to letting business continue as

usual by the next evening. It has been suggested that the majority of the

patrons at the Stonewall Inn were black and Hispanic drag queens, but perhaps

the goddess has always valued these rare creatures much too highly to ever let

them become a majority. In fact, most of the patrons that evening were most

likely young, college-age white men expecting to spend the rest of their lives

in the quiet desperation of the middle-class closet. They knew that it was

reasonably safe to enter the Stonewall Inn precisely because there were a few

colored drag queens, butch bulldykes and others whose double-minority status

made them far more likely candidates for arrest; this gave everyone else time to

cover their faces and run for the nearest exit. After midnight June 27-28, 1969,

four men and two women from the New York Tactical Police Force called a raid on

The Stonewall Inn at 55 Christopher Street. After leaving the bar, many of the

patrons decided to wait around outside while the police dispatched the ‘usual

suspects’ into the vans. It is said that this was the first time where Lesbians

and Gay men fought back; in fact, there had already been several incidents in

both Los Angeles and New York where sizable groups of Gays had resisted arrest.

More to the point, the queens targeted for arrest had always fought back, alone

and unsupported as they were led time and again to the vans. What was unique

about Stonewall and gives it a resonance which continues to inspire today was

that it was perhaps the first time when Lesbians and Gay men as a group were

able to see beyond the lipstick and the high heels, beyond the skin color and

recognize the oppression which threatens us all. The greatest great myth

concerning the Stonewall riots is that it was a Lesbian/Gay event. It is likely

that many of those who began pitching pennies, then beer bottles, at the police

that night weren’t even homosexual. The only publicly reported arrest was a

straight folk singer who was appearing next door and who joined the melee after

leaving work. The streets of Greenwich Village were home to many young people

whose politics were defined by the blossoming anti-war movement, left-wing

political ideologies and the successes of the Women’s liberation and Black Civil

Rights movements. Like their Lesbian/Gay brothers and sisters, they were

prepared to recognize oppression and thus willing to respond to it. (Anyone who

thinks being able to see oppression is easy has to only remember the Clarence

Thomas confirmation hearings.) In all, some 300 to 400 people became involved

in the attempt to stop the arrests, erupting into violent protest. The police

and the bar owners, who were perceived to be part of the repressive system at

work, barricaded themselves inside the Stonewall Inn for protection. While they

awaited reinforcements, the crowd outside attempted to burn the bar down with

the cops inside. Eventually, a squadron of patrol cars arrived and chased the

crowd away from the bar, and then around the narrow village streets for several

hours. The following night, a new crowd assembled outside the Stonewall and

rioted when the police attempted to break it up. Provocative articles appearing

in the NY Post, Daily News and especially The Village Voice helped to

consolidate Gay willingness to fight back. Within a few days, representatives of

the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis organized the city’s first

ever “Gay Power” rally in Washington Square. On July 27, 1969, speeches by

Martha Shelley and Marty Robinson were followed by a candlelight march to the

site of the Stonewall Inn. Five hundred people showed up, thought to have

included almost the entire ‘out-of-the-closet’ population of Lesbians and Gay

men in New York, as well as their supporters from the political left. The rest

as they say is history… STONEWALL: The Movement Before Stonewall, there were a

number of groups working for homosexual rights, ever since the concept had been

defined in nineteenth century Germany, home to the world’s first politically

organized movement. In the United States, since April 1965, Frank Kameny of

Washington, DC had been organizing Homosexual Reminder Days on the ellipse

across from the White House and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. These were

sedate affairs of a few dozen picketers with the men in jackets and ties and the

Lesbians in skirts and dresses. Their principal demand was for civil service

protection and the right of homosexuals to hold government jobs. The New York

delegation that attended the July 4th picket in 1969, one week after Stonewall,

held hand and shouted down the other marchers. This was the last Homosexual

Reminder Day and a clear sign that the Stonewall riots had set something new in

motion. During the first year after Stonewall, a whole new generation of

organizations emerged, many identifying themselves for the first time as “Gay”

meaning not only a sexual orientation, but a radical new basis for self-

identification and with a sense of open political activism. Older groups such as

the Mattachine Society or the Westside Discussion Group whose members had used

first names or altogether fictitious ones to protect their identities soon made

way for the Gay Liberation Front and the various regional Gay Activists

Alliances. The vast majority of these new activists were under thirty, new to

political organizing and believed everything was possible. Many groups were

affiliated with specific colleges and universities, again with “Gay” replacing

“Homophile” in the names of most older groups and almost all new ones. By the

summer of 1970, groups in at least eight American cities were sufficiently

organized to schedule simultaneous events commemorating the Stonewall riots for

the last Sunday in June. The events varied from a highly political march of

three to five thousand in New York to a parade with floats for 1200 in Los



One of the earliest gay movement organizations in the USA. It began in Los

Angeles in 1950-51. Its name was given by the pioneer activist Harry Hay in

commemoration of the French medieval and Renaissance SociJtJ Mattachine, a

musical masque group which he had studied while preparing a course on the

history of popular music for a workers’ education project. The name was meant to

symbolize the fact that “gays were a masked people, unknown and anonymous”, and

the word, also spelled matachin or matachine , has been derived from the Arabic

of Moorish Spain, in which mutawajjihin , relates to masking oneself. Such an

opaque name is typical of the homophile movement of the time in which open

proclamation of the purposes of the group through a revealing name was regarded

as imprudent. At first the structure of the society followed that of freemasonry

with a pyramid structure, where cells at the same level would be unknown to each

other. The founders were Marxists and analyzed homosexuals in terms of an

oppressed cultural minority. The communist leanings of the organization put it

under some pressure during the anti-Communist phase in the USA. The era of

McCarthyism had begun on 9th. February, 1950 with a speech by Senator Joseph R.

McCarthy of Wisconsin, at Lincoln’s Birthday dinner of a Republican League in

Wheeling, West Virginia. Paul Coates wrote in a Los Angeles newspaper in March

1953 linking “sexual deviates” with “security risks” who were banding together

to wield “tremendous political power”. The Mattachine Society was restructured,

with a more transparent organization, and its leadership replaced. It also

changed its aims to the assimilation of homosexuals into general society, which

reflected its rejection of the notion of a homosexual minority. However the

Society declined, and at its convention in May 1954 only forty-two members

attended. The Mattachine Society produced the monthly periodical ONE Magazine ,

starting in January 1953 and eventually achieving a circulation of 5000 copies.

The regular publication of the magazine ceased in 1968, but its publisher, ONE

Inc., still exists. In January, 1955 the San Francisco branch of the Mattachine

Society began a more scholarly journal, Mattachine Review , which lasted for ten

years. The periodicals reached previously isolated individuals and helped

Mattachine to become better known nationally. Chapters functioned in a number of

USA cities through the 1960s. However, they failed to adapt to the radical

militantism after the Stonewall Rebellion and faded away.


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