Early 1960s: ‘Gay is good’
Lavender & red, part 58
Published Mar 26, 2006 7:51 AM
The dynamism of the lunch counter sit-ins and
freedom rides of the African-American civil rights movement gave rise to an East
Coast current of white gay and lesbian activists within Mattachine and Daughters
of Bilitis—the national gay and lesbian organizations. These young gay men
and lesbians were more militant and began to reject advice from the homophile
movement to try to “fit into” society, to not make waves, and to
rely on professionals and establishment figures to bequeath them social
Historian John D’Emilio said of this new, more militant
political current of the early 1960s, “Inspired by the example of civil
rights activists, it abandoned the accommodationist approach of the 1950s.
Militants adopted an ideology based on equal rights for minorities, engaged in
direct action techniques of protest, and affirmed the propriety of homosexuals
and lesbians leading their own struggle for justice. Their confidence and
determination won for the movement and for gay women and men generally a
visibility that their predecessors had failed to achieve.” (“Sexual
Politics, Sexual Communities”)
For example, Franklin Kameny
“argued relentlessly for gay activists to embrace an aggressive direct
action strategy modeled on the civil rights movement.”
the phrase “Gay is good” in 1966 after hearing African Americans
declare “Black is beautiful!” The 1968 North Amer ican Conference of
Homophile Organi zations (NACHO) formally adopted the slogan in 1968.
Kameny had been fired as a government employee in 1957 after his arrest a
year earlier on charges of “lewd conduct” was discovered by
investigators. Kameny continued to fight the Civil Service Commission decision
blocking him from any federal employment until 1961, when it was clear that he
had exhausted every avenue of appeal through the commission and the courts. That
same year, Kameny co-founded a Mattachine chapter in Washington, D.C.
Kameny rejected the accommodationist homophile movement’s
“genteel, debating society approach” that “impelled [it] to
present impartially both or all sides” of every political position.
“We cannot stand upon an ivory-tower concept of aloof, detached
dignity,” Kameny told a New York City Mattachine meeting audience in July
1964. “This is a movement, in many respects, of down-to-earth,
grass-roots, sometimes tooth-and-nail politics.” And, he stressed,
“[O]ur opponents will do a fully adequate job of presenting their views,
and will not return us the favor of presenting ours; we gain nothing in virtue
by presenting theirs, and only provide the enemy ... with ammunition to be used
Kameny scorned the dominant medical model that
homosexuality was an “illness.” He publicly stated instead, “I
take the stand that not only is homosexuality ... not immoral, but that
homosexual acts engaged in by consenting adults are moral, in a positive and
real sense, and are right, good and desirable, both for the individual
participants and for the society in which they live.”
In April 1962,
activist Randy Wicker confronted the WBAI radio station public affairs director
in New York City about a broadcast in which psychiatrists had discussed
homosexuality as a sickness. Wicker demanded, and won, a program in which gay
men were able to speak as experts about their lives.
Wicker took his media
campaign about the homosexual rights movement to publications from the Village
Voice to Harper’s.
Kameny and Wicker drew the ire of the more
politically right-wing leadership of the Mattachine Society and Daughters of
Next: Mid-1960s gay activists target U.S. government.
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