Mid-1960s gay activists target U.S. gov’t
Lavender & red, part 59
Published Apr 1, 2006 8:57 PM
In 1963, activist Franklin Kameny helped set
up the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO). ECHO brought together the
Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia branches of Mattachine, the New York
branch of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Janus Society of Philadelphia. The
coalition, meant to foster cooperation and to debate tactics, was also an
attempt to form an activist network to the left of the accommodationist leaders
of the homophile movement.
This more left-leaning activist current of
primarily white gay men and lesbians was not revolutionary. But they were
breaking away from the timid, class-collaborationist political approach of
Mattachine and the DOB.
And they denounced the gay-bashing U.S. government
when the media here attacked the Cuban Revolution on April 16, 1965, saying it
was interning gays in labor camps.
Although some of these activists were
imbued with anti-communism themselves, they immediately set up demonstrations in
front of the White House and United Nations headquarters. The hypocrisy of the
U.S. government criticizing the Cuban Revolution was not lost on these
activists. After all, it was the U.S. that had carried out the “Lavender
Scare” as a Cold War bludgeon, unleashed state repression against lesbians
and gay men, bisexuals and trans people, marginalized LGBT workers from the
labor force, and pathologized sexual and gender variation as criminal and sick
It was a courageous move by these activists, still living in the
chill of the Cold War, to face red-baiting for holding protests that turned
Washington’s charges against the Cuban Revolution back on the U.S.
Author John D’Emilio concluded, “Lest anyone
mistake the event as an anti-Castro action, the pickets displayed signs that
made their target clear: ‘Fifteen Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal
Treat ment,’ one placard read, while another charged that
‘Cuba’s Government Perse cutes Homosexuals—U.S. Govern ment
Beat Them to It.’”
(This series will take up the obstacles
facing the Cuban Revolution, and its subsequent accomplishments, in more detail
in the future.)
In May 1965, left-wing ECHO activists won their proposal
to organize a series of picket lines in the spring and summer demanding gay
rights. They chose as their targets the White House, Pentagon, State Department,
Civil Service Commission and, on the Fourth of July, Philadelphia’s
Although the picket lines were tiny, these activists
were brave. Homosexuality was still illegal and actively persecuted.
boldness of public picketing made the demand for gay and lesbian rights hard to
ignore. ABC-TV filmed the protest outside the White House on May 29. Local
affiliates in nine states broadcast the foot age. A report on the wire services
was print ed in papers in several U.S. cities. On the eve of the demonstration
outside the State Department, a press reporter asked Secre tary of State Dean
Rusk about his department’s policy towards homosexuality.
day of protest outside the Civil Service Commission forced its officials to
finally agree to a meeting with gay activists.
Next: Old guard
Mattachine and DOB blamed bar crowd for drawing police violence.
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