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G.1. The 'Homophile' Movement and Rise of Gay Liberation in the West: 1950s-1970s

Volume Two -> G. LGBT: Campaigns for Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Rights -> G.1. The 'Homophile' Movement and Rise of Gay Liberation in the West: 1950s-1970s

Groups directly challenging legal repression and social discrimination against lesbians and male homosexuals arose in a number of countries in the years between 1919 and 1939, but the rise of fascism and Nazism and the outbreak of war brought an end to such campaigning. In countries like Spain and Portugal calling for gay rights was virtually impossible until their dictatorial regimes came to an end in the 1970s. In Spain legalizing of gay and lesbian sexual relations was seen as part of the necessary post-Franco liberalization, and occurred in 1979, when the first Gay Pride march was held in the country. The Nazis had destroyed the Institute for Sexual Research set up by a pioneer of homosexual (and women’s) rights, the German Jew Magnus Hirschfeld, passed a more draconian law against male homosexuals in their amendment of paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code in 1936, and sentenced as estimated 50,000 to imprisonment. Lesbians were less specifically targeted, although some were arrested for ‘prostitution’ or ‘asocial’ behaviour. Of the men arrested it is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps where they forced to wear a pink triangle, and up to 60 per cent may have died. (A reference for this period provided by the American Library Association is: However, after the War homosexual victims of the camps were not acknowledged and a memoir by one survivor, Heger, Heinz , The Men with the Pink Triangle: The True Life-and-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps [1980] revised edn., 1994, pp. 120 was not published until 1980. (It has since been re-issued in English and translated into several languages.) In West Germany the Nazi version of paragraph 175, which made it criminal to look at another man ‘in a lewd manner’, was not repealed until 1969. Although East Germany under Communist Party rule was less open to public protest, the regime amended the Nazi version of paragraph 175 in 1950, but the paragraph was not formally repealed until 1968 (though it was not enforced after 1957).

Even after the Second World War, homosexuals were not only stigmatized by widespread social and institutional discrimination, but also in many cases faced legislation prohibiting sexual activity and possible imprisonment or chemical castration. As a result they were subject to police harassment and entrapment, vulnerable to blackmail and vilification in the media and liable to arrest. Some were driven to suicide – as was the celebrated British mathematician, Enigma Code breaker during World War Two and pioneer of computer science, Alan Turing . (He received a retrospective ‘pardon’ for ‘gross indecency’ from the Queen in December 2013, which had been extended to others persecuted in Britain under anti-homosexual legislation - though some have rejected as inappropriate and called for an apology. The genrale pardon was officially enshrined in law - unofficially known as 'Turin's Law' - when the Policing and Official Crime Act received royal assent at the end of January 2017.) During the 1950s campaign organizations focused on seeking legal and social reform, many of these groups (some revivals from the inter-war years) were linked to the transnational ‘homophile’ network. One of the best known organizations was Arcadie in France, founded in 1954, with its own club and publication; it attracted prominent intellectuals like Jean Cocteau and Michel Foucault. In Britain pressure for law reform began in the 1950s, and liberal minded parliamentarians succeeded in passing a Private Members Bill in 1967, which meant that sex in private between men over 21 was no longer illegal in England and Wales – though this only became law in Scotland in 1980 and in Northern Ireland in 1982 (lesbianism had not been previously banned).

Legislation decriminalizing sex between consenting male homosexuals was also passed in Canada in 1967 and came into effect in 1969. In the United States the McCarthyist purges and paranoia of the earlier 1950s tended to repress all nonconformists. Many gay men and lesbians lost government jobs, and although groups were formed to change the law in the later 1960s, at the end of the decade homosexual sex was still illegal in all states except Illinois.

A trigger for change was the June 1969 confrontation at the Stonewall Inn in New York between police and gays (including drag queens who were at the forefront of resisting police). The rapid rise of the Gay Liberation movement afterwards resulted in a much more openly challenging and radical style of protest and organizing, including the spread of Gay Pride marches from 1970, and various forms of direct action, such as occupations of police stations and interrupting church services in Britain. The movement was also diverse, stressing the rights of women as well as men and embracing transgender people and drag queens, although divisions and controversies also arose. Gay Liberation spread rapidly to the UK and Australia and rather more slowly to New Zealand. It also had a strong impact on campaigning for gay and lesbian rights in much of Western Europe. But one difference between the United States movement and Gay Liberation in many other western countries was that the latter were often concerned about their relationships with the socialist left, as some titles below indicate.

Alongside decriminalization of homosexuality there was pressure for demedicalization. Labeling homosexuality as a mental illness meant that lesbians, gays and transgender people could be given psychiatric treatment to change their sexual orientation. At the 1971 American Psychiatric Association convention, gay activist Dr Franklin E. Kameny seized the microphone as part of a long-standing opposition to the diagnosis of homosexuality, and initiated wider gay rights protest. One outcome was a session at the 1972 conference on homosexuality and mental illness entitled ‘Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals: A Dialogue’. Kameny was on the panel. Here John E. Fryer made his famous ‘I am a homosexual, I am a psychiatrist’ speech, disguised by a mask and wig and calling himself Dr H. His speech (the first time a psychiatrist publicly admitted to being homosexual) has been cited as a key factor in achieving the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders a year later. Some orthodox psychiatrists fought a rearguard action against what they saw as capitulation to gay activism, and demanded a referendum of all the members, who ratified the decision in 1974. The American Psychological Association followed suit in 1975. However, it took until 1990 for the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from its tenth international classification of diseases and health problems (ICD 10).

Altman, Dennis, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, [1971], with new Introduction by Jeffrey Weeks and Afterword by author commenting on his book in light of developments since 1970s., New York, New York University Press, 1993, pp. 304

Key work on early period of Gay Liberation in 1960s/70s in the USA, examining different strands of movement and arguing need for struggle for common goals.

Bayer, Ronald, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 244

Account of 1973 decision by American Psychiatric Association to stop listing homosexuality as a mental disorder and attempts by some psychiatrists to overturn this decision.

Carter, David, Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, [2004], New York, St Martins Press, 2010, pp. 352

Detailed account of protests that erupted on 28 June 1969 when New York police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village (popular among gays), when many others joined in, and demonstrations spread across the city for several days. The ‘riots’ led to the founding of the Gay Liberation Front and the first Gay Pride marches in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco a year later.

D'Emilio, John, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States 1940-1970, [1983], 2nd edn, with new preface and afterword, Chicago IL, Chicago University Press, 1998, pp. 282

Highly regarded book on the American Homophile movement by historian and gay activist, including biographical sketches of prominent lesbian and gay figures.

Gallo, Marcia M., Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Birth of the Lesbian Rights Movement, [2006], Seattle WA, Seal Press (Avalon Publishing), 2007, pp. 274

‘DOB’ was founded in 1955 as a social group in San Francisco, but developed over two decades into a national organization. See also  Martin; Lyon, Lesbian/Woman (G.1. The 'Homophile' Movement and Rise of Gay Liberation in the West: 1950s-1970s) .

Jackson, Julian, Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 336

Account of the French ‘homophile’ organization Arcadie.

Marotta, Toby, The Politics of Homosexuality, Boston MA, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981, pp. 361

Examines struggle for gay rights in USA from 1950s to early 1970s, charting the different political and cultural issues and types of campaigning and the contradictions between political reformism and radical hippy culture. Part III covers the Lesbian Feminist Movement.

Martin, ‘Del’ (Dorothy L. Taliaferro) ; Lyon, Phyllis, Lesbian/Woman, [1972], Volcano CA, Volcano Press, 1993, pp. 384

By two women journalists at forefront of US gay and lesbian rights struggle from the 1950s, founders of Daughters of Bilitis and active in the feminist campaign NOW (National Organization for Women) where they argued that lesbian issues were feminist issues. A couple since the 1950s, they married in San Francisco in February 2004.

McLeod, Donald, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology 1964-1975, Toronto, ECW Press/Homewood Books, 1996, pp. 302

Covers 12 years of the ‘homophile’ movement, represented by ASK (Association for Social Knowledge) in Vancouver, and early Gay Liberation activity to founding of the National Gay Rights Coalition in 1975. Emphasis on demonstrations, lobbying and other political activities and legal reform, but also covers expressions of lesbian and gay concerns in culture and arts.

Milligan, Don, The Politics of Homosexuality, Studies in Anti-Capitalism series, London, Pluto Press, 1975, pp. 19

Brief survey, which raises issue of how homosexuality should be addressed in the socialist movement.

Nancy, Gregory, The Gay and Lesbian Movement in the United States, In Moyer; McAllister; Finley; Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (K.1. Planning and Development of Campaigns), Gabriola Island, New Society Publishers, pp. 152-164

Analyses the US LGBT movement from 1945-2000 using the model of the Movement Action Plan developed by Moyer.

Ross, Liz, Revolution is for Us: The Left and Gay Liberation in Australia, Melbourne, Interventions, 2013

The author, an active socialist, argues contrary to widely held views that the left and working class supported earlier gay rights campaigns and that the left is central to Gay Liberation.

Rupp, Leila, The Persistence of Transnational Organizing: The Case of the Homophile Movement, American Historical Review, Vol. 116, issue 4 (Oct), 2011, pp. 1014-1039

Study of the reformist groups which were active in Scandinavia, West Germany, France, the UK, Canada and USA, primarily in the 1950s and 1960s, which joined in the International Committee for Sexual Equality (1951-1963) founded by the Dutch COC (the first ‘homophile’ group).

Scasta, D. I., John E. Fryer, MD and the Dr. H. Anonymous Episode, Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, Vol. 6, issue 4, 2002, pp. 73-84

Recounts Fryer’s anonymous appearance on stage, at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association session on psychiatry and mental illness, to announce his homosexuality. (He spoke anonymously – as he explained later – through fear of being refused tenure at his university.)

Schilts, Randy, The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, [1998], New York, Atlantic Books and St Martins Press, 2009, pp. 480

The career of Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to political office in the USA – as a councilor in San Francisco – reflects the rise of the gay community in the 1970s. He was assassinated in November 1978. His life is also the subject of a 1984 documentary film, ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’, 1984, directed by Rob Epstein, and a feature film ‘Milk’ 2008, directed by Gus Van Sant.

Sibalis, Michael, The Spirit of May ‘68 and the Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement in France, In Frazer, Lessie Jo; Cohen, Deborah , Gender and Sexuality in 1968: Transformative Politics in the Cultural Imagination Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, , 2009, pp. 235-253

See also: Sibalis, Michael , Gay Liberation Comes to France: The Front Homosexuel d’Action Revolutionnaire The George Rudé Society, , 2005, pp. 12

Taylor, Verta ; Whitaker, Nancy E., Collective Identity in Social Movement Communities: Lesbian Feminist Mobilization, In Morris, Aldon ; Mueller, Carol McClure, Frontiers in Social Movement Theory New Haven CT, Yale University Press, , 1992, pp. 104-129

Examines development of lesbian feminism in the US from the early 1970s and explores its collective identity and engagement in range of actions challenging status quo.

Walter, Aubrey, Come Together: The Years of Gay Liberation 1970-73, London, Heretic Books, 1981, pp. 218

Based on articles from the newspaper Come Together. Walter was one of the founders of the British Gay Liberation Front.

Whisnant, Clayton J., Male Homosexuality in West Germany: Between Persecution and Freedom 1945-69, New York, Macmillan Palgrave, 2012, pp. 280

Looks at prejudice and role of police, the homophile movement, the gay scene and the rejection of Paragraph 175 of the Constitutional Code.