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Carly Spatar

Wreckers, Destroyers, Security risks, Blabbermouths: The Oppressive Reality of Gays and Lesbians in the United States, 1950-1959.

The popular imagery of postwar America as the manifestation of the American Dream has captured our nations collective imagination for decades. An idealized perception of the 1950s often designates conformity, conservative values, and family-centered culture as its defining legacy. Yet, the disparate reality of the Cold War- era was hidden behind a faade of perfectionism. It was a decade of uncertainty, as fears of communism, unconformity, and social change drove political ideologies and created widespread panic. The euphemism security risk encapsulated individuals who engaged in behaviors or associations that were considered to be immoral and these subversives became the focus of intrusive and repressive government intervention. Widely considered as sex perverts, homosexuals were classified as moral risks that posed a grave threat to national security. Popularly labeled as "Wreckers, destroyers, security risks, blabbermouths, drunks, traitors, and saboteurs," gays and lesbians suffered discrimination and persecution from the government and society.1All aspects of American society, including the government, academia, media, and culture, strictly imposed their disapproving viewpoint of homosexuals through a variety of repressive and inequitable methods. Being sexually different during this decade meant you had to assimilate completely into the heterosexual world, or face the possibility of losing your job, your family and friends, and your dignity. At best, a homosexual was mentally ill, and at worst, they were a sex crazed, immoral, national security risk. Millions of men and women were coerced into lives of constant vulnerability, secrecy, and invisibility, and responded by staying deep in the closet. Many married, and many others told no one but their closest friends about their sexual orientation. They dissembled with their family and at work, creating a facade of heterosexuality to protect themselves from exposure and trouble. Ironically, the

Robert Ridlinger., ed. Speaking Our Lives: Historic Speeches and Rhetoric for Gay and Lesbian Rights (18922000) Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, 2004), 42-3.

Carly Spatar social persecution, which intended to exclude and cast out sex perverts, in fact made homosexuals privy to the fact that others like themselves existed. As the 1950s progressed, gays and lesbians throughout the nation increasing began to organize for various reasons, most commonly for peer support, and most rarely for social activism. Due to the public stigma and brutal consequences for being a known homosexual, most were apprehensive, at best, to attach their name to a fledgling gay rights organization. However, members of the Mattachine Society, One, Inc., and the Daughters of Bilitis, ignored the doubts of their peers, and formed their respective organizations to finally fight back. By the mid-1950s, the first ever gay and lesbian rights movement in the United States was officially underway, and the activists faced a disproportionate battle against the overwhelmingly biased and prejudiced majority. From a modern perspective, mid-century Americas immense hostility, and overall prejudice directed at gays and lesbians may appear as a methodical, apathetic, and unlawful. However, it is essential to analyze this story within the context of the Cold War. The 1950s, nicknamed the Age of Anxiety, was defined by paranoia, hysteria, and uncertainty, due to the prevailing fears regarding communism, national security, and morality. Senator Joseph McCarthy and his policy of McCarthyism furthered panic by claiming communists, sexual deviants, and other undesirables had infiltrated the State Department. As the federal government conducted invasive witch hunts, wiretaps, and surveillance in an effort to weed out the subversives, Americans began to view each other with increased suspicion. Consequently, society embraced conformity, conservatism, and traditionalism as the new social mores, and viewed anything unique, diverse, or strange as unacceptable. Homosexuality, a taboo and uncomforting identity, rapidly came under attack by politicians, government officials, researchers, law enforcement, and the media. As the anticommunist wave in American politics rose, it carried homosexuals with it. Social tolerance of homosexuals diminished, and they became synonymous with sexual deviance, immorality, and sedition. Gay men and women became the targets of a verbal

Carly Spatar assault that quickly escalated into policy and practice. By examining the discriminatory laws and policies enacted by the federal government, the biased approach of law enforcement and the media, and the dominant public condemnation, it can be concluded that gays and lesbians in the United States faced oppression in nearly every aspect of their lives during the 1950s. Forced to the margins of American society, harassed because of their sexuality, many homosexuals internalized the negative descriptions and came to embody the stereotypes. Even as some of them began to participate in groups that allowed them to have a sense of belonging, they still confronted an ideology that viewed their situation as an individual problem. For many, the gay world was reduced to a setting where they shared an affliction. The history of homosexuality in America had been an obscure, and nearly nonexistent area of research until historian John DEmilio released his groundbreaking work Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities (University of Chicago Press, 1983). Three decades later, DEmilios monograph still serves as the definitive analysis of homosexual discrimination in the U.S. from 1940 to 1970, and has been credited as the catalyst which spawned the growth of gay and lesbian historical literature. His more recent publications, Remembering Bayard Rustin, (OAH Magazine of History 20, no. 2, March 2006) and Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Strategist, (Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review 6, no.3, July 1999) have revived the legacy of Bayard Rustin, a gay African American, and one of the most influential Civil Rights activists in American history. Other secondary sources by Lillian Faderman and Yolanda Retter, David Johnson, and Chuck Stewart, and scholarly journal articles by Craig Loftin, and Martin Meeker, are also exceptional contributions to the body of work. Faderman and Retters reference book, Great Events from History: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Events, 1848-2006 (Hackensack, NJ: Salem Press, 2006), is a well-organized volume of chronologically arranged essays that outline key events in homosexual history. Even though each topic is brief and simple, the work serves as an impeccable introduction to the issues that gays and lesbians faced throughout not only the 1950s, but the entire 19th and 20th centuries as well. Emerging as one of the most influential monographs since DEmilios,

Carly Spatar David Johnsons The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (University of Chicago Press, 2006) focuses on the fear and persecution of homosexuals working for the federal government during the Red Scare. In addition to his extremely throughout and informative historical narrative about the discriminatory witch hunt, Johnson also interestingly includes how the Lavender Scare and other inequitable social conditions sparked the first American gay rights movement. The third book, Homosexuality and the Law: A Dictionary (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001) by Chuck Stewart, analyzes over two-hundred years of United States laws, Congressional reports and hearings, government studies, and many other related documents pertaining to gays and lesbians. Organized alphabetically, the work discusses not only significant legislations and reports, such as Dont Ask Dont Tell, but obscure ones as well, like the Crittenden Report. Craig Loftins Unacceptable Mannerisms, Gender Anxieties, Homosexual Activism, and Swish in the United States, 1945-1965, (Journal of Social History 40, no.3, 2007) examines the rift between masculine gay men and effeminate swishes during mid to late 1950s. In his discussion of the intricate relationship between gender roles and homosexuality, Loftin explores the dismal social, political, and economic reality for gay men during the decade. Notably, the journal article shows how discrimination affected homosexuals relationship with an uncertain society, and with each other. Lastly, Behind the Mask of Respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and the Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s, (Journal of the History of Sexuality 10, no.1, January 2001) by Martin Meeker is an in-depth study, and reevaluation of the post-War era homophile movement, predominantly focusing on the Mattachine Society. Meekers work is one of the most skilled, and comprehensive resources on the early gay and lesbian rights movement, and was exceptionally valuable in this research. The Cold War-era, categorized by fears of communism, prevailing negative stereotypes of sexual deviants and other undesirables, and the belief that homosexuality was a mental illness, had left very few primary sources that dealt explicitly with homosexuals. The conservative reality of the

Carly Spatar 1950s kept most gays and lesbians in the closet, therefore limiting the amount of historical evidence and personal insight available to researchers. Newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals rarely covered stories about homosexuals, except during important events such as the Lavender Scare, and were almost exclusively national or major city publications. Local papers in smaller regions occasionally covered police raids on gay bars and other homosexual-related arrests. Consequently, the primary sources used in this research are slightly more diverse, and less abundant, than more traditional topics that have been frequently studied, or thoroughly documented. Time and resource restrictions, coupled with the aforementioned issues, have markedly limited the influence of contemporaneous resources, particularly newspapers and similar documents, in this research. Yet, primary works such as Donald Webster Corys The Homosexual in America: A Subjective Approach (New York, Greenberg, 1951), a scientific study conducted by psychologist Evelyn Hooker, and oral histories compiled by Robert Ridlinger, have shown to be significant contributions in lieu of periodicals. Corys monograph is considered to be one of the most influential works in the history of the gay rights movement. It is the first publication in the United States that discussed homosexual politics, highlighting the numerous difficulties facing homosexuals during the post-WWII era, in a rare, historically crucial first-person narrative. Furthermore, Cory bravely argued that gays and lesbians deserved civil rights, and called for local, state and national governments to repeal all anti-homosexuality legislation, during a decade of almost universal silence. The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual, (Journal of Protective Techniques 21, 1957) is the conclusion of Evelyn Hookers groundbreaking psychological study on gay men. Arguing that homosexuals were no more likely than heterosexuals to exhibit mental illness, she also declared that homosexuality should not be considered a clinical entity. Hookers findings changed psychological assumptions and ultimately influenced the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. The final source, Speaking Our Lives: Historic Speeches and Rhetoric for Gay and Lesbian Rights 1892-2000 (Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press,

Carly Spatar 2004) is a chronological compilation of over a centurys worth of speeches, interviews, and other oral histories. The editor, Robert Ridlinger, includes several documents from the 1950s, including the heartbreaking plea for equality and civility, An Open Letter to Senator Dirksen. Other noted works consist of speeches given by activists and homophile leaders, interviews, and opinion articles. Ridlingers oral history collection of gay rights provides access to rare contemporaneous sources, and gives insight to the plight of homosexuals, spoken in their own words. All of the complied resources have aided in the examination of the dynamic between homosexuality and prescribed gender roles, and the adverse effect these notions had on the gay men and women. Most importantly, these works have revealed the devastating implications that antihomosexual legislation and the Red Scare had on the lives of thousands of people, and how these injustices gave rise to gay rights activism. However, all of the sources were focused on a very particular event, social movement, individual, demographic, or legislative act, and do not fully encompass all the varying factors to which this research has focused on. By pulling all these sources together, analyzing available evidence, and drawing new conclusions, this thesis paper, unlike any other, provides a multifaceted viewpoint of the discrimination, and invisibility that American gays and lesbians endured from 1950 to 1959. Our present day notions of sexuality, the belief that people are born either heterosexual or homosexual, distort our understanding of the Cold War era. Most men and women in the 1950s saw homosexuality not as an inborn characteristic of a percentage of the population, but as a sin or temptation to which anyone might succumb.2 Homosexuality became an epidemic infecting the nation, actively spread by communism to sap the strength of the next generation.3 Many anti-subversive groups during this time believed that sex perversion was undermining the institution held as cornerstones of

David Johnson. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. (University of Chicago Press, 2006), 1. 3 John DEmilio. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities. (University of Chicago Press, 1983), 41.

Carly Spatar American democracy: the family, the government, and the schools.4 In the oppressive closet of the 1950s, an individuals private life mattered, no matter how much an individual wanted privacy. Still, society was ideologically divided on their opinion on gays and lesbians. Liberals attempted to be empathetic, viewing homosexuals with pity, and urged that they should not be feared or hated because they were inherently sad people.5 Conservative Americans argued that homosexuals were a dangerous menace to society, and deserved the ostracism they faced in every aspect of their lives.6 From the vantage point of religion, medicine, or the law, these people were flawed individuals, not a victim of injustice.7 Churches and organized religion, in particular, bolstered fear of and negative judgments towards homosexuals, and strictly separated gender roles were also reinforced. The systemized oppression during the 1950s exerted detrimental influences on gays. Historian Patti Swartz describes her experience as a young lesbian during this time as, impossibleI was on guard at all timescareful not to reveal who I really wasI was incredibly lonely, even though I appeared to have friends, for I had to hide a large part of myself out of fear of rejection and censure. Homosexuality was still a psychiatric diagnosis. I was terrified. What would life hold for me? Was I was always to be an outcast, sick in fear of needing mental treatment simply for who I was? Would I be a pariah?8 Although the treatment accorded to homosexuals in the McCarthy-era grew out of a cultural tradition clearly hostile to homoerotic activities, it nonetheless marked a significant departure from the past.

Stacy Braukman. Nothing Else Matters But Sex, Feminist Studies 27, no.3 (2001): 558, http://web.ebscohost,com/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=8&sid=27154611-8304-4792-996b-74abcece489d%40session mgr11&bdata= JmxvZ2lucGFnZT1Mb2dpbi5hc3Amc2l0ZT1laG9zdC 1saXZl#db=a9h&AN= 5963001 (accessed February 1, 2010). 5 Craig Loftin. Unacceptable Mannerisms, Gender Anxieties, Homosexual Activism, and Swish in the United .. States, Journal of Social History 40, no.3 (2007): 584, %40sessionmgr12 & bdata=JmxvZ2lucGFnZT1Mb2dpbi5hc3 Amc2l0ZT1laG9zdC1saXZ l#db=a9h&AN=24638631(accessed January .23, 2010). 6 Loftin, 583. 7 DEmilio, 53. 8 Patti Capel Swartz. Sexual Morality, Cultural Morality: One in the Same, Race, Gender, and Class 7, no.1 (2000): 91, VInst=PROD&V Type=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1269554347&clientId=65284 (accessed March 9, 2010).

Carly Spatar During the 1950s anti-homosexual forces took an aggressive stance. For the first time, the phenomenon rose to the surface of American life and became a subject of serious concern. During the McCarthy-era hysteria, the individuals who possessed authority and influence, whether it was a lawmaker, police chief, or the President of the United States, dictated which Americans were desirable, acceptable, and pro-American. Beginning with communists, the subversive label quickly spread to include political enemies, the mentally ill, and homosexuals, which tarnished the lives of countless innocent, law-abiding citizens. Many chose to hide in the shadows, and assimilate into the heterosexual dominated world, rather than face the brutal consequences of being gay or lesbian. In the eyes of the government and society, sexual orientation determined an individuals self worth, and trumped any previous merit, achievements, or success. The story of Bayard Rustin serves as the archetype for how the forced invisibility profoundly affected homosexuals. For Rustin, his status as a homosexual surpassed his astounding achievements and nearly erased him from the historical narrative. The African American activist championed issues such as Cold War militarism, segregation in the South, decolonization in Africa, and building a non-Stalinist Left. However, his greatest triumph was orchestrating the March on Washington in 1963.9 During the 1950s, Rustin devoted himself to the Civil Rights Movement, drawing up plans for the Southern Christian Leadership Conferencing, serving as a close political advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and organized influential marches. Yet Rustin is also one of historys forgotten men, historian John DEmilio has stated, With the exception of a handful of books, Rustin has been strikingly absent from the histories and memoirs of post-1945 social activism.10 The reason behind Rustins public invisibility was simple. He was an African American gay man during an era when that identity bore a crushing stigma.11 His homosexuality forced him to work out of the

John DEmilio. Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Strategist, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review 6, no.3 (July 1999): 14. 1&sid=1& Fmt=3&VInst= PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1272129980&clientId=65284 (accessed April 13, 2010). 10 DEmilio, Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Strategist, 12. 11 Ibid, 12.

Carly Spatar spotlight, and the shadows that hid him then have kept his life and work obscure. Regardless of his achievements, Rustin remained the quintessential outsider in African American Civil Rights circles for much of his life. According to historians Devon Carbado and Donald Weise, This created a seemingly unprecedented conundrum for leaders, who balanced the value of Rustins tactical expertise and political sophistication against his deviant sexual identity.12 No stranger to controversy, Bayard Rustin had also sparked debate in various other facets of his life. A reporter once exclaimed, Goodness gracious! Youre a socialist, youre a conscientious objector, youre gay, youre black, how many jeopardizes can you afford? Rustin retorted, I found people in the Civil Rights Movement were perfectly willing to accept me so long as I didnt declare I was gay.13 As a young man in the 1930s, he had joined the youth branch of the Communist Party, eventually leaving the party to study Ghandi and nonviolence during the 1940s. Later that decade, Rustin became a conscientious objector to World War II, and served twenty-six months in a Federal prison for failing to cooperate with the Selective Service. Historian DEmilio argues that Rustins pacifist beliefs and Communist background, coupled with his homosexuality, are the three strikes against him which have silenced his legacy. 14 Yet, it was his identity as a gay man, particularly during the McCarthy-era witch hunts that most glaringly effected his reputation. Rustin was not out of the closet, but he did not attempt to deny his attractions to men. His openness made him more vulnerable, and his willingness to go in search of sexual partners put him in the path of police officers looking to make arrests. On more than one occasion, Rustin found himself hauled into court on gay-related charges. Most notably, in 1953

12 Devon Carbado and Donald Weise. The Civil Rights Identity of Bayard Rustin, Texas Law Review 82, no.5 (April 2004): 1178. 13105516 (accessed April 13, 2010). 13 Carbado and Weise, 1150. 14 John DEmilio. Remembering Bayard Rustin, OAH Magazine of History 20, no.2 (March 2006): 12, @sessionmgr114&bdata=JmxvZ2lucGFnZT1sb2dpbi5hc3Amc2l0ZT1laG9zdC1saXZl#db=a9h&AN=20317185 (accessed April 13, 2010).

Carly Spatar he was convicted in Los Angeles County under Californias lewd-vagrancy law, and served a sixty-day sentence.15 Outside of the oppressive legal system, concerns over Rustins sexuality rippled through the movement for racial justice. As a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., he was always susceptible to the petty rivalries and envy of other activists, who could use information about his homosexuality to his disadvantage. Just weeks before the March on Washington in 1963, the most striking example of this strategic homophobia occurred when White supremacist senator Strom Thurmond, in an effort to discredit and humiliate Rustin, inserted information about his homosexuality to the Congressional Record. Rustins allies were equally as apprehensive about his sexual orientation, and in 1956 demonstrators urged him to leave Montgomery in order not to give enemies of the bus boycott a weapon to attack it. Adding to the rising hostility within the movement, Rustin claimed that Dr. King had never known a gay person in his life. I think he had no real sympathy or understandinghe was surrounded by people, who for their own reasons, wanted to get rid of me, and this ultimately lead to Rustin and King severing personal and political ties in 1960. From that point on, he retreated to the shadows of the Civil Rights movement and resumed a submissive role throughout his subsequent activist efforts. Because he was always swimming against the tide, argues historian DEmilio, one can understand why Rustin would have developed a style of leadership that tended to keep him out of the public eye.16 As a consequence of Bayard Rustins forced invisibility, he remained virtually unknown to virtually all Americans, including historians. It was not until the beginning of the 21st century that Rustins forgotten story was finally uncovered, and it serves as a tragic example of the detrimental ramifications that the homosexual label had on guiltless individuals during the 1950s.

15 16

DEmilio, Remembering Bayard Rustin, 14. DEmilio, Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Strategist, 12.


Carly Spatar During the 1950s politicians, journalists, and psychologists publically fretted over the decline of the American male, and declared that male homosexuality threatened the nations ability to win the Cold War.17 The most visible gay man during the early decades of the twentieth century were working class fairies and pansies, therefore practicing masculinity to pass as a heterosexual was a skill that was not taken for granted. According to the 1955 article The Margin of Masculinity in ONE magazine, a male who was effeminate could attract suspicion, ridicule, and public scorn. This in turn can affect the homosexuals business or professional career and limit his circle of friends.18 To avoid detection, gay men had to avoid using obvious homosexual mannerisms such as the hissing s, the use of well defined words, the exaggerated walk, and the compulsion to use makeup and feminine attire. Increasingly, men who possessed these effeminate qualities, called swishes, were resented by middle class homosexuals who wanted to pass as a heterosexual in order to maintain a career or job. Masculine-leaning gay men commonly used derogatory words like fairy, nelly, queen, and faggot to refer to effeminate swishes.19 A New York City man justified such resentment, stating in 1954 that, I have a reasonable position and would lose it in a second if I were even suspect. The flaming faggot who swishes up Lexington Avenue in NYC screaming and calling attention to his eccentricities sets back homosexuality He is a menace and decent homos have cause to resent him.20 The backlash against effeminate male homosexuals became so severe that male workers began to deliberately avoid speaking to each other in places that might be considered secluded, and even a friendship with a known homosexual subjected anyone to an investigation.21 Men looked to any available resource for guidance on how to be masculine, particularly in the form of physique and body building magazines. Publications like Physique Pictorial gave gays practical advice on fitting in, and

17 18

Loftin, 578. Ibid, 581. 19 Ibid, 582, 585. 20 Ibid, 582-3. 21 Johnson, 12.; DEmilio, 47.


Carly Spatar provided assistance on how to overcome sissiness through muscle and body development.22 Nonetheless, the Post Office quickly joined the anti-homosexual campaign by establishing a watch on recipients of these magazines and other forms of gay erotica. Postal inspectors subscribed to pen pal clubs, and initiated correspondence with men whom they believed might be gay, and if they were, placed tracers on victims' mail to locate other homosexuals.23 As the 1950s progressed, this and other forms of state and federal intervention increasingly became the norm for millions of gays and lesbians in the United States. The most famous and glaring instance of government intrusion in the personal lives of gays and lesbians was "the Lavender Scare, a term coined by historian David Johnson which synonymously refers to the Cold War firing and persecution of homosexuals in the federal government. In February of 1950 the witch hunt was unofficially jumpstarted by an infamous speech given by Senator Joseph McCarthy, in which he claimed that two hundred and five known communists were working for the State Department. This was the beginning of the age of anxiety, where fears of communism at home and abroad created a national hysteria. A few weeks after McCarthys speech, Deputy Undersecretary John Peurifoy denied that the State Department employed communists, but revealed that a number of persons were forced out, including ninety-one homosexuals, for being security risks. Concern and outrage spread throughout the nation, sparking debates and investigations on Congress, White House meetings, and countless newspaper articles. Senator Kenneth Wherry asked his peers on the Senate floor, Can you think of a person who could be more dangerous to the United States of America than a pervert? and a Republican newsletter from Chairman Guy Gabrielson alerted seven-thousand members that, Sex pervertshave infiltrated our governmentthey are perhaps as dangerous as the actual communists.24 Homosexuality, which had extremely limited media coverage before the scare, began to

22 23

Loftin, 585. D'Emilio, 47. 24 Johnson, 2.; DEmilio, 41.


Carly Spatar make headlines of national and local publications. A December 25, 1950 article in Time magazine reported that homosexuals who worked for the government were security risks because of their ability to be blackmailed, which jeopardized national security.25 According to historian Craig Loftin, perhaps no social group in the United States experienced this post-war anxiety more viscerally than homosexuals.26 Fueled by fears that America was in a moral decline, the Lavender Scare was used to justify an expansion of the national security state. Homosexuals, moral perverts, and communists were categorized as security threats, and the issue of homosexual federal workers had become a dire federal personnel policy concern. Nine months after Puerifoys announcement, a federal security officer boasted that the State Department was firing one homosexual per day, which was double the rate for people suspected of political disloyalty. Several politicians began to affectionately refer to the dismissal of six-hundred federal civil servants as the purge of the perverts. The grounds on which most people were dismissed from their jobs were shaky, at best. Typically, circumstantial evidence was used to prove that the accused had associated with known homosexuals, or they had been arrested at a known gaycruising area. Almost all of the accused quietly resigned rather than risk further humility and publicity.27 As thousands of gays and lesbians lost their jobs in 1950, Congress continued on its mission to condemn and villainize homosexuals through a series of hearings and reports. Interestingly, Senator McCarthy was not involved in any of the investigations and did not further pursue the homosexual angle. The staunch anti-communist chose to step down due to rumors about his own sexuality, which were based on his status as an unmarried, middle-aged man. McCarthys absence went unnoticed, however, as more politicians jumped on the bandwagon. By the end of 1950, negative stereotypes were

Lisa Bennett. Fifty Years of Prejudice in the Media, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide 7, no. 2 (2000): 30, e=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1268169580&clientId=65284 (accessed March 9, 2010). 26 Loftin, 582. 27 Johnson, 2-3.



Carly Spatar so prevalent that most of the public believed that homosexuals posted a larger threat to national security than communists.28 A Senate report from that year used discriminatory language such as immature, unstable and morally unfeebled to argue that those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons.29 Expert testimony provided the Senate subcommittee with enough evidence to conclude that "moral perverts (were) bad national security risks because of their susceptibility to blackmail and the threat of exposure."30 Furthermore, the committee found that bureaucracy had inadequate procedures to prevent homosexuals from resigning from one federal job and taking up employment in another part of the government.31 The Civil Service Commission, in response to the committee's recommendations, instructed federal agencies to document the reasons why employees left or lost their federal jobs, including any moral issues that could affect employee suitability for reemployment. While an overwhelming majority of politicians during this time were supportive of the government witch hunt, a few legislators, including Democratic Senator Clyde Roark Hoey, were skeptical of the reasons given by the subcommittee as to why homosexuals made undesirable employees. Hoey, in return, formed his own committee to extensively investigate the charges. Shockingly, his committee made even more damaging allegations than the first committee, concluding that the" immortality and emotional instability of homosexual behavior, and the propensity for gays and lesbians to seduce 'normal' people, especially the young and impressionable, constituted significant reasons to justify the prohibition of homosexuals from federal jobs."32

Ibid, 2. Senate Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments, Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government, 81st Cong., 2d sess., 1950. 30 81st Congress. 31 Lillian Faderman and Yolanda Retter., ed. Great Events from History: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Events, 1848-2006. (Hackensack, NJ: Salem Press, 2006), 130. 32 Faderman and Retter, 130.



Carly Spatar In response to the government's furor over homosexual employees, an endless stream of negative headlines about the homosexual menace dominated newspaper coverage in the early 1950s. Due to the taboo subject matter, many of the articles about the Lavender Scare used cryptic and coded language to name and describe homosexuals. Vague words like moral weaklings, sexual misfits, moral risks, undesirables, and most commonly, security risk, were frequently utilized.33 An excellent example of this phenomenon can be found in a 1953 Buffalo Evening News Story that referred to gay males as men of unconventional morality, whose habits make them especially vulnerable to blackmail.34 In addition to creative wording, some publications tried to conjure up imaginative reasons behind the influx of subversives in the government. Most notably, a Conservative periodical raised the possibility that Federal Civil Service, which ballooned during the liberal administrations of FDR and Truman, had been secretly recruiting homosexuals, therefore explaining why it was currently brimming with gays.35 The media had officially joined the government in the anti-gay and lesbian crusade, and national attention had been shifted successfully from the communist threat to the homosexual menace. In April of 1953, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450: Security Requirements for Government Employment, which listed "sex perversion" as sufficient and necessary grounds for dismissal from government jobs.36 Eisenhower ordered the government to hire and retain employees only when "clearly consistent with the interests of national security," and made it legal to fire a federal employee or deny employment to potential applicants on the basis of sex deviance.37 Suddenly, homosexuals were officially barred from twenty percent of the nation's jobs. Civilian government contractors were also affected, leading to the firing of fifteen-hundred and the resignation of six thousand federal employees. Furthermore, The New York Times reported that "the new (personnel

33 34

Johnson, 6-7. Ibid, 6. 35 Ibid, 6. 36 D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communites, 44. 37 Faderman and Retter, 131.


Carly Spatar security) program will require a new investigation of many thousands of employees previously investigated, as well as many more thousands who have had no security check."38 Three years after he had inspired the anti-homosexual witch hunt, Senator McCarthy praised the executive order as a "pretty darn good program."39 McCarthy and his colleagues had officially accomplished their objective of legal government job discrimination, and its effects were far reaching. Fearful of being accused of protecting "subversives", business owners, bureaucratic agencies, and numerous other employers also began dismissing homosexual workers. It has been estimated that by the end of 1953, thousands of private sector employees resigned from their jobs or were fired, though no official record was kept. According to Johnson, the consequences of "the Lavender Scare" were unprecedented, and continue to be unparalleled, as over a thousand suspected homosexuals were purged from the government from 19501953. As the federal government intensified its search for homosexuals, the military also undertook a stringent manhunt for gays and lesbians in its ranks. Although the Armed Forces had previously established regulations banning homosexuals in 1943, the heightened concern about national security prompted the military to greatly increase their efforts to purge them. Separations averaged twothousand per year in the early 1950s, and rose by another fifty percent by the beginning of the 1960s.40 Moreover, the armed services employed methods for dealing with gay men and women that seriously restricted the rights of its personnel. The military generally bypassed the court martial proceedings required for a dishonorable discharge and instead used administrative mechanisms that terminated members as undesirable. Gays and lesbians faced with termination lacked the right to question or meet their accusers, and had no access to the sources used against them. Being labeled as undesirable

"To Insure Loyalty; Effect of Program Governing Federal Employees Examined," New York Times, May 10, 1953, Sunday edition. 39 Faderman and Retter, 131. 40 DEmilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 44-5.



Carly Spatar was detrimental to these individuals after discharge, and the homosexuals who left the military under these conditions carried a burden that one study called a life stigma.41 Homosexuals who were discharged from service suffered the indignities of interrogation, the sense of helplessness before authorities, the mounting terror as a witch hunt spread, the assault on ones self esteem, and the expectation of permanent stigmatization.42 Military officials justified their severe tactics by asserting that gays and lesbians had detrimental effects on troop morale, and that they corrupted and destroyed the fighting spirit of the combat forces. Routine housecleanings were conducted at military bases across the United States that urged the alleged to admit their homosexuality, under the false pretense that they would be granted a General discharge if they complied. A corporal from Kessler Air Force explained, After confessing, they were informed that it wasnt enough to incriminate only themselves, they must write down someone elsethey waitedand at the end of January they were all out with Undesirables.43 In addition to the eleven women who were deceived at Kessler, the military separated at least twenty others at Lackland Air Force base and several more at Wright-Patterson on the basis of confessions it extracted. Sadly, a majority of these undesirable women later committed suicide, or disappeared completely, due to the detrimental impact the label had on their lives.44 It was not until the end of the decade, after thousands of livelihoods had already been destroyed, that one branch of the armed forces decided to investigate the validity of the militarys homophobic claims. In 1957, the Secretary of Navy compiled an investigative board, chaired by Captain S.H. Crittenden, to investigate the anti-gay stereotype that homosexuals are easy targets of blackmail by enemy agents who might threaten to expose their sexuality. The six hundred and thirty-nine page Crittenden Report was completed later that year, creating a firestorm of internal controversy so intense
41 42

Ibid, 45. Ibid, 45. 43 Ibid, 45. 44 Ibid, 45.


Carly Spatar that the Navy refused its release. The board found that, The number of cases of blackmail as a result of past investigations of homosexuality is negligible. No factual data exists to support the contention that homosexuals are a greater risk than heterosexuals.45 Additionally, they concluded that there was No sound basis for the belief that homosexuals posed a security risk.46 Faced with a potential public relations crisis, the Navy quickly dismissed the boards findings and concealed the report. The Armed Forces repeatedly denied its existence until a court order demanded its release twenty years later. However, government officials ignored the report and it was quickly lost, and subsequently forgotten in the bureaucracy. Over half a century after the Crittenden Report called for gay and lesbian equality within the United States military, homosexuals are still currently unable to openly serve. Since 1943, when the armed forces officially labeled them unsuitable for service, there has been over one-hundred thousand men and women discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation.47 Furthermore, with the exception of the heightened number of discharges during the 1950s and 1960s, the military has wasted twenty-seven million dollars in personnel training costs by expelling about one thousand ablebodied people from service each year, at a ratio of ten women for one man.48 While the systematic discrimination of gays and lesbians has come at a high monetary expense for the United States armed forces, the human price of over six decades of suffering and destroyed livelihoods is incalculable, and unlimited. The United States success in dismantling thousands of lives prompted the government to expand the hunt for homosexuals far beyond the federal bureaucracy and armed forces. The oppressive next step was the establishment of an official policy that refused entry to potential immigrants and visitors on the basis of their sexuality. The strict exclusion policy was in place from the early 1950s to the
Chuck Stewart. Homosexuality and the Law: A Dictionary. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001), 82, %20stewart&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed March 5, 2010). 46 Stewart, 82. 47 Ibid, 200. 48 Ibid, 195.


Carly Spatar 1990s, even though the word homosexual never directly appeared in U.S. immigration law. In 1952 Congress passed the McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act, which focused on the exclusion from entry of communists, anarchists, and other subversives. Although the act was the first to include homosexuals, it correlates with the long standing policies of excluding those who had been deemed undesirable by the federal government. In addition to gays and lesbians, prostitutes, polygamists, paupers, alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally and physically disabled, and others who could not prove good moral character were barred from entering the United States.49 In 1950, the Senate Drafting Committee proposed that the new immigration law explicitly bar foreigners deemed psychopathic personalities or who were thought to be homosexuals and sex perverts. The committee was advised by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) that psychiatrists considered the term psychopathic personality to be sufficiently broad enough to include homosexuality, resulting in Congress removing the phrase homosexuals and sex perverts from the final wording of the act.50 For the legislative record, Congress was certain to specify that the change in terminology was not constructed in any way as modifying the intent to exclude all aliens who are sexual deviants.51 For the record, Congress had made clear its goal of preventing homosexuals from stepping foot on American soil. Since the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) maintained no exact records, it is impossible to know exactly how many potential visitors and immigrants were affected by the policy. Nonetheless, some reports suggest that the INS routinely queried foreign nationals arriving in the U.S. regarding their sexual and criminal histories until the 1980s. Grounds for suspicion included appearance, non-gender conforming dress, unmarried status, possession of gay or lesbian literature, or plans to attend a gay rights conference. Foreigners who were denied entry had no legal right to appeal their

49 50

Faderman and Retter, 117. Ibid, 117. 51 Ibid, 117.


Carly Spatar exclusion, so nearly all challenges to the law involved immigrants who were granted legal entry but later faced deportation when the INS became aware of their homosexuality. Several noted cases, such as the 1961 case Quiroz v. Neelly, were brought before the U.S. Court of Appeals and ultimately rejected, upholding deportation. Legal immigrants also faced deportation for unspecified crimes of moral turpitude which referred to moral offences such as loitering, solicitation, lewd and lascivious behavior, disorderly conduct, or vagrancy, all of which were associated with public homosexuality.52 Gay men, who were the targets of undercover police entrapment operations at places frequented by homosexuals, were far more likely than lesbians to be deported under the provision. This ensured that homosexuals who were initially undetected by officials could be identified in other ways, such as an arrest for solicitation. Immigrants, who were discovered to be homosexual, regardless of how many years they had lived in the United States as law-abiding citizens, could be deported at any time. In the case Babouris v. Esperdy, a Greek immigrant who had lived in America for thirty-nine years was deported in 1959, following two arrests. He was convicted of disorderly conduct for loiter(ing) about (a) public place soliciting men for the purpose of committing a crime against nature, and was turned into the INS by the local police.53 While homosexuals per say might have gone undetected by the INS, arrests for solicitation not only branded male resident aliens, but in some instances, promptly ended their time in the United States. In the decades following the 1950s, the Justice Department continued to uphold the immigration guidelines and ignored pleas from the APA and other influential agencies to stop excluding and deporting homosexuals. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, several high profile court cases, combined with growing support from government officials resulted in Congressional hearings to end the policy. Finally, with very little fanfare, Congress eliminated the homosexual exclusion clause from the Immigration Act of 1990. Forty years after the official prohibition, gays and lesbians at last had gained
52 53

Ibid, 118. Ibid, 118.


Carly Spatar the legal right to enter the U.S. as visitors, speakers, or immigrants without hiding their identities. Yet, it is important to note that since the "crimes involving moral turpitude" exclusion was not amended in the 1990 act. This meant that homosexuals were still at risk for deportation if convicted of sodomy, which was illegal in a handful states until 2003, or a public morality offense. Moreover, some courts continued to hold that homosexuals could be denied citizenship under the "good moral character" requirement, which also remained in the 1990 act. It was not until a Supreme Court decision invalidated all same-sex state sodomy laws in 2003 that all remaining legislative loopholes were diminished, ending sixty years of discriminatory immigration and naturalization policies against homosexuals. Homosexuals, who had already been labeled as security risks, undesirables, and subversives by the national government, began to be associated with child molesters, prostitutes, and the mentally ill. Gay men were portrayed as a dangerous threat to children, particularly young boys, due to their unbridled sexual drive, and predisposition to sexual perversion. Lesbians were viewed either as voracious hunters of heterosexual females, or stereotyped as promiscuous prostitutes. Psychological research into sexual deviance, and newspaper accounts of sex crimes together stirred fears both of the inadequately masculine gay male, and the hypermasculine lesbian female.54 Panicked by the ominous threat posed by these sexual psychopaths, society demanded a solution to the homosexual problem. Popular magazines, such as Time and Newsweek, consulted with psychiatrists who argued that psychotherapy could cure homosexuality.55 Numerous psychological studies were released during this time which supported that claims and homosexuality began to be widely accepted as a mental illness which affected an extremely small percentage of the population. It was not until the enormously influential, and equally controversial, studies by Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker were released that these rampant stereotypes would be challenged. Kinsey and Hooker dared to argue that gays and lesbians were well adjusted, mentally stable human beings and that homosexual behavior was
54 55

Braukman, 561. Bennett, 30.


Carly Spatar shockingly far more prevalent than previously estimated. Most importantly, they promoted a positive view of gays and lesbians, which had been previously elusive within the national dialogue. Prior to the 1950s, Alfred Kinsey had shocked the American public with the release of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, his study of male sexuality in the United States. The book immediately generated both intrigue and outrage by challenging conventional beliefs about sexuality, and discussed subjects that had previously been unmentionable. In 1953, the subsequent release of Kinseys research on womens sexuality, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, was an equal success, and Kinseys popularity soared, yet his findings remained controversial and unsettling to many Americans. The books outlined the zoologist and his teams research, which included conducting interviews with thousands of men and women. Participants were asked questions about as many as five hundred and twenty one items focused on scientifically measurable sexual experiences.56Questions dealt with a variety of taboo topics, ranging anywhere from premarital sex to masturbation to homosexual behavior. Kinsey then applied a seven point homosexual-heterosexual rating scale, nicknamed the Kinsey Scale, to the data. The scale indicated how much the participant engaged in homosexual activity, with a ranking of one considered exclusively heterosexual, and seven being exclusively homosexual. The results stunned the public, and Kinseys data on the high incidence of homosexuality in America instigated unprecedented social debates about the role of homosexuality in society.57 He reported that ten percent of males and three percent of females were exclusively homosexual, and that one-third of all men and one-fifth of all women had engaged in a homosexual act during the course of their lifetime.58 Furthermore, Kinsey stated that many of those who engaged in homosexual behavior did not self-identify as homosexual persons and that it was impossible to determine how many people were homosexual since only

56 57

Faderman and Retter, 122. Loftin, 581. 58 Braukman, 587.


Carly Spatar behavior at a given time could be evaluated59 Kinsey's research of women, particularly in regards to lesbianism, proved to be much more groundbreaking and controversial than his research of men. Before his research, women were considered to be disinterested in all things sexual, but after, women were considered to not only be interested in sex, but also interested in sex with other women. Moreover, Kinsey found that women were much less likely than men to have a history of homoerotic expression, which some historians argue is due to the dual oppression faced by female and homosexual.60 Female bisexuality, which Kinsey defined as women having orgasms with both men and women, made up an estimated thirteen percent of the population. This data, coupled with the estimated three percent of women who were exclusively homosexual, reinforced the notion created in the male study that homosexuality was not a perversion.61 The provocative findings of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female informed Americans that homosexual behavior was far more common than conventional wisdom believed. The Kinsey Reports aided in increasing societal awareness about homosexuality, which proved to be both positive and negative for gays and lesbians. While they at last had visibility within the American public, the acknowledgement of their prevalence propelled the anti-gay campaigns of the 1950s. It was not until decades later that the scientific and cultural significance of Kinseys work would finally be realized. The Lavender Scare, combined with Kinseys findings on the prevalence of homosexuality, created numerous political and scientific debates during the early 1950s. Politically, Conservatives viewed gays and lesbians as sexual deviants who were a menace to society and national security. Liberals had a more empathetic attitude towards homosexuals, arguing that they were sick people who could be cured medically.62 Many psychiatrists and mental health professionals assumed that homosexual men by definition were neurotic, unstable, infantile, and identifiable, and urged
59 60

Johnson, 12. DEmilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 94-5. 61 Faderman and Retter, 122. 62 Loftin, 583.


Carly Spatar homosexuals to receive psychotherapy to treat their disease.63 By 1952, the American Psychological Association (APA) officially categorized homosexuality as a mental disorder in their first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and the illness remained in the publication until 1973. These psychological assumptions would remain unchallenged until 1957, when Evelyn Hooker's instrumental study of gay men was released. Most of the research before Hooker's time came from psychologists who studied gay men who were seeking psychological treatment, and consisted of individual case studies of their patients. Hooker's research began when she applied for a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant to study homosexuals during the height of the McCarthy-era, and received funding only after convincing the board that she was not a lesbian. She began her research in 1953, matching seventy-four gay men to a control group of heterosexual men by IQ, age, and education. Both groups were given three standard personality tests, and the results were analyzed by three expert clinicians who were unaware of the differences in sexual orientation.64 The three evaluators agreed that in terms of adjustment, there were no differences between the members of each group, and Hooker concluded that gay men were no more likely than heterosexuals to exhibit mental illness.65 In her 1957 publication The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual, she argues, Homosexual as a clinical entity does not exist. Its forms are as varied as those of heterosexuality. Homosexuality may be a deviation in sexual pattern, which is within the normal range, psychologically. The role of particular forms of sexual desire and expression in personality structure and development may be less important than has frequently been assumed.66

Hooker's research was initially criticized by others in her field, who argued that she conducted the study on members of homophile groups who were fighting for gay rights, and were, thus, probably better adjusted than those not affiliated with such groups. However, her findings greatly influenced the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973, and lead to dramatic changes in counseling practices
63 64

Faderman and Retter, 127. Ibid, 126-7. 65 Evelyn Hooker. Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual, Journal of Protective Techniques 21 (1957): 67. 66 Hooker, 72.


Carly Spatar for homosexuals. In 1992, the APA summarized Evelyn Hooker's study as "revolutionary," stating that she "provided empirical evidence that normal homosexuals existed, and supported the radical idea then emerging that homosexuality is within the normal range of human behavior."67 After encountering unimaginable anxiety in the work place, largely due to the Lavender Scare, and additional daily prejudices, homosexuals had a very limited selection of places to safely meet and unwind with fellow gays and lesbians. Gay bars and cruising areas, such as parks, public restrooms, and beaches, were typically the only places a homosexual could meet another homosexual. However, these locations were frequently targeted by local and federal police. Regional Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offices gathered data on gay bars, complied lists of other places frequented by homosexuals, and clipped press articles that provided information about the gay and lesbian community. A mid-1950s survey of gay men by the Institute for Sex Research revealed how far this police action extended into the gay world, with twenty percent of respondents stating they had encountered trouble with police officers.68 Being a patron at a gay bar was often interpreted to mean that one was a sex pervert, which was viewed as sufficient grounds for arrest. A Miami police chief explains, We had no charges to book them on, but it's just a question of cleaning up a bad situation and letting undesirables know they're not wanted here. We intend to continue to harass those men who affect female mannerisms in public places and let them know in no certain terms that they are unwelcome. 69 By the early 1950s Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia police forces averaged between one thousand to twelve hundred gay-related arrests per year. Alternatively, San Francisco officials were weary of highprofile crackdowns, since they ran the risk of advertising the size of the city's homosexual population to the rest of the country.70 Throughout the nation, circumstances such as elections or sex crimes and

Faderman and Retter, 126-8. Ibid, 50. 69 Patrica A. Cain. Rainbow Rights: The Role of Lawyers and Courts in the Lesbian and Gay Rights Movement . ... (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), 82.



Carly Spatar murder often provoked intensified police harassment, leading to an influx of arrests. Sadly, persecution from law enforcement was not the only issue facing gay bar patrons. Once arrested, many gay men were subjected to venereal disease inspections and brutal verbal abuse by police. In addition, the stigma attached to homosexuals made gays easy prey for petty criminals that stalked gay drinking establishments and sex-cruising areas to beat and rob victims. If the victim reported the incident to the police, they would be admitting to have been at a known homosexual area, putting themselves at risk for police surveillance or arrest. "The individuals most in need of protection had become the targets of police," is the conclusion of historian John D'Emilio, and he accurately illustrates the heartbreak and humiliation that thousands of men and women faced in the hands of law enforcement during this decade. As the anti-homosexual impulse in American society gathered strength during the 1950s, pressure to remain invisible and isolated became even more acute, while the McCarthy-era fostered a political climate generally inhospitable to movements for social change. The dominant view of homoeroticism as sin, sickness, or crime accustomed homosexual men and women to seeing their situation as a personal problem, not a cause for political action. The overwhelming majority chose to keep their sexual identity a closely guarded secret. As Donald Webster Cory phrased it in The Homosexual in America, the ability to wear the mask of heterosexuality trapped gays in a particularly vicious circle. The punishment that came with acknowledging ones homosexuality openly was so great that pretense is almost universal; on the other hand, only a leadership that would acknowledge (it) would be able to break down the barriersUntil the world is able to accept us on an equal basis as human beings entitled to the full rights of life, we are unlikely to have any great numbers willing to become martyrsBut until we are willing to speak out openly and

Christopher Agee. "Gayola: Police Professionalization and the Politics of San Francisco's Gay Bars, 19501968," Journal of the History of Sexuality 15, no. 3 (September 2006): 469, index=0&did= 1283174921&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD &TS=126 9558228&clientId=65284 (accessed March 17, 2010).



Carly Spatar frankly in defense of our activities, and to identify ourselves with the millions pursuing these activities, we are unlikely to find the attitudes of the world undergoing any significant change.71 Ironically, the anti-gay proponents who repeatedly condemned the phenomenon actually broke the silence that surrounded the topic of homosexuality. The vicious attacks on gay men and women essentially accelerated the articulation of a homosexual identity and spread the knowledge that they existed in large numbers. The effort to root out the gays and lesbians in American society made it easier for them to find one another. Despite the odds against it, a homosexual emancipation movement did take root in the mid-twentieth century. The founding of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1951 marked the beginning of what would grow into a nationwide effort. In early 1951, Henry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull, Dale Jennings, and Chuck Rowland held a meeting to discuss the variety of issues facing gay men at that time, and to brainstorm ways they could combat the discrimination they faced. The men determined that by forming an organization, they could popularize the gay minority and become a political group that would fight for the rights of gays.72 At that moment, the first gay rights organization in the United States was formed, and the Homophile Movement was officially underway. The Mattachine Society based its name on the idea that mattachines, medieval traveling performers who satirized the ruling order from behind the safety of masks, were homosexuals.73 For early members, the constant threat of exposure created an environment of secrecy and anonymity, which influenced the organization to adopt a communist cell structure, and individuals to use pseudonyms in place of their real names.74 Promptly, the Mattachine Society determined its essential goal to be the inclusion of the topic of homosexuality, as well as


Donald Webster Cory. The Homosexual in America: A Subjective Approach . (New York: Greensburg, 1951),

14. DEmilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 106. Martin Meeker. Behind the Mask of Respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and the Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s, Journal of the History of Sexuality 10, no.1 (January 2001): 83. /v010/ 10.1meeker.html (accessed April 5, 2010) 74 Meeker, 84.
73 72


Carly Spatar homosexuals themselves, into the public sphere, where groups united and politicized. The homophile leaders also demanded that the media portray respectable images of homosexuals instead of the images of degraded deviants that were common in the 1950s. By achieving these modest objectives, the society hoped that homosexuals could eventually achieve a new pride a pride in belonging, a pride in participation in the cultural growth and social achievements ofthe homosexual minority.75 Modeling itself after the African American civil rights movement, The Mattachine Society set out to look like dignified citizens that were entitled to rights, protections, and benefits of American citizenship. They presented themselves as upstanding men, who were strong, intelligent, masculine, and mature white-collar professional workers.76 Members resolved to challenge anti-homosexual discrimination, while working to build a positive, ethical gay community and culture.77 Slowly, the group began to grow, garnering a more diverse membership, and an expansion of activities. Discussion groups began assuming new functions. The most significant development, however, was the decision by a few members to leave the society and launch a homosexual magazine. In January 1953, the first issue of ONE Magazine was published, representing a major step forward for the young movement.78 Now independent from the Mattachine Society, the individuals responsible for the magazine formed a new organization called One, Inc. Unlike the original group, One. Inc. readily admitted women, which proved to be vital to the groups early success. Previously, the Mattachine Society had defined gayness in terms that negated the experience of lesbians, conspiring to keep them out of the group.79 The induction of women into One, Inc., combined with the growing readership of ONE, boosted the popularity of the homophile movement.

75 76

DEmilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 66. Loftin, 580. 77 Faderman and Retter, 106. 78 DEmilio, 91. 79 Ibid. 93.


Carly Spatar By 1955, ONEs popularity had soared and reached an all-time high of five thousand readers through mail circulation to every state. In the short time it took for magazine to gain success, it was equally matched by hostility from various sources, including the federal government. The publications first opposition was from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who had been alerted by Republican Senator Alexander Wiley to an issue that implied that homosexuals held key positions in the FBI. The bureau began surveillance of ONE and its staff as a result of Wileys disclosure. Soon afterward, the magazine was facing adversity from another federal agency. The Postal Service had seized an issue of ONE, motivating Los Angeles postmaster Otto Olesen to halt the mailing of the October 1954 edition. One, Inc. sued the Postal Service and lost, and the magazine was declared lewd, obscene, lascivious, and filthy.80The organizations lawyer Eric Julber unsuccessfully appealed the decision twice, ultimately using his own money to travel to Washington, D.C. to deliver a brief to the Supreme Court. In January 1958, the court released its ruling in the One v. Olesen case without a hearing. It based its decision on the earlier case Roth v. United States, which determined that the mere discussion of sexual matters was not in itself obscene. The landmark First Amendment decision, although limited, has been termed the sole victory for gays and lesbians of the 1950s by historian DEmilio.81 Following the Supreme Court ruling, the cover of the magazine celebrated its victory by declaring I Am Glad I Am Homosexual.82 In the context of the First Amendment, gays and lesbians had won a significant battle, and ONE had officially paved the way for more gay publications. Although the early homophile movement portrayed itself as representing the homosexual minority, in fact it primarily had attracted men. By the middle of the decade, only a handful of women had achieved leadership positions and the organizations had an overwhelmingly male membership. For most women, many of the topics that preoccupied the discussions failed to strike at the heart of the

80 81

Faderman and Retter, 125. DEmilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 76. 82 Faderman and Retter, 125.


Carly Spatar lesbian experience, and carried little immediate relevance for them.83 Furthermore, the problem of promiscuity, central to men struggling over the question of an ethical homosexual culture, was less of a concern to women who had far fewer sexual partners.84 It was not until 1955, when the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) became the first lesbian rights organization, that lesbians had a community that recognized their dual identity as homosexuals and as women.85 Despite of the groups cultural and historical significance, the group was formed with humble intentions. Del Martin, one of the DOBs founders, explains, We are erroneously given credit as the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco in 1955. It wasnt even our idea. A young Filipina immigrant envisioned a club for lesbians here in the States that would give us an opportunity to meet and socialize with other lesbians outside the gay bars that were frequently raided by the police. Meeting in each others homes provided us with privacy and a sense of safety from the police and gawking tourists in the bars. Personally, our motivation was simply to meet other lesbians.86 Originally, the secret club had only eight members, consisting of blue and white collar workers, two lesbian mothers, and two women of color. The groups colorful name was derived from a love poem entitled The Songs of Bilitis, in which Bilitis was cast as a contemporary of Sappho on the isle of Lesbos. Members presumed that lesbians would know what the name meant, and if anyone else asked, they would claim they belonged to a Greek poetry club. When renting the DOBs first office suite in San Francisco in 1958, Martin told the building manager that the DOB was an organization concerned with the sociological problems of single women.87 This fear of identification consistently hampered the organizations outreach, significantly limiting their early efforts to gain membership and visibility in the public sphere. Along with parties and discussion groups, the early days involved a great deal of peer

DEmilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 92. Ibid, 92. 85 Ibid, 93. 86 Del Martin and Phillis Lyon. Lesbian Liberation Begins: Early Days of the DOB, Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review 2, no. 1 (January 1995): 15, sid=4&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1272132509&clientId=65284 (accessed April 12, 2010). 87 Martin and Lyon, 15.



Carly Spatar counseling to help overcome the stigma of being branded illegal, immoral, and sick by a hostile society. According to historian Lillian Faderman, the groups very establishment in the midst of witch-hunts and police harassment was an act of courage, since members always had to fear that they were under attack, not because of what they did, but merely because of who they were."88 Within its first year, the DOB had only fifteen members, although more attended parties and discussions. In an all-out effort to reach more lesbians, the organization started publishing The Ladder, a monthly lesbian magazine, and began conducting public forums in a downtown auditorium.89 The Ladders first issue was published in October of 1956, introducing the DOBs four-fold statement of purpose. Calling for education of the variant to enable her to understand herself and make her adjustment to society, the statement also argues for the education of the public to break down erroneous conceptions, participation in homosexual research projects, and investigation of the penal code and promotion of changes through state legislatures.90 The mission statement addressed the most significant problem the members had constantly faced, which was the complete lack of information about female homosexuality. In addition to the publication, public forums aided the groups effort to attract lesbians, and also helped allay fears and build self-esteem of existing members. A series of professional speakers, such as attorneys and psychologists, informed lesbians of their rights, and refuted the mental illness theory. Martin explained, Our contention was that once you accepted yourself regardless of what others had to say, you could cope better in a hostile society. The professionals, who were among societys decision makers, gave us the validation we needed then.91 By 1957, Daughters of Bilitis announced that it had become a full-fledged non-profit corporation under the laws of the state of California. Although the DOB averaged a membership of only two hundred women

Lillian Faderman. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America . (New York: Penguin Books, 1992), 190-1. 89 Martin and Lyon, 15-6. 90 Ibid, 15-6. 91 Ibid, 16.



Carly Spatar throughout the 1950s, the group played a crucial role in the fledging homophile movement by attracting women to the cause. Almost a decade after the founding of the Mattachine Society, gay activists had a few achievements to encourage them. The movement had survived its turbulent beginnings, and chapters had spread beyond its origin in southern California. Three monthly magazines and several newsletters have expression to the movements views, while the Supreme Court had sustained the right to publish material about homosexuality. Yet, the sparse membership in the DOB and Mattachine Society contradicted their claim that they represented Americas second largest minority.92 Historian DEmilio argues that the gay rights movement remained at best marginal to the lives of homosexuals and lesbians. It had failed to mobilize a constituency and had made virtually no progress toward its minimal goal of opening a dialogue about social attitudes and public policy.93 Ultimately, it was the external constraints, defined by the social conditions in which homosexuals lived and the movement operated, that stifled all of their hard and persistent work. From local police harassment to job discrimination, gay men and women faced severe penalties if their sexual identities became known. Anxieties about discovery inhibited them from joining gay organizations. Membership in a homophile group increased the chance of exposure while offering seemingly little in the way of compensation. Even the best efforts of a few courageous activists could not overcome this terror, and consequently the movement became hopeless. The American Dream proved to be an elusive and unattainable entity for the majority of homosexuals during the 1950s. To the American public, gays and lesbians were immoral, subversive, and indisposed to cohere with traditional social mores. In the eyes of the government, they were a fundamental threat to national security and a risk to Americas success in the Cold War. Contrary to the publics rampant convictions, the reality was that homosexuals ached for the prosperity, job security
92 93

DEmilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 122. Ibid, 123.


Carly Spatar and cookie-cutter existence that exemplified the American Dream. Yet, every effort they made towards assimilation was thwarted by oppressive legislative policies, corrupt law enforcement, media sensationalism, and societal intolerance. A 1955 Mattachine Review article astutely summarizes this confounding existence for homosexuals, and argues that, To earn a living we integrate with the heterosexual population by donning a false garment of heterosexuality ourselves. We must conceal and dissimulate because it is unlawful to be what we are. Yet, we cannot be otherwise. Is it American and democratic to cause a man to deny what God has made him?94 During the Cold War-era, it was not only American and democratic to discriminate against homosexuals, it was a political ideology. As attention shifted from the communist threat to the homosexual menace, gays were subject to reprisals from all quarters of society. The federal government and military began abruptly began terminating staff members who were suspected of being homosexual. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies monitored and raided gay drinking establishments and cruising areas, traced mail, and obtained records of arrests of men on morals charges. The Panic on the Potomac transformed into a media sensation, as national headlines covered the Lavender Scare and local papers publishing the homosexuality-related arrests. Bombarded by the persistent negative images and depictions of homosexuals, the American public increasingly supported the intrusive efforts of the government. The constant public reference to the private tragedies of millions of people, declared one gay man, had transformed homosexuality into a tragedy; not inherently, perhaps, but because the unenlightened have made it so.95 The discrimination and systematic phobia of the unenlightened during the 1950s enforced invisibility of homosexuals in the public sphere. Millions of gays and lesbians responded to the insidious and multifaceted oppression by retreating into mass isolation. Despite of the overwhelming social and governmental forces that opposed them, some gays and lesbians bravely fought for equality during the decade. Three organizations, the Mattachine Society, the

94 95

Ridlinger, 43. Ibid, 42.


Carly Spatar Daughters of Bilitis, and One, Inc., created the United States homophile movement. While in these groups were limited in terms of success, they have proven to be a vital influence to the modern gay rights movement. Most importantly, these individuals served as the lone voice for homosexuals who had been systematically silenced by American society. One activist predicted that In your lifetimeif it has not already done so, there will come to your attention a slow but steady trend towards public acceptance.96It was this universal hope for equality that signified the transition of gays and lesbians from a dark, unjust, and oppressive reality of the 1950s to the promising era of the 1960s.


Agee, Christopher. Gayola: Police Professionalization and the Politics of San Franciscos Gay Bars, 1950.. 1968, Journal of the History of Sexuality 15, no.3 (September 2006): 462-479. http://proquest. umi. .com/pqdweb?index=0&did=1283174921&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType =PQD .&RQT=309 &VName=PQD&TS\=1269558228&clientId=65284 (accessed March 17, 2010).


Ibid, 43.


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