Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution - Linda Hirshman (2012)
Chapter 3. It Was the Sixties That Did It: Gays Get Radical, Radicals Get Gay
Tom Hayden and his comrades in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had been up the whole night drafting the mission statement for their new radical movement. When they walked out of the bunkhouse at the Port Huron resort just before dawn on June 17, 1962, the Michigan sky erupted in light: green, blue, silver bars of glimmering brilliance. It was the aurora borealis. The materialists in the New Left didn’t believe in signs, but they took it as a sign anyway. They had seen the pictures of the civil rights workers being pulled off their lunch stools, dragged out of their buses, and beaten and assaulted with fire hoses. The northern lights seemed to signify their determination to illuminate America.
Formally, the New Left lasted little more than a decade—from the freedom rides and the founding of the SDS in 1961 to George McGovern’s failed presidential campaign in 1972. Albeit brief, the Sixties were an explosive coincidence of every imaginable social disruption: a revolution in beliefs, led by youth, and fueled by grievances of race, war, and sex. When gay movement founder Franklin Kameny saw his little band of properly dressed gay protest marchers from 1965 swell to thousands in bell bottoms and ruffled shirts in Central Park in 1970, he said, “It was the Sixties that did it.” Kameny wasn’t talking about Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats. It was the movement Sixties that did it. In hindsight, once the Sixties heated up, the ignition of the gay revolution was inevitable.
What happened? No one said it better than Bob Dylan:
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
—“The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” (1963)
All Orphans Now
Jim Fouratt, a blue-eyed, long-haired, slender hippie and antiwar activist, came to New York in 1960 when he was barely out of his teens to go into the theater. Fouratt says he always thought he was passing for straight. He was wrong. Good thing for him the New York avant-garde theater in the early 1960s was a place where he didn’t need to pass. The theater manager at the experimental Living Theater where he worked even took him to a gay bar.
Being who you were was big in the Sixties. Like the thousands or tens of thousands of gay men and lesbians who had moved to New York over all the decades that went before to live their lives as gay people, the movement youngsters, gay or straight, saw themselves as embarked upon a project of self-invention.
Unlimited self-creation sounds awfully ambitious, but no generation had ever been so powerful. The economic boom from 1945 to 1973 was the longest in American history and made America the richest society humanity had ever known. Rich Americans also had lots of babies—from 1945 right into the early 1960s. In 1963 and after, the newly rich and fecund Americans sent their multiple offspring to college, also in unprecedented numbers, up to six million by the end of the decade. Numerous, entitled, and separated from all parental restraints on campuses around the country: the new generation was a crowd, the founding element of a social movement.
The youthful idealists who gathered at Port Huron were determined above all to produce their own values. Not for them the collective wisdom of the Western political tradition, much less some antiquated religion or musty German ethical tract. Self-expression was in the cultural water, and they regarded the entire world as a stage on which they would write and direct their life story.
They sure didn’t want to learn from Mom and Dad. As the Sixties generation was growing up, their parents seemed to vacillate between the terminally boring and the terrifyingly terminal. Books like The Organization Man and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit described a society that would destroy the soul, and the nuclear bomb promised destruction of the body as well. More than a half century later, former movement journalist Allen Young still remembered the day he realized that no one in the school bomb drill was going to survive a nuclear attack, under the desk or on top of it.
Like the conservatives who pushed Harry Hay out of the Mattachine Society in 1953, a lot of the older liberal parents of the new activists were found under their desks when Joseph McCarthy came after them. Young’s parents never gave up on the Communist Party, but one day young Allen found them throwing their lefty publications onto a bonfire. Burning books. The FBI was coming, they had heard. Whether they knew it or not, their children were watching them cave. In 1954, SDS president and Sixties chronicler Todd Gitlin’s family got one of those new TVs, and Gitlin watched Joseph Welch ask red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy if he had no sense of decency (at long last). Once someone pulled the curtain on McCarthy, the Old Left’s surrender to McCarthyism seemed like simple cowardice.
That so many of the original new lefties, gay and not, were Jewish, explains a lot. To their children, in the way the Old Left buckled to McCarthyism, purging their unions and denouncing one another to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), felt like not standing up to Hitler. Tall, imposing intellectual Gitlin, whose family story runs from Lithuania to the professoriate in little more than a generation, reports the haunting presence of his grandmother’s late brother and sisters, left behind when the family departed and murdered by the Nazis. Left icon Meredith Tax tells the childhood tale of checking her bedroom for Nazis every night before going to bed. The Sixties actually opened with the first concerted look at the sins of the Holocaust in the form of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. In her explosive reports from the trial, public intellectual Hannah Arendt suggested that some of the blame for the genocide rested with the victims themselves. The Jewish children of America’s Old Left were not about to open themselves up to that accusation.
When the time came, the Sixties activists brought these commitments to stand up when called to the gay revolution. Pale-skinned, dark-eyed young Carol Ruth Silver tied her brown hair up in a plain black scarf, knotted it behind her neck, and climbed on the bus for the Freedom Ride to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1961. Like all the Freedom Riders, Silver had been told to make her will and notify her parents. She went, she explained, because “I am a Jew, and I come from a background that says it is your responsibility to fix the world.” Not gay herself, in the seventies she became number one ally of gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. Sixties movement and lesbian activist Martha Shelley remembers going berry picking with an older woman in the Catskill Mountains. The tomboyish young Shelley saw her companion shaking her head as she bent over the berry bushes, muttering, “Subvoisive, subvoisive. Whatever you say they call you subvoisive.” In the early 1960s, the attractive, dark-haired Shelley was working as a secretary at Barnard College when she got the chance to be on TV speaking about the Daughters of Bilitis. Even though she thought she would be fired, she boasted, she did it anyway, because “for years I was thinking what would I have done if I’d been GERMAN?”
Alienated from their parents and determined to create their own values, the movement revolutionaries became, for a brief period, orphans—just like the gays and lesbians who had abandoned or been abandoned by their ancestral families for decades. Instead of taking it as rejection, as so many generations of gays and lesbians had done, the Sixties youngsters, gay and straight, seized their status. “We thought we were the first ones,” Shelley says, “that we were going to liberate the whole world.”
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
—“Bob Dylan’s Dream” (1963)
Being and Becoming
When gay activist Dick Leitsch came to New York in 1959, “New York was a police state. They just harassed us all the time, there was no place you could go where you felt safe.” Although the conventional explanation for the crackdowns was that the city was cleaning itself up for the 1964 World’s Fair, Leitsch says the administration of Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. was so hard because Robert Jr. (the mayor’s son, Robert Ferdinand Wagner III, later called Jr.) was rumored to be gay. Leitsch found “all these people who are older than I have better educations, more money and more prestige, why the hell didn’t they do something about it?”
“Other people were speaking up,” Leitsch noticed. In 1960, a spontaneous coalition of Berkeley students invaded what had been a routine HUAC visit to San Francisco. HUAC had, as usual, laid a scary blanket of subpoenas on the progressive community in the city it was about to visit, and dozens of the summonses were directed to Berkeley faculty. When the federal commie hunters opened their hearings in San Francisco City Hall, hundreds of Berkeley students were waiting to watch the proceedings, acting just like admission was open to any American. When they were denied entrance, the would-be witnesses sat in on the stairs leading to the hearing room and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The police chief swept the protesters down the marble stairs with fire hoses. The next day the longshoremen showed up to support the students. HUAC would never come to San Francisco again.
On February 1, 1960, four black students left North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College for the Greensboro Woolworth Store. They sat down at the lunch counter, where only whites were permitted to eat. White citizens of Greensboro began to spit at them and throw eggs. The next day seventy-three A&T students sat down expectantly at the lunch counter. Soon there were hundreds. When Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference saw what was brewing at Greensboro, they gave Ella Baker, one of their most effective organizers, eight hundred dollars to call a meeting of the new activists and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was born.
That fateful week in February, James Pepper, sixteen-year-old homosexual scion of a fine old white Southern family, came home to Greensboro, North Carolina, from prep school. When Jim Pepper saw what the “rednecks” were doing to the students, he thought, you just can’t treat people that way, and plunged into the fray. The next thing he knew, he was looking up at the very high desk of the local police sergeant, who addressed him as “New York Jew Boy.” The cop saw the fancy local address on Pepper’s driver’s license and tossed the youthful activist out. Pepper never told his socially well-connected southern parents: “How would they have explained it at the cocktail party?” Sitting by the pool on the deck of his luxe Fire Island home in 2010, Pepper was still reluctant to tell the story (it “sounds so boastful”). By 1970, Pepper was living in New York (although he never converted to Judaism). Another decade on, he helped found Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Today he is one of the most prominent philanthropists of the gay movement.
Five years later, Leitsch and a little band of homosexuals sat down at a bar. “We’re homosexuals,” they told the bartender. “And we’d like to order a drink.”
He shook the land like the rolling thunder
And made the bells of freedom ring today
—“They Killed Him,” Kris Kristofferson
DC gay activist Frank Kameny had not been idle. Following the legalistic, incremental strategy of the NAACP, he had been methodically litigating the discharges of homosexuals from federal employment. But he had yet to see a glimmer of hope from any tribunal. His chief adversary, Civil Service Commissioner John W. Macy Jr., would not even meet with him and the new US Commission on Civil Rights didn’t do anything to help. While fruitlessly trying to throw sand in the civil service discharge machine, Kameny watched the various movement marches: “Day after day, every single day marching by the White House.”
On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people went to Washington to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on the National Mall. By the time Martin Luther King Jr. stood up to speak, the crowd had been standing in the sun for hours. King had a dream, he told the gathered multitudes, a dream of the day “when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
The roaring crowd didn’t pay much attention to the graying, dapper, middle-aged man standing at the side of the stage as King preached. But without Bayard Rustin there would have been no march at all. If King was the messianic preacher of the civil rights movement, Rustin was its John the Baptist. The march on Washington was just the culmination of a long career.
As the March on Washington was about to step off, segregationist senator Strom Thurmond found out that the de facto leader was the homosexual ex-Communist Rustin. Dispensing with the smarmy coded accusations usually leveled at homosexuals, Thurmond took to the floor of the Senate and accused the movement leader of being . . . a homosexual. This time—maybe for the first time in history—something different happened. Instead of backing away from Rustin as they had in the past, the march organizers rallied around him. Some of their motivation was self-interest. Every agency of the civil rights movement, even the litigation-oriented NAACP, had committed its future to the march on Washington. The attacker was their open enemy, a racist from the segregated South. Legendary head of the Pullman Porters’ Union, A. Philip Randolph, now in his seventies, called a press conference and affirmed his full faith in the moral character of Rustin and castigated Thurmond for violating the basic precepts of human decency. A prominent homosexual was attacked and survived. One of the witnesses said afterward, “it was like a boil being lanced.”
On April 17, 1965, Kameny and his Mattachine sidekick Jack Nichols led ten homosexuals to their places in front of the White House with their signs: “Fifteen Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment.”
Girls’ faces formed the forward path
—“My Back Pages,” Bob Dylan (1964)
Breaking Out of Sex Roles
By 1964, gay SDS leader Carl Wittman had had it up to here with Tom Hayden’s sex life. When Wittman arrived in Newark to help organize the impoverished black residents for SDS, Hayden announced that there would be no drugs or homosexuality in the SDS project and then, Wittman says, “he proceeded to borrow my room to bed down with his latest women,” leaving Wittman, who had been having same-sex relations since he was fourteen, stunned and terrified.
Wittman was apparently not alone in being radicalized by Hayden’s sex life. At almost that exact moment, Hayden’s ex-wife, Casey, then at work in SNCC, sat down to write an anonymous memorandum about the position of women in the Sixties movement.
In hindsight, the eruption of women from the Left was inevitable. How long would women go on making coffee for the leaders of a liberation movement? The whole idea of the New Left was that everyone should create an authentic life for themselves free of any socially ascribed status. Civil rights activists Casey Hayden, a blond fourth-generation Texan, and dark-haired Mary King, descended from six generations of Virginia ministers, had already started the process of Sixties self-creation, just like the men who started the SDS and so many of the homosexuals who migrated to the cities. The two came to SNCC after apprenticeships in the liberal programs of the YWCA and the National Student Association. Although they were more powerful than most women in SNCC, they were still mostly working behind the scenes, at administrative and clerical jobs.
Hayden and King wrote what they called a “kind of memo,” “Sex and Caste.” The memo, which Todd Gitlin describes as a “slow acting time bomb,” called the treatment of women a caste system of “assumed subordination from which women cannot escape.” It accuses the movement of assigning women subordinate roles, like cleaning the “freedom” house, and asserts that the caste system permeates even private relationships. King and Hayden questioned the institutions that prescribed women’s roles, including fundamental arrangements like marriage and childrearing, and suggested that people were starting to talk about experimenting with new forms of relationships. In 1966, the two published their “kind of memo” in the left magazine Liberation. After reading “Sex and Caste,” women started meeting separately at the SDS gatherings, enumerating their grievances and discussing their lives.
King and Hayden purported to be surprised by the men’s mocking and defensive reactions to their manifesto, given men’s stake in upending the “socially determined straight-jacketing of both sexes.” But they didn’t mention the one group of men, which above all others, should have seen the advantage of breaking the straightjacket right away: gay men. For a century the psychiatrists had advanced the idea that “homosexuality” involved the wrong choice of sexual partner and a failure to act in a socially “normal” gendered way.
The straightjacket, which the feminists used as metaphor, was all too often actually applied to gay men in psychiatric wards, when their families or, worse, the legal system, tried to tie them into proper gender roles. So when King and Hayden suggested that the rigid, presumably “normal” gender roles were actually a matter of social caste, the gay activists, who were coming to political consciousness throughout the Sixties, should have been the women’s first disciples.
They were not. Men who lived through the era of rising gay consciousness during the Sixties now say that feminism was one of the social movements that paved the way for gay liberation. Yet, there is almost no contemporaneous evidence of this in their diaries or correspondence before 1969. In thousands of pages, the many magisterial histories of the gay revolution discuss feminism only in the context of its effect on lesbians—the women of the “gay” revolution. Sixties gay militant Randy Wicker really did not like most women, particularly his mother. (One of the reasons he was never sorry to be a homosexual is it freed him up from having to deal with women.) Dick Leitsch thinks “women took over the gay movement. The feminist movement started and the lezzies all moved in and Betty drove them out and next thing you know the gay movement had become the LESBIAN and gay movement,” he says regretfully.
Jim Fouratt was one of the few men who featured prominently in the antiwar movement and the gay revolution. He was a hippie, hung out with Abbie Hoffman, was in Chicago demonstrating against the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and was at the watershed uprising at the Stonewall bar in New York in 1969. He claims to be a feminist and his political history supports him. Yet he has never read “Sex and Caste.”
Outside the New Left, Fouratt remembers, most gay men had no politics at all and, if they did, it was simply a desire to sit at the straight man’s table. “Frank [Kameny], for example,” he volunteers, “to this day does not understand feminism.” The one male gay activist who apparently got it was Wittman. As he prepared to leave the movement and turn his energy to his own liberation, he wrote a farewell address, “A Gay Manifesto.” Wittman’s manifesto, published just before Stonewall, called feminists “our sisters in struggle”: “They are assuming their equality and dignity and in doing so are challenging the same things we are: the roles.”
If feminism didn’t liberate gay men in the Sixties, it certainly aroused lesbian women. When in 1963 Betty Friedan issued her clarion call to the underutilized graduates of Smith College to get to work, lesbians, most of whom did not have the luxury of dependence, had already experienced much of the sex discrimination the feminist movement would ultimately focus on. They were as victimized by gender roles as any straight woman or gay man. By 1968, a radical feminist, Rita LaPorte, had taken over the Daughters of Bilitis and their newsletter, The Ladder.
Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
—“It’s Alright, Ma
(I’m Only Bleeding),” Bob Dylan (1964)
Sexual Revolution, Homosexual Revolution
A poem by one of the original founders of Mattachine DC, Jack Nichols, describes Randy Wicker in the 1960s: “His, a swift gait, His, a loud mouth.” Tall and thin as a whippet, Wicker had one of those nails-on-a-blackboard voices and a propensity to overshare, but he was prescient and indefatigable. Wicker was an everything activist. He had been an atheist since childhood. When he was a student at the University of Texas, his homosexual relationship with his roommate got the roommate expelled. He came to New York in 1959, the same year as Dick Leitsch, and set about radicalizing the local Mattachine Society. One day a few years later, one of Wicker’s straight friends knocked up his girlfriend. “Two weeks later I found out, he gave her huge doses of quinine and she had a miscarriage.” His voice rising in indignation even after all these years, he recalled, “This guy met her parents, the parents of this girl he had been living with for two years, over a bed in Bellevue Hospital, because this girl had nearly died, having a miscarriage.”
Wicker made the connection: “Society is not just screwed up about homosexuals, this society is screwed up about sex in general.” He was dead on. The law against abortion that landed his friend at Bellevue was a tiny piece of a whole regime of criminal laws governing people’s sexual practices. The criminal penalties for sodomy, which contributed so heavily to the misery and oppression of homosexuals, were just one example. Abortion, birth control, adultery, fornication—all were illegal to some degree in almost every state.
This body of law, which seems so inconsistent with the principles of the liberal state, had simply been adopted, with little thought, from the illiberal institution of the church in most cases centuries before. The roots of the injunctions against nonreproductive sex go back to the story of Sodom in the Old Testament (that’s why they call it sodomy). At the critical juncture just after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, theologian Augustine of Hippo loudly repented his failure to confine his unruly sexual desires to marriage, which at least could be justified by the goal of procreation. But the prohibition really got traction in the thirteenth century, when the great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas said that reproduction not only justified the otherwise sinful act, but was the natural purpose, or goal, of sex. Aquinas also revived the idea that childrearing was the natural goal of marriage. Anything else, including extramarital sex, was unnatural.
Aquinas did not think this stuff up on his own; he was writing to try to reconcile Christian theology with the writings of the ancient pagan Greek philosophers like Aristotle, which had just been rediscovered by the Latin-reading West. Aristotle believed that everything that existed had to have a purpose, usually for the well-being of mankind. A knife is to cut, a horse is to ride, and so forth (Aristotle did not take a position on the purpose of sex). The Christian church had been humming along for centuries on the assumption that God created the world for his own purposes, including the limited range for legitimate sexual desire. No big surprise, Aquinas concluded that God’s purposes and the natural law were the same. Since God created the natural world, anything unnatural was also sinful. That’s why so many laws call sodomy—and all the other sex acts that don’t lead to the supposedly natural “purpose” of reproduction—“unnatural.” For years, the religiously based prohibitions were enforced, appropriately, by the church. But when the nation-states of Europe started taking enforcement of criminal law away from the church, they just swallowed the whole regime of sex sins whole. Presto, sins against nature became crimes against nature.
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, coming many centuries later, should have driven a stake into this “natural” philosophy. In his theory, there is no God and no man for whose benefit the natural world is ordered. Things mutate and the fittest survive. Even something like nonreproductive sex, which seems crudely not to be a great survival mechanism, obviously has some connection to survival (or is harmless), because organisms with an orientation toward nonreproductive sex do, in fact, survive. In the Darwinian world, anything that exists, bad or good, is by definition “natural.” But even after Darwin, the Catholic Church never got around to changing its thirteenth-century position on the purpose of sex. So Randy Wicker’s friend wound up in Bellevue Hospital and Wicker, the homosexual activist, “went out and joined the Sex Freedom League.”
He was the third founding member. The other founders included Jefferson “Fuck” Poland, an itinerant student with a commitment to the free-love movement, and Tilli Kupferberg, an open-marriage anarchist follower of the renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. (It was Reich who coined the phrase “sexual revolution.”) Historian David Allyn reports that one of the liveliest meetings of the league centered on a discussion of whether public masturbation was illegal if no one was actually struck by flying semen. Difficult as it is to believe, this group of activists actually foresaw and helped precipitate one of the most powerful cultural changes in the 1960s—the sexual revolution. Their seemingly outrageous list of demands—the decriminalization of interracial marriage, fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, and transvestitism—is now, except for the legally protected sheep, the law of the land. Even if the church would not change, sex would finally be uncoupled from crime.
Of course, they were riding a wave. Exactly as Reich foresaw, sexual freedom and political freedom were an explosive combination. In the early 1960s, the political protests at Berkeley turned into protests against the limits on political speech on campus, the Free Speech Movement. Once the free speechers got wind that campus speech rules also prohibited obscene speech, a local radical, John Thomson, put up a sign that said, simply, “Fuck.” The “filthy-speech” protest movement was born, and the whole apparatus of regulating sexual expression in public was recast as a matter of free expression.
The Sixties also completely rewrote the rules for the private consumption of sexual expression. Forget Jefferson “Fuck” Poland; the biggest change came from the marble halls of the United States Supreme Court. In its decision in Roth in 1957, the Supreme Court had replaced the centuries-old test for obscenity, but the court still upheld time in the slammer for nude-picture merchants Samuel Roth and David Alberts. In 1964, the Supreme Court revisited the obscenity issue, this time incorporating Justice William J. Brennan Jr.’s language about redeeming social value from the 1957 opinion in Roth as the basis for an actual decision in favor of the publisher of the scandalous eighteenth-century novel Fanny Hill. What book is without redeeming social value? A year later, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts even protected William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, described by the dissenting judge as “literary sewage.” The business of banning books was banished from the American scene. ONE magazine had been protected since Roth, but now periodicals and pulp fiction with gay themes could be distributed anywhere the market demanded. For an isolated teenage gay boy or lesbian girl, the book or magazine that tells them they are not alone was now protected by the United States Constitution.
Talking about sex and doing it are, of course, two different matters. As the Sixties opened, sexual conduct was supposedly still confined to heterosexual reproductive marriage between any man and a chaste female. In his second volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, published in 1953, Alfred Kinsey reported that 50 percent of those supposedly chaste American women had actually had sex before marriage and a quarter had sex after marriage with men other than their husbands. Regardless of the accuracy of his statistics, as with Kinsey’s first “report” about a 37 percent homosexuality rate, the suggestion itself began to generate the social change it was supposed to be reporting.
Although Kinsey got unbelievable heat from the fifties establishment at the time, by 1960 three unpredictable events conspired to make his report a reality: a biologist attended a dinner party with two uppity women, a nudie-magazine publisher convinced himself that he was Nietzsche, and one ambitious middle-aged copywriter actually married the boss.
The biologist, Gregory “Goody” Pincus, was another one of those Jewish immigrants’ kids who went to Harvard. Pincus was interested in biology, specifically mammalian ova. “I’m an egg man,” he used to say. He was working on the role of hormones in ovulation when someone he met at a dinner party one fateful night in 1950 turned out to be birth-control pioneer and founder of Planned Parenthood Margaret Sanger. Sanger saw the relevance of Pincus’s research right away. She started sending Pincus money. When Planned Parenthood’s funds did not produce the results Sanger sought fast enough, she called on her friend and fellow feminist Katharine McCormick to direct some of that reaper money to the cause of female contraception. In less than a decade, Searle’s Enovid began rolling off the assembly lines: the Pill had come to the barricades of the sexual revolution.
Once Goody Pincus’s pills made the rabbit test for pregnancy obsolete, the little furry creatures found employment serving drinks at the Playboy Club in 1960. There were ultimately many clubs and many magazines, but the Playboy operation fairly represents the creeping social acceptability of nonmarital sex. Taking a leaf from the Roth opinion, Playboy’s publisher, Hugh Hefner, embedded his nude Playboy centerfolds in material of redeeming social value—stories, interviews, and culture. He even had a philosophy, the Playboy Philosophy, which held that “this nonsense about the body of man being evil, while the mind and spirit are good, seems quite preposterous to most of us today. After all, the same Creator was responsible for all three and we confess we’re not willing to believe that He goofed when He got around to the body of man (and certainly not when He got to the body of woman). Body, mind and spirit all have a unique way of complementing one another, if we let them, and if excesses of the body are negative, it is the excesses that are improper rather than the body, as excesses of the mind and spirit would also be.”
Hefner targeted young men. But the sexual revolution would never have succeeded if it had not also included women. Just as Pincus empowered women to control the most feared outcome of sexual activity—unwanted pregnancy—and Hefner gave their male contemporaries a philosophical argument for sex, Helen Gurley Brown told her female readers to defy the double standard. She should know: on her way to the gold medal of sexual Olympics, marrying the boss, she liberated a lot of other girls’ husbands from their marital constraints. Sex and the Single Girl, which appeared in 1962, had a single moral: watch out for yourself and get what you can. The young Helen Gurley’s first lover had the good sense to buy her earrings after they finished dispensing with her virginity.
The philanthropic arm of Playboy, the Playboy Foundation, was one of the first funders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Sexual Privacy Project, which, in 1973, first brought that powerful and prestigious civil rights organization explicitly to the cause of gay rights. (It would not be until 1986 that the ACLU had an explicit focus on gay and lesbian issues, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.)
Liberated, secular, hedonistic, nonreproductive, nonmarital sex: everything about sex changed in the Sixties culture. The only people who had not found out about the sexual revolution were the lawmakers. Ground zero in the battle over government control of sex was the battle over birth control, which had been going on at the state level for decades, as the forces of Sanger’s Planned Parenthood organization fought the long-standing opposition of the Catholic Church and a rural, fundamentalist Puritanism. As recently as 1965, Connecticut, for example, had a century-old law that made the use of contraception by anyone, including married couples, a criminal act.
The sexual revolutionaries turned to the shining guardians of individual freedom in the Sixties, the federal courts. Perversely, the legal campaign for consequence-free sex had started earlier with a 1947 decision guaranteeing people’s right to have babies! Skinner v. Oklahoma was not a self-conscious sexual-freedom case. It arose in the revolt against eugenics in the aftermath of the Nazi atrocities of World War II. In a now-notorious case, Buck v. Bell, in 1927, the US Supreme Court had approved a Virginia statute that called for sterilizing “the feeble-minded.” The Nazis invoked the decision to defend their practices at the war-crimes trials in Nuremberg after the war and many American states still engaged in sterilization. In Oklahoma, for instance, certain felonies were punishable by sterilization after repeat convictions. When an Oklahoma chicken thief challenged his sterilization in 1947, the Supreme Court struck it down, ruling, in Skinner v. Oklahoma, that reproduction is a basic liberty protected by the Constitution. Consequently, any law allowing sterilization would be subject to the strictest scrutiny by the court and the state would have to present a compelling interest to justify its enforcement, an almost impossible standard for a state to meet.
Although the court decided in Skinner that the government could not take away people’s right to reproduce, the court did not decide whether the government could force people to risk having babies if they did not want to, the birth-control issue, which was the real link to the sexual revolution. While the court was ducking the birth-control cases, the sexual revolution transformed the culture. After a decade of skirmishing the court finally confronted the Connecticut prohibition of birth control in Griswold v. Connecticut and found it unconstitutional in 1965. The problem the court faced in Griswold is that unlike, say, speech and race, which are explicitly addressed in the Constitution, the founding document is silent about condoms, and the federal judiciary is generally supposed to confine itself to enforcing what federal law says. The court could have grounded its decision in the history of prohibiting otherwise harmless behavior based on religious beliefs. But the constitutional restraints on the establishment of religion had never been interpreted that ambitiously.
Struggling to find a justification for their decision without completely uncoupling criminal law from religious morality, the seven-vote majority striking down the Connecticut law produced four opinions. For purposes of the gay movement, the most influential opinion is Justice William O. Douglas’s opinion for the court, which found a right to “privacy” in the penumbras or emanations of various provisions of the Bill of Rights like the protections against unreasonable searches and seizures (hence the word “privacy” in the ACLU’s Sexual Privacy Project). In finding privacy rights implicit in the Bill of Rights, Griswold not only abetted the sexual revolution, but also pushed the boundaries of constitutional interpretation. It was Griswold in part that gave birth to the conservative campaign for strict construction of the Constitution. But, much as they like to bray about strict constitutionality, people sure don’t want the state rummaging around in their bedside table for condoms. Since Griswold, decisions about contraception are covered by one of the three basic principles of the liberal state—that certain core aspects of human life cannot be dictated by the state. They belong solely to the individual.
The line of Supreme Court decisions directed to protecting people from reproducing if they don’t want to turns out to be the primal spring of rights for gays and lesbians, even though they are the least likely candidates for unwanted pregnancy. Once sexual practices became a matter of individual decision making protected from the regulatory agency of the government, the inexorable logic of the precedent should have dictated the demise of the laws against the private practice of sodomy, generally understood to mean anything other than heterosexual genital intercourse.
The happenstance that the Connecticut law applied to married couples also started the line of cases treating marriage as an arena of special constitutional importance. (In striking down the Connecticut law, Griswold, amusingly, includes a paean to the sanctity of the marriage chamber from the oft-wed Justice Douglas.) As of late 2011, the court is still out on what that will mean for the gay movement, but for people with logical minds the implications are obvious.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you
—“Mr. Tambourine Man,” Bob Dylan (1963)
Homosexuals Get Radical, Radicals Get Homosexual
Randy Wicker came to New York after an abortive first year of law school. Jim Fouratt followed a lover who promised him a job in theater. Dick Leitsch came to New York on vacation and decided he had to return. They seemed no different from any other gay or lesbian people who had migrated to big cities for decades. But they were different. They were the children of the Sixties. Just like the kids who gathered at Port Huron to lay out the program for the SDS.
In 1953, when Harry Hay’s Mattachine Society sent a questionnaire on gay issues to the candidates for Los Angeles City Council, a single hostile newspaper columnist, the senator with no shame, and their own terrified membership brought the entire effort crashing down. But by the time the radical homosexuals started gathering in New York—and LA and San Francisco—less than a decade later, the forces of social order had been weakened to the point where the establishment could no longer simply impose its will. The racial civil rights movement, challenging the authority of the white power structure in America, had already begun to bubble up as the organized African American community greatly increased the pressure on the segregated South. Anticolonial movements across the globe were challenging the rule of old white men. The invention of the birth-control pill, which uncoupled heterosexuality from reproduction, undermined the authority of the reproductive nuclear family and, ultimately, of straight men as a class, to rule. Revolutions don’t happen when the forces of social order are at their most confident. They happen when the order is wavering.
One sign that the order is faltering is that people are willing to forgo being part of it. Because of the availability of the closet, gay individuals are always subject to the temptation to give up their sexual politics to join the establishment, so the rise of the gay movement is a particularly effective barometer of how vulnerable the establishment was. Even though the youthful Leitsch still looked like a balding Madison Avenue “Mad Man,” and to this day speaks with a gentle Kentucky accent, he was a hippie, an anticapitalist, and a Kennedy baby. He never wanted to make money by working in business and was happy tending bar after he moved to New York. Wicker had embraced civil rights at the University of Texas, and Fouratt went to San Francisco to play with the Beats as soon as he had the chance. After he made a few bucks writing this and that, Wicker went to work “at a titty magazine.” Weird, marginal, and defiant, the Sixties New York gay radicals were different in kind, and not just in degree, from the homophiles, even their ally, the older Franklin Kameny.
Children of the Sixties, they knew that media mattered. Leitsch volunteered to edit the Mattachine newsletter. Wicker found out that the Mattachine Society had invited a lawyer to talk about how to deal with the police. He made up a hundred fliers and distributed them around the bars. When he arrived at a Greenwich Village antiques shop, the owner, a straight old lady, said, “It’s about time.” It’s about time. The usual Mattachine crowd of thirty swelled to three hundred after Wicker tried elementary media tactics to publicize the cause.
Being children of the Sixties, they were not afraid. In 1963, Wicker got on a soapbox that some anarchist from the League for Sexual Freedom set up at MacDougal and Third Street and, with his legs trembling, said, You know right down this block there’s a club and it’s run by the Mafia and I think that homosexuals have the right to have their own club and the police should not be corrupted by being paid off. And he got a smattering of applause. It was the first time he ever got up in public and spoke out as a homosexual and he suddenly realized he had an advantage that no one else had. He learned they wouldn’t knock you in the head the minute you stick your head out.
Leitsch arrived in New York with a rather sophisticated understanding of the workings of the American Constitution: “The US Constitution and the First Amendment,” he says, “say that everybody has the right to assemble and the Fourteenth Amendment says the state can’t stop us.” Armed with that knowledge, Leitsch and a handful of fellow militants “decided I’m not going to take this any more.” “They’d raid bars, they’d raid STREET CORNERS,” Leitsch says. “People hung out on the corner, and the newspapers, the Journal American, which was the Irish Catholic paper, and they’d say ‘nest of undesirables’ so that meant that a church or social club could not welcome gays because they were afraid they’d be raided.” Leitsch fulminates, “The nuns were gay, the priests were gay, and there was no place to go, bars were just about the only place you could go.”
Media-sensitive and emboldened, Leitsch and Wicker and a handful of similarly inclined New York homosexuals began to stick their heads out further and further. The ever-obliging psychiatric establishment jump-started their campaign by providing left-wing New York radio station WBAI with a panel of doctors in 1962 to opine that homosexuals were mentally disturbed. Wicker immediately saw an opportunity and pressured the station to air a program in which homosexuals spoke for themselves. Not surprisingly, the homosexuals Wicker provided to WBAI did not think they were mentally ill. When a right-wing newspaper columnist for the New York Journal American attacked the program, it became the most requested offering WBAI ever had. Wicker took the column and ginned up the first real coverage of the homosexual population in decades, maybe ever, generating stories in Newsweek, Harper’s, and even the New York Times.
Not everyone was pleased with the campaign. The Mattachine landlord, who owned an Irish bar on the ground floor, was horrified at Wicker’s homosexual hundreds. “You have been perfect tenants,” he told the homophiles, “but you have to go. I have a liquor license. I cannot have these people in my building.” The tension in the New York Mattachine Society between the holdovers from the conservative period and the Sixties activists was already heating up in 1964, when the New Yorkers made the mistake of inviting Kameny to give one of their monthly lectures. Kameny chose for his theme the psychiatrists, their “loose reasoning, poor research, non-representative samplings, and circular reasoning.” Everywhere Kameny spoke in those years, his words were the catalyst for the radicalizing of the homophile movement, and the New York Mattachine Society was no exception. Fired up, the new activists set about ousting the incumbents in the 1965 election. President-elect Julian Hodges (who had gone over to the radicals under Kameny’s influence), Leitsch, Wicker, and Kameny (who was technically not a New Yorker and already the head of Mattachine in DC) ran for the board and won.
The new radicals of the New York Mattachine and Kameny’s DC group embarked on four years of activism. Most of their achievements would be lost in the smoke from the Stonewall uprising. But in the few years between 1965 and June 1969, the Mattachine activists went a long way toward achieving what the gay revolution set out to do.
In 1968, seven years after the Supreme Court shut down Kameny’s crusade against the civil service, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit opened the door a crack. Bruce Scott, who had seen the small notice of Kameny’s defeat in a Washington newspaper and called him, had become the secretary of the DC Mattachine. When he applied for federal employment, the civil service turned him down on grounds that he either was a homosexual or had engaged in homosexual conduct. He and Kameny appealed from the civil service to the federal courts. For the first time the DC circuit court reversed the civil service, ruling that its reasons were not specific enough to deny Scott federal employment and stigmatize him, as such a denial would do. On remand from the court, the civil service then turned Scott down for not answering their questions about his homosexuality. The court reversed again.
Worried about the precedent, the government settled with Scott. But just behind him came a NASA employee, Clifford Norton, who got caught cruising in Lafayette Square. Poor Norton picked up some guy while the police were watching, then drove around the park with the pickup once and let him off. It later emerged Norton’s overtures had been rebuffed. Even though Norton never even got laid, the once around the park still cost him his job. The DC circuit court ordered him reinstated, on grounds that homosexual conduct off premises and on the employees’ own time was not related to the “efficiency of the service” and so violated both the civil service laws that governed federal employment and the Constitution, which requires the government to deal fairly with its people. Although the victories were imperfect—not being Supreme Court decisions, they were not national, and they did not exclude homosexual conduct categorically from being considered—Scott v. Macy and Norton v. Macy were huge steps toward protecting homosexuals from one of the things they feared most, losing their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, Leitsch, who was “mostly interested in drinking and getting laid,” was concentrating on getting the police out of the bathrooms and the bars. The constant fear of encountering an undercover policeman and the inability to gather peacefully in any commercial place were two of the biggest hurdles to any mass organizing of the homosexual community. For all their meetings and conferences and newsletters and contested elections, the Mattachine organizations never attracted a membership of more than a few hundred. Kameny’s last march before Stonewall involved an all-time record of fifty-five participants.
Leitsch credits the outing of Lyndon B. Johnson’s chief aide, Walter Jenkins, during the 1964 election campaign with getting the ball rolling for his campaign to clear some space for gays to meet in New York without police interference. Jenkins, who got caught by the police having sex in a YMCA bathroom, lost his job immediately. During the inquiries that followed, however, the Johnson PR machine worked pretty hard to rebut the accusation that every homosexual was a security risk and Lady Bird Johnson came out defending Jenkins. Barry Goldwater is quoted as saying that there are some things worse than losing an election and he refused to use the Jenkins incident. It wasn’t what Stonewall would be, but like the response to the attacks on Rustin, the culture began, subtly, to shift. The New York ACLU had gradually swung over to advocating for homosexuals. A liberal Protestant church in the Village, Judson Memorial, began to take their side. The New York Post, then a liberal paper, had sent a reporter to the Mattachine Society, where Leitsch put him on an extension to listen in as hysterical, frantic men called, night after night, facing ruin because they had picked up an undercover policeman in the bathroom. The Post ran the stories and editorialized against the sodomy laws that made it all possible.
Rumor had it that the new “liberal” Republican mayor of New York, John Lindsay, was not unsympathetic. But in 1966, right after Lindsay took office, his administration provoked the homosexual community by ordering a police sweep of “homosexuals and prostitutes” around Times Square and then in Greenwich Village. Judson Memorial Church called a community meeting. Lindsay sent his chief inspector, Sanford Garelik, who took a verbal beating from the audience and said something that sounded like denial of police entrapment.
As luck would have it, that night a heterosexual Episcopalian priest sat down at the counter of Julius’—then a mixed gay-straight bar—for one of their famous hamburgers. The next man at the counter and the rector started talking, but at midnight the priest was expecting a phone call from a friend in England, so he asked his new companion if he’d like to finish their conversation over coffee at his place. When the two hit the sidewalk, the agreeable barfly arrested the priest for homosexual solicitation. So, just as the police commissioner denied there was such a thing as entrapment, his undercover cop entrapped a straight Episcopalian (who happened also to be a good friend of the Episcopalian mayor). The media were ecstatic.
Lindsay promised that from then on the police would stop trying to drag unsuspecting homosexuals into nocturnal invitations. More establishment help arrived when the Mattachine guys picked up legendary civil rights lawyer William Stringfellow, who sent lawyers from his fancy law firm to defend the gays arrested despite the orders against entrapment. When the sleazy judges at the morality division looked up and saw a lawyer who had just come from representing Procter and Gamble getting ready to cross-examine the cop, they began dismissing the charges at an unprecedented rate. From the mayor of New York to the lowliest night-court judge, the establishment blinked.
Leitsch and the newly radicalized Mattachine leadership immediately turned to the bars. As it had since Prohibition was repealed, the New York State liquor law said that the bar owner must keep the place orderly. The New York State Liquor Authority took the position that the presence of a homosexual meant ipso facto that the place was disorderly. So the gays went to their movement lawyer, Stringfellow, for instructions about how to challenge the prohibition. He told them that they had to have an orderly protest, with no cameras or anything that might be construed as disorderly. Leitsch and a couple of his buddies (and Wicker, who “invited himself”) went into a bar. They carried a piece of paper that said “we the undersigned are orderly,” announced that they were homosexuals, and asked for a drink. After a couple of smart bartenders refused to play the role of test-case defendants, they finally got the guy at Julius’ to say no. Following the mayor’s lead, the head of the state liquor authority denied that his agency forbade license holders to serve liquor to homosexuals.
Leitsch and his same-sex bar liberators continued to push the envelope on disorderly conduct. In a series of cases, they got the New York courts to forbid the state liquor authority to pull a bar’s license if gays gathered there. After the bar owners showed the courts clips of Orthodox Jews and Greek men dancing with one another and a picture of Charles de Gaulle smooching General Eisenhower, the court ruled the gay patrons could do anything short of criminal solicitation.
At this point, the gay activists were following the fairly conventional script of the early-Sixties movements. The self-invention at the heart of Sixties radicalism, particularly the sexual radicalism, allowed a handful of leaders to boldly come out. Combining litigation with direct action, they set about exploiting the divisions in the existing order that was oppressing them. The increased radicalism of the late-Sixties racial and antiwar movements was just manifesting itself, and the distinctions that would soon set the gay movement on a different, and ultimately more productive, path were still latent.
As the homosexuals were becoming radicalized, the radical movement became gayer. Hippie stalwart and Abbie Hoffman pal Jim Fouratt remembers his first real identification with gay politics. “I didn’t want to be a Mattachine kind of homosexual.” Fouratt was on a trip to San Francisco around 1966, when he met the Vanguard, a pre-hippie group that rose up to protest a police raid on a gay cafeteria. When the Vanguard protested, they all put on wigs, in solidarity with the cross-dressers busted at the cafeteria. That was the kind of gay movement a self-dramatizing Sixties hippie could love.
Tom Hayden’s roommate, movement stalwart Carl Wittman, had a harder time with the New Left than the sunny Fouratt. Like the young Harry Hay, Wittman struggled to reconcile his homosexual desires with his deep and long-standing commitment to a social movement that was so reflexively homophobic. Wittman, the son of Communist parents, was a radical from his college days with the Swarthmore chapter of SDS. The consummate talent spotter, Hayden, elevated the tall, eloquent, blond Wittman to leadership early and took Wittman with him to start an antipoverty project in Newark. But, according to David Mungello, briefly Wittman’s lover in the late Sixties, Wittman left Hayden’s Newark project to start his own effort in Hoboken in 1966 in order to get away from Hayden’s homophobia. That same year, three decades after Hay married Anita Platky to try to pull the conflicting halves of his life together, Wittman decided he’d been fighting his shameful homosexual desires long enough and wed his college friend and coworker Mimi Feingold in the backyard of movement grand old man David Dellinger.
Somehow the hippie potluck nuptials did not offset the falsity of Wittman’s sexual commitment. One year later, he and Feingold took the step guaranteed to break up a homosexual’s heterosexual marriage—they moved to San Francisco. Wittman, always and to his core an activist, took up with the Bay Area War Resistance. He also, Mungello reports, took up with him and with numerous other gay men in the Bay Area in the priapic California sunshine. Wittman was a blond, Mungello remembers, not a hairless, Scandinavian blond, but a hairy, masculine, tall blond. His Swarthmore yearbook picture looks like a young Tab Hunter.
California had always been a kinder, gentler place, but by 1967, San Francisco was, as Wittman would later describe it, a “refugee camp” for “homosexuals” from “Amerika.” As the Sixties succeeded the Beatnik phase, the Black Cat Bar remained the touchstone. Litigious straight Sol Stoumen owned it, gay waiter José Sarria still nightly acted out the opera Carmen with himself in the title role, and the performances always ended with the gay patrons linking arms and singing “God Save Us Nelly Queens” to the tune of “God Save the Queen.” In Los Angeles, a young landscape gardener, Steve Ginsberg, turned his youthful aspirations to gay militancy as early as 1966, naming his new organization PRIDE. One of the first members of PRIDE, Richard Mitch, had access to the print shop at ABC Studios, where lots of the men were gay. Presto, a “newspaper,” the Los Angeles Advocate, now the oldest continuous gay publication in America.
In 1962, well before the New York “sip-in” orchestrated by Leitsch and his cohorts, the San Francisco gay-bar owners and managers assembled a Tavern Guild and started doing the grunt work of political organizing. They hired a lawyer and a bail bondsman to represent the patrons arrested in the bars and they started fighting the state liquor authorities. Every time there was an election, the Tavern Guild registered voters. Because San Francisco did not have a population the size of New York’s, sooner or later the registered voters of the Black Cat were going to show up on some politician’s radar. In 1961, Sarria ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and got a fair number of votes.
Wittman didn’t like the Tavern Guild. He wrote in his incendiary 1969 “Gay Manifesto” that the bar owners overcharged the denizens of the gay ghetto and kept them down so they could make money from them. A refugee camp, Wittman wrote, is better than where the refugees came from; otherwise they would not be there in the first place. But it was still a ghetto and not a free place. Wittman wanted gays to make their refuge into a place where they could govern themselves—“set up their own institutions, defend themselves, open a gay dance hall, rural retreats, food cooperatives, a free school”—the whole Sixties litany.
Wittman seems unaware that, to a surprising extent, the Bay gays already had done the deed. In 1964, the supposedly extortionate bar owners and managers from the Tavern Guild helped form an explicitly political gay organization, the Society for Individual Rights (SIR). Although the homosexual rights society was predictably uninterested in the free schools and food cooperatives, they did register voters, canvass politicians, and hold candidates’ nights.
Sixties San Francisco even managed to produce a vindication for the prim and proper Daughters of Bilitis and the scared-rabbit late Mattachines. The clergy and professionals became their allies after all. To be sure, it was a very different ministry that gathered in Mill Valley, California, to meet with the homosexuals in May 1964 from the one the conservative leaders had in mind ten years before. The clergy did not come around because the homosexuals were so “normal” and middle class as the old Mattachine had hoped. Glide Memorial Church, a Methodist outpost in the downtown down-and-out Tenderloin, came around because it cared for the lowest and most desperate of the community—the disproportionately homosexual runaways. When a clergyman with a heart, Ted McIlvenna, tried to get some handle on the orphaned street kids, he ran right into the war between the church and the gay community. It being the Sixties, the Glide ministers tried to make a little love. They brought in a dozen liberal Protestant clergymen, including a few from across the country, to the Mill Valley meeting. The assistant to the Episcopal bishop of Northern California attended. A representative of the liberal but hoary old National Council of Churches came from New York. A United Church of Christ minister came, and a Lutheran, as well as the Methodists.
Under the leadership of the Glide group, the Mill Valley meeting generated a Council on Religion and the Homosexual. It probably wasn’t exactly what the socially conscious men of God had in mind, but the next thing they knew they had caused a riot at a gay ball. They intended the gay ball—it was to be a fund-raiser and kickoff event—but they did not intend the riot, although they caused it by behaving like Goody Two-shoes and telling the police of their plans. The police showed up in force, shining klieg lights on the entrance and photographing the terrified participants. When lawyers, gay and straight, tried to stop the police from entering the hall without a warrant, the police arrested the lawyers and some poor anonymous woman who was just there to take tickets. Witnesses report the “ball” turned into a chaotic, scary scene.
Some people have called the 1964 New Year’s ball San Francisco’s Stonewall, but that is to misread the differences between the communities. There were no nights of rioting following the San Francisco New Year’s ball bust. At the same time that Robert Wagner’s administration was turning New York into what Leitsch called a police state, the gay-friendly ministers of San Francisco called a press conference, on January 2, 1965, to denounce what the authorities had done, and the mainstream press joined the outcry. God—and the liberal legal community—did save the Nelly queens. When the New Year’s ball lawyers came to trial for their criminal misconduct, twenty-five of the most prominent lawyers in town had signed on as “counsel.” Who are you going to believe, the vice squad or the men of God? The judge tossed out the charges before the accused lawyers even put on a defense. The police agreed to stop busting the bars, and SIR met with the first candidate for supervisor ever to seek its endorsement. By all accounts, San Francisco was a long way toward becoming the free society Wittman sought before he arrived.
Although it opens in San Francisco, Wittman’s “Gay Manifesto” is not about San Francisco. It is about the gay revolution anywhere in “Amerika,” the most ambitious statement of the principles of the gay revolution since Harry Hay called out the bachelors in 1950—and a lot better written. “A Gay Manifesto” makes the argument for the three core principles of a successful movement: admit you’re different, demand respect, and take care of your own interests first.
“We’ll be gay until everyone has forgotten that it’s an issue,” Wittman advises. “Stop mimicking straights, stop censoring ourselves.” Gay Is Good: “We have to learn that our loving each other is a good thing, not an unfortunate thing, and that we have a lot to teach straights about sex, love, strength, and resistance.” Wittman even resists the siren song of the universal brotherhood of man from the New Left, which had made him a made man: “A lot of movement types come on with a line of shit about homosexuals not being oppressed as much as blacks or Vietnamese or workers or women . . . talk about the priority of black liberation or ending imperialism over and above gay liberation is just anti-gay propaganda.”
As Wittman’s manifesto reflects, the gay movement, which had risen powerfully on the currents of the Sixties, exploded in 1969 just as the Sixties movements were showing the flaws that would ultimately take them down. The racial movement had taken a stab at black separatism, with the direct-action Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voting to expel all their white allies; in 1968 the long-integrated Congress of Racial Equality followed suit. At the other end of the spectrum, Martin Luther King Jr. remained committed to integration and nonviolence, dividing the movement along pro- and antiseparatist lines. At all levels of separatism or integration, the racial movement took on the burden of opposing the Vietnam War, powerfully diverting it from its original agenda.
The feminist movement suffered from the outset from the defects of its virtues: the potential membership, consisting of more than half the population, was rent by every conceivable division. In 1967, the signature organization of the movement, the National Organization for Women (NOW), could not even achieve unanimous approval of the proposed equal rights amendment and then split off a conservative faction, the Women’s Equity Action League, over abortion. By 1969, the poisonous feminist slogan, “The personal is the political,” characterized a strong movement of younger, Sixties-influenced women’s liberationists. Personal performances like publicly cropping one another’s long hair were characterized as political actions. Predictably, once the movement took down the worst of the formal sex segregation, many women transformed their politics into a concern with their individual well-being. The personal is the political after all.
Although the same stresses—an ineffective separatism, dilution, and co-optation—would quickly surface in the gay movement, at the beginning, the nascent movement really had no choice but to adopt Wittman’s cautionary principles. Co-optation was not an option. When King asked the nation to judge black Americans not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character, few would have argued that skin color reflected character or that being black should be criminal. For the thing that mattered to King—character—black Americans were the same as the white majority. But the gay revolutionaries’ difference from the majority—sexual behavior—ran right into the heart of American moral judgment. Indeed, it sometimes seems that in modern America sexual morality is the only morality. So the gay movement was stuck with two choices. They could ask the society to ignore or tolerate their behavior, immoral or not, in the interests of higher values like freedom or privacy. Or they could argue that their sexual practices were not wrong (“Gay Is Good”). The real danger came from the other two temptations, separatism and dilution. For the moment, however, the homophobia and selfishness of the rest of the Sixties movements (“line of shit about Vietnamese or workers,” as Wittman put it) meant that the new movement would be somewhat inoculated against the temptation to dilute its efforts by taking up every left-wing cause. By insisting on prosecuting them for sodomy and busting the places where they sought to gather and meet, the dominant society had also closed off the avenue of separatism, which so strongly tempted the racial movement.
Probably because he had lived through the disintegration of the Sixties movements, Wittman was able to warn his new-movement colleagues against some of the worst pitfalls. And Wittman is a thread that links the gay activists who emerged from the Sixties movement, or from the milieu the movement created, and entered gay politics to change them forever. Fouratt, who would write the epitaph to the Mattachine era at the first meeting after Stonewall, read Wittman’s manifesto, he thinks as early as 1966. No one else remembers “A Gay Manifesto” before 1969, but Fouratt’s memory is a tribute to its influence on him. Allen Young, the big-deal journalist from the lefty Liberation News Service who came over to the gay movement, describes his Sixties self as “totally compartmentalized.” “The first time I really made the connection,” between his political self and his gay self, he remembers, “I was reading Carl Wittman’s piece.” Fouratt had been after Allen to go to a gay meeting and this time he agreed.
On June 28, 1969, four months after Wittman’s manifesto appeared, cars filled with policemen rolled up to the front of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The gay revolution woke up to its jingle jangle morning. For the next decade, Wittman’s words played the song for them.