The Daily Agenda for Thursday, April 11

Jim Burroway

April 11th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: AIDS Walk, Belmont, NC; Women’s Fest 2013, Camp Rehoboth, DE; AIDS Walk, Cincinnati, OH; AIDS Walk, Des Moines, IA; AIDS Walk, Honolulu, HI; AIDS Walk, Las Vegas, NV; Miami Beach Pride, Miami, FL; Ride for AIDS, Pasadena, CA; Gay Snow Happening, Solden, Austria; Tallahassee Pride, Tallahassee, FL.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
First Mattachine Constitutional Convention: 1953. The Mattachine Foundation, founded in Los Angeles in 1950, was the brain child of Harry Hay (see Apr 7), Dale Jennings (see Oct 21), Chuck Rowland, and Bob Hull,  all of whom felt that the time was right to push for gay rights. As Rowland later commented, “We had just won the war. We had rid the world of fascism, except in Spain. We came back and we were going to save the world.” Idealism came naturally to Rowland, Hay and Hull: they had earlier been members of the Communist Party.

When they formed the Mattachine Foundation, one of their chief concerns was secrecy. The Lavender Scare was just getting underway in American, and the group feared that if one member was picked up by the FBI and interrogated, he might reveal the names of other members of the Foundation. To alleviate those concerns, they decided to borrow a secretive membership structure from American Communists, with Freemasonry providing the inspiration for a series of “orders,” with the founding members serving as anonymous members of the Fifth Order, and members in lower orders in charge of local chapters, and with all of them remaining anonymous through the use of pseudonyms. Once the organization structure was set, they then set about articulating the Foundation’s goals: educating the public about homosexuality, advocating for tolerance, and engaging in “political advocacy,” which presumably meant challenging the anti-sodomy laws which were then in force in all fifty states.

The Mattachine Foundation first became known to general public following Dale Jennings’s 1952 arrest in an LAPD entrapment operation (see Jun 23). Hays and Jennings decided to fight the charges, with Jennings admitting in open court that he was a homosexual — a very daring move — but insisting that he was innocent of the particular charges against him. The jury deadlocked and the charges ended up being dropped.

This court victory was a massive public relations coup for Mattachine. Suddenly new members were joining in droves and creating new discussion groups all across California. By 1953, it was estimated that membership stood at more than 2,000 with as many as 100 joining a single discussion group. This exponential growth diversified the group considerably, attracting more women to the discussion groups and drawing in those from a much broader political spectrum, many of whom didn’t share the radical vision of Mattachine’s founders. Some worried that the group wouldn’t be able to withstand an investigation by a Senate committee if some of the founders’ former Communist ties were made public. Others feared that including an explicit call for gay equality as part of its mission would endanger the security of the group’s members. That concern was amplified in March 1953 when Los Angeles Mirror columnist Paul Coates obtained copies of the Mattachine’s lobbying questionnaires, and published an article questioning the group’s legitimacy and charging that its members were “bad security risks.”

New members from Northern California made bulk of the growing internal dissension within Mattachine. Hal Call (see Sep 20), who joined the group in Berkeley, was especially concerned. “We wanted to see Mattachine grow and spread, and we didn’t think that this could be done as long as Mattachine was a secret organization.” But before the group went public, it had some housecleaning to do. “We wanted to make sure that we didn’t have a single person in our midst who could be revealed as a Communist and disgrace us all.” The Mattachine’s founders “had to go. Mattachine had to be free of Communists.”

It all came to a head in April 1953, during the first constitutional convention to re-organize the Mattachine Foundation. Rowland delivered a speech which lifted the veil of secrecy of the group’s leadership. “You will want to know something about the beginnings of the Mattachine Society, how the Fifth Order happened to be. … I think it is reasonable that you should ask this and important that you understand it,” he said. He then introduced five of the founding members to the rank-and-file.

The meeting broke down into an ideological battle between two distinctive camps. The first camp was represented by most of the founding members who had set up the secret society. Hay, Rowland and Hull advocated a view that homosexuals were a unique minority, and, as with other minorities, they were possessed with special qualities and a unique culture. The opposing camp, made up of Call, Kenneth Burns, Don Lucas, David Finn, and others, countered that homosexuals were no different from any other American except for their sexuality. Dale Jennings, while a founding member, would have been sympathetic with this group’s philosophy if he hadn’t already left Mattachine to join the fledgling ONE magazine (see Oct 15). He had long argued that the task for the group wasn’t homosexual emancipation, but sexual freedom for everyone. This second camp also feared an FBI investigation, and for good reason. Finn and Lucas were already acting as informants for the FBI and the police, and they were desperately trying to convince the FBI that Mattachine posed no danger to national security.

With the group unable to come to an agreement, the first attempt at a constitutional convention broke down and a second meeting was called for May. At that meeting, Mattachine’s founders grew tired of the argument and resigned. The group then declared the work of the Mattachine Foundation completed and disbanded the organization, replacing it with a new one to be known as the Mattachine Society. Leadership then passed to a new group led by Call and Burns, who called for another general meeting in November to establish a new constitution which would open up the group to greater transparency while setting the group on a much less confrontational path.

[Sources: Douglas M. Charles “From subversion to obscenity: The FBI’s investigations of the early homophile movement in the United States, 1953-1958.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 19, no. 2 (May 2010): 262-287.

Martin Meeker. “Behind the mask of respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and male homophile practice, 1950s and 1960s.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10, no. 1 (January 2001): 78-116.]

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

There are no comments for this post.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required)
(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

 

Latest Posts

Marco Rubio Announced As Featured Speaker At Anti-Gay Event In Orlando

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1854: The Surprising Twists and Turns of a Cross-Dressing Case In London

Today In History, 1927: "The Well of Loneliness" Published

Today In History, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Organizes First Post-Stonewall March Against Police Harassment

Today In History, 1978: New Jersey Senator: "We Used To Beat Them Up"

Born On This Day, 1919: Martin Block

Born On This Day, 1927: Fr. Robert Carter, SJ

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.