The Daily Agenda for Friday, November 15
November 15th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
First Official Meeting of the Washington Mattachine Society: 1961. On this date in history, gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny and several others held the first official meeting of the Washington Mattachine Society. The Washington Mattachines, unlike other Mattachine Societies elsewhere in the country, brought a new, aggressive approach to the fight for gay rights. Frank Kameny later reflected on the society’s founding in an essay he contributed to Eric Marcus’s Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights : 1945-1990 : An Oral History:
Meanwhile, other things were going on with Mattachine. The national structure of Mattachine collapsed in March of that year. The San Francisco Mattachine had cut loose all the other affiliates and wished them well, urging them to change their names and to keep on working. The Denver group became The Neighbors and disappeared. The New York group retained its name and incorporated as a nose-thumbing gesture to San Francisco. It be came the Mattachine Society, Incorporated, of New York versus the Mattachine Society in San Francisco. It was all very petty.
…That following November, on November 15, 1961, we had our first official meeting of the Washington Mattachine. I was the organizer and founder. We did all the things that an organization does when it gets going. We took out a back account, got a post-office box, wrote our constitution, elected our officers, set up our meeting structure, and chose a name. I opted against using the Mattachine name, but I was outvoted. I wanted something that was more explicit and expressive, but wouldn’t have used the word gay then. While it was an in-group word, it hadn’t yet gone public.
Now the movement of those days was very unassertive, apologetic, and defensive. I don’t say this critically, and not necessarily derogatorily, but it was a different era. First of all, up to this time, homosexuality had never been publicly discussed. Let me give you an illustration of that. As you’re aware, the question of queers int he government was very much part of the grist of the mill for McCarthy in his hearings in the early 1950s. When McCarthy was riding high, I was still in graduate school at Harvard. I read the Boston Herald every day. I read the New York Times every Sunday. I listened to the radio all the time. I read Time magazine weekly. Yet I did not learn until somewhere around 1958 or 1959 that homosexuality had been a theme of those hearings because it was not widely reported.: the word homosexual was not fit to print or discuss or be heard. Virtually from one end of the decade to the other, outside the medical books, there was nothing anywhere on the subject. It was blanked out, blacked out. It wasn’t there!
Because there was no publicity, there was no way of getting to people. The people in the small movement at that time were only talking to themselves. There was absolutely nothing whatsoever that anybody heard at that time, anywhere that was other than negative! Nothing! We were sick; we were sinners; we were perverts. And so the movement, predictably, in retrospect, did not take strong positions. It gave a hearing to everybody, saying, “As long as it deals with homosexuality, all views must be heard, even those that are the most harshly and viciously condemnatory to homosexuals. We have to defer to the experts.” My answer to that was, “Drivel! We are the experts on ourselves, and we will tell the experts they have nothing to tell us!” Giving all views a fair hearing didn’t suit my personality. And the Mattachine Society of Washington was formed around my personality.
So we at the Washington Mattachine characterized ourselves within the movement as an activist militant organization. Those were very dirty words in those days in the movement, such as it was. You weren’t supposed to be militant. And we were, both in our actions and our goals. Our statement of purposes set out our goals, which were generally to achieve equality for homosexuals and homosexuality against heterosexuals and heterosexuality. Equality was the primary issue.
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