Today In History, 1968: “Gay Is Good” Adopted As National Gay Rights Slogan

Jim Burroway

August 12th, 2016

The North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO), an umbrella group with representatives from twenty-six local and national gay rights organizations, was formed two years earlier, and from the very beginning they were hampered by squabbles between the member groups. When they met in Chicago just a few weeks before the contentious Democratic National Convention, a whole host of fault lines had emerged: along generational lines with younger members being influenced by civil rights and anti-war protests; along gender lines as lesbians became increasingly impatient and distrustful as the dominant male leadership gave short shrift to their concerns; and along geographic lines between the more “militant” East Coast and the less confrontational West Coast factions.

Although the delegates failed to form a unified national organization, they did manage to accomplish two things. First, they passed “Homosexual Bill of Rights”, which was proposed by the Resolutions Committee chaired by Daughters of Bilitis president Shirley Willer (Sep 26). The Homosexual Bill of Rights consisted of these five points:

  1. Private consensual sex between persons over the age of consent shall not be an offense.
  2. Solicitation for any sexual acts shall not be an offense except upon the filing of a complaint by the aggrieved party, not a police officer or agent.
  3. A person’s sexual orientation or practice shall not be a factor in the granting or renewing of federal security clearances or visas, or in the granting of citizenship.
  4. Service in and discharge from the Armed Forces and eligibility for veteran’s benefits shall be without reference to homosexuality.
  5. A person’s sexual orientation or practice shall not affect his eligibility for employment with federal, state, or local governments, or private employers.

Their second accomplishment would prove to be more enduring; the adoption of Frank Kameny’s “Gay is Good” slogan as the official slogan of the movement. The full resolution read:

BECAUSE many individual homosexuals, like many of the members of many other minority groups suffer from diminished self-esteem, doubts and uncertainties as to their personal worth, and from a pervasive false and unwarranted sense of an inferiority and undesirability of their homosexual condition, and from a negative approach to that condition; and

BECAUSE, therefore, many individual homosexuals, like many of the members of many other minority groups, are in need of psychological sustenance to bolster and to support a positive and affirmative attitude toward themselves and their homosexuality and to hae instilled into them a confident sense of the positive good and value of themselves and of their condition; and

BECAUSE it would seem to be very much a function of the North American Homophile Conference to attempt to replace a wishy-washy negativism toward homosexuality with a firm no-nonsense positivism, to attempt to establish in the homosexual community and its members feelings of pride, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth, in being the homosexuals that they are and have a moral right to be (these feelings being essential to true human dignity), and to attempt to bring to bear a countervailing influence against negative attitudes toward homosexuality prevalent in the heterosexual community; and

BECAUSE the Negro community has approached similar problems and goals with some success by  the adoption of the motto or slogan: Black is Beautiful

RESOLVED: that it is hereby adopted as a slogan or motto for NACHO that


The vote was unanimous, perhaps the only point of unanimity in the convention. Kameny saw his slogan’s adoption as being a critical step toward changing the internal self-perceptions that many in the gay community had of themselves. Just a few years earlier, he persuaded his own group, the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., to pass a resolution declaring that homosexuality was not a mental illness (Mar 4), a vote that was very controversial locally and nationally (May 11). This showed Kameny that if the gay community wanted mental health professionals to stop regarding gay people as mentally ill, then gays and lesbians themselves would have to change how they saw themselves:

A sign at a gay rights demonstration in Albany, New York, 1971 (Source)

A sign at a gay rights demonstration in Albany, New York, 1971 (Source)

In order that we might hear something good to offset all this negativity, I came up with the slogan “Gay is good” in 1968, in parallel with the slogan “Black is beautiful” coined around the same time for similar psychological reasons. Upon careful analysis, it quickly became clear that as long as we were classified by organized psychiatry as being mentally ill or emotionally disturbed, we were never going to be granted any kind of remedy for the cultural ills besetting us. Society was not going to offer protection to a bunch of “loonies,” which is what psychiatry of that day made of us…

Psychiatry would eventually change its mind about five years later. For countless millions of gay people, it would take longer. But Kameny didn’t just fight to change how the laws pr psychiatry treated gay people. He fought so that gay people to see themselves as fully equal to everyone else as people. In 2007 when his papers and artifacts were accepted by the Smithsonian Institution, Frank reflected in an email to me:

I’ve said, for a long time, that if I’m remembered for only one thing, I would like it to be for having coined “Gay is Good.” But never did I expect that that would make its way to the Smithsonian. I feel deeply contented.

[Sources: Ronald Bayer. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987):89-91.

Frank Kameny. “How It All Started.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 13, no. 2 (2009): 76-81.]

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