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For the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, an
anthology chronicling the tumultuous fight for LGBTQ rights in the 1960s
and the activists who spearheaded it, with a foreword by Edmund White.

June 28, 2019 marks the fiftieth
anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which is considered the most
significant event in the gay liberation movement, and the catalyst for
the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Drawing from the
New York Public Library’s archives, The Stonewall Reader is a
collection of first accounts, diaries, periodic literature, and articles
from LGBTQ magazines and newspapers that documented both the years
leading up to and the years following the riots. Most importantly the
anthology spotlights both iconic activists who were pivotal in the
movement, such as Sylvia Rivera, co-founder of Street Transvestites
Action Revolutionaries (STAR), as well as forgotten figures like
Ernestine Eckstein, one of the few out, African American, lesbian
activists in the 1960s. The anthology focuses on the events of 1969, the
five years before, and the five years after. Jason Baumann, the NYPL
coordinator of humanities and LGBTQ collections, has edited and
introduced the volume to coincide with the NYPL exhibition he has
curated on the Stonewall uprising and gay liberation movement of 1969.

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			JASON BAUMANN is the Susan and Douglas Dillon Assistant Director for Collection Development for the New York Public Library and coordinates the library’s LGBT Initiative. His most recent exhibition is Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50. He received his MLS from Queens College, his MFA in creative writing from the City College of New York, and his PhD in English from the Graduate Center, CUNY.

			EDMUND WHITE is the author of A Boy’s Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988), and The Farewell Symphony (1997). He received a National Book Critics Circle Award for Genet: A Biography and won the 2018 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.


			An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

			First published in Penguin Books 2019

			Introduction, headnotes, and selection copyright © 2019 by The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations

			Foreword copyright © 2019 by Edmund White

			Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

			This page constitutes an extension of this copyright page.

			ISBN 9780143133513 (paperback)

			ISBN 9780525505303 (ebook)



			About the Authors

			Title Page


			Foreword by EDMUND WHITE

			Introduction by JASON BAUMANN

			Suggestions for Further Exploration by JASON BAUMANN




			Audre Lorde, from Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

			John Rechy, from City of Night

			Joan Nestle, from A Restricted Country

			Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, from “Lesbians United”

			; Franklin Kameny, from Gay Is Good

			Virginia Prince, “The How and Why of Virginia”

			Samuel R. Delany, from The Motion of Light in Water

			Barbara Gittings, from The Gay Crusaders

			Ernestine Eckstein, from “Interview with Ernestine”

			Judy Grahn, “The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke”

			Mario Martino, from Emergence: A Transsexual Autobiography

			Craig Rodwell, from The Gay Crusaders


			Dick Leitsch, “The Hairpin Drop Heard Around the World”

			Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, “1969 Mother Stonewall and the Golden Rats”

			Howard Smith, “View from Inside: Full Moon over the Stonewall”

			Lucian Truscott IV, “View from Outside: Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square”

			Mark Segal, from And Then I Danced

			Morty Manford, from Interview with Eric Marcus

			Marsha P. Johnson and Randy Wicker, from Interview with Eric Marcus

			Sylvia Rivera, from Interview with Eric Marcus

			Martin Boyce, from Oral History Interview with Eric Marcus

			Edmund White, from City Boy

			Holly Woodlawn, from A Low Life in High Heels

			Jayne County, from Man Enough to Be a Woman

			Jay London Toole, from New York City Trans Oral History Project Interview with Theodore Kerr and Abram J. Lewis

			Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, from New York City Trans Oral History Project Interview with Abram J. Lewis


			Martha Shelley, from “Gay Is Good”

			Karla Jay, from Tales of the Lavender Menace

			Steven F. Dansky, “Hey Man”

			Harry Hay, from Radically Gay

			Rev. Troy D. Perry, from The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay

			Perry Brass, “We Did It!”

			Jeanne Córdova, from When We Were Outlaws

			Marsha P. Johnson, from Interview with Allen Young, “Rapping with a Street Transvestite Revolutionary”

			Kiyoshi Kuromiya, from Philadelphia LGBT History Project Interview with Marc Stein

			Joel Hall, “Growing Up Black and Gay”

			Tommi Avicolli Mecca, “Brushes with Lily Law”

			Penny Arcade, from Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!

			Jill Johnston, from Lesbian Nation

			John E. Fryer, MD, from “John E. Fryer, MD, and the Dr. H. Anonymous Episode”

			Jonathan Ned Katz, from Gay American History

			Arthur Evans, from Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture

			Larry Mitchell, from The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions

			Chirlane McCray, “I Am a Lesbian”




There’s something wonky and inappropriate about nearly every major protest event in history. The British inspired the Boston Tea Party because they wanted tax revenues to pay for battles they’d fought on behalf of their American colonies. When the French revolutionaries destroyed the Bastille, there were only seven prisoners in it, most of them aristocrats who came with pets, their own furniture, and hundreds of books. The Stonewall uprising protested a police raid on a Mafia-owned gay bar and dance spot that had no running water, where glasses were “washed” in filthy suds and reused, and which was “protected” by straight, extortionate Mafia goons.

			But each of these uprisings came along at the right historical moment. Americans were fed up with taxation without representation. The French were protesting rising national debt, extremes in wealth and poverty, expensive foreign wars, and an autocratic government. And gays, who’d almost never resisted arrest, stood up for themselves at last.

			There were many causes of this historic resistance. Throughout the early 1960s the city had shut down gay bars out of deference to tourists visiting the World’s Fair, which was mainly designed to showcase American business; the power behind it was the Tammany Hall mayor Robert Wagner. But at the time of Stonewall, in that pre-internet age that was the main place for queers to meet, it seemed gay and lesbian bars were being left in peace. Everyone assumed Mayor John Lindsay was a nice guy because he looked like Kennedy.

			The clientele of the Stonewall had gradually changed from white to black and Hispanic, kids who were used to fighting the cops. And then it was very hot outside. And Judy Garland, the Pasionara of gay men, had died on June 22, 1969, from a Seconal overdose at age forty-seven and lay in state in Manhattan’s Frank E. Campbell funeral home. The Stonewall riots began June 28 at three in the morning. They went on for three days and at times the whole of Sheridan Square was cordoned off. Most important, the sexual revolution, Black Power, and anti–Vietnam War demonstrations had shown the efficacy of protest.

			The United States had gradually shifted from espousing a morality of duty to a newfound yen for self-fulfillment. Gone or going were the days of sacrificing one’s own pleasure for the sake of conventional values; typical of the sixties were “alternative” publications such as Screw and Hustler, which urged their readers to indulge their secret desires. The Kinsey Reports had already reassured people, straight and gay, how many adults had at least experimented with non-procreative sex—even kinky sex! Black Power had replaced the class analysis of the left with the race analysis of the civil rights movement. War protesters in the days of the universal obligatory male draft had inspired the majority to oppose a war we apparently couldn’t win, that didn’t serve our national interests, and that had become the “killing fields” of thousands of soldiers. And we were seeing how effective those protests could be. The burgeoning women’s movement was showing that “sisterhood is powerful,” a preview of coming attractions in our American dialogue. Women prisoners locked up in the Jefferson Market prison (since razed) were shouting down their encouragement to the Stonewall protesters resisting the police.

			Many if not most historians would argue that major events such as gay liberation are not sudden but gradual, incremental; as someone who lived through Stonewall I would claim that the uprising was decisive. Although there were small gay-rights groups such as the Mattachine Society (which first met under the name of Society of Fools—mattacino is the Italian word for a masked harlequin), most gay people (including this one) had hardly heard of them. Before Stonewall the prevailing theories of homosexuality—even among queers—were that we were sinners, criminals, or mentally ill. There was a certain moment at a gay cocktail party in the 1950s, for instance, when we would all put down our martinis and sigh, “Gosh, we’re sick!” I spent some twenty years on the couch trying to go straight and was assured by my various shrinks that homosexuality was just a symptom of a deeper disorder (oppressive mother–absent father was a favorite, or being arrested in the “anal-aggressive stage”). Almost no one could see queerness as something along the normal spectrum of human (or animal) behavior. The Mormons were making deviant boys look at homoerotica and then submitting them to shock therapy. Priests were listening to tearful confessions before “consoling” their little sinners. Many Protestant sects were sending their homosexual minors to boot camp for “conversion therapy.” Three states still ban all forms of sodomy (including oral and anal sex), even among heterosexuals; a 2003 Supreme Court decision decriminalized homosexuality even among consenting adults in fourteen states.

			The Stonewall uprising changed attitudes, first among lesbian and gay people. In January 1970 I moved to Rome for six months, and when I came back cavernous gay dance clubs, complete with go-go boys in white towels under black light, had suddenly sprung up.

			The Gay Academic Union started in 1973 and lasted four years. Gay political groups formed. Pride marches were held in scores of cities on the anniversary of Stonewall (as I write, we’re approaching the fiftieth anniversary). Same-sex civil unions and then marriages were legalized. Openly lesbian and gay volunteers were accepted into the armed forces. In many places discrimination against lesbians and gays in the workplace and in housing became illegal.

			These rights are precious and were hard-won by generations of activists. But the change in attitudes is parallel and nearly as important. I was engaged twice, hurt my fiancées, doubted all my impulses, feared a bitter and lonely old age (predicted on every side). Even today well-meaning heterosexuals lament that I’m considered a “gay author.” (Would they be equally shocked by a Jewish or African American writer? Oh, no, sorry. Philip Roth and Toni Morrison are “universal” authors.) When I was a kid I knew very few gay couples, and no one would have sided with queers who wanted to adopt. When I worked for Time-Life from 1962 to 1970, I had to refer to my boyfriends as women; otherwise I would have been fired. My dad fired an employee because he was unmarried at thirty and wore cologne.

			I suppose the horror stories bore everyone. I just want to finish with one observation: Because of the Stonewall uprising, people saw homosexuals no longer as criminals or sinners or mentally ill, but as something like members of a minority group. It was an oceanic change in thinking.



Twenty-five years ago, the New York Public Library presented the exhibition Becoming Visible: The Legacy of Stonewall, curated by Molly McGarry and Fred Wasserman, as well as an accompanying catalog. Planned to commemorate Stonewall 25, it was the first exhibition devoted to LGBTQ history by a major New York cultural institution. It had the highest attendance of any NYPL exhibition except the Dead Sea Scrolls. In my years working on LGBTQ collections at the library, I have had countless people tell me that the exhibition changed their lives because it was the first time they felt that their history was publicly embraced and treated with the seriousness it deserved. The exhibition was an opportunity to show the riches of the library’s LGBTQ archives, which had then recently been acquired by farsighted curators in partnership with grassroots activists. Now with the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall, the library is able to open those archives through this anthology to give contemporary readers insight into this pivotal era in LGBTQ history through firsthand accounts of the actual participants.

			The Stonewall Inn, located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City, began as a teahouse, Bonnie’s Stone Wall, in 1930, and later evolved into a restaurant. After a fire destroyed the interior in the early 1960s, the Stonewall was reopened by Fat Tony Lauria as a gay bar. Part of a network of Mafia-controlled, illegal gay clubs and after-hours joints in the Village (like the Bon Soir, the Tenth of Always, and Kooky’s), the Stonewall was operated as a private club, rather than a publicly open bar, to evade the control of the State Liquor Authority. Every weekend patrons paid three dollars and signed the club register—often as Judy Garland or Donald Duck—to get into the Stonewall, drink watered-down liquor, and dance to the music of the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las. Despite the burnt interior, dirty glasses, and surly staff, the Stonewall—one of the few gay clubs in the Village where patrons could dance—drew a devoted young clientele. Many cross-dressed, wearing makeup or their own personal mix of men’s and women’s attire.

			The police routinely raided the Stonewall, but the management, always mysteriously tipped off in advance, would turn up the lights to warn the crowd to stop any open displays of affection, slow dancing, or use of illicit drugs. According to most historians, the Stonewall’s management bribed the police for protection, and the raids were merely for show. But on Tuesday, June 24, 1969, there was another kind of raid, organized by the NYPD’s First Division, rather than the usual and local Sixth Precinct. When the club was back up and running a few days later, the police decided to go in again on Saturday, June 28, and shut it down for good.

			The police were accustomed to handling a large gay crowd with only a handful of officers, but this night the raid went very differently. Rather than leave, a crowd of patrons and onlookers gathered in front of the bar and waited for their friends held inside to be released. When the police van came to take away those who had been arrested, the crowd fought back, forcing the police into the bar. The riot gathered force from onlookers, who turned on the barricaded bar with garbage cans and fire. The drag queens were said to have given the police both the fiercest resistance and a dose of humor, facing them down in a chorus line as they sang, “We are the Stonewall Girls . . .” The crowd was controlled and dispersed in the early hours of Saturday morning, only to reemerge later that night as several thousand people took to the streets chanting, “Gay power!” and “Liberate Christopher Street!” Riots and demonstrations continued throughout the following week. In the end, the arrests and damage were minimal. What shocked both gays and the straight establishment was that queers had openly fought back.

			That is the story in a nutshell. Everything else has become the stuff of queer legend and debate. First, we cannot agree on what to call this series of events. Was it a “riot” or an “uprising”? The activists and reporters at the time called it a riot, eager to compare it to the many other historic riots of the 1960s, such as those against racial oppression in Watts, Newark, Detroit, and Harlem. Many later historians and critics have preferred to call it an uprising, insisting either that the level of violence and the size of the crowd did not warrant the use of the term riot or, conversely, that calling it a riot denigrated the importance of the events. Stonewall is often marked as the beginning of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, but that is of course not true. LGBTQ people had been organizing politically since at least the 1950s, with the emergence of organizations such as the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Janus Society, the Society for Individual Rights, and the Erickson Educational Foundation. Although these organizations were small, there were chapters of the fledgling groups across the United States by the mid-1960s. These organizations had magazines and conventions, and even staged demonstrations at the Pentagon, the White House, and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Some say that Stonewall was the first time LGBTQ people fought back, which is also not true. Stonewall was preceded by earlier queer revolts such as the Cooper Do-nuts Riot in Los Angeles in 1959, the Dewey’s restaurant sit-in in Philadelphia in 1965, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco in 1966, and the protests against the raid of the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles in 1967, among many others. Scholars, participants, and the interested public also debate how many days the uprising lasted and who threw the first brick, the first bottle, or the first punch. And more, beyond any of these questions we wonder what these events that transpired fifty years ago mean to us today.

			With all these contradictions, scholars and documentarians have struggled to sort out the truth. In his pioneering account, Stonewall, historian Martin Duberman provides an inside view of the lead-up to and impact of the uprising through the lives of six LGBTQ activists. David Carter, in his thorough history, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, painstakingly compares the testimony of eyewitnesses in order to reconstruct the events. They have been followed by numerous documentarians and everyday people who have tried to piece together what happened, why, and what it ultimately means for LGBTQ people and the world. Rather than provide another closed narrative of these tumultuous events, my purpose with this anthology has been to allow the reader to sort out these mysteries for themselves by reading the memoirs and testimony of the participants and those immediately touched by these historic events.

			The anthology has been organized into three main sections: before, during, and after the Stonewall uprising. In the “Before Stonewall” section, I have attempted to provide a range of narratives that give insight into what it felt like to be LGBTQ in the 1950s and ’60s, as well as give an inkling of the range of activism that was emerging across the country before the uprising. We have focused on but not limited ourselves to New York City. Given the tremendous range of stories, this selection cannot be representative, but only hopes to demonstrate a breadth of experiences and introduce some key LGBTQ political figures of the time, such as Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and Del Martin, as well as some possibly less well-known figures such as Ernestine Eckstein and Mario Martino. There are many challenges to producing an anthology like this one, the first being copyright. So many LGBTQ texts of the midtwentieth century are in publishing limbo. The texts are protected by copyright but have no clear representation that can authorize republishing them. This is particularly true of LGBTQ magazines, which were the main avenue for communication and community building. But an even greater challenge has been the way the LGBTQ archives we have inherited have already been structured by the exclusion from the record of the voices of people of color. The movement’s own choice of the Stonewall uprising as a symbol for LGBTQ struggles for liberation has in many ways skewed the story to focus on the experiences of urban gay white men. In this anthology, I have endeavored to shift the narrative to a wider context and to expand what does and doesn’t count as a Stonewall memory.

			In order to understand this era, we have to understand that the history of sexuality and gender does not follow an even and upward march of progress toward freedom. Throughout history there have been cycles of freedom and repression. Same-sex relationships were discreetly tolerated in nineteenth-century America in the form of romantic friendships, but the twentieth century brought increasing legal and medical regulation of homosexuality, which was considered a dangerous illness. At the same time, there was increasing societal awareness of and anxiety about transgender and gender-nonconforming people as gender-confirmation surgery became available. This change in attitude was accompanied by pockets of resistance, spaces that gays, lesbians, and transgender people carved out for their self-expression. Sometimes these spaces were hidden, like the bars in Greenwich Village and Harlem that were frequented only by those in the know. Sometimes they were in plain sight, like the homoerotic subtexts and in-jokes of Hollywood movies. The repression of homosexuality reached its peak in the 1950s with the McCarthy era. During the paranoia of the Cold War, gay men and lesbians were seen as a corrupt lurking menace, easily used as pawns by communists.

			Gays and lesbians began to organize during the 1950s with the homophile movement but were hampered by the lack of a political language with which to express their experience, as they were neither a class nor an ethnicity but instead were considered victims of a moral and medical defect. The activists of this era fought for civil rights framed as inclusion in the society at large, focusing on employment rights and military service. As LGBTQ people struggled to organize and represent themselves, the United States was torn by a succession of political struggles—the African American civil rights movement, the women’s movement, protests against the Vietnam War, and the emergence of the hippie youth subculture—that transformed the possibilities of political organizing in the United States. The narratives in this first section speak to this mix of repression and resistance, as well as the growing range of political forces inspiring LGBTQ communities.

			In the second section, I attempt to provide the wide range of memories of the Stonewall uprising itself. Who exactly was and was not at the Stonewall uprising is probably the most debated question in both the scholarship and popular opinion. Even the eyewitnesses disagree about who was there. Given that the event took place over more than five days and involved thousands of people, we will probably never know definitively who was there. For this reason, I have not attempted to police these narratives. I have taken witnesses at their word that they were there. The section begins with the news reportage of the events: Mattachine activist Dick Leitsch’s account, “The Hairpin Drop Heard Around the World,” which ran in the New York Mattachine Newsletter; and the reportage by Howard Smith and Lucian Truscott IV, which ran in the Village Voice. These articles were key in framing the events for the public and appear to have structured participants’ memories as well. There then follows a wide range of testimony about the uprising from possibly familiar figures such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Martin Boyce, and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, as well as LGBTQ figures we might not realize were personally touched by the Stonewall uprising, such as Holly Woodlawn and Jayne County. In order to preserve the voices of the subjects, transcriptions remain faithful to the original interviews as much as possible, only correcting errors in spelling or punctuation in the transcriptions.

			If the Stonewall uprising was not the beginning of LGBTQ political activism and not the first time LGBTQ people fought back against police repression, then why was it singled out as a defining moment in our history? The stories of the participants make it clear that it marked the convergence of homophile-era activism with the energy and vision of the civil rights, antiwar, and counterculture movements that were transforming the country. The patrons at the Stonewall weren’t card-carrying Mattachine members. They were inspired by the many resistances to accepted authority that were taking place in the culture at large. Although the Stonewall uprising was spontaneous, it was used by both seasoned and new LGBTQ activists as a symbol of a new revolution. The small flames of resistance that LGBTQ activists had been tending and fanning for decades finally erupted into a mass political movement.

			In the final section of this book, I provide a selection of personal accounts of the years following Stonewall and the tremendous explosion of activist energy that resulted from the uprising. I have included memoirs and manifestos by LGBTQ activists in New York City as well as in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Today’s LGBTQ movement grew out of the activist organizations that emerged in the fertile and tumultuous year that followed Stonewall. Organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activists Alliance, and the Radicalesbians quickly sprang up in the wake of the uprising and tackled LGBTQ activism in a whole new way. Rather than struggle merely for societal acceptance, they called for a complete transformation of the society as a whole, demanding not just equality but liberation. Veteran activists pursued their work with a renewed courage and tenacity, tackling oppressive institutions such as the psychiatric profession. The emerging political movements all sent small groups of activists on road trips to spread the word. Activists around the country were inspired by the emerging revolutionary vision in LGBTQ politics and quickly adopted its new language. Chapters sprang up across the country, and many outlived the original groups in New York City. These groups in turn fought for civil rights and liberation in their home communities. The 1970s became a gay and lesbian renaissance with its own literature, music, politics, and erotic presence. LGBTQ activists won major political victories, such as the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of mental disorders, and began to apply public pressure to combat negative stereotypes.

			The excitement and energy of the times are clear in these narratives, but it is also clear that the differences among LGBTQ experiences quickly became apparent in these new movements. Lesbian activists soon tired of the sexism of their gay male political colleagues. Transgender activists were inspired by the gay liberation movement, but many gender-essentialist lesbians and gay men attempted to silence them and push them out of the movement. African American, Latina/Latino, and Asian American activists critiqued the racism of the movement and sought to create new cultural spaces for LGBTQ people of color. Because the post-Stonewall political movements were inspired by anti-racist, feminist, and anti-imperialist politics, it was natural that these critical lenses would be used to analyze LGBTQ politics themselves. This era gave birth to political strategies, frameworks, critiques, and disagreements that continue to inform LGBTQ politics today.

			Clearly understanding that they were making history, these activists also recognized the need to recover the hidden history of LGBTQ people. Among the many activist groups that worked to archive this history was the International Gay Information Center (IGIC), which grew out of the History Committee of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). The IGIC archives operated as a community-based repository until 1988, when the organization’s directors gave the collection to the New York Public Library. These archives, along with other archives and collections subsequently donated to the library, comprehensively document the political struggles in New York City since the 1950s and have made NYPL’s one of the most important archives of LGBT history in the United States.

			These NYPL archives have grown in the ensuing years to include the papers of pioneering activists such as Barbara Gittings, Kay Tobin Lahusen, Vito Russo, and Joseph Beam; the manuscripts of LGBTQ writers including Walt Whitman, May Sarton, and James Baldwin; as well as drag performers including Charles Pierce, Charles Busch, and Sylvester. The materials for this anthology, with two notable exceptions, have been drawn from this rich archive. The oral history archives of Eric Marcus have been an important resource for the anthology, providing the transcripts of interviews with Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Martin Boyce, Randy Wicker, and Morty Manford. Marcus’s archive of interviews was assembled to support the writing of his book Making Gay History and lives on as the Making Gay History podcast. The library is currently partnering with the NYC Trans Oral History Project to document the lives of trans people in New York, which has made it possible to preserve and present the stories of Jay London Toole and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. The archives of Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen provided the narratives of Gittings, as well as of Craig Rodwell. The rich research files of Martin Duberman supplied the narrative of Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, as well as many pointers. Lastly, the extensive book collection in the IGIC and the LGBT periodical collection provided the bulk of the materials.

			When I first started working with the LGBTQ collections of the library, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was an early-career librarian who had chanced to be a part of the AIDS activist organization ACT UP, as well as the gay liberation movement the Radical Faeries. The library was beginning a fund-raising initiative to help promote and preserve these LGBTQ history collections and needed someone who could speak to their importance. In the ensuing years it has been my tremendous privilege to meet and work with several generations of pioneering LGBTQ activists, historians, and artists, some of whom are included in this book. I have been continually humbled and awed by their visionary courage. These are people who have literally changed our world. The most important lesson that I have hopefully learned working with these archives is that they are people’s lives. They are not just boxes of papers and magazines; they are people’s memories, hopes, and dreams that have been entrusted to us. It is my sincere hope that reading these stories will bring you closer to the generations of LGBTQ activists who precede us and that it will help to fuel future struggles for liberation.


Suggestions for Further Exploration


			ACT UP Oral History Project.

			Digital Transgender Archive.

			Making Gay History: The Podcast.

			NYC Trans Oral History Project.



			David Carter. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

			Dudley Clendinen. Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

			Stephan L. Cohen. The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: “An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail.” New York: Routledge, 2008.

			Jeanne Córdova. When We Were Outlaws. Tallahassee, FL: Spinsters Ink, 2011.

			Jayne County with Rupert Smith. Man Enough to Be a Woman. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1995.

			Samuel R. Delany. The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

			John D’Emilio. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

			Jack Drescher and Joseph P. Merlino, eds. American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History. New York: Routledge, 2007.

			Martin Duberman. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.

			Alice Echols. Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967–1975. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

			Arthur Evans. Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture: A Radical View of Western Civilization and Some of the People It Has Tried to Destroy. Boston: Fag Rag Books, 1978.

			Lillian Faderman. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

			Leslie Feinberg. Stone Butch Blues: A Novel. New York: Alyson Books, 2003.

			Marcia Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006.

			Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, Johanna Burton, and Lisa Phillips, eds. Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017.

			Judy Grahn. The Work of a Common Woman: The Collected Poetry of Judy Grahn, 1964–1977. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978.

			Harry Hay. Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder. Ed. Will Roscoe. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

			Karla Jay. Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

			Karla Jay and Allen Young, eds. Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation. New York: New York University Press, 1992.

			Jill Johnston. Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973.

			Franklin Kameny. Gay Is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny. Ed. Michael G. Long. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014.

			Jonathan Katz. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. New York: Crowell, 1976.

			Audre Lorde. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1982.

			Tommi Avicolli Mecca, ed. Smash the Church, Smash the State! The Early Years of Gay Liberation. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2009.

			Larry Mitchell. The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions. Ithaca, NY: Calamus Books, 1977.

			Joan Nestle. A Restricted Country. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1987.

			Troy D. Perry and Charles L. Lucas. The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay: The Autobiography of the Rev. Troy D. Perry. Los Angeles: Nash, 1972.

			John Rechy. City of Night. New York: Grove Press, 1963.

			Len Richmond and Gary Noguera, eds. The Gay Liberation Book. San Francisco: Ramparts Press, 1973.

			Mark Segal. And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality. Brooklyn, NY: Open Lens, 2015.

			Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith, eds. Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2015.

			Marc Stein. City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945–1972. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

			Marc Stein. The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History. New York: NYU Press, 2019.

			Susan Stryker. Transgender History. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008.

			Donn Teal. The Gay Militants. New York: Stein and Day, 1971.

			Kay Tobin and Randy Wicker. The Gay Crusaders. New York: Paperback Library, 1972.

			Edmund White. City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and ’70s. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.

			Holly Woodlawn with Jeffrey Copeland. A Low Life in High Heels: The Holly Woodlawn Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.


With thanks to Carrie Welch and the leadership of The New York Public Library for their partnership in the making of this book, and to Carey Maloney and Hermes Mallea for their ongoing support. Special thanks to the New York Community Trust and TD Bank for their funding of the 2019 Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50 exhibition and accompanying programs.



			Caribbean American poet, scholar, activist, and librarian Audre Lorde was a pivotal figure in LGBTQ and feminist literature and politics in the 1970s and ’80s. In this selection from her “biomythography” Zami, Lorde remembers the challenges and loneliness of being a young, black lesbian in New York City’s Village neighborhood in the 1950s.

From Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

I remember how being young and Black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.

			There were no mothers, no sisters, no heroes. We had to do it alone, like our sister Amazons, the riders on the loneliest outposts of the kingdom of Dahomey. We, young and Black and fine and gay, sweated out our first heartbreaks with no school or office chums to share that confidence over lunch hour. Just as there were no rings to make tangible the reason for our happy secret smiles, there were no names nor reason given or shared for the tears that messed up the lab reports or the library bills.

			We were good listeners, and never asked for double dates, but didn’t we know the rules? Why did we always seem to think friendships between women were important enough to care about? Always we moved in a necessary remoteness that made “What did you do this weekend?” seem like an impertinent question. We discovered and explored our attention to women alone, sometimes in secret, sometimes in defiance, sometimes in little pockets that almost touched (“Why are those little Black girls always either whispering together or fighting?”), but always alone, against a greater aloneness. We did it cold turkey, and although it resulted in some pretty imaginative tough women when we survived, too many of us did not survive at all.

			I remember Muff, who sat on the same seat in the same dark corner of the Pony Stable bar drinking the same gin year after year. One day she slipped off onto the floor and died of a stroke right there between the stools. We found out later her real name was Josephine.

			During the fifties in the Village, I didn’t know the few other Black women who were visibly gay at all well. Too often we found ourselves sleeping with the same white women. We recognized ourselves as exotic sister-outsiders who might gain little from banding together. Perhaps our strength might lay in our fewness, our rarity. That was the way it was Downtown. And Uptown, meaning the land of Black people, seemed very far away and hostile territory.

* * *


			Diane was fat, and Black, and beautiful, and knew it long before it became fashionable to think so. Her cruel tongue was used to great advantage, spilling out her devastatingly uninhibited wit to demolish anyone who came too close to her; that is, when she wasn’t busy deflowering the neighborhood’s resident virgins. One day I noticed her enormous bosom which matched my own and it felt quite comforting rather than competitive. It was clothed in a CCNY sweatshirt, and I realized in profound shock that someone else besides me in the Village gay-girl scene was a closet student at one of the Uptown (meaning past 14th Street) colleges. We would rather have died than mention classes, or tests, or any books other than those everyone else was discussing. This was the fifties and the gulf between the Village gay scene and the college crowd was sharper and far more acrimonious than any town-gown war.

			There were not enough of us. But we surely tried. I remember thinking for a while that I was the only Black lesbian living in the Village, until I met Felicia. Felicia, with the face of a spoiled nun, skinny and sharp brown, sat on my sofa on Seventh Street, with her enormous eyelashes that curled back upon themselves twice. She was bringing me a pair of Siamese cats that had terrorized her junkie friends who were straight and lived on a houseboat with the two cats, until they brought their new baby home from the hospital and both cats went bananas back and forth all over the boat, jumping over everything including the box that the baby screamed in, because Siamese cats are very jealous. So, instead of drowning the cats, they gave them to Felicia, whom I ran into having a beer at the Bagatelle that night, and when Muriel mentioned I liked cats, Flee insisted on bringing them over to my house right then and there. She sat on my sofa with her box of cats and her curly eyelashes and I thought to myself, “if she must wear false eyelashes you’d think she’d make them less obviously false.”

			We soon decided that we were really sisters, which was much more than friends or buddies, particularly when we discovered while reminiscing about the bad days that we had gone to the same catholic school for six months in the first grade.

			I remembered her as the tough little kid in 1939 who came into class in the middle of winter, disturbing our neat tight boredom and fear, bringing her own. Sister Mary of Perpetual Help seated her beside me because I had a seat to myself in the front row, being both bad-behaved and nearsighted. I remembered this skinny little kid who made my life hell. She pinched me all day long, all the time, until she vanished sometime around St. Swithin’s Day, a godsent reward, I thought, for what, I couldn’t imagine, but it almost turned me back to god and prayer again.

			Felicia and I came to love each other very much, even though our physical relationship was confined to cuddling. We were both part of the “freaky” bunch of lesbians who weren’t into role-playing, and who the butches and femmes, Black and white, disparaged with the term Ky-Ky, or AC/DC. Ky-Ky was the same name that was used for gay-girls who slept with johns for money. Prostitutes.

			Flee loved to snuggle in bed, but sometimes she hurt my feelings by saying I had shaggy breasts. And too, besides, Flee and I were always finding ourselves in bed together with other people, usually white women.

			Then I thought we were the only gay Black women in the world, or at least in the Village, which at the time was a state of mind extending all the way from river to river below 14th Street, and in pockets throughout the area still known as the Lower East Side.

			I had heard tales from Flee and others about the proper Black ladies who came downtown on Friday nights after the last show at Small’s Paradise to find a gay-girl to go muff diving with and bring her back up to Convent Avenue to sleep over while their husbands went hunting, fishing, golfing, or to an Alpha’s weekend. But I only met one once, and her pressed hair and all too eagerly interested husband who had accompanied her this particular night to the Bagatelle, where I met her over a daiquiri and a pressed knee, turned me off completely. And this was pretty hard to do in those days because it seemed an eternity between warm beds in the cold mornings seven flights up on Seventh Street. So I told her that I never traveled above 23rd Street. I could have said 14th Street, but she had already found out that I went to college; therefore I thought 23rd was safe enough because CCNY Downtown was there. That was the last bastion of working-class academia allowed.

			Downtown in the gay bars I was a closet student and an invisible Black. Uptown at Hunter I was a closet dyke and a general intruder. Maybe four people all together knew I wrote poetry, and I usually made it pretty easy for them to forget.

			It was not that I didn’t have friends, and good ones. There was a loose group of young lesbians, white except for Flee and I, who hung out together, apart from whatever piece of the straight world we each had a separate place in. We not only believed in the reality of sisterhood, that word which was to be so abused two decades later, but we also tried to put it into practice, with varying results. We all cared for and about each other, sometimes with more or less understanding, regardless of who was entangled with whom at any given time, and there was always a place to sleep and something to eat and a listening ear for anyone who wandered into the crew. And there was always somebody calling you on the telephone to interrupt the fantasies of suicide. That is as good a working definition of friend as most.

			However imperfectly, we tried to build a community of sorts where we could, at the very least, survive within a world we correctly perceived to be hostile to us; we talked endlessly about how best to create that mutual support which twenty years later was being discussed in the women’s movement as a brand-new concept. Lesbians were probably the only Black and white women in New York City in the fifties who were making any real attempt to communicate with each other; we learned lessons from each other, the values of which were not lessened by what we did not learn.

			For both Flee and me, it seemed that loving women was something that other Black women just didn’t do. And if they did, then it was in some fashion and in some place that was totally inaccessible to us, because we could never find them. Except for Saturday nights in the Bagatelle, where neither Flee nor I was stylish enough to be noticed.

			(My straight Black girlfriends, like Jean and Crystal, either ignored my love for women, considered it interestingly avant-garde, or tolerated it as just another example of my craziness. It was allowable as long as it wasn’t too obvious and didn’t reflect upon them in any way. At least my being gay kept me from being a competitor for whatever men happened to be upon their horizons. It also made me much more reliable as a confidante. I never asked for anything more.)

* * *


			But only on the full moon or every other Wednesday was I ever convinced that I really wanted it different. A bunch of us—maybe Nicky and Joan and I—would all be standing around having a beer at the Bagatelle, trying to decide whether to inch onto the postage-stamp dance floor for a slow intimate fish, garrison belt to pubis and rump to rump (but did we really want to get that excited after a long weekend with work tomorrow?), when I’d say sorry but I was tired and would have to leave now, which in reality meant I had an already late paper for english due the next day and needed to work on it all that night.

			That didn’t happen too often because I didn’t go to the Bag very much. It was the most popular gay-girl’s bar in the Village, but I hated beer, and besides the bouncer was always asking me for my ID to prove I was twenty-one, even though I was older than the other women with me. Of course “you can never tell with Colored people.” And we would all rather die than have to discuss the fact that it was because I was Black, since, of course, gay people weren’t racists. After all, didn’t they know what it was like to be oppressed?

* * *


			Sometimes we’d pass Black women on Eighth Street—the invisible but visible sisters—or in the Bag or at Laurel’s, and our glances might cross, but we never looked into each other’s eyes. We acknowledged our kinship by passing in silence, looking the other way. Still, we were always on the lookout, Flee and I, for that telltale flick of the eye, that certain otherwise prohibited openness of expression, that definiteness of voice which would suggest, I think she’s gay. After all, doesn’t it take one to know one?

* * *


			I was gay and Black. The latter fact was irrevocable: armor, mantle, and wall. Often, when I had the bad taste to bring that fact up in a conversation with other gay-girls who were not Black, I would get the feeling that I had in some way breached some sacred bond of gayness, a bond which I always knew was not sufficient for me.

			This was not to deny the closeness of our group, nor the mutual aid of those insane, glorious, and contradictory years. It is only to say that I was acutely conscious—from the ID “problem” at the Bag on Friday nights to the summer days at Gay Head Beach, where I was the only one who wouldn’t worry about burning—that my relationship as a Black woman to our shared lives was different from theirs, and would be, gay or straight. The question of acceptance had a different weight for me.

			In a paradoxical sense, once I accepted my position as different from the larger society as well as from any single sub-society—Black or gay—I felt I didn’t have to try so hard. To be accepted. To look femme. To be straight. To look straight. To be proper. To look “nice.” To be liked. To be loved. To be approved. What I didn’t realize was how much harder I had to try merely to stay alive, or rather, to stay human. How much stronger a person I became in that trying.

			But in this plastic, antihuman society in which we live, there have never been too many people buying fat Black girls born almost blind and ambidextrous, gay or straight. Unattractive, too, or so the ads in Ebony and Jet seemed to tell me. Yet I read them anyway, in the bathroom, on the newsstand, at my sister’s house, whenever I got a chance. It was a furtive reading, but it was an affirmation of some part of me, however frustrating.

			If nobody’s going to dig you too tough anyway, it really doesn’t matter so much what you dare to explore. I had already begun to learn that when I left my parents’ house.

			Like when your Black sisters on the job think you’re crazy and collect money between themselves to buy you a hot comb and straightening iron on their lunch hour and stick it anonymously into your locker in the staff room, so that later when you come down for a coffee break and open your locker the damn things fall out on the floor with a clatter and all ninety-five percent of your library coworkers who are very very white want to know what it’s all about.

			Like when your Black brother calls you a ball-buster and tricks you up into his apartment and tries to do it to you against the kitchen cabinets just, as he says, to take you down a peg or two, when all the time you’d only gone up there to begin with fully intending to get a little in the first place (because all the girls I knew who were possibilities were too damn complicating, and I was plain and simply horny as hell). I finally got out of being raped, although not mauled, by leaving behind a ring and a batch of lies, and it was the first time in my life since I’d left my parents’ house that I was in a physical situation which I couldn’t handle physically—in other words, the bastard was stronger than I was. It was an instantaneous consciousness-raiser.

			As I say, when the sisters think you’re crazy and embarrassing; and the brothers want to break you open to see what makes you work inside; and the white girls look at you like some exotic morsel that has just crawled out of the walls onto their plate (but don’t they love to rub their straight skirts up against the edge of your desk in the college literary magazine office after class); and the white boys all talk either money or revolution but can never quite get it up—then it doesn’t really matter too much if you have an Afro long before the word even existed.

			Pearl Primus, the African American dancer, had come to my high school one day and talked about African women after class, and how beautiful and natural their hair looked curling out into the sun, and as I sat there listening (one of fourteen Black girls in Hunter High School) I thought, that’s the way god’s mother must have looked and I want to look like that too so help me god. In those days I called it a natural, and kept calling it natural when everybody else called it crazy. It was a strictly homemade job done by a Sufi Muslim on 125th Street, trimmed with the office scissors and looking pretty raggedy. When I came home from school that day my mother beat my behind and cried for a week.

			Even for years afterward white people would stop me on the street or particularly in Central Park and ask if I was Odetta, a Black folk singer whom I did not resemble at all except that we were both big Black beautiful women with natural heads.

* * *


			Besides my father, I am the darkest one in my family and I’ve worn my hair natural since I finished high school.

			Once I moved to East Seventh Street, every morning that I had the fifteen cents, I would stop into the Second Avenue Griddle on the corner of St. Marks Place on my way to the subway and school and buy an english muffin and coffee. When I didn’t have the money, I would just have coffee. It was a tiny little counter place run by an old Jewish man named Sol who’d been a seaman (among other things) and Jimmy, who was Puerto Rican and washed dishes and who used to remind Sol to save me the hard englishes on Monday; I could have them for a dime. Toasted and dripping butter, those english muffins and coffee were frequently the high point of my day, and certainly enough to get me out of bed many mornings and into the street on that long walk to the Astor Place subway. Some days it was the only reason to get up, and lots of times I didn’t have money for anything else. For over eight years, we shot a lot of bull over that counter, and exchanged a lot of ideas and daily news, and most of my friends knew who I meant when I talked about Jimmy and Sol. Both guys saw my friends come and go and never said a word about my people, except once in a while to say, “your girlfriend was in here; she owes me a dime and tell her don’t forget we close exactly at seven.”

			So on the last day before I finally moved away from the Lower East Side after I got my master’s from library school, I went in for my last english muffin and coffee and to say goodbye to Sol and Jimmy in some unemotional and acceptable-to-me way. I told them both I’d miss them and the old neighborhood, and they said they were sorry and why did I have to go? I told them I had to work out of the city, because I had a fellowship for Negro students. Sol raised his eyebrows in utter amazement and said, “Oh? I didn’t know you was cullud!”

			I went around telling that story for a while, although a lot of my friends couldn’t see why I thought it was funny. But this is all about how very difficult it is at times for people to see who or what they are looking at, particularly when they don’t want to.

			Or maybe it does take one to know one.


			Mexican American writer John Rechy has poetically chronicled the intimate lives of sex workers, gay men, and transgender people since the 1960s. He was arrested in the Cooper Do-nuts Riot in Los Angeles in 1959, which was an important predecessor to Stonewall. In this chapter from his 1963 autobiographical novel, City of Night, Rechy describes cruising in New York City and reading at the New York Public Library.

From City of Night

The world of Times Square was a world which I was certain I had sought out willingly—not a world which had summoned me. And because I believed that, its lure, for me, was much more powerful.

			I flung myself into it.

			Summer had come angrily into New York with the impact of a panting animal. Relentless hot nights follow scorching afternoons. Trains grinding along the purgatorial subway tunnels (compressing the heat ferociously, while at times, on the lurching cars, a crew of Negro urchins dance appropriately to the jungle-rhythmed bongos) expel the crowds—From All Points—at the Times Square stop. . . . And the streets are jammed with sweating faces.

			The chilled hustling of winter now becomes the easy hustling of summer.

			At the beginning of the warm days, the corps of newyork cops feels the impending surge of street activity, and for a few days the newspapers are full of reports of raids: UNDESIRABLES NABBED. The cops scour Times Square. But as the summer days proceed in sweltering intensity, the cops relent, as if themselves bogged down by the heat. Then they merely walk up and down the streets telling you to move on, move on.

			Inevitably you’re back in the same spot.

			For me, a pattern which would guide my life on the streets had already emerged clearly.

			I would never talk to anyone first. I would merely wait at the pickup places for someone to talk to me—while, about me, I would see squads of other youngmen aggressively approaching the obvious street-scores. My inability to talk first was an aspect of that same hunger for attention whose effects I had felt even in El Paso—the motive which had sent me away from that girl who had climbed Cristo Rey, long ago, with me: I had sensed her yet-unspoken demands for the very attention which I needed, and she had sensed them in me too, I am certain. . . . And so, in the world of males on the streets, it was I who would be the desired in those furtive relationships, without desiring back.

			Sex for me became the mechanical reaction of This on one side, That on the other. And the boundary must not be crossed. Of course, there were times when a score would indicate he expected more of me. Those times, inordinately depressed, I would walk out on him instantly. Immediately, I must find others who would accept me on my own terms.

			From the beginning, I had become aware of overtones of defensive derision aimed by some scores at those youngmen they picked up for the very masculinity they would later disparage—as if convinced, or needfully proclaiming their conviction, that the more masculine a hustler, the more his masculinity is a subterfuge: “And when we got into bed, that tough butch number—he turned over on his stomach and I . . .” a score had told me about a very masculine youngman I had seen on the streets. Later, I would hear that story more and more often. Whether that was true or not of the others, with me, there were things which categorically I would not—must not—do to score. To reciprocate in any way for the money would have violated the craving for the manifestation of desire toward me. It would have compromised my needs. . . . The money which I got in exchange for sex was a token indication of one-way desire: that I was wanted enough to be paid for, on my own terms.

			Yet with that childhood-tampered ego poised flimsily on a structure as wavering and ephemeral as that of the streets (and a further irony: that it was only here that I could be surfeited, if anywhere), it needed more and more reassurance, in numbers: a search for reassurance which at times would backfire sharply, insidiously wounding that devouring narcissism.

			In a bar with two men from out of town who had come to explore, on vacation, this make-out world of Times Square, I agreed to meet them later at their hotel room in the East 20s. When I got there that night—and after I had knocked loudly several times—the door opened cautiously on a dark room. One of the men peeked out, said, hurriedly in order to close the door quickly: “I’m sorry but we’ve got someone else now; let’s make it tomorrow.”

			But there were others to feed that quickly starved craving.

			In theater balconies; the act sometimes executed in the last rows, or along the dark stairways. . . . In movie heads—while someone watched out for an intruder, body fusing with mouth hurriedly—momentarily stifling that sense of crushing aloneness that the world manifests each desperate moment of the day, and which only the liberation of Orgasm seemed then to be able to vanquish, if only momentarily. . . . Behind the statue in Bryant park, figures silhouetted uncaringly in the unstoppable moments. . . .

			Still, for me, there were those days of returning to what had once constituted periods of relative calmness, in my earlier years, when—to Escape!—I would read greedily. . . . Now, at that library on Fifth Avenue, I would try often to shut my ears to the echoes of that world roaring outside, immediately beyond these very walls. Again, I would read for hours. And this would be a part of the recurring pattern, when impulsively I would get a job, leave the streets, return to those books to which I had fled as a child. But because there would always be, too, that boiling excitement to be in that world which had brought me here—and, equally, the powerful childhood obsession with guilt which threatened at times to smother me—emotionally I was constantly on a seesaw.

			And I began to sense that this journey away from a remote childhood window was a kind of rebellion against an innocence which nothing in the world justified.

* * *


			In the library one night as I sit in the reading room surrounded by serene-masked people like relics from a distant world, a handsome youngman said hello to me. He sat at the same table. Noticing that he kept smiling and looking at me—at the same time that I felt his leg sliding against mine—I left. Sharply, I resented that youngman. His gesture had an implied attraction within the world of mutually interested men. While I could easily hang out with other youngmen hustling the same streets (although, since Pete, I seldom did for more than a few minutes, preferring to be alone), with them there was a knowledge—verbally proclaimed—that we were hunting scores, not each other. With this youngman just now, there had been the indication that he felt he could attract me to him as clearly as he had been attracted to me. . . .

			The youngman followed me outside. As I cut across Bryant Park, I heard his steps quicken to approach me.

			“I’d—like to meet you,” he said, the last words hurried as if he had rehearsed the sentence in order to be able to speak it.

			“I’m going to go eat now,” I said, avoiding even looking at him.

			“All right if I sit with you and just talk?” he asked me. He was masculine in appearance, in actions. He could not have been over 20. But already there was a steady, revealing gaze in his eyes.

			We went to a cafeteria. As we sat there, he told me he was a student at a college; he lived with his parents. On weekends he worked at the library. . . . Throughout his conversation, there were subtle references to the homosexual scene, which I didn’t acknowledge. . . . Afterward, for about an hour, talking easily, we walked along the river.

			“I’d like to go to bed with you,” he said bluntly. “We could rent a room somewhere.”

			Remembering Pete with a sense of utter helplessness, and surprising myself because of the gentleness with which I answered this youngman, I said:

			“You’ve got me all wrong.”

* * *


			In the following days (on this unfloating island with that life that never sleeps—in this city that seems to generate its energy from all the small, sleepy towns of America, sapped by this huge lodestone: the fugitives lured here by an emotional insomnia: gathered into like or complementary groups: in this dazzling disdainfully heaven-piercing city), in those following days, I discovered Third Avenue, the East 50s, in the early morning, where figures camped flagrantly in the streets in a parody stag line; the languid “Hi” floating into the dark, the feigned unconcern of the subsequent shrug when you don’t stop. . . .

			And there was Howard Thomson’s restaurant on 8th Street in the near-dawn hours. They gathered then for the one last opportunity before the rising sun expelled them, bringing the Sunday families out for breakfast.

			I discovered the bars: on the west side, the east side, in the Village; one in Queens—appropriately—where males danced with males, holding each other intimately, male leading, male following—and it was in that bar that I first saw flagrantly painted men congregate and where a queen boy-girl camped openly with a cop. . . . But because most of those bars attracted large numbers of youngmen who went there to meet others like themselves for mutual, nightlong, unpaid sex sharing—or for the prospect of an “affair”—the bars made me nervous then, and, largely, I avoided them.

			The restlessness welled insatiable inside me.

			I discovered the jungle of Central Park—between the 60s and 70s, on the west side. In the afternoons, Sundays especially, a parade of hunters prowled that area—or they would sit or lie on the grass waiting for that day’s contact. Even in the brilliant white blaze of newyork sun, it was possible to make it, right there, in the tree-secluded areas.

			At night they sat along the benches, in the fringes of the park. Or they strolled with their leashed dogs along the walks. . . . The more courageous ones penetrated the park, around the lake, near a little hill: hoods, hobos, hustlers, homosexuals. Hunting. Young teenage gangs lurk threatening among the trees. Occasionally the cops come by, almost timidly, in pairs, flashing their lights; and the rustling of bushes precedes the quick scurrying of feet along the paths.

			Unexpectedly at night you may come upon scenes of crushed intimacy along the dark twisting lanes. In the eery mottled light of a distant lamp, a shadow lies on his stomach on the grass-patched ground, another straddles him: ignoring the danger of detection in the last moments of exiled excitement. . . .

* * *


			In Central Park—as a rainstorm approached (the dark clouds crashing in the black sky which seemed to be lowering, ripped occasionally by the lightning)—once, one night in that park, aware of an unbearable exploding excitement within me mixed with unexplainable sudden panic, I stood against a tree and in frantic succession—and without even coming—I let seven night figures go down on me. And when, finally, the rain came pouring, I walked in it, soaked, as if the water would wash away whatever had caused the desperate night-experience.


			Writer, editor, and activist Joan Nestle cofounded the Lesbian Herstory Archives in 1974, a community-run archive and the “world’s largest collection of materials by and about lesbians and their communities.” In her poetic memoir, A Restricted Country, Nestle describes the daily lives and loves of lesbians in New York City in the 1960s.

From A Restricted Country


			I may never change my name to nouns of sea or land or air, but I have loved this earth in all the ways she let me get close to her. Even the earth beneath the city streets sang to my legs as I strode around this city, watching the sun glint off windows, looking up at the West Side sky immense as it reached from the river to the hills of Central Park. Not a Kansas sky paralleled by a flat earth, but a sky forcing its blue between the water towers and the ornate peaks that try to catch it.

			And then my deepest joy, when the hot weekends came, sometimes as early as May but surely by June. I would leave East Ninth street early on Saturday morning, wearing my bathing suit under my shorts, and head for the BMT, the start of a two-hour subway and bus trip that would take me to Riis Park—my Riviera, my Fire Island, my gay beach—where I could spread my blanket and watch strong butches challenge each other by weightlifting garbage cans, where I could see tattoos bulge with womanly effort and hear the shouts of the softball game come floating over the fence.

			The subway wound its way through lower Manhattan, out to Brooklyn, and finally reached its last stop, Flatbush Avenue. I always had a book to read but would periodically cruise the car, becoming adept at picking out the gay passengers, the ones with longing faces turned toward the sun waiting for them at the end of the line. Sometimes I would find my Lesbian couple, older women, wide hipped, shoulders touching, sitting with their cooler filled with beer and cold chicken.

			The last stop was a one-way, long station, but I could already smell the sea air. We crushed through the turnstiles, up onto Flatbush Avenue, which stretched like a royal highway to the temple of the sea. We would wait on line for the bus to pull in, a very gay line, and then as we moved down Flatbush, teenagers loud with their own lust poured into the bus. There were hostile encounters, the usual stares at the freaks, whispered taunts of faggot, lezzie, is that a man or a woman, but we did not care. We were heading to the sun, to our piece of the beach where we could kiss and hug and enjoy looking at each other.

			The bus rolled down Flatbush, past low two-story family houses, neighborhoods with their beauty parlors and pizza joints. These were the only times that I, born in the Bronx, loved Brooklyn. I knew that at the end of that residential hegemony was the ocean I loved to dive into, that I watched turn purple in the late afternoon sun, that made me feel clean and young and strong, ready for a night of loving, my skin living with salt, clean enough for my lover’s tongue, my body reaching to give to my lover’s hands the fullness I had been given by the sea.

			I would sit on the edge of my blanket, watching every touch, every flirtatious move around me, noting every curve of flesh, every erection, every nipple hard with irritation or desire. I drank in the spectacle of Lesbian and gay men’s sensuality, always looking for the tall dark butch who would walk over and stand above me, her shadow breaking the sun, asking my name.

			And the times I came with my lover, the wonder of kissing on the hot blanket in the sunlight, the joy of laying my head in her lap as we sat and watched the waves grow small in the dusk. The wonderful joy of my lover’s body stretched over me, rolling me into the sand, our wrestling, our laughter, chases leading into the cooling water. I would wrap my legs around her, and she would bounce me on the sea, or I would duck below the surface and suck her nipples, pulling them into the ocean.

			Whenever I turned away from the ocean to face the low cement wall that ran along the back of our beach, I was forced to remember that we were always watched: by teenagers on bikes, pointing and laughing, and by more serious starers who used telescopes to focus in on us. But we were undaunted. Even the cops deciding to clean up the beach by arresting men whose suits were judged too minimal, hauling them over the sand into paddy wagons, did not destroy our sun.

			Only once do I remember the potential power of our people becoming a visible thing, like a mighty arm threatening revenge if respect was not paid. A young man was brought ashore by the exhausted lifeguards and his lover fell to his knees, keening for his loss. A terrible quiet fell on our beach, and like the moon drawing the tides, we formed an ever-growing circle around the lovers, opening a path only wide enough for the police carrying the stretcher, our silence threatening our anger if this grief was not respected. The police, sinking into the sand under the heavy weight of their uniforms, looked around and stopped joking. Silently they placed the dead youth on the stretcher and started the long walk away from the ocean. His lover, supported by friends, followed behind, and then like a thick human rope, we all marched after them, our near-naked bodies shining with palm oil and sweat, men and women walking in a bursting silence behind the body, escorting it to the ambulance, past the staring interlopers. The freaks had turned into a people to whom respect must be paid.

			Later in my life I learned the glories of Fire Island, the luxury of Cherry Grove. But this tired beach, filled with the children of the boroughs, was my first free place where I could face the ocean that claimed me as its daughter and kiss in blazing sunlight the salt-tinged lips of the woman I loved.

* * *

• • • • •


			Rachel, Rachel

			whore, whore

			wore your hair down to the floor

			and we laid our hearts at your silken door

We had all left something, all of us who careened down Second Avenue, pouring out of the side streets—East Sixth, East Ninth, East Twelfth—numbers and letters exact in their geographic depiction, their pureness of form covering the swelter of life that tumbled from apartment to apartment. Out we would pour on a hot June morning, running down the crumbling stairs of the old brownstones, leaving behind the three-room railroad flat with its tub in the kitchen and bathroom in the hall. Like much older and wiser exiles, we never opened our conversations with questions about our beginnings. Information about previous life just seemed to filter through or got filled in years later. We used our bodies, our actions, our costumes, the close proximity of our lives to tell our stories.

			I don’t know how I learned Rachel was a whore before I met her, but I did. Perhaps Meryl, who ran the head shop on Tenth Street, told me. Rachel of the Lower East Side and all points east. Flowing red hair down her back, like a slow-moving river, tall, thin Rachel who believed in the gospel of Tim O’Leary and earned her money turning tricks. Her one-room apartment was different from the ones I knew: hers had been redone into something called a studio. One square room filled with Rachel’s bed, big enough for any position, covered with a zebra-print artificial fur and crowned with black satin pillows. Her kitchen was a countertop covered by the smallest appliances I had ever seen, an apartment kept up for her by her gangster boyfriend, who was later found shot in the mouth, sprawled out in his car under a Lower East Side bridge—another piece of information that floated down and settled in my mind as the years went by. Just the same way I heard a year later that Rachel was now walking the streets of Indian cities looking for her guru, her red hair and tall slimness suspended in the hot morning air. Always by a river. For Rachel, all rivers were one: the East River floating its length into the Ganges, the Ganges reaching under the earth for the Amazon, the Amazon stretching its sinewy hand to the Nile, and the Nile starting slowly and then rushing to the Yangtze. Walking alongside them all would be Rachel, bringing the water home in her body’s touches. Rachel was a giver of dreams who lived in her own, dreams outlined in the hard need for money. For pleasure, she frequented our Lesbian bars, and when we were lucky, she took us home to roll in the length of her red hair.

			One day, before our night of lovemaking, I saw her coming down the broad expanse of Second Avenue—the avenue that held all the wonders of the world, that sparkled like the Champs-Élysées, which I had never seen, on its good days and which breathed sad histories on its bad ones. She was a languid yet forceful figure, ever moving forward while parts of her trailed behind. She came closer and closer, laughter building up in her eyes. She wore, as always, a garment of her own creation, a white cotton sari that floated free behind her. The sun glinted off her colors, the red and white of her dreams. Rachel, the lewd queen of psychedelic hookers, and I, bound to the earth, a broad-hipped woman who couldn’t hold a candle to this red-haired woman’s loveliness, I watched her come to me as all the life of the wide street eddied around us. She stopped still in front of me, but her hair kept moving, and the air danced around her. She smiled, laughed, and pulled me to her, kissing me deeply, opening my lips for her tongue, entering and opening me right there in the street, with the Ratner regulars staring at us. Then, giving me a big wink, she picked up her stride once again and continued down the street.

			This was the Lower East Side, a place where gifts were laid at your feet, given by those who seemed to have nothing, yet carrying in their eyes and on their hands a broken radiance.


			Lifetime activists and partners Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon cofounded the pioneering lesbian organization the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, the first of its kind in the United States. This selection is from their 1972 book, Lesbian/Woman, in which they recount the early years of the organization and the founding of their magazine, The Ladder.

From “Lesbians United”

Daughters of Bilitis began with eight women: four Lesbian couples—four blue-collar and four white-collar workers, among whom were one Filipina and one Chicana.

			The idea originated with Marie, a short brown-skinned woman who had come from the Philippine Islands. In contrast to the United States, the Philippines have no public sanctions or discrimination against homosexuals, and Marie envisioned a club for Lesbians here in the States that would give them an opportunity to meet and socialize outside of the gay bars. She also felt that women needed privacy—privacy not only from the watchful eye of the police, but from gaping tourists in the bars and from inquisitive parents and families.

			So in our eagerness to meet other Lesbians, we found ourselves on the evening of September 21, 1955, laying plans for a secret Lesbian club. For four consecutive weeks we met to draw up a constitution and bylaws. At the fourth meeting there still remained the question of a name for the fledgling organization.

			“How about Daughters of Bilitis?” Nancy suggested.

			The rest of us looked at her blankly.

			“I ran across this book by Pierre Louÿs that has in it this long poem called ‘Songs of Bilitis.’” Nancy held up the volume she’d been holding on her lap. “It’s really quite beautiful love poetry, but what’s even more interesting, Bilitis is supposed to have lived on Lesbos at the time of Sappho.”

			“We thought that ‘Daughters of Bilitis’ would sound like any other women’s lodge—you know, like the Daughters of the Nile or the DAR,” Priscilla added. “‘Bilitis’ would mean something to us, but not to any outsider. If anyone asked us, we could always say we belong to a poetry club.”

			And so Daughters of Bilitis (or DOB as it is popularly known) came into being. Officers were elected, and Del became the first president. In her acceptance speech she noted that it was time to launch a membership campaign and asked everyone to bring prospective members to the next meeting.

			The first official meeting of the Daughters of Bilitis was held October 19, 1955, in a small apartment off Fillmore Street in San Francisco’s Western Addition, where Nancy and Priscilla lived. At the appointed time, four very masculine-appearing types arrived to look us over. They strode in, muttered their names, plunked themselves down in chairs, and just stared at us. They were wary and diffident. But they were also defiantly and intimidatingly expectant, as if lying in wait for us to tell them about our dumb idea so they could clobber it.

			Since Nancy had invited them (she’d met one in the factory where she worked and two in a bar), we had expected her to break the ice so that we might be on a better social footing before starting the meeting. But she and Priscilla had vanished, gone off to the kitchen to make coffee. One by one the other four DOB members also disappeared. (We never knew we had such a large coffee committee!) And there we sat, the two of us, green and inexperienced in the gay life, left to cope on our own with four hostile strangers.

			We made a few stabs at friendly conversation that brought a few grunts and one-word responses. Finally the one wearing a man’s suit, who seemed to be the spokesman for our visitors, asked impatiently, “When are you going to start the meeting? We don’t have all night!”

			So Del took a deep breath and plunged in, explaining that DOB was to be a Lesbian social club with parties and discussion groups to be held in private homes for the time being. Phyllis added that everything would be done to protect the anonymity of the members so that they would have nothing to fear.

			“Daughters of Bilitis—how did you ever happen to pick that name?”

			Del’s explanation was followed by a hoot. “I wouldn’t want to carry a DOB membership card in my wallet! What if someone saw it? It’s too obvious.”

			This remark completely astounded us. The speaker, dressed as she was in men’s clothes right down to the shoes on her feet, was to us a walking advertisement. She couldn’t have been more obvious if she was wearing a sign on her back.

			In the beginning we held three functions a month: a business meeting, a social, and a discussion session. Since we were all heavy coffee drinkers, these came to be known as Gab ’n Javas. During these meetings we discussed all the problems we faced as Lesbians, how we had managed them in our personal lives, and how we could deal with the public both individually and as a group.

			At one such gathering held in our home, we made the mistake of inviting one of our straight friends. Rae, we thought, had gotten along well with the group. But Marie called us on it later: “DOB is a club for Lesbians. That means no straight people allowed.”

			“At the last meeting we’d been discussing the problem of being accepted by heterosexuals,” Phyllis argued, “and one way is to meet them and talk to them.”

			“The last party was over at your sister’s, and she isn’t gay,” Del added. The others nodded. But to Marie that was quite different.

			“Besides, I thought you liked Rae,” Phyllis said.

			“I do. I think she’s really a very nice person. And I’m sorry—but she doesn’t belong around DOB!” Marie held stubbornly. “DOB is just for Lesbians and no one else.”

			That marked the beginning of a long series of arguments about rules and regulations, about the degree of secrecy we had to maintain, about mode of dress and behavior, about dealing with straights as well as gay men, about the possibility of publishing pamphlets explaining our cause. The arguments eventually led to an ultimate rift.

			Marie and her friend pulled out first, and later Nancy and Priscilla left too. The group had grown to twelve by then, but a couple of new additions dropped out too. If DOB was only going to be a series of hassles, they didn’t want to be any part of it. That left six of us. We sat down and talked over the state of DOB’s affairs. We decided it was a good idea, one worth pursuing, even if the odds were against us. So we started out all over again with barely enough members to fill all the slots of the elected officers. By that time our acquaintances in the Lesbian world of San Francisco had broadened, and we were certain we could find more who could see the value of DOB.

			Only recently have we realized that the DOB split was along worker/middle class lines. The blue-collar workers who left DOB wanted a supersecret, exclusively Lesbian social club. The white-collar workers, however, had broadened their vision of the scope of the organization. They had discovered the Mattachine Society and were interacting with the men who had already launched what was to become known as the homophile movement. Through Mattachine we heard of ONE, Inc. in Los Angeles and had attended their 1956 Mid-Winter Institute. There we were welcomed warmly by Ann Carll Reid, then editor of ONE magazine. “We’re so glad to see women organizing! We need you, and we’ll do anything we can to help. We’ll advertise DOB in the magazine. Also, you can write up a blurb on DOB for inclusion in the book we’re publishing, Homosexuals Today.”

			We felt DOB could meet both needs. Those members who were interested only in the social affairs were free to limit their participation. Parties, picnics, and chili feeds could serve as fund-raisers for the work to be done by those interested in publishing a newsletter and setting up public forums. But these latter proposals scared off our friends. They didn’t want their names on a mailing list, and they most certainly didn’t want to mix with “outsiders” (which included gay men as well as heterosexual men and women).

			Nancy went on to found two more secret Lesbian social clubs. The first was Quatrefoil, a group comprised largely of working-class mothers and their partners, with a sprinkling of singles. Nancy ruled the group with an iron hand, enforcing all the rules that we in DOB had balked at. When Barb successfully challenged her leadership, she went on to establish Hale Aikane, which had all the pomp, circumstance, and ritual of a secret sorority. Both groups (now defunct) lasted for some time. Quatrefoil ventured out a few times to meet with representatives of other San Francisco homophile organizations, and Hale Aikane surfaced when they found an old store building, which they had converted to club rooms. They sought DOB’s financial help, and the two shared the facility for a short while, until Hale Aikane went out of business altogether.

			So desperate were we for members in the early days of DOB that we coddled, nursed and practically hand-fed every woman who expressed the least interest. We had them over for dinner, offered them rides to and from the meetings—some even moved in on us for days and weeks at a time. Very often our taxi service meant rushing home from work and bolting down a quick dinner so as to leave an hour or so in advance to pick up all our passengers. If there were the slightest evidence that a member or prospect was disgruntled about anything at all (even the weather), there we were, ready to explain, mediate and smooth over hurt feelings, and clear up misunderstandings. But this pampering was taking up far too much of our time. Besides, we decided, the organization would have to stand on its own merits or it wasn’t worth worrying about.

			By the end of its first year DOB had fifteen members, only three of the original eight remaining. We decided to make an all-out push. We started publishing The Ladder with Phyllis as editor, and we set up monthly public discussion meetings in a downtown hall. The Mattachine Society was renting several offices on Mission Street, and they sublet half of one tiny room to DOB. A member donated a desk. We bought a used typewriter and filing cabinet. Several San Francisco businesses “donated” small items like paper clips, staples, and typing paper. We were in business.

			Volume One, Number One of The Ladder, a twelve-page mimeographed newsletter in magazine format, made its debut during October of 1956. We were aiming for about 250 copies, but Mattachine’s tired old mimeograph only coughed out about 170 that were halfway legible. The cover design, drawn by staff artist B.O.B., showed a line of women approaching a very tall ladder which protruded from the shore of the bay and reached up into lofty, cloudy skies. It carried the legend, “from the city of many moods—San Francisco, California.” In the right-hand corner was the DOB emblem, a triangle with a d and a b. Underneath was inscribed the DOB motto, “Qui vive.”

			The purpose of the Daughters of Bilitis, a women’s organization to aid the Lesbian in discovering her potential and her place in society, was spelled out. The organization was to encourage and support the Lesbian in her search for her personal, interpersonal, social, economic, and vocational identity. The DOB social functions would enable the Lesbian to find and communicate with others like herself, thereby expanding her social world outside the bars. She could find in the discussion groups opportunity for the interchange of ideas, a chance to talk openly about the problems she faced as a Lesbian in her everyday life. Also available to her would be DOB’s library on themes of homosexuality and of women in general. In educating the public to accept the Lesbian as an individual and eliminate the prejudice which places oppressive limitations on her lifestyle, the group proposed an outreach program: to sponsor public forums, to provide speakers for other interested civic groups, and to publish and disseminate educational and rational literature on the Lesbian. DOB also announced its willingness to participate in responsible research projects and its interest in promoting changes in the legal system to insure the rights of all homosexuals.

			For today’s “liberationists” the original wording of DOB’s lofty aims contained many loaded words and concepts, which were to come under fire time and again over the years. Terms like “integration into” and “adjustment to” society, for instance, are no longer viable. Homosexuals today are not seeking tolerance; they are demanding total acceptance. But one must consider the times in which DOB came into being. Just the month prior to the first publication, police had raided the Alamo Club, popularly known as Kelly’s, loading thirty-six patrons into their paddy wagons. DOB was also born on the heels of the United States State Department scandals of the early fifties when hundreds of homosexual men and women had been summarily fired from their jobs with the federal government when their identity had been disclosed or even hinted at. Most Lesbians were completely downtrodden, having been brainwashed by a powerful heterosexual church and by the much-touted precepts of psychoanalysis. There was not the sense of community or solidarity that exists today. Lesbians were isolated and separated—and scared.

			The first issue of The Ladder contained a “President’s Message” from Del challenging the women who received it (everybody we knew or had heard of, friends of friends of friends) to join us in the effort to bring understanding to and about the homosexual minority by adding the feminine voice and viewpoint to a mutual problem already being dealt with by the men of Mattachine and ONE.

			“If lethargy is supplanted by an energized constructive program, if cowardice gives way to the solidarity of a cooperative front, if the ‘let Georgia do it’ attitude is replaced by the realization of individual responsibility in thwarting the evils of ignorance, superstition, prejudice and bigotry,” then Del argued, the lot of the Lesbian could indeed be changed.

			We learned later that DOB’s was not really the first Lesbian publication in the United States. Vice Versa, “America’s Gayest Magazine,” which was “dedicated in all seriousness to those of us who will never quite be able to adapt ourselves to the iron-bound rules of convention,” was published and distributed privately in Los Angeles from June 1947 through February 1948. The work of editing, production (typewritten—but with columns justified!), and distribution was all done by one woman, Lisa Ben, who had previously achieved some note in the science fiction field under her real name. Each copy carried short stories, poetry, news commentary, bibliography, letters, and reviews of pertinent plays, films, or books. Further, ONE had put out a special “Feminine Viewpoint” issue (February 1954), which was written, compiled, and edited entirely by women. It was one of the few issues of ONE that had completely sold out, and there was still demand for reprints.

			The response to the first issue of The Ladder was equally enthusiastic. We had acquired a post office box, but we were in no way prepared for the volume of mail we received. As volunteers working for DOB after our regular jobs, and small in membership, we were hard put to read it all—let alone answer it!

			However, the “President’s Message” in the second issue, this time by Del’s successor D. Griffin, noted with dismay how many of the letters had expressed fear of being on “the mailing list of an organization like this.” An editorial entitled “Your Name Is Safe!” cited the 1953 decision of the United State Supreme Court (U.S. v. Rumely) upholding the right of the publisher to refuse to reveal the names of purchasers of reading material to a congressional investigating committee.

			Plagued with fear of identification and fear of being on mailing or membership lists, DOB has been consistently hampered in its growth as an organization and in its outreach into the public sphere. When the organization was founded in 1955, allegiance to such a homophile group was indeed a scary proposition. In the beginning members took pseudonyms or were known to their fellow members simply by their first names.

			When Phyllis assumed the editorship of The Ladder she also assumed the alias of “Ann Ferguson.” About the same time we started the public lecture series, at which meetings we, of course, publicized the magazine. When someone requested an introduction to the editor, members found themselves calling, “Ann . . . Ann! . . . Ann! . . . ANN!” But it finally took “Phyllis!” to get her attention. From that point on we cautioned those who intended to use aliases to at least keep their first names or nicknames.

			By the fourth issue The Ladder carried an obituary—complete with heavy black border. Ann Ferguson had died. “I confess. I killed Ann Ferguson—with premeditation and malice aforethought. Ann Ferguson wrote that article, ‘Your Name Is Safe!’ Her words were true, her conclusions logical and documented—yet she was not practicing what she preached. . . . At the December public discussion meeting of the Daughters of Bilitis we got up—Ann Ferguson and I—and did away with Ann. Now there is only Phyllis Lyon.”

			Before we could get out the third edition of the magazine, which was to inform our Lesbian readers what to do in case of arrest, the Mattachine mimeograph petered out entirely. Macy’s sign shop came to the rescue. There were several gay women working there on the offset press. We typed The Ladder on paper (printing) plates, and they ran them off. Suddenly toward the end of the month there was a flurry of activity in this Macy’s department.

			On one particular day, when The Ladder was on the press, the boss came into the shop. One worker rushed toward him with a very loud, enthusiastic “Good morning, Mr. Holt!” detaining him at the door. Another stepped in front of the stack of pages which had already been run off, blocking them from his view. The foreman, who had been feeding the press, looked frantically for a replacement. She didn’t dare ask either of her helpers to move, so she shouted above the whirr of the press, “I’ll be through with this job in just a few minutes.” Holt waved. “That’s all right. You’re busy. I’ll come back later.”

			This call was too close for comfort. By that time we had become somewhat more solvent. We had received some publicity in the Independent, a monthly newspaper in New York. Our notoriety had spread. Letters, memberships, and donations were beginning to pour in. Pan-Graphic Press, a Mattachine-connected print shop, offered to do the work for a nominal fee. But we still had to type the stencils and had the same tedious work of collating, folding, and stapling by hand to do when the pages dried.

			Meanwhile the public discussion meetings were going very well. The “public,” of course, was composed chiefly of homosexuals and primarily those of the female gender. The series of lectures by attorneys, psychologists, psychiatrists, employment and marriage counselors was planned to dispel some of the fears and anxieties of the Lesbian. We reasoned that at a “public” meeting you could hear about “those” people and not necessarily be so identified simply by being in the audience.

			For those who doubted its legality or permanency, the Daughters of Bilitis became a full-fledged nonprofit corporation under the laws of the State of California in January 1957, on acceptance by the Secretary of State of the articles of incorporation, filed by attorney Kenneth C. Zwerin on our behalf. Later Mr. Zwerin was also to obtain for DOB its tax-exempt status with the federal government.

			During that same month of January, sixteen women attended a get-acquainted DOB brunch in the English Room of the New Clark Hotel in Los Angeles in an effort to organize a second chapter. The meeting was held in conjunction with ONE’s annual Mid-Winter Institute. It was not until 1958, after several false starts, that the Los Angeles chapter took hold under Val Vanderwood’s leadership. Also in 1958, when we attended the Mattachine Society’s convention in New York City, two more chapters came into being—New York, headed by Barbara Gittings, who was later to become an editor of The Ladder; and Rhode Island, led by Frances LaSalle. Since then, chapters of DOB have appeared, been active, lain dormant, revived, or dissolved in such cities as Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Reno, Nevada; Portland, San Diego, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Melbourne, Australia.


			Frank Kameny devoted his life to activism after being dismissed from a government position as an astronomer in 1958 because of his homosexuality. A key member of the Washington, D.C., Mattachine Society, Kameny was instrumental in the pickets of the White House and the Pentagon in the 1960s, and was the first openly gay candidate for the US Congress, in 1971. Selected here are his letters to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson demanding civil rights for homosexuals.

From Gay Is Good


			May 15, 1961

			 				Dear President Kennedy:

				I write to you for two reasons: (1) To ask that you act as a “court of last appeal” in a matter in which I believe that you can properly act as such; and (2) perhaps much more important, to bring to your attention, and to ask for your constructive action on, a situation involving at least 15,000,000 Americans, and in which a “New Frontier” approach is very badly needed. These people are the nation’s homosexuals—a minority group in no way different, as such, from the Negroes, the Jews, the Catholics, and other minority groups. . . .

				In World War II, I willingly fought the Germans, with bullets, in order to preserve and secure my rights, freedoms, and liberties, and those of my fellow citizens. In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words, in order to achieve some of the very same rights, freedoms, and liberties for which I placed my life in jeopardy in 1945. This letter is part of that fight.

				The homosexual in the United States today is in much the same position as was the Negro about 1925. The difference is that the Negro, in his dealings with this government, and in his fight for his proper rights, liberties, and freedoms, has met, at worst, merely indifference to him and his problems, and, at best, active assistance; the homosexual has met only active hostility from his government.

				The homosexuals in this country are increasingly less willing to tolerate the abuse, repression, and discrimination directed at them, both officially and unofficially, and they are beginning to stand up for their rights and freedoms as citizens no less deserving than other citizens of those rights and freedoms. They are no longer willing to accept their present status as second-class citizens and as second-class human beings; they are neither.

				Statistics on the sharply rising numbers of homosexuals who are fighting police and legal abuses, less-than-fully-honorable discharges from the military, security-system disqualifications, and who are taking perfectly proper and legal advantage of military policies and prejudices and draftboard questions to escape the draft, etc., will, I believe, bear me out.

				The winds of change are blowing. A wise and foresighted government will start NOW to take constructive action on this question.

				Your administration has taken a firm and admirable stand, and has taken an active interest in the maintenance of the civil liberties of minority groups, and in the elimination of discrimination against them. Yet the federal government is the prime offender in depriving the homosexual of his civil and other liberties, and in actively discriminating against him. May I suggest that the homosexual is as deserving of his government’s protection and assistance in these areas as is the Negro, and needs that protection at least as much—actually much more? The abuses, by constituted authority, of the person, property, and liberties of American homosexuals are flagrant, shocking, and appalling, and yet not only is not a finger raised by the government to assist these people, but the government acts in active, virulent conspiracy to foster and perpetuate these abuses.

				This is an area in which a sophisticated, rational, and above all, a civilized approach is badly needed. Short of a policy of outright extermination (and, economically, personally, and professionally, the government’s actions are often tantamount to this), the government’s practices and policies could not be further removed from such a sane approach. We are badly in need of a breath of fresh air here, Mr. Kennedy—a reconsideration of the matter, divorced from the old, outworn clichés, discredited assumptions, fallacious and specious reasoning, and idle superstition. The traditional new broom, with its clean sweep, is badly needed.

				Under present policies, upon no discernible rational ground, the government is deprived of the services of large numbers of competent, capable citizens—often skilled, highly trained, and talented—and others are forced to contribute to society at far less than their full capacity, simply because in their personal, out-of-working-hours lives they do not conform to narrow, archaic, puritan prejudice and taboo.

				In my own case, extensive technical training—a Harvard Ph.D. in Astronomy—is going completely to waste, entirely as a result of the government’s practices and policies on this question. While the nation cries out for technically trained people, I, two years ago, as a result of the government’s acts and policies, was barely surviving on twenty cents’ worth of food per day. Is this reasonable?

				You have said: “Ask not what can your country do for you, but what can you do for your country.” I know what I can best do for my country, but my country’s government, for no sane reason, will not let me do it. I wish to be of service to my country and to my government; I am capable of being of such service; I need only to be allowed to be so. Thus far, my government has stubbornly and irrationally refused to allow me to be so, and has done its best to make it impossible for me ever to be so. This is equally true, actually or potentially, of millions of homosexuals in this country—well over 10% of our adult population. Not only the society in which they live, but the government under which they live, have steadfastly and stubbornly refused to allow them to serve and to contribute. . . .

				Action by the government, on this question, is needed in four specific areas (listed here in no particular order) and a fifth general one. These are: (1) the law, and the mode and practices of its administration and enforcement, and the abuses thereof; (2) federal employment policies; (3) the policies, practices, and official attitudes of the military; (4) security-clearance policies and practices in government employment, in the military, and in pr