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The Mattachine Society of New York and the Daughters of Bilitis

Crimes Against Nature
Crimes Against Nature
Crimes Against Nature

Mattachine Society of New York. "Penalties for Sex Offenses in the United States — 1964." pages 1&2. Flyer.
NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Mattachine Society of New York Records.

The dramatic political awakening by the gay community in New York City in 1969 was preceded by more than a decade of intensive political work by a small cadre of devoted activists in the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. Mattachine, begun by Harry Hay in Los Angeles in 1951, slowly opened chapters across the country, focusing on providing public forums for medical views sympathetic to homosexual civil rights; creating protective, supportive social networks for homosexuals; and providing a clearinghouse for legal, medical, and personal advice for homosexuals in jeopardy. During the same period, the Daughters of Bilitis, founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco in 1955, provided similar support, community, and political conversation for lesbians. The New York chapter was started in 1958 by Barbara Gittings, who went on to edit and radicalize the organization's national journal, The Ladder, with her partner, the photographer Kay Tobin Lahusen.

By the early 1960s, a new generation of East Coast activists had become dissatisfied with these strategies, which they saw as politically ineffective and overly respectful of medical and legal authorities. In 1965 the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., under the leadership of Frank Kameny, boldly inaugurated a series of pickets of the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department to protest the exclusion of homosexuals from military service and federal employment. These pickets led to annual Fourth of July pickets of Independence Hall in Philadelphia each year until 1970, when they were superseded by the annual Gay Pride marches we know today.

The New York chapters of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society were radicalized by close contact with Washington's Mattachine through collaboration at such conferences as the annual East Coast Homophile Organization (ECHO) meeting, which in 1965 was held in New York City. Under the innovative leadership of Dick Leitsch, the Mattachine Society of New York challenged the State Liquor Authority's ban on serving homosexual patrons, and worked to stop police entrapment of homosexuals. New York Mattachine also worked closely behind the scenes with sympathetic political officials, such as Mayor John V. Lindsay, to reduce the oppression of homosexuals. Although they were only a handful of people, these activists made a real impact on the lives of gays and lesbians and laid the ground for future political work.


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