The Legal Strategy Was Born in L.A.
To the Editor:
Thanks for the marvelous interview of Eric Cervini in your September-October 2020 issue. It is good that Cervini recognizes the importance of gay activism before Stonewall. However, it should not be suggested that Gay Pride began only with Frank Kameny on the East Coast. In 1950, when Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, he wrote that its purpose was to work for “the full class citizenship participation of [sexual]Minorities everywhere.”
Nor is Cervini correct to label the early Homophile movement “really white.” In 1952, a Los Angeles social club of black and white gay and lesbian couples called Knights of the Clock decided to publish a magazine. In 1953 they received their incorporation as a California nonprofit. It is important to say their names. The directors included an African-American man named Merton Bird and his white lover W. Dorr Legg; a Latinx named Antonio Reyes and his white lover Don Slater; lesbian illustrator Joan Corbin; and Jewish activists Martin Block and Irma “Corky” Wolf. In the first issue of ONE Magazine (January 1953), Mattachine activist Dale Jennings reported on his successful court defense against a police entrapment charge, saying: “Yet I am not abjectly grateful. … Were all homosexuals and bisexuals to unite militantly, unjust laws and corruption would crumble in short order, and we as a nation could go on to meet the really important problems which face us.”
I moved to Los Angeles in 1979, and I was fortunate to know and work with many of these pioneers. Even then, in their old age, they were exemplars of militant Gay Pride. The greatest example took place after the L.A. Postmaster confiscated all copies of the October 1953 ONE Magazine that were being sent through the mail to paid subscribers, claiming it was “obscene.” Instead of cowering in fear of imprisonment, ONE sued the Postmaster in federal court. Though they lost at every level, they did not give up but kept appealing to higher courts. Finally, in 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the magazine was protected under the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of the press. This was the first legal gay rights victory from the Supreme Court.
In announcing this victory, Dorr Legg wrote the ONE August 1958 cover article under the bold title “I Am Glad I Am Homosexual.” He began the article with a militant defense of “Flaming queens”: “This group, in whatever terms, expresses pride in its homosexuality, finding nothing either sinful or shameful in it. They feel that homosexual men and women should be in every way as free to practice their sexual preferences as other segments of the population, that they should enjoy the same legal and social privileges as others… that instead of their adjusting to popular mores, the mores should be adjusted to their own wishes. … I am glad to be homosexual, proud of it. Let no one think we don’t mean business, or intend to enforce our rights.”
It is also incorrect for Cervini to say that Frank Kameny was the first gay activist to approach the ACLU. Dorr Legg and Vern Bullough described to me how they personally convinced the leaders of the Southern California chapter to take legal cases of homosexual discrimination to the ACLU national council. Hal Call, Del Martin, and Phyllis Lyon did the same with the Bay Area chapter. These pioneers on the West Coast—along with Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and others in Washington, D.C.—were the first to use the courts to press for LGBT equality. Only later did New York take a leadership role in this great movement. We must be sure to honor them all.
Walter L.. Williams, Palm Springs, CA
Ukraine Has a Lively LGBT Movement
To the Editor,
A BTW item titled “Technology to the Rescue!” in the Sept.-Oct. 2020 issue, commenting on an incident in Ukraine, stated: “It was a small victory in a country that doesn’t allow LGBT demonstrations, Pride parades, or even displays of the gay flag (though homosexuality is technically legal), which is what made the drone stunt so remarkable.”
This is not accurate. Since 2015, Kyiv Pride has been a large annual event. In 2019, the number of participants reached six to eight thousand. This year’s march was canceled only because of coronavirus restrictions.
Andriy Maymulakhin, Coordinator,
LGBT Human Rights Nash Mir Center, Kyiv
Author/ Editor’s Reply:
This is one of those times when I’m happy to be wrong. The fact that there’s a lively LGBT movement and Pride parade is reassuring and a testament to Ukraine’s ability to resist Russian influence. The act of planting a gay flag at the pinnacle of Kyiv Square may not be as heroic as advertised, though it was still a neat trick. Also, be it noted that the main source for this story stressed the cultural homophobia of many or most Ukrainians, which does not rule out an active LGBT movement—indeed, makes it all the more necessary.
Respecting Sam See’s Scholarship
To the Editor:
I am writing to object to Alan Contreras’ review of Sam See’s posthumous book Queer Natures, Queer Mythologies (July-August 2020). Granted, there is no stopping scurrilous rumor-mongering when an author dies (or is murdered, as many of us believe he was) in police custody; but to start a review of a serious book with references to the “strange details of [Sam See’s] short life, involving his husband, escort services, court orders, and miscellaneous strife” is to invite a salacious and unfair dismissal of See before attending to the work at hand.
I was Sam’s friend and colleague at Yale, and I am fairly confident of what was true in his personal life versus what mischievous media have invented about it. A professional review of this book would have proceeded directly to an assessment of the scholarly worth of the publication, and not titillated readers with gossip first.
John Whittier Treat, Emeritus Professor, Yale University, New Haven, CT
I mentioned See’s unusual history because anyone seeking information about him on-line instantly finds the potpourri of reports that are available, and I thought this part of See’s story was worth noting. In retrospect, perhaps I should have put it at the end rather than at the beginning.
Alan Contreras, Eugene, OR