From the Vaults: 14 Elders Who Blazed the Trail For LGBTQ+ Rights
From the Vaults: 14 Elders Who Blazed the Trail For LGBTQ Rights
The men and women who blazed the trail for LGBTQ rights had a special kind of courage. Historian Martin Duberman and photographer Val Shaff pay homage to a few.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 1996 issue of OUT.
Barbara Gittings & Kay Tobin Lahusen
"I loved belonging to a special people, but I wanted to do away with the closet," says Gittings (right). The pair met in 1961 at a Daughters of Bilitis picnic. Gittings founded the New York chapter of DOB, and Lahusen documents much of the movement's early history in reporting and photography.
Photographed in Wilmington, Delaware, February 16, 1996
Dr. Evelyn Hooker
In 1945, Hooker's unprecedented study of gay men provided the first scientific evidence challenging the widely held belief linking homosexuality and psychopathology. "If the established order says I'm wrong, and I know I'm right, nothing can budge me from my position," says Hooker, who is straight. "Working with and in the gay community has been an extraordinary experience."
Photographed in Los Angeles, April 8, 1996
Fired from his job at the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957 because he was gay, this Harvard-educated astronomist took his case against the Civil Service Commission all the way up to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it. (The policy was finally, quietly, changed in 1975.) Founder of the independent Washington [D.C.] Mattachine Society, Kameny remains a fighter. "I have chosen not to adjust myself to society but, with considerable success, to adjust society to me."
Photographed in Washington, D.C., February 17, 1996
"I had this idea that all the other sissies should come together and find out who we were," says Hay about founding the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay organizations, in Los Angeles in 1950. Hay's account of Mattachine's early days, along with his other writings, are collected in Radically Gay, published by Beacon Press in June. Now, Hay is still involved in gay politics.
Photographed in Los Angeles, February 27, 1996
When Manford marched with her gay activist son Morty (in picture) in the second annual Christopher Street Liberation Day parade in 1972, she broke new ground, and her support for her son led to the eventual formation of PFLAG--Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays. "I just loved my son and knew there could be nothing wrong [with him]," she says simply. An elementary school teacher for many years, Manford is now retired. Morty died of AIDS in 1992 at age 42.
Photographed in New York, January 15, 1996
"When I first heard the word homosexual horribly defined, I realized this was a political question for us to deal with," recalls Kepner. "We had to do something about changing the horrible situation homosexuals were in." A writer for ONE magazine, an early gay publication, during the 1950s, Kepner founded and remains a board member of ONE Institute/International Gay and Lesbian Archives, a huge repository of gay and lesbian historial material.
Photographed in Los Angeles, March 1, 1996
"I must have been out of my mind. I could have been arrested or harassed, but I had the courage of 25 queens," says Sarria, the first openly gay man to run for public office (in 1961) and founder of The Imperial Court, an organization of fund-raising female and male impersonators. A longtime entertainer, Sarria currently emcees The Widow Norton's Bar Tour, a San Francisco pub crawl and cabaret act.
Photographed in San Francisco, April 5, 1996
Pinson was a verteran of the Harlem "rent party" circuit, where black lesbians had long met and socialized, when she helped found Salsa Soul Sisters in 1974. Through parties, dances, and demonstrations, the group launched a network of lesbians of color that continues today under the banner of African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change. "A lot of talent came out of that group," says Pinson.
Photographed in New York, April 23, 1996
Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin
Longtime partners Lyon (right) and Martin were among the founders of Daughters of Bilitis, conceived in 1955 as a secret club to widen members' social circles. Over time DOB evolved into the first lesbian political organization. "Before we could have a movement we had to convince our members they weren't illegal, immoral, and sick, which was what we were told at the time," says Lyon. "During those early years we did a lot of peer counseling," says Martin.
Photographed in San Francisco, April 4, 1996
Rev. Robert W. Wood
"I was told, 'You'll never get it published," says Wood of his groundbreaking 1960 book, Christ and the Homosexual, the first sympathetic study of gay men and lesbians in the church. An openly gay ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ for 35 years and now retired, Wood says, "I'd grown up in a Christian home, and began to look to the church for guidance. There was nothing [on homosexuality] in the books in the seminary library. I realized I was going to have to write the book myself."
Photographed in Concord, New Hampshire, April 22, 1996
"Somebody said it couldn't be done and I disagreed. Can't isn't in my dictionary." As singer, emcee, and manager for the cabaret Jewel Box Revue during the 1950s and '60s, DeLarverie cut a strikingly handsome figure in her formal male attire. "[The revue members] asked me to join them, and I said, 'I'll come over for six months,' and I stayed for 14 years." DeLarverie now regularly works security at lesbian clubs in New York City.
Photographed in New York, March 20 1996
As a founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1971, Rivera gave young transgender hustlers the support she had lacked. When the Stonewall riots erupted, she was there, hurling change and insults at the cops with the best of them. Rivera recalls, "What gave me the power at the time was that I was involved in the peace movement, the civil rights movement, and the women's movement, and when it did happen, the night of the Stonewall riot, it was time for gay people to stand up for our rights."