Fifty years ago sodomy laws made lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships illegal—defined by authorities at that time as sexual perversion. LGBT individuals were routinely arrested, fired from employment from both the federal government and private employers and condemned as mentally ill by psychiatrists.
A few images from the early battles in the Washington, DC area…
White House Picket for Gay Rights: 1965
The Mattachine Society, the first homosexual rights group in the modern era in the Washington, DC area, was formed by Franklin Kameny and Jack Nichols in August 1961. On April 17, 1965, the Mattachine Society held the first organized public demonstration for gay and lesbian rights in at the White House.
Pictured above is Ernestine Eckstein at the third White House picket sponsored by the Mattachine Society, October 23, 1965.
For some other great images of the early Mattachine Society picket lines at the US Civil Service Commission, the White House and the Pentagon and other actions, please see the Barbara Gittings & Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs on the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
Image from Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs. Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen. Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection. Permanent link at NYPL: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605764
DC Gay Liberation Front 1970
This photo is undated and at an unidentified location. It is probably at an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in Washington DC in December 1970 or January 1971, judging by the clothing worn and the slogan “set the date” which was not in widespread use until late 1970.
The image was used to illustrate a Washington Star in-depth story entitled, “The New Radicals,” published January 24, 1971 about the DC Gay Liberation Front (GLF).
The article summarized the Nov. 28, 1970 demonstration at the Zephyr Bar on upper Wisconsin Avenue after four GLF members were refused service. Several dozen GLF members and supporters came to the restaurant and staged an impromptu demonstration chanting slogans inside the restaurant. Some minor property damage occurred and twelve GLF demonstrators were arrested, although charges were later dropped.
The Star feature story also outlined the early Nov. 1970 GLF disruption of a conference on the “psychiatric treatment of homosexuals” at Catholic University and the role GLF played in the Black Panther’s Party sponsored Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention also in Nov. 1970.
Explore the many faceted history, documents and photographs of the LBGT movement in Washington at Rainbow History.
Photo by Joseph Silverman published January 24, 1971. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.
Gay Alliance Protests US Park Police: 1972
On January 5, 1972, members of the Gay Activist Alliance staged a demonstration against US Park Police near the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington Virginia.
Police had arrested over 60 people in a wooded area of the park in the preceding five months for “obscene and indecent” acts. The Washington Blade reported many of those detained complained they had been entrapped by the eight undercover officers assigned to conduct arrests.
A group of about 20 activists rallied at North Meade St. in Arlington, VA and marched to the memorial chanting and alluding to the entrapment by carrying signs like, “Don’t Expose Yourself, You May be Impersonating an Officer.”
Park police arrested six protesters for “demonstrating without a license.”
In that time period sodomy laws were used to jail anyone deemed guilty of “sexual perversion.” Sexual perversion was defined by police and courts to include anyone gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
This demonstration marked one the earliest open revolts against the use of police to break up activities of consensual adults in the DC area.
Photo by John Bowden. Courtesy of the DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.