Fighters for „Gay and Lesbian Rights“ in the USA
The situation of American homosexual males and females was just as bad, if not worse, than that of their German counterparts. They were able to achieve minority status only after many decades of struggle by countless individuals. Some important pioneers are shown here.
From the left: 1. Henry Gerber (1892-1972), born in Bavaria, immigrated to the US before WW I. Inspired by Magnus Hirschfeld’s attempts in Germany, he founded the first American “gay rights” organization in 1924 in Chicago - the Society for Human Rights. It published a newsletter Friendship and Freedom, but was closed down by the authorities the following year. 2. Harry Hay (1912-2002), a British-born American activist, together with some friends, founded the Mattachine Foundation, later Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1950, the second, more successful “gay rights” organization in the United States. The name “Mattachine” referred to a troupe of French medieval dancers who performed with masks over their faces. In 1953, the organization began to publish One Magazine and in 1955 the Mattachine Review. 3. Phyllis Lyon (b. 1924) and Del Martin (1921-2008), living in San Francisco, founded the first lesbian organization in the US - The Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. In the following year, the organization started its own journal – The Ladder. The name “Bilitis” was taken from a work by the French author Pierre Louys, The Songs of Bilitis (1894) supposedly translated from a song cycle by an ancient Greek poetess and rival of Sappho.
Homosexual males had never enjoyed equal rights in the US because of the American “sodomy laws”. In addition, both male and homosexual females were considered mentally ill by psychiatrists, and the religious leaders condemned them as sinners. However, in spite of this triple handicap, the tireless work of a few and later many individuals eventually succeeded in organizing a “gay and lesbian community” that won recognition as an oppressed minority. (The word “gay” - merry, happy or colorful - gradually acquired the additional meaning of “homosexual” in 20th century American slang. The word “lesbian” refers to the island of Lesbos, home of the ancient Greek poetess Sappho who wrote love poems to her female students.)
The American “gay rights” stuggle inspired similar movements in many other countries. Adopting the same slogans and political tactics, some of these movements achieved at least some of their goals and, in a few cases, were even more successful than their American models. Finally, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association revised its diagnostic handbook and removed homosexuality from its list of diseases, and in 2003 the US Supreme Court ruled that the sodomy laws were unconstitutional. In the meantime, several Christian and Jewish religious leaders had also begun to accept gays and lesbians as full members of their communities. Nevertheless, even today not all demands for equal rights have been met, and the general picture remains spotty: In some large American cities, most of the former social discrimination has disappeared, but it persists in large parts of the country.