Making Gay History | LGBTQ Oral Histories from the Archive
Summary: Intimate, personal portraits of both known and long-forgotten champions, heroes, and witnesses to history brought to you from rare archival interviews.
In 1970, a young radio reporter recorded an interview with Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and other members of the newly formed Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries—STAR. Nearly 50 years later, MGH unearthed their remarkable conversation in a basement archive. Episode Notes: Find out more about Sylvia Rivera in our two-part 1989 interview with her here and here. For more Marsha P. Johnson, listen to this MGH episode, which features a 1989 interview with her and her then-roommate, fellow activist Randy Wicker. Marsha and Sylvia were also featured in the second and third episodes of our Stonewall 50 season. For a deeper dive into the lives and activism of Sylvia and Marsha, check out the resources listed on the webpages of each of the episodes linked above.
Damien Martin grew up in foster care and on the streets of Philadelphia, so he knew all too well about the needs of vulnerable youth. In 1979, when he and his partner, Dr. Emery Hetrick, heard about a 15-year-old gay kid thrown out of a shelter after being gang-raped, they decided to take action. Episode Notes: Learn more about Damien Martin in his 1991 New York Times obituary here. Damien’s oral history can be found in Eric Marcus’s book Making Gay History. Read the 1987 obituary of Dr. Emery Hetrick, Damien’s partner in life and work, here. Damien and Emery are buried together in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery; their gravestone reads, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Their relationship was also featured in Making Gay History’s “Love is Love” bonus episode. Eric first encountered Damien and Emery in the 1984 New York Times article “Homosexual Couples Find a Quiet Pride.” Read it here. You can watch two interviews with Damien on the Gay Cable Network online. The first, which aired April 14, 1991, is part of a segment on LGBTQ youth and begins at about the 5:00 mark here. The second aired August 15, 1991, the same day Damien passed away from AIDS-related complications. It begins at the 48:11 mark here. In the episode, Damien talks about his involvement with the New York chapter of Dignity, a Catholic LGBTQ organization. Dignity was founded in 1969; learn about its history here. The records of the organization’s New York chapter are kept at the LGBT Center Archives in New York City. In 1979, Damien and Emery founded the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth (IPLGY), later renamed the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI). Read more about the organization’s history here, and about the services they provide here. IPLGY’s name offered a rebuttal to the so-called Save Our Children campaign of the late 1970s, which was led by Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson and one-time pop singer and beauty queen Anita Bryant. Learn more about Bryant and her hateful anti-LGBTQ campaign here and here. Boycotts and protests were organized by outraged LGBTQ groups across the country. IPLGY opened its first office in 1983. In 1984, it established the Harvey Milk High School in partnership with the New York City Department of Education to provide LGBTQ youth with access to a public education in a safe environment. Damien and Emery’s organizational efforts and research on LGBTQ youth provided a common language and citable resources to help professionals advocate for LGBTQ youth in schools. For some of Damien’s academic publications, see “The Perennial Canaanites: The Sin of Homosexuality”; “The Minority Question”; and a short excerpt of “Learning to Hide: The Socialization of the Gay Adolescent.” Joyce Hunter (whom Damien mentions in the episode when he talks about the Latinx kid who was surprised to learn that there were old gay people) was one of IPLGY’s first employees and a co-founder of the Harvey Milk High School. Joyce was featured in her own Making Gay History episode here. In 1986, Damien and Joyce testified to Congress on behalf of LGBTQ youth; you can read their statement here. The organization that Damien and Emery founded continues to grow. Learn about HMI New Jersey here. Damien and Emery’s cat, Radclyffe Hall, was named after the author of the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. Hall’s papers are currently being digitized by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
In 1976 Nancy Walker joined the Gay Community News, an influential Boston-based weekly paper. She was in her 40s, an outspoken New Yorker, and a moderate pragmatist. Not surprisingly, Nancy and the younger, more radical GCN staff often locked horns... Episode Notes: Read more about Nancy Walker’s contributions to the LGBTQ civil rights movement in Eric Marcus’s book, Making Gay History. You can read some of Nancy’s prose and poetry in this memorial book, compiled after her death in 1996. Also, listen to our Love Is Love episode, in which Nancy talks about Penny, the love of her life. The Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) was Nancy’s first activist home. Learn more about CHAT in this video. Listen to the oral histories of CHAT founding members Elgin Blair and George Hislop, and member Pat Murphy, kept by the ArQuives, Canada’s LGBTQ2+ archive. While a member of CHAT, Nancy began writing for the Body Politic. You can read an article she wrote about coming out here. Nancy started working for Boston’s Gay Community News (GNC) in 1976. Read more about this important newspaper, which ceased publication in 1992, here and in Amy Hoffman’s memoir, An Army of Ex-Lovers: My Life at the Gay Community News. Watch this interview with GCN co-founder David Peterson. You can check out the paper’s very first issues and many others from the first few years online. The GCN archives are kept at the Northeastern University Archives. In 1982, arsonists set fire to the GCN offices (reported on in the feminist and gay press at the time). You can listen to audio interviews with GCN journalists directly after the incident here. In the episode, Nancy mentions Charley Shively and his infamous bible burning at the 1977 gay pride rally in Boston; read the speech Charley delivered here. You can learn more about Charley here and here, or read an issue of his publication, Fag Rag, online here. Physical copies of Fag Rag’s full run can be found here and at many LGBTQ archives. In 1979, Nancy attended the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Learn more about it here, listen to audio from the march here and here, read the program of events, and see it in pictures here.
For nearly half a century, Barbara Smith has been speaking truth to power—as a woman against misogyny, as an African American against racism, as a lesbian against homophobia, and as a black lesbian against those in the gay rights movement who sideline the concerns of LGBTQ people of color. Episode Notes: Get better acquainted with Barbara Smith by watching this short video. For an in-depth look at her life and work, read Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith, edited by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks. Listen to Barbara talk about coming out here, and check out her oral history, which is kept at Smith College. For more on Barbara’s broad and intersectional social justice agenda, read this Autostraddle interview and watch this lecture. Read about her frustrations with the mainstream LGBTQ civil rights movement in the Nation and the New York Times. Watch her in conversation with young black feminist leaders here. For a list of books she’s written and edited, go here. In 1974, Barbara co-founded the Combahee River Collective. She was one of the primary authors of its statement, a powerful articulation of lesbian-inclusive black feminist politics. In 1977, Barbara published “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” the groundbreaking essay that prompted her invitation to speak at Howard University the following year. Learn more about Frances Cress Welsing, the psychiatrist who responded to Barbara’s speech by declaring homosexuality “the death of the race,” here. In 1980, Barbara and her friend Audre Lorde co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first national publishing company run by and for women of color; Barbara describes the founding of the press in this essay. Kitchen Table published dozens of works, including Barbara’s own Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. You can read it here and hear Barbara talk about it here. To learn more about Audre Lorde, watch this short video, listen to this interview about her experiences as a young black lesbian in 1950s New York City, or read her poetry. For more audio recordings of Audre, visit the Lesbian Herstory Archives website. At the top of the episode, Barbara describes a photo of her and her sister at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Read more about the march here and listen to the speech Audre Lorde gave to the many thousands who assembled for the march’s rally. Hear more audio from the march here and here, and read the program of events.
In 1975, long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Navy asked, and Officer Copy Berg told: “Yes, I am gay.” When Copy chose to challenge the military’s ban on homosexuals, the Pentagon fought back with all guns blazing. Episode Notes: To learn more about Copy Berg, read his 1999 New York Times obituary here. The Times first reported on Copy’s case in this March 1976 article. The less-than-honorable discharge Copy received from the military after his administrative hearing was upgraded to honorable in 1977. The following year, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the Pentagon could not discharge homosexuals from the military without offering specific reasons in addition to their homosexuality; read Copy’s appeal here and the judge’s decision here. (Thousands of additional documents pertaining to Copy’s case can be found among his records in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of The New York Public Library.) While Copy’s case was unfolding, President Jimmy Carter’s Administration had been putting pressure on the Pentagon to change its policy against homosexuals. Midge Costanza, a top aide to President Carter, was instrumental in the effort; for more on Midge, listen to our episode with her then-partner Jean O’Leary here. In 1981, the Department of Defense reaffirmed its ban on gay men and women serving in the military, but it amended its policy to state that those forced out solely for reasons of homosexuality would receive an honorable discharge. The change applied retroactively as well so that any person who had been discharged for homosexuality could apply to have their discharge upgraded. Read Copy’s reflections on the qualified victory in this 1981 Philadelphia Gay News interview. Lawrence Gibson, Copy’s civilian boyfriend during his time in Italy, chronicled Copy’s case in Get Off My Ship: Ensign Berg vs. the U.S. Navy (illustrations by Copy). In 1979, Lawrence and Copy were interviewed together by Enlisted Times and WBAI (interview starts at 5:02). In the episode, Copy references Senator Joseph McCarthy’s persecution of homosexuals, a time known as the Lavender Scare (concurrent to the better known Red Scare). For a short history of the era, read this National Archives article. For a more complete account, read David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, which was recently made into a documentary. The episode also mentions Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich and his lawsuit challenging the military’s ban on homosexuals. Read more about Leonard here and here. For more information on LGBTQ folk in the military, start here. For a more in-depth look, check out Allen Bérubé’s Coming Out under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II (which was also made into a documentary film) or Randy Shilts’s Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. The Library of Congress has a few oral histories with LGBTQ veterans here. After his career in the Navy ended, Copy became an artist. His later work was deeply influenced by his HIV diagnosis; see some of his art here.
There’s a war on out there. That was Ruth Simpson’s Stonewall takeaway—and she was ready to fight. But when Ruth pushed the NY chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis to be more political, the FBI and the police took note. Episode Notes: Learn more about Ruth Simpson by reading her obituary in the Los Angeles Times and watching this interview, which was recorded for the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ Daughters of Bilitis Video Project (Ruth is interviewed with her partner, Ellen Povill). Ruth joined the New York chapter of DOB in the late 1960s and soon volunteered to serve as its education and program director. She was later elected president and served in that capacity from 1969 to 1971. To learn more about DOB, read Marcia M. Gallo’s Different Daughters—A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Movement and be sure to listen to our episode with DOB co-founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Ruth first heard about the New York chapter of DOB in a radio interview with its then-president, Martha Shelley, who was featured in her own MGH episode here. During her tenure as president of New York’s DOB chapter, Ruth found herself the target of harassment by the New York City police. In the episode, Ruth recounts a confrontation with police officers when they entered the space where DOB was holding its meeting—a space lent to them by the Corduroy Club men’s discussion group—without a warrant. The incident was reported on at the time by Gay Flames, a publication of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Like many other LGBTQ organizations at the time, DOB was also subject to surveillance by the FBI. You can read declassified FBI files on DOB going all the way back to the 1950s here and here. As DOB president, Ruth soon moved her chapter’s headquarters to a new space in Soho where they could have meetings and hold dances. Ruth, DOB, and the new loft were profiled by the New York Times in a long 1971 piece titled “The Disciples of Sappho, Updated.” In the early 1970s, Ruth was involved in many street protests, including the 1971 Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) “zap” against Fidelifacts, which she discusses in the episode. In a bizarre moment of serendipity, the demonstration appears in the opening sequence of the film Shaft (you can view it here, starting at 2:20). In addition to LGBTQ zaps, Ruth also participated in feminist protests. In 1972, she was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest during a WARN (Women Against Richard Nixon) demonstration. Ruth was featured in Kay Tobin Lahusen’s 1972 book The Gay Crusaders, a collection of interviews with gay liberation leaders. The audio of her original interview is kept at the Wilcox Archive in Philadelphia and the New York Public Library. To learn more about Kay Tobin Lahusen, check out our two episodes (and accompanying notes) with her and her partner Barbara Gittings here and here. In 1976, Ruth moved to Woodstock, New York, and published From the Closet to the Courts: The Lesbian Transition, a detailed memoir of her time in the gay rights movement.
Making Gay History mines Eric Marcus’s 30-year-old audio archive of rare interviews to create intimate, personal portraits of both known and long-forgotten champions, heroes, and witnesses to LGBTQ history. In this preview, we offer a taste of what’s to come in season six, featuring the compelling voices of Ruth Simpson, Copy Berg, Barbara Smith, Nancy Walker, and Damien Martin.
This was the moment Craig Rodwell had been waiting for. He’d been bumping up against the limits of how far the Mattachine Society was willing to challenge the status quo. And when the Stonewall uprising blew things wide open, Craig grabbed the reins and never looked back.
Stonewall turned the page on the homophile movement. Pre-Stonewall activists like Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen were dinosaurs in the eyes of some of the gay liberationists, and they found themselves fighting for a place in the new chapter of LGBTQ history that unfolded after the riots.
Nineteen-year-old Columbia University student Morty Manford thought it was just another night at the Stonewall Inn, but then the police swept in and the raid was on. Morty shared his memories of that night with Eric Marcus in this archival interview from 1989.
A rebroadcast of Eric’s 1989 interview with Marsha P. Johnson and Randy Wicker. Hear conflicting perspectives on Stonewall from this pair of unlikely roommates. Marsha co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries after Stonewall; Randy had led the way in the earlier homophile movement.
What made Stonewall different? How can we carry the lessons of the uprising with us today? Eric is joined by one archivist and four activists to answer those questions in an intergenerational conversation recorded live at the Stonewall Inn on May 23, 2019.
Like so many other acts of queer resistance, the riots in Greenwich Village in late June and early July 1969 could have become a footnote in history. But the protests and organizing that followed the Stonewall Uprising turned the page. A new chapter had begun in the fight for LGBTQ civil rights. With exclusive archival audio from the year after Stonewall, we'll explore how queer anger found a voice with “Gay Power” and how joy propelled the first pride marches. Out of the closet and into the streets!
At 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, the New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, an unlicensed gay club in New York’s Greenwich Village. I wasn’t there. Of these two facts I feel certain. The first one, because the police report from that night states the time that the police entered the Stonewall Inn. And the second, because I was ten years old at the time and didn’t see Greenwich Village for the first time until I’d graduated from Hillcrest High School in Queens, New York, in June 1976. (I’m shocked now by what an incurious teenager I was back then.) But there’s plenty about the raid on the Stonewall Inn and the subsequent uprising that’s less certain and often the focus of disagreements and heated debate. I like to think that the story of Stonewall is big enough for all the recollections and memories and inevitable myths that have taken shape in the five decades since Stonewall became a key turning point in the history of the LGBTQ civil rights movement and the birthplace of the “gay liberation” phase of the fight for equality. So in this second episode of our special Stonewall 50 season, we’re bringing you multiple voices—and multiple and often conflicting memories—from people who were inside and outside the Stonewall Inn a half-century ago. Voices drawn from my three-decade-old archive and from other archival audio unearthed by Making Gay History’s team of archive rats—including some tape dating back to the first year after the raid. Have a listen and decide which memories ring true for you.
Conflict has context. In this first episode of Making Gay History’s Stonewall 50 season, we hear stories from the pre-Stonewall struggle for LGBTQ rights. We travel back in time to hear voices from the turbulent 1960s and take you to the tinderbox that was Greenwich Village on the eve of an uprising. If you’d like a primer on Stonewall, here is a handy factsheet that Making Gay History co-produced. The final page has more resources if you’d like to dig a bit deeper. To find out more about some of the people featured in this episode and the times in which they lived, check out the following Making Gay History episodes and the accompanying episode notes: Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen (part 1 and part 2), Randy Wicker and Marsha P. Johnson, Ernestine Eckstein, and Sylvia Rivera (part 1 and part 2). Craig Rodwell will be featured more extensively in upcoming episodes, but he also makes an appearance in our episode about Dick Leitsch, with whom Craig Rodwell was in a relationship during their early days at Mattachine. Many of our previous episodes include interviews with LGBTQ trailblazers who became active in the movement pre-Stonewall. To learn more about the founders of some of the early U.S. homophile organizations, have a listen to our episodes with Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society; Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis; and Dorr Legg, Martin Block, and Jim Kepner, who spearheaded ONE.