Making Gay History
Summary: Intimate, personal portraits of both known and long-forgotten champions, heroes, and witnesses to history brought to you from rare archival interviews.
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.
Coming Soon: A special season of Making Gay History to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Hear the voices of the rioters, and of the activists who turned a riot into Gay Liberation—a new and expansive phase in the LGBTQ rights movement.
Brooklyn-born Martha Shelley was a rebel. She didn’t like being told what to do, wear, or say. She hated the lesbian bars, and after joining the Daughters of Bilitis she strained against the self-imposed limits of the homophile movement. Coming of age in the 1960s, she was ready for revolution.Learn more about Martha Shelley in this interview for the website “Stonewall: Riot, Rebellion, Activism, and Identity” (the audio file is embedded at the bottom of the transcript page). Martha’s oral history is included in Eric Marcus’s book Making History.In this episode, Martha mentions how the FBI monitored DOB's activities. To see samples of their investigative work, check out the declassified files collected on this webpage.Martha Shelley was one of the participants in the July 4th Annual Reminders, picket lines organized by homophile organizations from 1965 to 1969 at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. You can see footage of the 1968 Annual Reminder in “The Second Largest Minority,” a short documentary by Lilli Vincenz, here.Martha Shelley has written fiction and poetry, and her short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan. You can hear Martha discuss her novel The Throne in the Heart of the Sea on Portland radio station KBOO here.
Read about Dick Leitsch’s life in his New York Times obituary and check out our special “In Memoriam” episode about him here. Dick Leitsch donated his personal papers to the New York Public Library (NYPL) archives. Read the New Yorker article on Leitsch and the NYPL, and explore the Mattachine Society of New York archives available at the NYPL. In the episode, Dick Leitsch talks about the picket he participated in across from the United Nations. To learn more about that protest, check out the website of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project here. The June 1966 issue of the Daughters of Bilitis magazine The Ladder, which featured Ernestine Eckstein on the cover, reported on the issue of police entrapment in New York City. You can read the article, which contains a reference to Dick Leitsch, here on pages 12 and 13.
See the June 1966 issue of The Ladder with Eckstein on the cover here and read the interview that Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen conducted with her. Gittings and Lahusen were featured in two MGH episodes here and here. And Kay was featured in a bonus episode about her monthly “gay” dinner table at the retirement facility where she now lives. For information about The Ladder, the magazine published by the Daughters of Bilitis, read Malinda Lo’s AfterEllen.com article and Marcia Gallo’s account of its history here. Also, take a tour of a GLBT Historical Society exhibit about The Ladder in this video. To learn more about the Daughters of Bilitis, read Marcia 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, too.Ernestine Eckstein was one of the first participants in the July 4th “Annual Reminders,” picket lines organized by homophile organizations—under the leadership of Frank Kameny—from 1965 to 1969 at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. You can see a glimpse of Eckstein picketing at 28:50 in “The Homosexuals,” a controversial CBS program from 1967 hosted by “60 Minutes” veteran correspondent Mike Wallace. You can see footage of the 1968 Annual Reminder in “The Second Largest Minority,” a short documentary by Lilli Vincenz, here. Following her involvement with the gay rights movement, Eckstein focused her energies on black feminist issues and became active with BWOPA (Black Women Organized for Political Action). Read about the organization’s mission and history here.
Bayard Rustin was a key, behind-the-scenes leader of the black civil rights movement—a proponent of nonviolent protest, a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the principal organizer of the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And he was gay and open about it, which had everything to do with why he remained in the background and is little known today in comparison to other leaders of the civil rights movement.Read Bayard Rustin’s 1987 New York Times obituary here. It identifies his partner Walter Naegle as his “administrative assistant and adopted son.” To read Rustin’s own words, explore Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin here. Rustin’s papers reside at the Library of Congress.PBS’s award-winning POV documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin can be found here.For a biography of Rustin, check out John d’Emilio’s Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin here. Listen to this episode of the State of the Re:Union podcast to learn about Rustin’s indelible contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. PBS’s award-winning POV documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin here. Read Senator Strom Thurmond’s August 13, 1963, denunciation of Rustin in the congressional record here, starting on page 14836. The New York Times reported on Rustin’s rebuttal here. Rustin’s partner Walter Naegle was featured in a short film by Matt Wolf titled “Bayard and Me.” You can watch it here. In her interview with Rustin, Peg Byron inquires about Rustin’s recent D.C. visit with Black and White Men Together. Learn more about the group here. Watch President Obama honor Bayard Rustin at the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony. Watch Walter Naegle accept the medal here. Gay astronaut Sally Ride was honored alongside Rustin that same year; find out more about Ride here. Eric Marcus’s interview with Walter Naegle was conducted at the home he shared with Rustin, which in 2016 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can see the building on the website of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project here. The webpage has some great photos of Rustin, including one in his apartment with his extensive cane collection. For educator resources related to this episode of Making Gay History, check out the website of our education partner History UnErased here.
For a history of the transgender movement in the U.S., check out Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by Susan Stryker.For a biographical overview of Erickson and his contributions to the homophile and transgender movements, check out this article by Aaron Devor and Nicholas Matte. To explore some of the Erickson Educational Foundation’s publications and other Reed Erickson materials, visit the University of Victoria Transgender Archives Collection here.The Milbank mansion and estate figures prominently in the story of ONE and Reed Erickson. Learn more about the mansion, which was built in 1913 in L.A.’s Country Club Park neighborhood, here and here. Read about Reed Erickson’s involvement with ONE Incorporated in this article by Aaron Devor and Nicholas Matte. Listen to our episode on some of the key figures of ONE here. Read Dr. Harry Benjamin’s New York Times obituary here. Read his 1966 The Transsexual Phenomenon in its entirety here.One from the Vaults, a trans history podcast by Morgan M Page, did a special episode on Reed Erickson. You can hear it here. Learn more about Morgan M Page and her work on her website. To find out more about AJ Lewis, listen to his testimony from the NYC Trans Oral History Project, a collaboration with the New York Public Library, here. Listen to other collected voices here. In 2012 video maker and interdisciplinary artist Chris E. Vargas produced ONE for All... about the tempestuous end of the partnership between Reed Erickson and ONE. The story focuses on the Milbank Estate and on the expansive but unrealized dreams that Erickson had for the future of queer activism. The video was part of Transactivation: Revealing Queer Histories in the Archive, an event at the ONE Archives. To learn more about Vargas’s work, check out his website. Find out more about his MOTHA (Museum of Trans Hirstory & Art) project here and on the website of the New Museum in New York here.
Read a biographical overview of Stella Rush by Judith M. Saunders in this chapter from Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, edited by Vern L. Bullough. In the same book,Rush herself also contributed a chapter on her longtime partner and fellow activist Helen Sandoz (aka Helen Sanders) here.Watch a May 15, 1987 interview with Stella Rush and Helen Sandoz (off-camera) from the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ Daughters of Bilitis Video Project.In the late 1980s, Jim Kepner wrote an essay on Stella Rush, Helen Sandoz, and the other women who contributed to ONE, which you can read here. For a historical overview of ONE magazine, ONE Inc., and the ONE Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, go here. Be sure to check out our episode on the founders and early contributors to ONE, including Kepner, here. You can read Rush’s resignation letter from ONE here.You can read a snippet of Rush’s reporting on the 1960 Daughters of Bilitis convention in San Francisco in The Ladder here. For information about The Ladder, the magazine published by the Daughters of Bilitis, read Malinda Lo’s AfterEllen.com article. And take a tour of a GLBT Historical Society exhibit about The Ladder in this video. To learn more about the Daughters of Bilitis, 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, too.
ONE, the first national gay magazine, attracted the attention of the FBI and was at the heart of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case. Dorr Legg, Martin Block, and Jim Kepner were key to ONE’s success. But don’t expect them to agree on its origin story. **For a historical overview of ONE magazine, ONE, Inc., and the history of the ONE Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries go here. The website has other useful LGBTQ educational links as well. *To explore the ONE Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, go here. In 2010 NPR’s Tell Me More did a short piece on the archives, which you can listen to here. It features the voices of Jim Kepner and Edythe Eyde, the subject of this season one MGH episode.*For a biographical sketch of Dorr Legg from the GLBTQ Archives, go here. Please note that the bio misidentifies Legg’s lover at the time Legg moved to Los Angeles as Merton Bird, who was the founder of an early gay organization called the Knights of the Clock. According to Legg in his original MGH interview, his then lover’s name was Marvin Edwards. A 2010 article from the Gay & Lesbian Review set out to uncover the history of the little-known Knights of the Clock, of which Legg was an early member. The article also provides additional details about Legg’s life.*Check out Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice, edited by Legg, here. *While Dorr Legg, Jim Kepner, and Martin Block may not have been on the same page about ONE magazine’s origin story, they all chose to leave their personal papers to the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries. Dorr Legg’s papers can be found here. Jim Kepner’s papers can be found here. And to see what Martin Block’s papers contain and to read a brief bio of Block, go here.
Investigated by the FBI, blackmailed, but bold enough to keep going, Billye Talmadge was one of the early members of the earliest lesbian rights organization in the U.S., the Daughters of Bilitis. Read a brief biography of Billye Talmadge in this proudqueer.com article by Billye’s friend Suzanne Deakins. A short obituary of Billye appeared in the Bay Area Reporter. Billye Talmadge’s oral history can be found in Eric Marcus’s book Making Gay History.Watch a May 12, 1987 interview with Billye Talmadge from the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ Daughters of Bilitis Video Project.Check out Beyond the Mist, a book of Billye’s musings and poetry here. To learn more about the Daughters of Bilitis, read Marcia M. Gallo’s Different Daughters A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Movementand be sure to listen to our episode with DOB co-founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, too. For information about The Ladder, the magazine of the Daughters of Bilitis, read Malinda Lo’s AfterEllen.com article. And take a tour of a GLBT Historical Society exhibit about The Ladder in this video. The episode talks about the risk of arrest for male impersonation faced by women wearing fly-front jeans. In our MGH Shirley Willer episode, Willer, who was the one time president of DOB, talks about how wearing masculine attire made her the target of police brutality.
Read more about Harry Hay in his San Francisco Chronicle obituary. For a more in-depth look at the early days of the Mattachine Society, check out C. Todd White's Pre-Gay L.A.: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rightsand James T. Sears’sBehind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation , and listen to our episodes featuring Chuck Rowland, Herb Selwyn, and Hal Call, who wrested control of the Mattachine from Hay, Rowland, and the other original members of the group.In the episode, Hay mentions the “call to the society” that the early Mattachine Society used to gauge the interest of potential new members in joining; you can see the prospectus in its entirety here. And you can listen to an episode from Devlyn Camp’s Mattachine Podcast about “The Call” here.In 1983 Vito Russo (whom you can hear in this MGH episode) interviewed Hay and Barbara Gittings (who was featured, along with her partner Kay Lahusen, in MGH episodes nine and 18) for his Our Time TV program. Here are part one and part two.Hay is featured in the 1984 documentary Before Stonewall, which also includes interviews with Edythe Eyde, Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, Chuck Rowland, and Dr. Evelyn Hooker.As he says in the episode, Hay had a fondness for the word “fairy” and in 1979 he would go on to co-found the Radical Faeries. Philippe Roques made a documentary short about the movement titled Faerie Tales. The Radical Faeries website has a tribute page to founders Harry Hay and John Burnside.
On the occasion of Magnus Hirschfeld’s 150th birthday in May 2018, Eric Marcus traveled to Germany to find out more about this early champion of LGBTQ civil rights. Eric found a story of queer resistance, resilience, and a fascinating mystery involving a suitcase and a mask. From Eric Marcus: When I wrote the original 1992 edition of Making Gay History (which was then called Making History), my oral history book about the LGBTQ civil rights movement, I devoted just one paragraph to Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s work in the opening to the first chapter: More than four decades before World War II, the first organization for homosexuals was founded in Germany. The goals of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, as the organization was called, included the abolition of Germany’s anti-gay penal code, the promotion of public education about homosexuality, and the encouragement of homosexuals to take up the struggle for their rights. The rise of the Nazis put an end to the Scientific Humanitarian Committee and the homosexual rights movement in Germany. And that was it. Not even a mention of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld himself or his sexuality institute, which he founded in 1919. Considering that the focus of my book was the gay rights movement in the United States, that’s not so surprising. But given what I’ve come to learn about Dr. Hirschfeld and his pioneering work, as well as his influence on the founding of the movement here in the U.S., I’m sorry I didn’t at least include his name!So as you can hear in this episode of Making Gay History, three decades after I first started conducting interviews for my book, I took a deep dive into the life of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. That included traveling to Berlin in May 2018 for the huge celebration in honor of the 150th birthday of Magnus Hirschfeld, interviews with Magnus Hirschfeld experts, an interview with a Canadian pack rat/citizen archivist who saved a suitcase full of long-lost Magnus Hirschfeld’s belongings, and a reenactment of Hirschfeld’s 1918 silent film, Different from the Others.As we traced the threads of history back in time, I came to discover that one of the threads of Magnus Hirschfeld’s history came back to the present day and had a direct connection to our Making Gay History family. Here’s the story. Before I left for Berlin, I found out that our photo editor, Michael Green (who also happened to be the original publicist on the Making History book back in 1992) was going to be in Berlin with his partner, Ilan Meyer, too. Ilan was heading to Berlin for a family reunion. It wasn’t until Michael and I were having lunch after our tour of the Schwules Museum and we were waiting for Ilan to join us that I discovered the reunion Ilan was attending was for Magnus Hirschfeld’s family, which had been decimated during the Holocaust and the survivors scattered across the globe. Turns out Ilan, who grew up in Israel, is a cousin of Magnus Hirschfeld.
This season, Making Gay History uncovers voices from the early movement for LGBTQ civil rights. Eric Marcus introduces trailblazers from as far back as Germany in the late 1800s to the folks who stood up and stepped up for equal rights in the US in the 20th century. Photo information,clockwise from upper left: Martha Shelley at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, 1969. Credit: Photo by Diana Davies courtesy of Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. Bayard Rustin at a news briefing on the Civil Rights March on Washington in the Statler Hotel, August 27, 1963. Credit: Photo by Warren K. Leffler courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-01272. Ernestine Eckstein on the cover of The Ladder in June 1966. Credit: Courtesy of Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library . Harry Hay press release still for Clifford Odets' "Til the Day I Die," May 1935. Credit: ONE Archives at the USC Libraries