Reviews:Before Stonewall by Glover & Percy

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Before Stonewall defeats the notion that everything of importance in the gay liberation movement began at and followed the famous riots of 1969. Through the trenchant work of its two editors, Wayne Dynes and Vern Bullough, the collection achieved a geographically and gender balanced perspective on some of the movements most invaluable and pivotal figures. Dynes the first editor, although from Los Angeles, has spent most of his life as a New Yorker and therefore provided the East Coast perspective, along with his mentor Arthur Warner and his coworker Warren Johanssen. Bullough, the second editor, provided a West Coast perspective despite having spent some years at SUNY Buffalo. The first important male Ph.D. in the movement, he was like author/Ph.D. Evelyn Hooker, straight, but unlike her he has published fifty books on all aspects of sexual theory and history. An asset that he brought to the book was his knowledge of and rapport with lesbians and women in generala virtue that Dynes lacked.

Unfortunately there are many people who are mentioned in the book as pioneers who do not have a biography, as Vern was forced to exclude some in the interest of generating a book of reasonable length, not to mention weight. Some not chosen, who yet were major players in the early movement, were the "other" cofounders, in addition to Harry Hay and Dale Jennings, of the early/original Mattachine: Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull, and Chuck Rowland. Also left out are the men, who in addition to Don Slater and Dorr Legg, were the other cofounders of the first public homosexual organization (the first Mattachine was not a public group), ONE, Inc: Bailey Whitaker (Guy Rousseau), the young man who named ONE; and Tony Reyes, the life-partner of Don Slater, a young American of Mexican descent who danced on Los Angeles famous Olvera Street, who with Dale Jennings and Martin Block signed the groups incorporation pages. Martin Block was the first editor of the ONE magazine, Dale Jennings was the second, and Irma "Corky" Wolf the third. Stella Rush (Sten Russell) wrote for the magazine and worked with her partner Helen Sandoz, as did Betty Perdue (Geraldine Jackson) and Fred Frisbie (George Mortensson). Joan Corbin (Eve Elloree) was the magazines main artist. Other early pioneers at the organization were Dr. Merritt M. Thompson (Dr. Thomas M. Merritt), professor of education at USC and dean of ONE Institute; Dr. Blanche Baker (for whom the library was named), who wrote for the magazine and gave lectures; and Eric Julber, the attorney who took ONEs lawsuit against the Los Angeles Post Office to the US Supreme Court to gain the right for a publication to discuss homosexuality.

Later figures included Clark Polak, editor of Drum Magazine (Philadelphia), and Foster Gunnison from Connecticut, who worked in NACHO and Mattachine NY from Connecticut. There were also Joseph and Jane Hansen, activists as well as artists and authors, and cofounders of the Homosexual Information Center (HIC). For more information on other early workers see the websites of ONE at http://oneinstitute.org and HIC at http://www.tangentgroup.org.

At a time when homosexuals were denounced as traitors by Joseph McCarthy; recommended for confinement, castration, and even lobotomies by shrinks and doctors; demonized as sure to go to hell by clergy; harassed by prosecutors and judges alike, and assaulted as a matter of course by cops; not a single college or university had a course that portrayed gays in a positive or even neutral light and. Likewise, no publication printed anything that was not anti-gay. Without question, in those days we were almost as reviled and despised as pedophiles are today. Even Communists, often thought of as sympathetic to the oppressed and highly tolerant, persecuted us, engaging in regular anti-gay purges. Gay refugees from the Communist Party joined with other gays who had been rejected by their families or fired from their jobs and, congregating in various run-down parts of Los Angeles, formed the Mattachine Society in 1950 to fight for toleration. A number of the Societys founders had worked for Henry Wallaces unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1948. Fearing suppression from the government, the Society divided itself into cells. A segment of the organization split off in 1952 to publish the ONE magazine. The first issue appeared in January 1953 under the editorship of Martin Block, though he was soon replaced by Dale Jennings. Irma "Corky" Wolf took over for the rest of the year. Then in 1954, after Don Slater assumed the post, controversy erupted when the Postmaster General refused to distribute the October issue, causing ONE to sue the Post Office, with Eric Julber representing them. Billy Glover, accompanied by Paul Harris and Melvin Cain (early volunteers in the movement at the magazine), have explained these facts to me during a visit to Boston in October 2005 and together we have prepared this meditation on Before Stonewall.

In stark contrast to the New York group, which presumed to take over leadership of the movement after Stonewall, the early Los Angeles group had very few academics, even those who thought of themselves as such, for example Dorr Legg and Don Slater, did not have Ph.D.s; Dorrs Masters was in hard sciences, and Dons degree was in literature. When the East Coast became active, it featured figures like Arthur Warner, who had both a Ph.D. and a law degree from Harvard, and Frank Kameny, his rival in Washington, a Ph.D. from Harvard, while Prescott Townsend, with only a BA from Harvard, came from one of Bostons premier Brahman scholarly families. So even before New York city professors tried to seize control after Stonewall with the Gay Academic Union, the East Coasters had more scholarly credentials.

If the second era of our movement started with Stonewall in 1969, as most would agree, and ended in the early 1980s, when AIDS began to trump sexual liberation and to decimate our leaders, then we need to begin to distinguish the most important activists and scholars from that period, just as we have for the previous one. Of course many of the figures active before Stonewall continued, but new ones surfaced and new organizations, publications, and theories such as social constructionism tended to displace the older ones, which proceeded to decline or even die off. Because the numbers increased exponentially a selection of the most significant will be far more difficult (and contentious) but it should begin soon, for even those "new" leaders are now aging and dying. Similar criteria as those used for inclusion in Before Stonewall will be employed.

The irrational exuberance of the gay liberation front and NAMBLA, from the time of the riots to the about 1983 when AIDS began to take full hold, gave way to ACT UP and to political correctness, whereupon the new leaders on this front strove to censor the 5 Ps: prostitution, pederasty, pornography, promiscuity and paraphernalia (toys). This created a stark division within the community, the good gays denouncing the bad gays in order to gain acceptance for themselves.

The third epoch, approximately from about 1983 to 1998, when the AIDS cocktail became less lethal and the plague came to be controlled in developed countries as, so to speak, a chronic condition rather than an irrevocable death sentence, brought to the fore new people and organizations. Some people who first entered the fray in this new period, such as I, are already in our seventies and in failing health or on the precipice of death. We need to commemorate the activists and the scholars who came before us but after Stonewall.

Just as Jews increasingly lionize the survivors of the Holocaustas they die off and become rarer and rarer relicsso too I believe that gays and lesbians should honor and help the surviving activists and scholars from the pre-Stonewall movement. So few extant groups are there to help that the survivors, who even now constitute but a tiny and rapidly diminishing tribe, that I am offering $1,000 a year as a prize for one of those deemed most worthy and most in need. I hereby nominate Billy Glover, Frank Kameny, Phyllis Lyon, or Del Martin to select the winner. We would also like for reader to notify us of the date, place or circumstances of the deaths of those who were still living when Before Stonewall was published.

Last years celebration in Philadelphia of the 40th anniversary of the demonstration before the Liberty Bell honored "40 heroes" from all four periods*. Additionally, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists association has begun a hall of fame with a list of "6 journalists"** from various periods, to be expanded each year. Both of these lists are useful, if debatable. How should we proceed?

On Amazon's site you can "search inside" oder order the book used

*The Philadelphia "Forty"

Faisal Alam
Tammy Baldwin
Jarrett Barrios
Volker Beck
Kevin Bourassa & Joe Varnell
Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer
Ellen DeGeneres
Storme DeLarverie
Melissa Etheridge
Matt Foreman
Barney Frank
Tim Gill
Essex Hemphill
Evelyn Hooker
Jim Hormel
Kevin Jennings
Kate Kendell
Anthony Kennedy
Larry Kramer
Tony Kushner
Audre Lorde
Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin
Leonard Matlovich
Harvey Milk
David Mixner
MTV
Martina Navratilova
Olga Orraca-Paredes
Rev. Troy Perry
Marlon Riggs
Bishop Gene Robinson
Vito Russo
Bayard Rustin
Judy Shepard
Randy Shilts
Tom Stoddard
Andrew Sullivan
Riki Wilchins
Phill Wilson
Evan Wolfson

**Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Hall of Fame Inductees

* Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, pioneering lesbian journalists, life partners and co-editors of "The Ladder", considered Americas first publication (1956) intended for lesbian readers;
* Thomas Morgan III, veteran New York Times editor, openly gay President of the National Association of Black Journalists in 1989, who built bridges for many gay journalists of color;
* The late Sarah Pettit, co-founder and editor of Out Magazine (1992) as well as arts and entertainment editor for Newsweek Magazine;
* The late Randy Shilts, trailblazing writer and author forever linked with Americas HIV epidemic in his work for The Advocate, the San Francisco Chronicle, and his epic book, "And the Band Played On"; and
* The late Don Slater, founder and editor of the crusading gay publication, ONE, who long battled anti-gay U.S. postal rules starting in 1953 and ending in a 1958 U.S. Supreme Court victory for all gay media.

Posted 11-05-05

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