Gay History

The Week In LGBT History: April 3 – April 10 ….. Harry Hay, The SIR Center (Society for Individual Rights) and the APA Says It’s Okay To Be Gay.

April 6, 1912  – Birthday – Harry Hay (Activist, Co-founder of The Mattachine Society, 1950)  – Henry “Harry” Hay, Jr. (April 7, 1912 – October 24, 2002) was a teacher, labor advocate and early leader in the American LGBT rights movement. Drawing on his background in the Communist Party USA, Hay co-founded the Mattachine Society, the first enduring LGBT rights organization in the United States, in 1950. Following his ouster from Mattachine leadership in 1953, Hay largely withdrew from organized LGBT activism until the late 1970s, although he continued to participate in the movement informally and following the 1969 Stonewall riots became involved in a local Gay Liberation Front chapter.  In 1979, Hay and his longtime companion, inventor John Burnside, founded the Radical Faeries. Hay and Burnside remained together for almost 40 years, from 1963 until Hay’s death.

April 7, 1966 – The first “Gay Community Center” is opened in the U.S., in the city of San Francisco. – The SIR Center (Society for Individual Rights), not to be confused in any way with the current San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, opened it’s doors in San Francisco to become the first gay community center in North America.

Via: Gmax Queer History:

The Society for Individual Rights (SIR), formed in 1964 by William Beardemphl, Jim Foster, Bill Plath, and others, gay activists who had grown tired of the authoritarian leadership style and mismanagement of an earlier group, the League for Civil Education. From the start, SIR differed from older, more conservative homophile groups such as the Mattachine Society, and the new organization’s leaders were more assertive and confident in their gay identity. Taking a cue from the burgeoning civil rights movement, SIR demanded equal rights and decried government-sanctioned discrimination.

Having learned from the failings of previous groups, SIR rejected top-down leadership in favor of a democratic, participatory structure. And whereas Mattachine had eschewed billing itself as a social group in order to avoid the appearance of encouraging illegal sexual activity, SIR embraced gay men’s need for fellowship. Open to anything its members wanted to organize, SIR sponsored drag shows, dinners, bridge clubs, bowling leagues, softball games, field trips, art classes, and meditation groups.

At a time when same-sex dancing was banned in bars, SIR’s most popular events were regular dances held at the group’s space on 6th Street near Market in the heart of San Francisco’s skid row. Opened in April 1966, the SIR Center – the nation’s first gay and lesbian community center – contained office space, a library, and a large public assembly area.

April 8, 1974 – The American Psychiatric Association removes its “sickness” definition of homosexuality.  years since the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted to delete homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders and issued a strong statement of support for gay rights.  The social and political impetus for change, Sabshin said, was supported by scientific evidence. The APA’s Committee on Nomenclature reviewed numerous studies that used standardized instruments and nonpatient populations and showed that most gay persons were satisfied with their sexual orientation and were not impaired in their social functioning.  Psychiatrists objecting to the board’s decision mustered support for a referendum to be voted on by the full APA membership in 1974. Some 58% of the members favored the board and homosexuality was officially removed from its list of mental disorders

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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