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Gay History – June 20, 1951: Mattachine Society Officially Adopts It’s “Missions and Purposes”

In 1950, a group of seven men met at the home of Harry Hay in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles to found a new society for gay people they tentatively called “The Society of Fools”. The following April, the group followed Hay’s suggestion to change its name to the Mattachine Society, after the medieval French secret societies of masked men whose anonymity empowered them to mock and criticize kings and other nobility. That same month, one of the newer members suggested that the group’s ideals be put down in in writing. They began drafting the Mattachine’s “Missions and Purposes,” and marked it “confidential” out of fear of attracting the attention of the police. Jim Gruber one of the founders, described the whole effort as “a dare” with serious potential consequences, as they saw it. Given the tenor of the times amid the McCarthy-inspired Lavender Scare, their fears weren’t out of line.  

The members ratified the document on July 20. It read:

MISSIONS AND PURPOSE of the Mattachine Society.

TO UNIFY: While there are undoubtedly individual homosexuals who number many of their own people among their friends, thousands of homosexuals live out their lives bewildered, unhappy, alone, isolated from their own kind and unable to adjust to the dominant culture. Even those who have many homosexual friends are still cut off from the deep satisfactions man’s gregarious nature can achieve only when he is consciously part of a large, unified whole. A major purpose of the Mattachine Society is to provide a consensus of principle around which all of our people can rally and from which they can deprive a feeling of “belonging.”

TO EDUCATE: The total of information available on the subject of homosexuality is woefully meagre and utterly inconclusive. The Society organizes all available material and conducts extensive research itself — psychological, physiological, anthropological, and sociological — for the purpose of informing all interested homosexuals and for the purpose of informing and enlightening the public at large.

The Mattachine Soeity holds it as possible and desirable that a highly ethical, homosexual culture emerge as a consequence of its work, parallelling sic the emerging cultures of our fellow-minorities — the Negro, Mexican and Jewish peoples. The Society believes homosexuals can lead well-adjusted, wholesome and socially productive lives once ignorance and prejudice against them is successfully combatted and once homosexuals themselves feel they have a dignified and useful role to play in society. The Society, to these ends, is in the process of developing a homosexual ethic — disciplined, moral and socially responsible.

TO LEAD: It is not sufficient for an oppressed minority like the homosexuals merely to be conscious of belonging to a minority collective when, as is the situation at the present time, that collective is neither socially organic nor objective in its directions and activities — although this minimum is, in itself, a great step forward. It is necessary that the more far-seeing and socially conscious homosexuals provide leadership to the whole mass of social deviants if the first two missions (the unification and the education of the homosexual minority) are to be accomplished. Further, once unification and education have progressed it becomes imperative (to consolidate these gains) for the Society to push forward into the realm of political action to erase from our law books the discriminatory and oppressive legislation presently directed against the homosexual minority.

The Society, founded upon the highest ethical and social principles, serves as an example for homosexuals to follow and provides a dignified standard upon which the rest of society can base a more intelligent and accurate picture of the nature of homosexuality than currently obtains in the public mind. The Society provides the instrument necessary to work with civic-minded and socially valuable organizations and supplies the means for the assistance of our people who are victimized daily as a result of our oppression. Only a Society, providing an enlightened leadership, can rouse the homosexuals — one of the largest minorities in America today — to take the actions necessary to elevate themselves from the social ostracism an unsympathetic culture has perpetrated upon them.

And the rest is history.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the 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 on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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1 thought on “Gay History – June 20, 1951: Mattachine Society Officially Adopts It’s “Missions and Purposes””

  1. Just want to thank you for this article, Will. I for one appreciate it and believe many others do also. Happy Weekend!
    H.

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