On April 17th, 1965 Dr. Frank Kameny along with gay rights pioneer Jack Nichols, who co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC bravely led the first “homosexual rights” protest at the White House at a time in history when being gay and lesbian was viewed as an abomination in this country.
The Mattachine Society fought for the equal treatment of gay employees in the federal government, the repeal of sodomy laws, and the removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s manual of mental disorders..
Ten MSW members along with members of the Daughters of Bilitis picketed in front of the White House against Cuban and the US governments repression of homosexuals.
The group also included: Gail Johnson, Gene Kleeberg, Judith Kuch, Paul Kuntzler, Perrin Shaffer, Jon Swanson, Otto Ulrich, Lilli Vincenz (editor of MSW’s quarterly).
Of the protest, Jack Nichols wrote “Never before had gay people as an organized group paraded openly for our rights.”
The picket took place during mid-afternoon. It was the Saturday before Easter, and tourists walked the downtown streets. Lige [Clarke], driving the convertible, took me to the White House curb and helped me unload signs. Then he drove off to work the afternoon shift at the Pentagon. Gail arrived at the site on the back seat of Ray’s motorcycle. It was agreed I should lead the picket line. The reason for this was that I was tall and an all-American sort. Also, I suppose, because I’d conceived the event. Frank Kameny marched behind me and Lilli Vincenz behind him ..
As we marched, I looked about at our well-dressed little band. Kameny had insisted that we seven men must wear suits and ties, and the women, dresses and heels. New Yorkers later complained that we Washingtonians looked like a convention of undertakers, but given the temper of the times, Kameny’s insistence was apropos. “If you’re asking for equal employment rights,” he intoned, “look employable!” In the staid nation’s capital, dressing for the occasion was, in spite of New York critics, proper.
We paraded in a small circle. Behind lampposts stood unknown persons photographing us. Were they government agents? Perrin and Otto wore sunglasses so absolute identification would be difficult should they fall prey to security investigations. We walked for an hour that passed, as I’d predicted, without incident. A few tourists gawked and there were one or two snickers, more from confusion than from prejudice.
We’d hoped for more publicity than we got. Only “The Afro-American “carried a small item about what we’d done. But we’d done it, and that was what mattered. We’d stood up against the power structure, putting our bodies on the line. Nothing had happened except that we’d been galvanized, and, to a certain extent, immunized against fear.”
The Mattachine Society protest was not welcomed by the even more conservative leaders of the gay movement who felt picketing would draw adverse publicity and even greater hostility.
The Mattachine Society’s protest of the White House, along with the Stonewall Riots are among two of the most significant events in LGBT History. But sadly as we look at the pictures and read the slogans on the picket signs of our LGBT activist forefathers and we realize many of the slogans on these signs could still be carried in protests today almost 60 years later.
This is still our time. This is still our fight.
10 thoughts on “Gay History – April 17, 1965: Frank Kameny Leads The First Gay & Lesbian Protest At The White House”
This is an excellent indictment against the LGBT community. We have become complacent and comfortable in our place, set for us by legislators and society. It's time once again for some good old fashioned civil disobedience. Groups like QUEER RISING and others can't be expected to do all the "dirty work", it's sad to me to see a call to action sent by QR or another activist group for US to show up and only a handful of US show. We have to get back to that same mentality of the Stonewall uprising and the Mattachine group that we'll not be silent and complacent, but instead be LOUD AND PROUD!
Excellent article! Jack was a good friend and my friend, Paul D. Cain, and I are in the process of editing Jack Nichols posthumous memoirs which are scheduled to be released on December 1, 2012. I hope people will buy it and read it and perhaps it will ignite the fire in our community again.
Part of the problem is the “instant gratification” of the internet. Put up a petition and POOF! You’re an instant activist by signing it! Or at least that’s what many people believe.
The other part of the problem is that the HRC and the NGLTF are shoving our community toward tiny bits and pieces of equality but not total equality and that’s because if they dared to guide us toward total equality their directors would lose their six-figure jobs if we achieved it, wouldn’t they?
We have a brainwashed LGBT community who have become “sheeple” and we desperately need to change them into individuals who need to think for themselves.
We have much work to do and a lot of education within our own community.
YES! I agree with you 100 percent! PLEASE keep me updated on Jack’s memoirs. – Will
Well, written article, thank you for the information.
Yes, I agree with you.
I’m sorry. I thought Barbara Gittings was there also.
Don’t be sorry. Yes Barbara was there as were many other people who planned it. Far too many to name for a short piece.