Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

Every scholar of our history should read this book

Before StonewallBefore Stonewall:
Activists for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Historic Context

Edited by Vern L. Bullough

Associate Editors:
Judith M. Saunders and Sharon Valente
Assistant Editor: C. Todd White

Published by Harrington Park Press

November 21, 2002

LGBT history
464 pages, appendix, index

Find on HardcoverPaperback

Review by Billy Glover

March 14, 2015.

This is a book that I hope interested college students would find time to read. Every gay/lesbian paper should review this book. Every LGBT center should have a copy, as should each university library. Every psychology, sociology, American history, or law professor should read it. If the gay community ignores this history, they will be the ones to suffer.

The preface gives a great short background to the subject of homosexuality and the history of our movement. It explains why some people and groups are in the books and others aren’t. But here we get the highlights of our history, such as the early German history, and the Wolfenden Report, etc.

On Particular Profiles

I could write a book about my feelings that most gay histories really are about gay celebrities who did nothing for the cause.

The idea that organizations are the most important forces for social activism is right, but they are based on individuals. And in our case, the two, in fact, three main individuals—Harry Hay, Dorr Legg, and Don Slater — took slightly different paths but agreed on all major ideas. And while Dorr in his unchanging way kept ONE, Inc. going, and Don in his jolly way kept HIC going. There was a need then and now for the Jim Kepners, Vern Bulloughs, and even Harry Hays, who cross-pollinate the work, going from group to group.

Harry Hay may be more ideas than practice, but we had to have that, and if it was the communist background that gave it to him, fine. But it is wrong to think that this movement is based on leftist thinking. He is the perfect example of why we had to spend time fighting the leftists and liberals, and then and now got more support from conservatives. I see that he and others were involved in the wobblies. But his saying that our minority is valid because we have language, territory, economy etc. doesn’t hold if we reach our goal.

A talk with an animal-lover gay and the rodeo gay will show fast that we don’t have that much in common except our sexual attraction. Society makes us a minority. The law would have made us a special class, the very thing the bigots were accusing us of seeking. But just think of the people who followed Harry, the main one being John Burnside, but also Rudi Steinert, Dale, Kepner, and Betty Perdue.

But what a life Harry, and John have had. Living in New Mexico, being faeries. And he did other work, too, with the draft issue and our Motorcade, with gay youth.

Dale Jennings went a little away for a while too. He and Harry both tried marriage. But Dale later became a libertarian — sort of like Don Slater. It is fun to hear his views of the founding of Mattachine; why should Harry fear Dale’s version? History shows they planted a seed that has grown marvelously. They both deserve crowns.

It is sad that we have information partly because he and Don Slater wrote letters and not because they either one put down in writing a specific history for us. Dale did came to visit in Louisiana once, to see if he could live with me down here and do his work, but the humidity got him, as it got Don, and Harry and John when they visited. They’ve all been to visit me in Bossier City.

Henry Gerber was interesting, and his views and thoughts seem up to date, and something like mine. But too negative of course, as our community/movement has been successful. But he was right that the rich people and famous people did nothing, until the job was done, then stepped forward to benefit and claim the spotlight. He faced people who would do things sexually but were still afraid to have their name on a mailing list, or even write something for the newsletter—we faced that too.

Prescott Townsend is interesting, as is pointed out, because he was not the average middle-class guy. And I got a “sermon” from the fact that his relative, Roger Sherman, was, like some of us in our community/movement, ignored by history, even though in his case he was the only person to sign all three of this nation’s historic documents and thus had to be doing something important to his coworkers—our founding fathers. He also had a book shop? Like Cory, ONE, etc. he set a pattern we have all followed. It says he left money to Harvard to study/research homosexuality.

Jeannette Foster is certainly a great pattern-maker. She did the bibliography that all of us needed — and had to do it herself, made no money and even got cheated by Vantage Press. And it was in a sense saved by Barbara Grier’s finding it and her. And Barbara wrote for The Ladder and ONE/Tangents, so there is a continuity here again. And we find names such as Janet Flanner, May Sarton, and Lesbian Tide, etc., to give us clues to other people.

Pearl Hart is proof that in a sense one can stay in the closet and still work for our cause. Some of her friends didn’t even know of her affair with Valerie Taylor. And she worked for liberal causes, but was not a left-winger. And she helped Mattachine Midwest. That reminds me, Harriet Pilpel was a great help to us too; wasn’t she also an ACLU type person?

And dear Lisa Ben, in and out of the closet, and where did her desire to publish come from? And the same question is true of the founders of ONE, The Ladder, etc. Again, she set a pattern we follow still.

And Berryman studied people, and so do we today, and thus is connected to Bullough. And she spotted I gather the same “fear” that we faced at ONE, that some people feared that if the subject got discussed it would alert people who are ignorant, and perhaps we should leave well-enough alone

While it is great that Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and Jack Nichols, et al. fought the psychiatrists, etc., so did we. ONE ignored the silly lies of the mental health people of that time. Don Slater even took part in a “raid” to get one of our volunteers, Ann, out of a mental hospital.

And it is in the introduction to the section on “activists” that I found the most important thing to me, about myself and the movement. Obviously they/we took control of our own cause, not waiting for “experts.” We never believed that the experts were right. It is clear that W. Dorr Legg and Don Slater fought the “law” and rejected any claims that we were no good. But no one thought things would change as fast as they did.

The Kinsey chapter is great, and he is in a sense second in importance only to evolution in getting people “excited.” This is a better coverage of him and his work than most people will ever get. The statistics presented are understandable, if hard to believe.

And here Vern points out, and what I had never thought about, that Jim Schneider tried to keep ONE together, and I was the cause of the split. And that is an eye-opener to me. So all of us had good motives, but got results that changed us and the organization.

And here we again see names that are important, the work Eric Julber did, and perhaps we may get some money from his books that were good. He ended up, as some of us will, relying on good people such as Jim Schneider in his case, to help out in old age. But he knew his material was safe with Don Slater and later with Schneider and the HIC.

And what can be said about Dorr Legg. He was truly tenacious. I find one of the terrible ironies of history the fact that he didn’t trust me to be on the board when it was and is clear to me that I would have been neutral. After all, he is the one who trained me, taught me in sociology classes. I liked him every bit as well as Don. It was I guess clear to him that when he started the dictator-style management that I would have put up with it. But he had qualities that we needed, as did Don and Jim Kepner, and it was after Kepner left that I came on board. Jim was he first person I met at ONE, by the way.

The one complaint I have about this chapter—by someone who is objective and non-partisan but still wrong. The reference to Don Slater as a dissident, and to those of us who moved as dissidents, is wrong. Don was a cofounder. To say “he had keys” is like saying one spouse had keys to the house so could get in to take something. Obviously Don had keys; he had every right to keys and the material he had worked to collect for all those years.

I can’t talk badly about Don Slater. I spent my life with him. And the others. And picketed a newspaper, had a motorcade through town, was on TV shows, spent many a day in the house in Los Angeles and in Dolores CO, ate with him, and ate Tony’s cooking, had nothing but pleasure , which may have been a sore point, since I didn’t work as hard as he did.

On the ONE/HIC Split

Several board members, Morgan Farley for one, had warned Slater that Legg was going too far. And it was when we knew Dorr was confident and determined in his intention that we knew it was okay to force the issue. I don’t think even I remember who moved that night. But history should give us credit. And that is one of best things I/we ever did. It did no harm to ONE or the movement. I, Melvin Cain, Jano Cybulski, Tony, and others did it. Poor Rudi, a legally elected board member, feared Legg so took no part.

Dorr Legg had a vision, and he kept to it. Don Slater’s vision was not quite the same, but they could have worked together if Legg had not feared any control by anyone else. But they liked each other, and Slater felt a great loss when Legg died. But he never feared Legg, and again I want the record to show that our most valuable material was never at the office on Cahuenga Blvd West. It was stored safely at Rodney Hee’s home. The fact should prove that John O’Brien’s silly attempt at psychoanalyzing Don Slater was based on false assumptions.

Those of us who moved to Hollywood stayed with Slater and are still here today — those of us, that is, who have not died. But no one stayed with Legg because he was too autocratic. Slater was far more fun. But both got their jobs done.

And it is a shame that no one sees Legg’s book, Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice, and I doubt many will find Jim Kepner’s book, Rough News, Daring Views. A great loss, as I still enjoy reading parts of Kepner’s self-published work. And his article on “The Women of ONE” is also important.

And I respect anyone who sided with Dorr. What this movement has a problem with is the people who supported neither, who only look for excuses to not support a publication, or organization.

None of these people made money. That is why I never was troubled by Legg’s list of money he was owed. He deserved millions, as did Slater and Kepner, and even today Frank Kameny and others suffer for the money and energy he put into this cause.

As for me, I did regret not making a home for HIC here in Louisiana, but the opposition was not surprising, even when it came from a mayor who has a gay son. The south is good at using zoning laws to stop civil rights people. I lived in a house for over a year with no electricity, but didn’t suffer and had, and have, great neighbors. I am glad Vern Bullough mentioned the part about me working for civil rights/race relations at LSU—and that my father suffered for it, slightly. That is relevant today, as I think Dow is now gay-friendly, and racially integrated, but it feared me in the 1950s.

The record is there and competent and ethical. Historians will have to acknowledge it, and for that I thank Wayne Dynes, Vern Bullough, C. Todd White, Stephen O. Murray, Harrington/Haworth, and all the people who wrote the chapters.


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