Sunday, March 26th, 2023

Herb Selwyn: white-knight attorney of the Mattachine

Herb-Selwyn-2005-Todd-WhiteInterview with
Herb Selwyn

by C. Todd White

August 2, 2005

Interview at Mr. Selwyn’s home.

Herb Selwyn died on February 3, 2016. The HIC is proud to offer this remembrance of our founder and friend.
See also Herb Selwyn’s Obituary in the Los Angeles Times and Karen Ocamb’s tribute on Frontiers Media.

Todd: Here are my questions. They’re actually pretty basic. This is for a column I write for the Blade out of Long Beach, a series called Legends. Every month I feature someone that was active in the early movement.

Herb: Well Vern Bullough gives a very good exposition of how I got into it. In fact I gave it to him…

In Before Stonewall?

Yeah. See my dad was a physician, and he had a patient, a fine photographer who was a lesbian, named Ruth. 1 And Ruth asked my dad, you know, mentioned she was a member of a group called the Mattachine Society. They were both from Germany, my dad and Ruth, and he mentioned his son was a lawyer, that I was a lawyer. She asked, “Do you think you could ask him he would address our group?”.

Not too many lawyers in those years were very anxious to be involved with a homosexual group. Now, they would represent people who are in criminal cases for money, but as far as getting any involvement in a group, they weren’t interested.

And any gay lawyers were deep in the closet, they probably wouldn’t even want to represent people…except in early years, oh boy what the heck, Harry…You know I even forgot the guy’s name? One little guy, bald guy, was gay and had a big practice representing gay people. Made a fortune out of it. He owned a couple of nightclubs and so on.

But at any rate, so I met with Ruth and got an idea about what she wanted me to talk about. And so I addressed the meeting. It was in a private home with about 20 to 30 people there, and I talked basically about the laws that punished homosexual behavior and how to avoid them, you know—mainly don’t hang around restrooms or gay bars, and if you do don’t get involved with people you might meet there.

Now of course that was rather naive being those years because this was a meat market, gay bars. And also even the parks, of the parks, a lot of arrests made by vice squad officers. I remember one Vice Squad officer. When I talked to him before a trial, he said “Yeah, I know I look like I might be gay.” He said, “That’s why I’m so successful.” You know, and they’d trap these guys. They’d say, “What do you like to do?” And when the guy said, it went little further, and when he propositioned them—out came the handcuffs.

They don’t do that much anymore I don’t think, at least not around L.A. But at any rate, after the first meeting I got invited to several others. Mattachine had groups in central L.A., they had Hollywood, they had West Hollywood, they had west Los Angeles, they had one down on the harbor and one in Long Beach—they had a fair number of them. Because that was the only gay organization at that time.

Then later on came the split [between] Dorr Legg and Don Slater. I don’t know if that was due to policy or politics because as I said Dorr and Don were, they were—See Dorr’s name was William Lambert. So I always called him Bill, but he preferred to be called Dorr Legg. As a nom du plum. But they were conservative Republicans. Not moderate but quite conservative Republicans, and maybe the politics split them, I don’t know. But Harry Hay and some of the others on the other hand were on the left. Billy Glover, I think, is a Democrat too, I’m not sure, I think he is. He’s from Louisiana, isn’t he?

Yeah. He lives there now.

Yeah. But anyway, I gave a lot of talks to these groups and finally a year or so later they asked if I would incorporate them. And they didn’t have any money, but I did it for free. My office was out on the sunset strip now, and um so I incorporated them.

I remember later the FBI came to see me and ask me about incorporating them, and I said “Sure, I incorporated them. What’s the matter with that?” And they said, “Well, you know, we’re all wahwahwahwahwah…” and they asked me about the political affiliations and I said “Most of them are rather middle of the road, and some of them are rather on the right wing,” which pleased the FBI, it seems [laughs].


But then I was asked to speak to various other groups. And I represented—Do you know Larry Townsend? [No…] Larry Townsend has an S&M gay group. The Pleasure Chest. You ever hear of that? It is a place in West Hollywood where they have, you know, handcuffs, and chains, and whips and stuff like that. In fact a girlfriend of mine, before I got married, worked in an S&M joint which was run by a Methodist minister, believe it or not. And she, for a hundred bucks, these guys would come in and they would get ripped or about anything they wanted. It was a straight, mainly straight joint.

It wasn’t Jeannie Barney, was it?

Barney? No, I didn’t know she was into that!

[Laughs.] I think she had a similar job.

Oh job! I thought you meant she was running it. I wouldn’t doubt it. I wouldn’t doubt it. Stella Rush I knew, even before I knew she was gay. In fact I don’t know if she was gay already then or not out of the closet, because I remember she was involved with some guys, at times, in fact I saw her heavily necking with one of them once, it was a Unitarian youth group. And she was a member of that. I would attend it once in awhile.

And what I mentioned, what caused me to get involved was, um, I’d had friends that I’d suspect were gay. One of them was Jack Spicer. In fact there is a book about him, called Poet Be Like God, which was written by a guy from San Francisco who knew him 2. I only saw him once after I got out of the service. And he was not out of the closet by the time that I knew him. He denied being gay, though I sort of suspected he might be. And I had other friends that I thought might be gay. But, you know, they never admitted it. In those years, hardly anyone ever admitted it. This was back in the ’40s.

Well it was pretty brave of you, though, to address the…let alone putting your professional reputation on the line by helping out ONE in 1953, but by going to the talks, the Mattachine talks and things like that…that was brave!

I never worried about that. I mean heavens, I went to all kinds of meetings—left-wing meetings, right-wing meetings. When I was studying for the Bar Examination at the Embassy Auditorium? You know it’s downtown? And they had all kinds of speakers. They had a guy named Shockman [?] who was head of a Trotskyist organization, they had Gerald L. K. Smith who was an American fascist—all types of speakers. This one guy… Smith was very antisemitic, as you possibly know…He’s not around anymore, he’s dead. But uh, a lot of these guys were nothing more than American Nazis, or at least fascists. And the others were Trotskyists, Communists, single taxers, anarchists, even meetings of the Industrial Workers of the World. So I had gotten to know all kinds of groups. Probably that’s why I never got a job at the DA’s office [laughs]. Though I was number two on the eligibility list [uh huh] they hired a bunch of people and they skipped over me, and I found out later it was because of all of these various affiliations. Not Mattachine, because that’s before Mattachine. That’s before I got involved with Mattachine.

But, um, you want to know my valuable contributions. Well I think you are right: I think it’s the early talks I gave to people. I wrote a little card on “Know your Rights.”

I’ve seen it.

You’ve seen it? Yeah. Which was distributed to all the gay bars in town. And a friend of mine who was in law school with me, was one of the head prosecutors in the city attorney’s office, was very upset with this, and he asked me, he didn’t know I did it. He said, “Isn’t it terrible, isn’t it terrible?” I said, “What, what’s terrible?” He said, “Telling these people things?” So I read it over and I said, “Are any of these statements incorrect?”  He says, “No, but letting people know that they didn’t need to talk to the police…?” [Laughs.] That’s before the miranda rule.

And that, and the founding of Christopher Street West, and I gave…I don’t think I ever charged Mattachine, or Tangents, or ONE, or anything.

Now ONE—as I was representing Mattachine, ONE was represented by Eric Julber. Eric, I knew Eric in college, at UCLA before I went to law school. And he was friendly with me. He tried to make out with a girlfriend of mine once, but then I couldn’t blame him for that…

[Laughs.] Is he still alive?

Huh? I don’t know. I haven’t spoken with Eric or about him in—God, must be 20–30 years. I represented his wife in a divorce. That might have pissed him off a little. But he said, well she said “Well he made cute kids,” though Eric was no, not a handsome guy. The kids were nice looking. And then his wife, you know, didn’t, wasn’t upset with him about the kids. I didn’t ever find out exactly what it was, maybe she felt neglected because he had a heavy law practice. And he represented ONE in a case where he went to the U.S. Supreme Court on a mailing situation, against the post office. He did a good job on that.

Have you seen the book called, it was by Deb Price, and Joyce Murdock [Who?] Deb Price and Joyce Murdock. It started with that case, they did the whole first chapter on… the book is called Courting Justice, about gays and the history of the supreme court. And the whole first chapter…

Was about the Julber case, with the Supreme Court?


I don’t think I’ve seen it, but it was a very good job that Eric did on it.

Were you also involved… I know that Don was very proud that you helped him incorporate the HIC…

Yeah, that I did. Right.

…because it, for him it was a—you had also helped incorporated ONE, Incorporated, so it was kind of like a continuum.


Were you also involved with the Odorizzi case?

O yeah, I represented Don.

And was that before or after…I think he went to court twice?

Well the first thing is the criminal. I got that thrown out. And um, the judge is a very good guy. Um, he was blind, and he was a judge in a court in Downey. And then I think I represented him before the board. He kept his teaching license. [Yes.] I believe that I represented him then, but I’m not positive. You probably know more about that then I, ’cause God, that must have been forty years, ago.

Yeah, ’65, ’66…

Yeah. ’66. Yeah, I remember Don Odorizzi. You could probably check it online if you want. I think I represented him at least initially. Now if he had another hearing later I don’t know. But he was a junior high teacher, and he did keep his job. Because you know they get three whacks, the first a criminal, and if you lose on that he’s—he’s out. [Right.] But if you win on that, they still can go after his job, which they did, and I won on that.  And then they can go after his teaching certificate, and that’s through the State Board of Education. Now I think I won that too. [Wow.] But again, you’d have to look it up.

And then the ACLU got involved in that, if I recall…

Oh yeah. The ACLU would have gotten involved because in those years I was very active, they didn’t have a gay rights group in the ACLU. Now they do, now they have a full-time lawyer, representing only in the gay cases. The last case I was given by ACLU was—do you know Susan McGreedy? Susan is gay, and she was representing a group of instructors at Long Beach State University, in the women’s studies group. And a bunch of them got fired, including a State Senator—what’s her name? 3 I’m blanking out, at the age of 80, I’m blacking out. [Laughs.] But she is a lesbian, and she is a state senator from this area where I live. She’s a lawyer to, very bright. And she was actress in some of Doby Gillis movies, or are on TV. You remember The Many Loves of Doby Gillis? Well, she was one of them. And she came out later, after that series. Anyway, they asked me to help Susan represent this group, but then Susan left ACLU for private practice. She took the case with her, and so that was the end of my affiliation with that case.

But before that I got a lot of involvement with a lot of things, and the Homosexual Information Center was one. Don Slater and I argued about politics a lot because I’m on the left wing of the Democratic Party and he’s on the right wing of the Republican, but we got along very well anyway. And then of course you have this big split between Don and Dorr Legg.

That was the heart of my dissertation. [Really.] I approached it with the question: why did they split?

You know there are so many personality clashes in the gay movement. Wherever you have people on the fringe, whether it’s Communists or extreme right-wingers, or gays, or anything, people that are on the fringe and let us say somewhat persecuted, you’re going of have a lot of splits… I know Don left and took a lot of the library.

He took all of it.

Most of it. I think a few things were left. And he moved on to Cahuenga somewhere. And they both wanted me to represent them, and I said, plague on both your houses, and I wouldn’t represent either or them. So they each got individual attorneys. I don’t know, did Eric represent one of them? I’m not sure. [No…] I don’t think he wanted in either. But they had different lawyers. And I tried to ameliorate it.

Chodos represented Legg…

Yes, Hillel Chodos.

He seems to be quite a character.

O yeah, Hillel is quite a guy. A very peculiar guy, a very heavy, bottom-heavy guy.

He seemed to go just go where the money was. [Really!] and he seemed to be in it for cash.

Well they paid him! I never got a dime out of them, but him they paid. I don’t know about the other guy.

And I can’t remember his name, I should ’cause I wrote all about him, but he worked for free. 4

At your age you should remember those things. [Laughs.]

He worked for free, for Don. [Yeah.]

Hillel was a very active, he was a very brilliant guy. He was a Talmudist, very active in jewish organizations, and he is very fluent in Hebrew. I mean the very name: Hillel. You knew who he was. So I…I don’t know. I tried to get them together. Finally, they achieved a settlement. And I don’t recall if I had any real hand in that or not.

That was April of 1967. And the settlement immediately disintegrated. Cause Dorr Leg published in his ONE Confidential, declared victory, and said “Oh, the other side has relinquished” and on and on and on, and as soon as Don read that he called the agreement null and void.

Yeah. And so it fell apart.

And what a mess. An absolute mess.

And I remember they both died. Didn’t they?

O yeah, Dorr in ’94 and Don in ’97.

Yeah. I don’t even remember if I attended the funerals. But then there were other people like Manuel [Monwell?] Boyfrank. He was an American Indian.

Oh, I didn’t quite realize that. Is he still around?

I doubt it. He was older the either of them. He was in his eighties, and he and I were good friends. We used to argue because he believed in what he called, I have a note, “Long and Short Copy.” He believed in long copy, which means when he wrote an article or something, he went on ad nauseum. I believe in short copy—just get down the essentials. Maybe that’s because I was lazier than Manuel. [Laugh.] He ended up in the Carmel-Monterey area, and he published something up in there, maybe Pacific Grove, or somewhere up in there. But he was quite active too in the gay movement, in his way.

So the accomplishments I think: one was [being] involved in Odorizzi in that merely because someone was gay, you don’t fire them for being a teacher. And the same with um, hairdressers, cosmetologists.

I had a case where they tried to take a guy’s license away because he had been convicted of a bathroom offense. I didn’t represent him on that, but the Cosmetology Board tried to take his license. And the hearing officer was a pretty good guy, and the State Attorney General representative was arguing this and that, and so I, sort of winking at the hearing officer, said that the attorney general should ask his wife whether she knows any gay hairdressers, and whether the women of america would find that their hair would go to hell, in effect, if all the gay cosmetologists had their licenses taken away. So I won the case [Laughs] because you know it’s true: there are a lot of gay cosmetologists, among the male cosmetologists, and no, I had a good client that was a cosmetologist and he was one of the few straight ones I knew. His name was Jack, never mind the last name, but he was very straight.

When about was this? Was it after Odorizzi?

I believe so. It’s mentioned in fact in, in the book. In Before Stonewall it’s mentioned. Vern was rather tickled by that little story.

Yeah, he’s told me that story.

And as far as the movement goes… The  Homosexual Information Center, I think, was one of the achievements because they actually did give information on the subject, more than apologetics, and that’s important, that, you know, that you accept…I’ve always argued even before I was involved in the gay movement that except for the sexual direction, there is no difference between gays and straights. You know? And I think—that was even before the studies by my friend Evelyn Hooker.

Now I knew Evelyn because I was involved in something that she was interested in, which was group dynamics, before she got involved with gays. Groups dynamics is—do you know about group dynamics?

Oh Yeah.

Ok, good then I don’t have to mention what it is. And I was involved with her on that.

So she was as much sociologist as psychologist then.

O yes she was. Very much so.

Are you familiar with the book by Helen Branson, called Gay Bar?

No, I don’t know that.

It’s a little tiny volume…apparently Helen Branson was a bar owner…

Oh I know her. But I didn’t know that she wrote a book.

And Evelyn helped her with that, and they came up with some pretty interesting conclusions about the gay community. She pointed out in Gay Bar something that I thought was very fascinating. She said that gay people, because they are so—they have to live an “alternate life,” as they are growing up, [right…] and so they become very good at lying, and they become very good at putting on an act.

Yeah, I know.

And I thought that pretty  interesting.

Fortunately that’s not so true anymore. They don’t have to anymore. But remember what Oscar Wilde said, “We who live more lives then one / More deaths than one must die.”

Ahh, That’s interesting.

Yeah, you should read Oscar Wilde.

Yeah, I know Oscar very well, but hadn’t heard of that line…

Oh good, I’m glad. He’s one of my favorites. Gay or straight, he’s brilliant.

The most important achievements of the movement, I think are the fact that now you have gay members of the City Council that can be open about it. In fact, either our district or the one adjoining… [we have]  gay members of the school board, gay teachers, gay professors, gay policemen, gay firemen, and everywhere. Here when I was starting in this field, if they had gone out of the closet they would have lost their jobs or been terribly discriminated against. So though, of course, it’s just like the Jews, Blacks, and Hispanics—everything isn’t perfect yet. But it’s getting a hell of a lot better.

[As for] a momentous time in history I was involved in, well—I was involved in the movements for black liberation and Hispanic liberation before I got into gay liberation. I represented a lot of blacks and hispanics on—well, who were discriminated against, and was involved in protests before I was a lawyer. And before I was involved in gay activities which wasn’t until after I was a lawyer for oh, I think three or four years. I think ’53 was the first time I got involved, and I had already been a lawyer three years then. But the blacks and Hispanics—I got involved with Hispanics when I was a law student, and with blacks, when I was living in Estrada courts, which was a public housing project. And they were discriminating against blacks even in the projects! And I got involved there. And, um, I belonged to the Community Service Organization, which was an organization trying to help a lot of Hispanics, mainly Mexican Americans then, and that was when I was still a law student.

The momentous times in history were starting in those years, when I was still in law school, and even before then when I was a student at UCLA. And I was a member of the Americans Veterans Committee, which was sort of a liberal veterans group of World War II veterans. And we were fighting Jim Crow. I remember in the first convention we had in ’46 was DesMoines Iowa, which is suppose to be a liberal area, and yet they refused admissions to some of our black members in some of the restaurants there. [Wow.] So we picketed the restaurant, and finally we got them to admit them.

Were you involved in the founding of Christopher Street West?


SelwinAward-1So you helped them incorporate as well?

Well you saw the certificate. I was one of the founding fathers of it. I didn’t think—I don’t think I was actually an incorporator. I don’t know which lawyers did the actual incorporation. I don’t believe I did that. And I don’t know if they did it for free or for money. But I was involved in the original parades.

And then, at a certain time, I realized that there were many, many gay lawyers. They even had a gay lawyers’ group. So I said, “Look. I will leave it to them.” They were younger guys, and this was probably into the ’90s, well into the ’90s. And I said in effect: “I’ve done what I can, and I think that it is best if you carry on the fight.” Dixie.


A week from this Sunday, Billy Glover is going to be up, and we are going to have a small meeting of the HIC…

How old is Billy now? He must be in his 70s.


Oh how…God almighty! He was a kid!

I have really tried to keep the HIC together. It was… um, they had a really bad experience with ONE Institute a couple years back.

With whom?

ONE Institute.

Is it still existent?

Well—no, it isn’t! They would like to have everyone think that it still exists.

Who is running it now?

ONE, Incorporated went under in 1994.


When Dorr Legg died.

Yeah I know that.

And it merged with ISHR, which was a surviving…

Right, I’m familiar…

Well Walter Williams, at USC, tried to get ISHR to spin ONE Institute, ONE Incorporated’s education division, off…

Now that’s a black professor?

No, he’s the one who wrote The Spirit and the Flesh.

Oh it’s a different Walter Williams then, cause I knew an academic named Walter Williams who was a black man, he was gay, tall guy, and he was a client of mine. But I guess it’s a different Walter Williams.

A different Walter Williams. And it’s a different ONE! When I started working for ONE Institute six years ago, I was under the impression that that was surviving ONE, Incorporated. And they had told everybody they are the oldest and largest in the country. Well then I did my research, and I found, as I did my dissertation, that ONE, Incorporated went under. It had merged with ISHR.


So they were perpetuating a false history. What it is is a case of identity theft.

Yeah. Well hell.

Let them have the name. [Yeah.] But in order to co-opt it they completely twisted history to make themselves the legitimate heirs of ONE, Incorporated. And as a anthropologist historian I have problems with that.

Yeah. But there is enough infighting, and I doubt if they got much presence at all anyway…

Well USC gave them a very large building. There on West Adams.

A grant!?

They gave them a building. They didn’t give them money…

A building!

…but a large building. A full building.


909 West Adams. It was an old fraternity.

Oh my god!

It is a beautiful structure. And Walter helped get them started. Well when Don Slater died, two people came to Don’s house wanting the library. The HIC Library. Walter and John O’Brien with ONE Institute, and Vern Bullough at CSUN. And they… Jim Schneider was the President of HIC by default after Don died.

Yeah, I remember Jim very well. He was another client.

And Jim decided to bring the materials to the new ONE Institute for a few reasons. Mainly because Don and Dale Jennings were both USC alum. But the [librarians at ONE] pulled a fast one and made all sorts of promises to Jim Schneider: that he was going to have autonomy, and they were going to protect the HIC, and on and on and on. But the people at ONE Institute didn’t understand the history of the split, and so they kept thinking, via Dorr Legg, that Don Slater was a thief and that HIC had no valid identity and should not have existed in the first place, that the whole organization was bogus. So they tried to take over HIC. They took its materials and started doing some really awful things. They made all these promises and didn’t keep any of them.

Yeah…And HIC was an offshoot of the split of ONE Incorporated!

And so Jim Schneider, in a panic, removed all the materials out of ONE Institute to take them back to CSUN. And so today HIC is still autonomous and has its legal entity still. But its struggling every month to pay its rent, get by. I’m trying to help them to get by….

Rent, I thought you said they gave them the building?

Yea, but when the ONE Institute people started taking HIC’s materials…


they had to get out of there, so it’s been stored at Jim Schneider’s place.

Well who owns the building?


Oh. When you said they gave it to them I thought you meant they deeded it over.

No they didn’t.

Because USC was never that generous. [Laughs.] Not to my knowledge.

That’s a problem, because they don’t have a permanent lease. They keep acting like, “Oh well, we’re going to be here forever.” But the fact is if USC doesn’t like what they’re doing or doesn’t like having them there, they can kick ONE out. There is no contract or obligation to keep them there.

But we still are negotiating through HIC with Cal State Northridge, um, to become a part of their special collections. We’re going to turn most of our valuable books, the HIC’s valuable books, over to CSUN with the understanding that if CSUN, if they don’t ever want the materials, will give them back to HIC. 

My goal is to see HIC become kind of like ISHR, where they don’t need an office, they don’t have to pay rent. But by having CSUN taking care of some of their materials, the HIC can continue to collect and archive materials at no cost to them, no rent anyway, and then we just need a board of directors. And if we raise money then we can use that to sponsor scholarship and do research.

Do they do research and publishing still?

Yes. But not very much…

Not much, no.

…because they have been spending their money on rent in the past four years. But they developed a website that I helped them put together.

Rent just to to house the materials.

It’s $600 a month just for storage.


And we would rather be building a website and getting the information out there. But the HIC is very unique. I have discovered in my research that the different terms, gay, homophile, and homosexual, they are not just, you know, like the blind people forming a different side of the same elephant.

I know!

They actually do have different philosophies, and the people that embrace these terms have a different political agenda. And I think that the gay movement should open up…

I think Dorr preferred “homophile,” and Don preferred “homosexual.”

And then Jim Kepner preferred Gay.


I found that Jim was “gay” before the gay movement!  I think that he hasn’t gotten enough credit for the success of that term. I think it was Jim Kepner who persuaded Harry Hay that “gay” was the way to go.

Well you know Jim was on the left and these guys were on the right, I just have no idea whether this political philosophy had anything to do with it or not.

I think it did.

Because I don’t see why the term gay is either a right or left wing term. It isn’t.

Now that I studied it, I think it actually might be.

Ok explain.

The gay people on the left are separatist. They want to be different. Harry Hay especially. They want to have their own…When you fight for gay marriage, you are fighting for the rights of a distinct group of people to have their rights. The homosexual people, Don Slater especially, were appalled by that motion. They wanted to be integrationists. They thought that if you guaranteed sexual rights for everybody then in securing the right of the individual, you’d secure the right of the group. So rather than be “gay,” the homosexuals wanted to integrate into the community. They wanted to be “out” as homosexual people. But they thought the gay identity movement was parading itself right into a cultural cul-de-sac.

I mean, look. You’re a social anthropologist, so you know that these attitudes have to do with a, the social milieu. Harry Hay existed at a time when gays were out. When I say “out,” I don’t mean they admitted they were gay, I mean they were outlaws in society. Like, who is the guy who wrote the book about homosexual outlaws?

John Rechy?

Yea right. You know the literature pretty well. Well you should!  And Jim also.

Now, you’re getting more integration. You’re getting more people who are willing to accept a neighbor, a fellow worker, whether as being gay or straight, it doesn’t matter. So perhaps the attitude of people that are—I mean, you know, both Harry and Jim, when they were alive—Jim would have been, Jim’s a couple years older than I am, and they both are well into their eighties, or Harry into nineties. Whereas the younger folks appreciate that now you can be gay and a member of congress, like our friend from Massachusetts. Or even be Republican from—where the hell, I forgot where he’s from. Congressman. So I think the integrationists, probably would have better opportunity at the present time to convince…And the thing is also true of the blacks. There are black separatists, and black integrationists. Same with Jews and any…Amish! You know?

I think the Gay movement to move forward they need to recognize those differences and have both of them working together.


That actually is kind of what divided ONE. It was a division that was there from the start, I found: the integrationists versus the separatists.

You think that Dorr was a separatist?

He was, but not raging. He was not as much a separatist as Harry Hay. Hay was definitely a separatist. He thought that anybody that was a homosexual but not gay was in denial. He called them assimilationists.

Wait a minute: who is a homosexual but not gay?


You mean wasn’t practicing or wouldn’t admit it, or what?

You would be a homosexual but you would not be a part of the gay movement. You wouldn’t affiliate with that.

Oh, I understand what you are saying. Yeah. Interestingly, you know, Harry and I never argued about that. Because I always felt that when people are accepted, they don’t have to be separate anymore, you know. Regardless, I mean, you can have your pride in minority and still be a part a of a whole.

It seems that this opposition between the integrationists and the separatists is pervasive in so many different movements and attitudes.

Of course it may be a combination of the two also.

I think that’s what we need to recognize.

But in any event, uh, um, the idea that you say Hay had, that you’ve got to belong to the group, and hang with the group, um was fine at the time when there was persecution by the police, by society, in jobs, in the services, where that is no longer as weighty—it still exists but is no longer as weighty—perhaps that lessons the ties that one must have to the group. And this is for any persecuted minority.

Well there’s my last question: What do you think are the the major victories yet to be accomplished by the gay movement?

Well gay marriage is one, and then this question: Would gay partnerships be sufficient? With all of the rights of marriage, that is social security, inheritance, adoption, guardianship, and the other rights that married people have? Or does it have to be actually solemnized and with a marriage certificate? In Massachusetts they of course allow that. Then also something I brought up to the ACLU person that was in charge of the gay activities, I forgot her name, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. constitution, that each state will get full faith…..


Versus domestic partnership—is it the same thing? Is there a victory made there, or do you think it’s still separate but equal…?

Well domestic partnerships for uh, uh—You can have domestic partnerships for straights too. So the question is: Do domestic partnerships give all of the rights and privileges of marriage?

Not at the federal level, huh?

Exactly, social security for example. Ok. Then of course as marriage is not federal unless you’re living in a federal enclave like Washington DC, or Puerto Rico, or somewhere. But as a state activity, it is controlled by the fifty states and the territories. So it’s a very interesting question that… They are right now trying to get a constitutional amendment, George Bush and his cronies, that forbids gay marriage. They couldn’t, you know, forbid it to Massachusetts unless there is a constitutional amendment because the states have those rights, and a lot of the states are trying to pass laws prohibiting gay marriage. Some have passed them.


California, interestingly enough, the City Council of Los Angeles, which has a gay member now, has unanimously passed a resolution that the legislature should enact gay marriage law. So it’s the next battle. It’s the next battle.

Of course, then the question is: What is the purpose of marriage? Is the purpose of marriage the conception and raising, the delivering and raising of children? Or is it more than that? You know? What is the concept? Is the partnership sufficient if the federal government would then grant to the partners all of the rights of a married, heterosexual couple?

I kind of wonder if there couldn’t be a religious argument as well because in saying you cannot have gay marriage you are telling certain churches that they do not have the right to endow gay people with the title of marriage.

I know.

That could be freedom of religion.

They throw scripture back at you for that, that is Genesis. You know they are excommunicating legislators in some states that vote in favor of gay marriage. [Laughs.] The Catholic church refused in I forgot where it was, Oregon I think maybe, to give communion.

Do you know Malcolm Boyd?

I think I’ve met him, but I don’t know him well. He’s a pretty good guy though. Read his stuff. I think I met him somewhere. Helen Branson—you know that name sounds very familiar. What bar did she own?

I’m not sure, you know I wish I knew the name of it. She wrote, um…

I’ve met her somewhere, I know that…

She did not publish the name of the bar, and I need to figure out what bar it was. She wanted to protect her people.

There used to be a lot of them. I know when I ran for congress there were seventy some gay bars in the valley, and I must have visited all of them trying to get votes. And I got… If the gay vote had of swung the election, I would have gotten the nomination. But it didn’t, and I didn’t, and I had $15,000 to spend, and my opponent had about $150,000. Plus… Again I’m just as glad he got the job because I like Henry [Waxman]. I went to Washington to represent a client, a heterosexual client who got in trouble for having sexual relations with a patient, and I won the case for him. But then I went to visit Henry, and he rushed out of his office to greet me, and I followed his activities as a congressman for the last thirty years, and I think he’s done very well. He’s one of the best.

Okay I think that’s about it. I would like to—if I can get my notes together maybe interview you second time, if you wouldn’t mind? Not for the column—I’m also putting together an oral history, and that’s why I’m using the fancy tape recorder here.


I want to make this archive at Cal State Northridge. Everything I do I turn over to the HIC.


I really want to see that that organization survive.

I think—look, it was a great idea, one of the greatest ideas that Don had…

And there’s still a call for it! I cannot find even on the web, one good place where you can get a good dose of gay history without being bombarded with pornography or ads. There needs to be a place where adults, parents, cousins, and high school students could go….

Do they have a website? HIC?

Yes, I’ll give you the URL. We couldn’t get HIC, so it’s

Well let me look it up…. [Switches on computer: “You’ve got mail!”]

Would you mind if I take a picture of you?

No that’s okay!

[End of tape]

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  1. Ruth Bernhard?
  2. Actually two authors, Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian
  3. Sheila Kuehl
  4. Edward Raiden

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