James Vernon Schneider
Founder of Tangents and the HIC
by C. Todd White
November 12, 2003
Chroniclers of Gay and Lesbian history often overlook our more quiet heroes, the ones who kept one thumb firmly on the pulse of the movement but guided its fate from the sidelines. Yet the key figures of the 1950s homophile movement, namely Harry Hay, Dale Jennings, Jim Kepner, Don Slater, and W. Dorr Legg, could not have accomplished their historic feats without the assistance of many diligent and dedicated assistants.
One of the most constant of those was Jim Schneider, whose involved commitment to the movement now spans forty years.
Rural Youth, Urban Man
James Vernon Schneider was born on a family farm in Nebraska on April 4, 1932, the second of what would be a family of seven children. His father was a dedicated farmer who struggled to support his family through the nation’s great depression. But when Jim was 13, his father was incapacitated by a farm accident and was never able to walk again. Through determination and hard work, young Jim and his elder brother kept the family together until their father died in 1955.
After his father’s death, he moved to Oakland at a brother’s invitation. Finding he had no tolerance for the Bay area’s perpetual fog, he moved to Fresno after three months and, after a year there, he settled in Huntington Park, a suburb of Los Angeles.
Having grown up within a tightly knit family, Jim had often felt alone and isolated from the larger world. He tried dating women for awhile in Los Angeles, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it. He finally met with a young psychologist named Dr. Timmer, who introduced Jim to The Price of Salt, a novel with a lesbian love theme. Jim was touched by the book and figured if two women could fall in love perhaps two men could as well, and so he set out to find other guys like himself. The problem was, at this time homosexual men only associated in bars, and Jim was not comfortable in those environments. Dr. Timmer told Schneider about ONE, Incorporated and their publication ONE Magazine, and he suggested that Schneider contact the group.
Discovering ONE, Incorporated
Late in 1959, Schneider called ONE, and editor Don Slater answered the phone.
Schneider asked where he could find a copy of ONE Magazine, and Slater recommended the Florence and Pacific Newsstand near Schneider’s home in Huntington Park.
Schneider found the magazine and was especially moved by the image portrayed on the cover: Two young men were sitting beside a camp fire, one reaching toward the other, with a burro in the background. Schneider again contacted Slater, and a few weeks later he attended a discussion group at the office where ONE was published, on Hill Street, where he met Slater and ONE Inc.’s business manager William Lambert.
Schneider was not particularly inspired by this first encounter with ONE. He had expected more people than the scant few he met that evening. The building itself was old, the office shabby and unkempt. Still, he became active in the organization.
In 1962, Schneider helped ONE move to larger quarters on Venice Blvd., west of downtown Los Angeles. About this time, he had placed a carefully phrased personal ad in the Los Angeles Times that resulted in his meeting a school teacher with whom he developed a loving, long-term relationship.
Soon, both were dedicating their Friday nights to ONE, doing odd jobs and helping to distribute ONE. Jim became the leader of the Friday Night Work Committee, and in 1964 he was elected onto the Board of Directors.
Soon thereafter, Schneider found himself involved in a winning court case that made history. It was the Odorizzi v. Bloomfield School District case of a teacher charged with homosexual offenses. Today the case of undue influence is still being taught in law schools throughout the nation.
Separation and Division
In those early days of ONE, Schneider’s organizational talents and experience with business went largely untapped and unrealized.
The organization’s energy and resources were continually divided between conflicting goals and personalities as the conflict between Slater and Legg began to escalate. Legg wanted to use the space for a series of seminars in which he and others could lecture and Legg’s ONE Institute of Homophile Studies, an aspect of ONE, Inc., founded by Legg and Jim Kepner in 1956, could be expanded. Slater, on the other hand, remained dedicated to the magazine and desired to use ONE’s scanty assets to fight for the rights of homosexuals in the courts and legislatures. Schneider and the board were caught in the middle.
In the January 1965 meeting, the situation came to a head over whether or not Billy Glover should be allowed onto the board.
Glover had first volunteered and then worked as a “gofer” for ONE, and he shared Slater’s commitment to the magazine. Legg felt that with Glover on the board, his influence would be mitigated. Legg prevailed, and Glover’s nomination failed.
Frustrated, Slater consulted with an attorney and planned his retaliation. Under the advice of his council, Slater, Glover, Slater’s long-time lover Tony Reyes, and a friend of Slater who owned a moving van met at ONE early on Sunday morning, April 18th, 1965, and cleared out the office, taking everything to a warehouse space Slater had rented in Cahuenga Pass. (For more on this, see Hansen’s biography of Slater, A Few Doors West of Hope, published the year after Slater’s death, in 1998.)
Legg was furious when he showed up later that morning and discovered what had happened, but he did not call the police. In the ensuing confrontation, Slater said that if Legg would “restore the legally-elected board, and resume ONE’s activities on the old footing,” everything would be returned (Hansen, 1998, 58). Instead, Legg opted to take the matter to court.
Attempts at Reconciliation
Schneider felt obligated to try to prevent the schism of ONE.
He wrote a letter to all board members that called for both Legg and Slater to step down from the board so that ONE would not be divided. When Schneider talked to Slater about the letter, Slater admitted that the idea had merit but was not likely to happen. Indeed, Legg responded by having Schneider removed from the board — and the corporation. The news came to Schneider in a letter dated May 18, 1965, signed by ONE’s secretary Manuel Boyfrank.
When Slater heard Schneider had been cast out, he called and invited him to be a part of his group in order to help produce the magazine. Schneider wrote a letter to author Joseph Hansen on May 19th, 1998, recalling his thoughts on the incident:
If I find myself joining Don’s revolution, it will only be because 1) I was kicked into it by Lambert, and 2) I will not be restricted from speaking my mind freely or from asking questions and seeking factual answers.
Schneider also felt that Slater’s Tangent group “seemed more active in activities that would benefit the gay movement at large, such as the motorcade protesting the ban on gays by the military and the court fights that were ensuing by individuals who were charged with crimes against nature.”
The Launch of Tangents
Slater’s faction, which called themselves Tangents after a column in ONE most often written by Jim Kepner, continued to produce a magazine, and for three months there were two different ONE’s distributed.
Slater thought he had the advantage of having secured the mailing list (Legg clearly had stashed a copy for himself), but Legg’s faction held firm to the name and title ONE.
So in the fall of 1965, Tangents magazine was born. Though the title was different, Tangents proclaimed itself published by “the majority of legally elected voting members of ONE,” as the copyright page of each issue stated until a court battle was resolved two years later. In 1968, Schneider, Slater, and Glover signed articles of incorporation officially creating the Homosexual Information Center, or HIC.
Death of a Friend
Don Slater died on February 13, 1997. Schneider drove Tony Reyes to the hospital that morning to find that Slater had passed thirty minutes earlier.
Reyes broke down when he found that the man he had loved since he was 16 years old was now dead, and Schneider did his best to comfort him. The next day, Schneider took Sanchez to the mortuary to arrange for Slater’s cremation.
Slater had moved the HIC materials to his home in Echo Park after the Cahuenga office closed. When word got out that he had died, there was some dispute as to what to do with the collection.
Two men approached Schneider, Jennings, and Reyes offering to protect the materials. One was Dr. Vern Bullough, who hoped to archive the materials at the Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection on Sex and Gender at California State University, Northridge. The second was John O’Brien, Executive Director of ONE Institute, which in 1994 had merged with Jim Kepner’s International Gay and Lesbian Archives and the archives Legg had collected for ONE Institute (after Slater’s removal of the original ONE Library, which had been renamed the Blanche M. Baker Memorial Library prior to the 1965 schism.)
Through the efforts of USC professor Walter L. Williams, the IGLA and ONE Institute archives were merged, and the new organization, called ONE/IGLA, was given a building near campus that had previously been occupied by a fraternity. Williams and O’Brien gave a tour of the new facility to the HIC board in 1996, after the fraternity was moved out. The two-story brick structure with its pyramidal skylight showed much promise, but it was in need of major refurbishing.
O’Brien again invited the board of HIC to the USC facility days after Slater’s passing. He assured Schneider, Reyes, Glover, Hansen, and Jennings that if they would agree to house their collection within ONE, HIC would remain autonomous, and its rare materials would not be merged into the general collection. O’Brien predicted that within a year the renovation would be completed, and HIC could then move into its own space.
Schneider became the custodian of the materials until the renovations were completed. He purchased ten large filing cabinets for the clippings, correspondence, and newsletters, and these he stowed in his company’s warehouse. The remaining 280 boxes had to be stored in a separate facility, which Schneider paid for out of his personal funds. The board of ONE expressed its gratitude, and Schneider was voted back onto the board of ONE/IGLA in the Fall of 1997 — thirty-two years after his dismissal from ONE, Inc.
It was about this time that I met Jim, who was thrilled to have this second chance to serve ONE.
But all was not well in O’Brien’s organization. Schneider watched as not enough money was raised, and the renovations went unfinished. The monthly board meetings dragged on, though little was resolved or accomplished. Worse, Schneider surmised that O’Brien was not a good leader and had inadvertently thwarted the efforts by the USC Facilities people to get the job done. He became frustrated and worried.
A Burden to Bear
Finally, after a heated discussion during the October 1998 board meeting, Schneider asked O’Brien if he would resign as Executive Director if so asked by the board. O’Brien agreed that he would. So Schneider made that motion, which carried five votes to two, and O’Brien stepped down. Schneider then stated that he was willing to deal directly with USC to get the building finished, and with the assistance of Williams, he immediately set about the task.
As Schneider’s obligations to ONE increased, so did his burden to care for fellow HIC board member Dale Jennings, who had been diagnosed with Vascular Dementia, a forerunner to Alzheimers. Jennings required around-the-clock supervision by a trained nursing staff, so Schneider arranged for Jennings to be placed at Del Rio Convalescent Center and Sanitarium, two blocks from Schneider’s home. He added forty boxes of Jennings’ personal archives and seven filing cabinets to a portion of the HIC collection still stored in his company’s warehouse.
Schneider was with Jennings at the hospital when he died on May 11, 2000. Schneider and Williams drafted a press release, and Jennings’ passing was noted by the nation’s newspapers, including a feature article in the New York Times. Schneider, this writer, and fellow ONE board member Stuart Timmons organized a memorial service for Jennings that convened on June 25, 2000. Schneider emceed the ceremony, which was the first public event held at ONE’s new facility.
Out of the Frying Pan…
In the Fall of 2000, the HIC collection was at last moved into the West Adams facility.
While Walter Williams focused on raising more money to complete the renovations, Schneider oversaw the actual construction. After much intensive labor, the work neared completion, and ONE’s volunteers began to unpack the collection.
Immediately, however, the HIC materials spawned new controversy as some librarians at ONE, including historian Stuart Timmons, sought to merge the books and magazines into the general collection.
When Schneider received a letter from the Chair of ONE’s Library Committee dated
December 15, 2001 that was simply addressed “Dear HIC People,” he knew that the materials were in imminent danger. The letter stated that ONE’s librarians were “ready to reunite the collection of the periodicals and books of the HIC room with the main collections of ONE and IGLA.” So he contacted the surviving HIC board members, Billy Glover and Joseph Hansen. All agreed that the materials were clearly not safe at ONE, so on December 24, 2001, the materials were successfully removed from the facility and transferred to several available storage facilities where they could be processed and protected.
The materials were again cast into limbo after ONE’s attorney, Alan Katz, sent two letters in May, 2002, one to attorneys at CSUN and a second to Schneider and White, claiming that ONE Institute & Archives (the new name for the organization) was the rightful owner of all of the materials, including the file cabinets that John O’Brien himself had admitted in his April 3, 1997 Executive Director’s Report to ONE’s Board of Directors that Schneider (there misnamed Don) had purchased.
Incredibly, O’Brien’s report to ONE also stated that he and another librarian had secretly removed valuable materials from the HIC after Slater’s passing, without Schneider’s knowledge or permission.
With ONE Institute’s threat of lawsuit pending against HIC, CSUN became reluctant to proceed with a proposed agreement whereby the HIC collection would be archived with the Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection on Sex and Gender, in the Special Collections section of their library. ONE’s letter also meant that CSUN’s faculty could not assist in the processing of the materials, as had been planned. For the past three years (as of this writing), ONE Institute & Archives has prolonged the issue and refused to retract its claim, though the lawsuit it had threatened has never materialized. 1
A Life Well Lived
Since joining the homosexual movement in 1959, Jim Schneider has seen more than his share of ups and downs. He has been welcomed in and then cast out of ONE twice, first by Dorr Legg’s faction and then more recently by ONE Institute & Archives. Yet through it all, his dedication to the preservation of the history of the homosexual movement has been constant and unwavering.
Those who have worked with him the longest know Schneider to be a true team player, loyal to the cause and equally dedicated to the movement as many of its better-known pioneers.
And who knows? Had the leaders of ONE listened to Schneider’s prophetic warnings and attempts at reconciliation, Los Angeles might have remained the focal point of emergent gay culture into the 1970s and ’80s, whereas the better-orchestrated organizations in San Francisco and New York stole the limelight.
Text by C. Todd White as adapted from his chapter on Jim Schneider published in Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historic Contexts (Vern L. Bullough, editor, Haworth Press, 2002).
This page was created by C. Todd White from information gathered while researching his doctoral dissertation, Out of Many… A Social History of the Homosexual Rights Movement. Dr. G. Alexander Moore was director of White’s dissertation committee, in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.
This document was first posted on Tangents Online on November 12, 2003.
- At last, in 2006, an agreement between HIC and CSUN was secured, and most of HIC’s rare books and documents are now stored there, safe in Oviatt Library and available to the public. ↩