by Richard Conger and Sidney Rothman
Vol. 1 No. 11 • August 1966
The Second National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations met August 25–28 at the Bellevue Hotel in San Francisco.
It is interesting to note that “Richard Conger” is a pen name most often associated with William Lambert / W. Dorr Legg.
Any conference concerning the homophile movement in the United States, to say nothing of a closed one of homophile leaders like that held in San Francisco at the Bellevue Hotel the last of August, is sure to produce misunderstandings. This is partly because the concept of homosexuality itself—like that of democracy or morality—is so broad that it is interpreted variously by every homosexual. And, because, for many nonhomosexual Americans, their definitions of a homosexual movement and their views on what should be done about homosexuals in general are predetermined by the way they regard homosexuals and homosexuality in the first place.
“How can we define ‘homophile movement’? It is an organized effort toward common goals, deriving spontaneous and voluntary support from within our community,” says Society for Individual Rights (SIR) president William Beardemphl. But, he adds in the same breath, “There is not now, and never has been, a homophile movement…in the United States. What exists is a dream to have such a movement become a reality. What will keep us from the fulfillment of this dream? More of the destructive, aimless, self-deluding rubbish we permitted here this morning.”
Beardemphl delivered this opinion after the repeated defeat of all attempts to get the opening session of the second National Planning Conference under way on the morning of August 25, and also with the bitter knowledge of having lost at that point the purpose of the meeting to the inferiority complexes, the indifference, the dislikes and dissatisfactions, and the rhetorical illusions of the amply vocal delegates.
With two dozen organizations and three delegates from each in attendance, with three days in which to cover an agenda of over 20 controversial and debatable proposals—such as the idea for a “National Federation of Homophile Organizations”—there was clearly more room for misunderstanding than anything else.
The Bellevue is an old, unpretentious hotel. Its only distinction is that it is located just a block from the Glide Methodist Church. This latter institution is unique, however, in that it is not only the spiritual headquarters for the homophile movement in San Francisco, but it also offers physical shelter to the organization known as Vanguard, whose members are young and young adult hustlers, dope pushers, pillheads, transvestites, hair fairies—“the people of the street,” as it were. Vanguard has been in operation about four months, and concentrates its energies in helping these people from San Francisco’s Tenderloin area. Says Vanguard founder Jean-Paul Marat, a 22-year old high school graduate, himself an active hustler, dope pusher and user, “We have been rejected by the majority of society (including the middle-class homosexual) around us. So we had no choice but to form a group dedicated to self-improvement. We had only ourselves to trust. Surprisingly,” he adds, “we have gotten quite a bit of support from public agencies such as the police and health departments.” Vanguard had its representatives at the National Planning Conference.
Dressed in tight pants, loose shirts and long, often unruly hair, these young men blended with the well-dressed men and women who reflected a bourgeois urbanity that is not frequently associated with homosexuals. But inside and out of the hotel meeting room, a sufficiency of limp wrists and conscious, purposeful display attested to the fact that the homosexual had not lost all of his flavor and individuality. To the casual observer, the “obvious” homosexual might seem both exotic and baleful, but such reactions are of scant account. Of scant account also, it developed, were the reactions at the meeting of some of the more stolid, senior leaders of the movement, such as William Lambert.
Both Hal Call, president of the Mattachine Society, and William Lambert, one-time business manager of ONE, Inc., appeared disturbed at the comments of Beardemphl and of Clark Polak, president of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, of Philadelphia.
“What is most noteworthy about the pioneers of the movement,” said Polak, “is simply that they had the courage to exist and that they, no matter how feebly, helped keep alive the notion that the private sexual acts of consenting adults should not be considered criminal. That is all.” Beardemphl went further: “When SIR began, our first task was to resolve the enigma faced by all homosexual organizations in the past…. The situation was bogged down by personality conflicts, political domination, inwardness and lack of concern.
“When the so-called leaders said that no one could get homosexuals involved in an organization to better themselves and their societal position, they presented a believable description of social conditions…. It seemed that not much could be done. They kept repeating that everything had been tried and had failed. The so-called leaders said that another twenty years would pass before anyone could even consider an active membership organization of homosexuals.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this was less than two years ago.”
More than one “so-called” leader bristled to hear it, but younger enthusiastic hands applauded reassuringly. The contrast between the old attitude and the new at that San Francisco meeting was enormous. The old-line defiancy, the chip-on-the-shoulder mental attitude was tempered somewhat, true; but the old leaders of the homophile movement—hardened by over a decade of very bitter and vivid struggle—seemed skeptical of receiving charity from those who had been uncharitable.
By mid-afternoon of the opening day, conference chairman Dr. Clarence Colwell managed to get the discussion onto some of the questions for which the meeting had been called. There followed a series of resolutions and debates—and political maneuvers.
The first resolution was introduced by a clean-cut young man who wore a coat and tie throughout the three-day meeting. His name was Anthony Sexton, president of the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom, Kansas City. The Phoenix group was the offshoot of the first National Planning Conference. Therefore, Mr. Sexton was particularly eager to see that new homophile groups were formed—and that they had a place to turn for help. It was resolved, without defining too clearly how it would be done, that Phoenix would act as the center for the establishment of new organizations and that an appointed committee would supply them with the necessary data and information on forming new organizations.
Martin Stow, the next speaker, captured the undivided attention of the delegates with his paper outlining a suggestion that the American Association of University Professors be approached with the idea of making homosexuality a subject for university study. He believed a committee should be formed to make recommendations to college administrators on the basis of its findings. The motion carried.
The conference got bogged down unexpectedly in a lengthy discussion over the effectiveness of demonstrations in furthering the cause of homosexuals. Delegates and organizations that had not participated in the Armed Forces Day Protests of May 21, 1966, were indirectly chided by Del Martin of the Daughters of Bilitis for not having learned the advantages and need of national cooperation. The applause was approving. Reed Erickson, who variously described himself as being with the Institute for the Study of Human Resources or an independent organization called ONE in New York, was not fazed, however. Sporting a red Vandyke, redder hair, a blue coat and reassuringly clutching a blonde twice his height, he delicately pled for a more refined approach to homosexual goals. Beardemphl argued on the other hand that public demonstrations were healthy— that they were an invitation to all homosexuals to “come out of hiding and to follow their leaders without fear.” Reports from the various cities on the May 21 protests were generally favorable, and a display of photographs, handbills, news releases and other literature distributed during the Armed Forces Day campaigns seemed to support the contention.
What was the disagreement about? While nationwide unified demonstrations are undoubtedly effective, they take an awful lot of work. Many of the homophile groups do not have the time, the machinery nor the energy to participate in anything so vigorous. Also, many homosexuals, wittingly or unwittingly, want to avoid a collision with established social and legal bastions. They are not for a head-on approach in working for the rights of homosexuals. They fear there is a hardening attitude against public protests and openness of any kind.
The meeting room came alive when the next speaker, the Rev. Ron Olson of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, presented his views on the problems of responsibility and irresponsibility in the homophile movement. As soon as the stir subsided an odd thing happened. Two of the homophile leaders, Henry Hay (the oldest in years of service) and Jean-Paul Marat (the youngest), both urged to be heard in reply. Hay, of the Circle of Loving Companions, and one of the more colorful, enduring and up-to-date figures in the movement, waded right in and put the Reverend gentleman down firmly and almost harshly: “There is no room in the homophile movement for subjective, moralistic notions such as you have expressed.” Hay was applauded for that. He was right, and he was mercifully brief. Marat defended himself and his hustlers less effectively. Olson tried to clarify his stand, saying that his position as stated had been misunderstood. He quickly (but unsuccessfully) set about to clear up doubts.
Men like the next speaker on the program will never be catalysts for the homophile movement. The man has been and is a figure, surely, but neither he nor his organization have helped very many persons seeking to understand homosexuality.
Jerome Stevens was dressed in a blue business suit. He is the president of the National League for Social Understanding, located in Los Angeles. The League has been in existence for many years. Stevens is opposed to a militant, direct approach in the homophile movement; he does not favor demonstrations and he is opposed to federation among the homophile organizations. He gave a talk in favor of the use of “front organizations” to aid the work of the movement. “Reach out through recognized authorities, public and private agencies,” says Stevens. “Establish new groups who will serve to face the public.” Stevens is in favor of a multitude of diversified organizations pushing all different kinds of involvement in the movement. He is seeking equality for homosexuals. He would ask—at the same time—that some homosexuals “join together under heterosexual banners.”
Dr. Colwell patiently steered the meeting on.
It was resolved that an inter-organizational liaison—an information/publication clearinghouse be established. The Phoenix, group volunteered to act as the central clearinghouse for all materials, since its activities as organizational clearinghouse had already been accepted. The problem of financing such a project remained open, with a few organizations pledging a little financial support lo put the idea into operation.
Shirley Willer, president-elect of the Daughters of Bilitis, moved to establish a committee to study the problems of young people and homosexuality. She asked for the assistance of Vanguard. A progress report within six months and a final report to the next National Conference was suggested in the motion. With minor debate the motion carried.
PRIDE secretary Mike Kinghorn, who followed Miss Willer, is young (PRIDE is little older than Vanguard), eager and opinionated. As someone has said, “Kinghorn sometimes forgets that his name is not Tinhorn.” He returns always to his one preoccupation, the public image of the homophile movement and his personal abhorrence of child molestation. Standing in his leather jacket and motorcycle boots (PRIDE represents the boys in leather), Kinghorn recited his belief on the afternoon of the second day. He presented a motion drawn up by himself and Guy Strait, editor of San Francisco’s lively Citizens News, asking the conference to go on record as being opposed to child molestation. Basically the movement has shied away from the issuing of such pronouncements. There was lively debate on the motion, most of it concerned with the motivation underlying such a consideration. Many delegates objected to the proposal on the grounds that passage of the motion would demonstrate clearly the “Aunt Maryism” which the conference hoped to combat. An amendment was offered asking for endorsement of the principle that sexual acts between consenting adults, in private, was the criterion on which the movement was based. Kinghorn sought to recover lost ground, and agreed to reword his motion and present it the next day. But it never was passed.
The problem of how to get more persons involved in the movement was brought up by Roland Keith of Mattachine Midwest. Keith urged the conference to act in this regard. He suggested that the need seemed to exist for a task force which would delve into the ways of recruiting new members and workers for the homophile organizations. “If no one among the national membership is available or capable for such a job, I suggest that professional public relations personnel be engaged for the project,” he said. A motion to the effect, instituting a study of the possibilities, was offered and passed with no debate. Keith was appointed as study chairman.
The business sessions of the last day went fairly smoothly. The leaders of all the organizations, even while pursuing what they believed, realized that if they were to get anything out of the conference they had to maintain relations that were good enough to keep tensions at a low point. They began to see that what they saw as their own interests should not be the substance of conference disputes. And they saw too that there cannot and should not be two conflicting versions of what the homophile movement in the United States stands for without the movement suffering from an undermining of faith among its supporters.
In rapid succession the conference considered the need for the formal training of homophile leaders; considered the proposed draft of the articles of incorporation of a National Legal Fund (which work had been begun in Kansas City); accepted a statement as to the conference’s views on the need for revision of draft and enlistment laws concerning homosexuals, making available for draftees prepared material which would help them decide on how to answer existing questions of draft examinations and offering advice on related military and legal questions; and established a Credentials Committee to establish qualifications for organizations attending the next Planning Conference.
Conference delegates also unanimously reelected Dr. Colwell chairman of the conference for 1967.
Whether the three day meeting was a success in everyone’s eyes or not, much credit for the easing of the early tensions must go to the cooperative efforts of the hosting homophile organizations of San Francisco.
When the third National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations meets next year in Washington, D.C. (or Philadelphia, the alternate city) we will probably hear more of the same kinds of speeches and debates. The problem will be, again, how to sort out the substance from the nonsense.
How much telling weight do men like Call, Lambert and Stevens swing in the movement? Under given circumstances, will significant numbers of other leaders support their “old line” indirect approach? Or are Marat, Hay and Beardemphl, with their belief in concrete and unified action, closer to the prevailing mood? There are no precise answers.
The homophile movement is the reaction of homosexuals to centuries of frustration in heterosexual-bound societies, and while the majority of homosexual leaders will probably agree with Beardemphl, there is bitter disagreement over tactics. There are minorities within the minority pleading patience, counseling overt action.
The present scene, with its apparent chaos, should not be one thoughtful men and women interested in the homophile movement despair of, but it is one which will require a broader understanding. It is time to realize that we ought not dismiss what some men say simply because they eschew a coat and tie and wear their hair long in the manner of Oscar Wilde.
©1966, 2016 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.