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The Animus Amicus: Archive Activism and Marriage Equality

Mattachine Society

Note: This article first appeared at Huffington Post. 

BY: PETER MONTGOMERY

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of state laws that ban same-sex couples from getting married. The historic case has attracted a widearray of amicus briefs; People For the American Way Foundation joined religious and civil rights groups on a brief urging the Court to reject discriminatory marriage bans and challenging “religious liberty” arguments opposing marriage equality.

One fascinating brief was filed by the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.  The original group by that name was led by Frank Kameny, an astronomer who was fired from his federal job for being gay and led some of the earliest gay-rights protests in the nation’s capital in the 1960s. The name and legacy have been revived by local activists Charles Francis and Pate Felts for the purpose of documenting decades of systematic anti-gay discrimination by the federal government. In partnership with pro bono attorneys from the firm of McDermott Will & Emery, the new Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. is engaged in strategic “archive activism.” They are using the Freedom of Information Act to unearth a “culture of animus” that permeated the U.S. Civil Service Commission – now known as the Office of Personnel Management – and to bring to public light previously closed records about investigations challenging workers’ “loyalty” and “suitability.”

Civil service commission“The investigation and firing of gay and lesbian federal employees was like shooting fish in a barrel for the General Counsels and legal staff of the Civil Service Commission,” says Francis. “The animus, almost sports-like in their writings, is documented in decades of legal advisory files we discovered this year at the National Archives.”

Among the historical tidbits unearthed by the project: Nancy Reagan turning down a plea from a dying Rock Hudson for help getting into another hospital; and anti-gay activist Gary Bauer’s no-holds-barred, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort to keep the White House from including a gay person on the nation’s first AIDS commission.

The Mattachine Society’s project is about preserving the historical record, but it also has an important legal purpose, which is demonstrating that anti-equality laws and regulations have long been grounded in hostility, or animus, that is not a permissible justification for discrimination.  Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent from the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, demonstrates the importance of this archival work. Roberts suggested there is insufficient evidence – he waved it away as “snippets of legislative history” – to demonstrate that DOMA’s purpose was to “codify malice.” Added Roberts, “I would not tar the political branches with the brush of bigotry.”

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What Occupy Wall Street Can Learn From Gay Pride

Stonewall1969

With Occupy Wall Street and Gay Pride set to intermingle this weekend, Linda Hirshman at The New Yorker takes some time to compare and contrast the two movements.

She writes that Occupy Wall Street, with its flash mobs and loose central message, could learn a thing or two about the Stonewall Rebellion, an event she notes was just one of many "gay-bar pushbacks."

What made Stonewall so special is the fact that activists from the relatively  timid Mattachine Society hadn't reorganized themselves into the more radical Gay Liberation Front and made a conscious effort to construct a solid message and action.

If not for [Oscar Wilde Books owner Craig] Rodwell, and the Mattachine’s President, Dick Leitsch, two nights of rioting might have been the end. In the previous five years, two similar uprisings in California had come to naught. But the day after Stonewall, a Sunday, teams of activists spread out around the neighborhood, distributing manifestos (“The Hairpin Drop Heard Round the World”). Unlike Occupy Wall Street, the gay activists had a clear list of demands. “Get the Mafia out of the bars,” the leaflets proclaimed. “No more police raids.”

Over the next few months, as the G.L.F. met and debated whether anyone is free until everyone is free and other movement-destroying rabbit holes familiar to the followers of Occupy Wall Street, Rodwell, the bookstore owner, decided to plan a march to commemorate the event on the fourth Sunday in June a year later. Call it the Pride Parade. There have been many gay parades since 1970, but at that time it was a revolutionary notion—that gay people would come out of the closet and into a parade all at once.

Hirshman goes on to say that part of Stonewall's success was the fact that it was simple, rather than involving heady, easily disorganized actions: "[Rodwell] he did not have to get everyone to agree on some lofty mission or to mass in front of a dozen banks to protest everything everybody did wrong, as Occupy did to so little effect on May Day this year. Just come out, as the old gay slogan said. And so they did."


Silver Lake Steps Dedicated to Pioneering Gay Rights Group 'Mattachine Society' on Harry Hay's 100th Birthday

Harryhay

The Cove Avenue steps have been renamed 'The Mattachine Steps' in honor of the pioneering gay rights group founded by Harry Hay and will be dedicated tomorrow on what would have been Hay's 100th birthday, Patch reports:

MattachinestepsAt 11 a.m. on Saturday, mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti will officially rededicate what we have long known as the Cove Avenue Steps. State senator Mike Gatto will also be join neighbors at the base of the stairs for the event. He'll present a proclamation honoring Hay, who many call "the father of the gay rights movement."

Karen Ocamb at LGBT POV has more:

A ceremony at the foot of the Cove Avenue Steps on Silver Lake Blvd. recognizing the site as a historic place by the City of Los Angeles. The dedication of “The Mattachine Steps” (which lead up to the house where pioneer gay activist Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society in 1950) will be followed by a Radical Faerie-hosted picnic in an adjoining park overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir (east side). Then, at 2:30, a book signing and reading of Stuart Timmon’s newly updated biography “The Trouble with Harry Hay” at nearby Stories bookstore, 1716 Sunset Blvd. (in Echo Park).


Home of Frank Kameny and Meeting Place for D.C. Mattachine Society Listed in National Historic Register

Kameny

The home of pioneering LGBT rights activist Frank Kameny, which in February 2009 was declared a District of Columbia Historic Landmark, has now been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, according to an announcement from the National Park Service:

KamenyIn 1961 Kameny co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, an organization committed, through activism to achieving equal social and legal rights for homosexuals. Through lobbying of government officials, testifying before congressional committees, bringing court challenges, and picketing the White House, Kameny and his allies pressured the U.S. Civil Service Commission to eventually abandon its policy of denying homosexuals federal employment. Kameny led efforts to remove homosexuality as a basis for denying government security clearances. He was also involved in the first legal challenge to the U.S. military’s policy of discharging gay and lesbian service members, including the much-publicized case of gay Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich. Kameny played a leading role in attacking the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) definition of homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1973, the APA voted to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders. In 1998, President Clinton signed an Executive Order banning discrimination in federal employment based upon sexual orientation.

For years, Dr. Kameny’s residence at 5020 Cathedral Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC, served as a meeting place, archives, informal counseling center, headquarters of the Mattachine Society, and a safe haven for visiting gay and lesbian activists. It was here that Dr. Franklin E. Kameny developed the civil rights strategies and tactics that have come to define the modern gay rights movement. 

Kameny died in October at the age of 86.


Silver Lake Stairway to be Renamed to Honor Gay Activist Harry Hay

Harryhay

The long Cove Avenue Stairway in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles sits adjacent to the location of the first meetings of the early gay rights organization Mattachine Society at the home of pioneering gay activist Harry Hay. The stairs will be renamed to honor Hay and a plaque will be installed at the site following a meeting of the local community board, according to Eastsider LA.

"The motion was adopted unanimously by the Governing Board" at Wednesday night's meeting.


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