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social sciences

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Homophile Movement, U. S.  
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At the same time, however, at least partially in response to the oppressive political climate, the 1950s also spawned the beginnings of a gay and lesbian political movement that would gradually achieve increased visibility.

Mattachine Society

Three of the men who founded the Mattachine Society in 1951--Harry Hay, Chuck Rowland, and Robert Hull--possessed organizing skills from their previous involvement in the Communist Party. Because public exposure could result in job loss or worse, they emulated the party's secretive top-down structure in which the leadership was not known to its members, a structure also modeled in part on the Freemasons. Mattachine's original governance scheme comprised five tiers, called "orders." Hay envisioned Mattachine as a militant, mass organization controlled by a secret leadership.

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That same year Donald Webster Cory (pseudonym of Edward Sagarin), in The Homosexual in America, asserted that homosexuals constituted an authentic minority group. This position, previously articulated by German writer Kurt Hiller, reinforced Hay's vision of an emergent "ethical homosexual culture." It provided a theoretical foundation for Mattachine that prefigured the identity politics of later decades.

A contingent led by Hal Call, troubled that the founders' former Communist ties made Mattachine vulnerable to McCarthyite investigations, pressured the original leadership to resign at a pair of membership meetings in the spring of 1953. With these resignations, the organization's focus shifted from political reform to advocating that homosexuals attempt to conform to (or at least accommodate) socially acceptable norms and seek advice from psychiatric experts. Its secretive cell structure changed to a standard open membership.

Mattachine won its first legal action in 1952 when it challenged a police entrapment incident.

The organization also provided subjects for Evelyn Hooker's research, which would ultimately debunk the psychiatric model of homosexuality as mental illness, and fostered a sense of fellowship in a non-sexualized context.

In 1953, its members founded ONE Magazine, a publication separate from Mattachine itself, which published until 1972. In 1955, the organization established Mattachine Review, a journal that focused on culture and history and took a more moderate position on civil rights issues than ONE Magazine.

Daughters of Bilitis

The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) was founded in San Francisco in 1955 as a discussion and social group for lesbians. Its founders, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and three other couples, had no knowledge of Mattachine when they began meeting to establish a safe alternative to the bar scene. They soon discovered their male counterpart and the two organizations often worked on joint events but as separate entities.

DOB's leadership recognized that some of Mattachine's concerns, such as fighting police entrapment in cruising areas, did not address the needs of most lesbians. They also realized that the women's fewer numbers, and the men's condescension toward lesbians, could compromise DOB's autonomy. Therefore, DOB's constitution, while allowing collaborative efforts, prohibited structural affiliations with other groups.

Like Mattachine, DOB promoted conformance with mainstream values, a stance alienating to blue-collar and masculine-appearing lesbians. But as a support group DOB aided the personal journeys of individual lesbians, and through its monthly magazine The Ladder reached many otherwise isolated women.

ONE Magazine

Another resource from this period, ONE Magazine--largely edited and staffed by Mattachine members but separate from it--continued to challenge the status quo even after Mattachine's retreat into accommodation. Contributing writers examined homosexuality as a socially-cohesive identity. They blasted police harassment, evaluated methods for combating prejudice, and debated topics such as cross-dressing and role-playing.

The most significant victory of the early homophile movement was the result of ONE Magazine's legal challenge to the Los Angeles postmaster's 1954 refusal to mail the publication on the grounds that the magazine was "obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy."

The seizure set the stage for a protracted court battle with significant consequences for the gay and lesbian movement. In 1956, a federal district court upheld the postmaster's action; the next year so did an appeals court, which characterized the magazine as "cheap pornography" simply because it discussed homosexuality.

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