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Jennings, William Dale (1917-2000)  
 
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Editor and author Dale Jennings was a pioneer of the American gay rights movement, one of the co-founders of both the Mattachine Society and ONE, Inc.

William Dale Jennings was born in Amarillo, Texas on October 21, 1917, but while he was just an infant his family moved to Denver, Colorado, where he resided until graduating from high school. He then settled in southern California to pursue a career in theater.

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Jennings established a company, Theatre Caravan, for which he wrote and produced about sixty plays. The enterprise did not earn him much money, but he was gaining a reputation as a rising star in the theater.

World War II intervened to halt his budding career. Jennings joined the United States Army in 1942 and served in the Pacific theater of operations. He was honorably discharged in 1946, having earned several medals and a bronze star.

Jennings subsequently spent two years at the University of Southern California, studying film and theater. Wary of the tenor of the times, he attempted to conform to heterosexist norms. He married three times, but all these unions were of short duration and quickly annulled.

In late 1950 Jennings became part of the nascent movement when his lover at the time, Robert Hull, brought him to a meeting with Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, and Charles Rowland. Their discussion group gradually grew and was organized as the Mattachine Foundation the following year. The name was changed to the Mattachine Society in 1953.

Mattachine members were ritually inducted into what was of necessity essentially a secret society in that era. An already hostile climate had been exacerbated by a December 1950 report by a United States Senate subcommittee declaring homosexuals a threat to national security. Given these circumstances, wrote Dudley Clendinen in the New York Times, Jennings's "courage made him a permanent icon and the infant movement's first hero . . . when he was arrested in Los Angeles on a sexual solicitation charge [in 1952] and decided to publicly contest it in court."

Jennings had stopped at a public restroom and been followed home by a "big rough-looking character" who Jennings thought might be intent on robbing him. When he finally reached his apartment, the pursuer forced his way inside.

Jennings reported that he refused to comply when the man, an undercover vice squad officer, suggested a sexual encounter; nevertheless, he was arrested for solicitation.

From jail, Jennings called Hay, who bailed him out and encouraged him to take the unprecedented step of going to court rather than pleading guilty at once so that the charge would escape public attention. The Mattachine Foundation established the Citizens Committee to Outlaw Entrapment to raise funds for Jennings's defense.

At trial, Jennings acknowledged his homosexuality but forcefully declared that he was not guilty of the alleged offense. After nearly forty hours of deliberation, the jury reported that it was hopelessly deadlocked, with eleven members in favor of acquittal while one hold-out announced his intention to continue voting for conviction "until hell froze over."

The district attorney's office decided against a retrial and dropped the charges several days later.

The outcome of the case had no apparent effect on the policies and tactics of the vice squad, but it gave hope to gay men. Membership in Mattachine increased, and similar groups were formed, mostly in California.

Although Jennings owed much to Mattachine, he disagreed with its leader, Hay, on various points of philosophy and strategy, and so he left the organization in late 1952 to become--along with Donald Slater, W. Dorr Legg, Martin Block, and Tony Reyes--one of the founders of ONE, Incorporated, which took its name from a line by British writer Thomas Carlyle: "a mystic bond of brotherhood that makes all men one."

Jennings served as editor-in-chief of the society's fledgling journal, ONE Magazine, and also penned articles. Like several others, he used pseudonyms for some of his writings to foster the impression that the number of contributors was higher than was actually the case.

Todd White describes Jennings's articles in ONE as "pointed and angry" and tending to invite controversy. This approach did not sit well with ONE's business manager, Legg, who forced him off the editorial board in 1954.

Also in 1954, the Los Angeles postmaster seized and refused to mail copies of ONE on the grounds that the magazine was "obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy." The seizure led to a lengthy court battle with significant consequences for the gay and lesbian movement, when in 1958, long after Jennings had been forced out as editor, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the mere discussion of homosexuality was not obscene.

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