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social sciences

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Los Angeles  
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The Modern Gay Movement Is Born in Los Angeles: 1947-1959

After the war, Hollywood gay entertainment venues continued to thrive despite an increasingly conservative political climate. The Café Gala was sold and after 1948 featured the African-American cabaret star Bobby Short, among many others. Later in the 1950s on the Strip, lesbian singer Frances Faye appeared with close-cropped hair always dyed a different color. To the delight of her fans, she riffed her famous intro, "Frances Faye gay gay gay."

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While Los Angeles's entertainment industries afforded the possibility of living, if only vicariously, a flamboyant gay life, after World War II many gay men and lesbians in more mundane circumstances sought to communicate with each other and to explore the particular issues and problems they faced in an increasingly society. Fortunately, by the late 1940s glbtq people had the opportunity for much more contact with others like themselves.

Indeed, the modern glbtq civil rights movement was born in Los Angeles during the 1950s with the establishment of the first lasting U.S. glbtq publications and organizations. The formation of these organizations made possible the emergence of the movement in the United States.

In 1947, Vice Versa, a newsletter featuring reviews, articles, and editorials on lesbian life, was created in Los Angeles by a secretary who still prefers not to use her real name. The name she later chose was Lisa Ben, an anagram of lesbian. She called her writing for women "America's gayest magazine," the first written by lesbians and for lesbians. She produced only nine issues of Vice Versa, typing two originals of each with carbons. She learned that she could not mail them and even had difficulty distributing them by hand in lesbian bars such as the If Club.

The first lasting U.S. gay organization was the Mattachine Foundation (later Society), which met in secret in 1950. It was the concept in 1948 of actor, lecturer, and Communist Party member Harry Hay. His ideas had a long gestation and derived from his education, his experiences with lovers such as actor Will Geer, Los Angeles-born composer John Cage, and other Echo Park and Silver Lake leftists and bohemians.

Hay's founding of the Mattachine was supported by his lover, then dancer and later fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (not identified in early histories of the Society), an émigré from Austria. The two are depicted in a now famous photograph along with founders and early members Dale Jennings, Stan Witt, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, and Paul Bernard. Hay felt that homosexuals were a minority deserving of the same consideration and respect accorded other minorities in a nation of minorities.

At the October 15, 1952 Los Angeles Mattachine meeting at the home of Dorr Legg, some members met as a caucus to discuss creating a magazine. Martin Block was a Jewish activist who had also worked for Marcel Rodd, a gay Hollywood publisher who had reissued a work by Isherwood among other books. On November 29, 1952, at Block's Studio Bookshop in Hollywood, the caucus voted to incorporate as a California non-profit body.

Block was elected president of ONE, Inc., Dale Jennings, vice president, Don Slater, secretary, and Dorr Legg, business manager. Those signing the articles of incorporation were Block, Jennings, and Antonio Reyes. Also in this first group were the African Americans Merton Bird and Bailey Whitaker, using the name Guy Rousseau. Whitaker supplied the organization's title from a sentence in British essayist Thomas Carlyle's essay on Goethe, "A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one."

ONE, the Mattachine, and the Los Angeles chapter of the lesbian homophile group, the Daughters of Bilitis (founded in San Francisco in 1955, with a Los Angeles chapter formed in 1958), together constituted an attempt to create an organized gay and lesbian community that could seek redress to the discrimination and humiliation faced by homosexuals throughout the United States.

William Lambert Dorr Legg would become the driving force behind ONE. He and Merton Bird, an interracial couple, had founded Knights of the Clock in 1950, a co-sexual and interracial group that never had many members. ONE was the first U.S. gay organization to open a public office, which it did in downtown Los Angeles in November 1953, and Legg as business manager was the first paid ($25 a week) employee of the nascent civil rights movement.

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