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social sciences

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Manford, Morty (1950-1992)  
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The incident was minor, but making the stand assertively was an important step for Manford. "If we had turned and walked away when the police told us to walk away, we wouldn't have felt right about ourselves," he recounted.

In 1971 Manford took a leave of absence from Columbia to work for gay and lesbian rights. His home base remained New York, but he, along with another GAA member, also went on an organizing tour through fifteen cities in the South, where they almost never found any glbtq associations but did encounter an interesting array of people, from "a couple of wonderful men down in New Orleans" to a "very nice, but kooky" man in Charlotte, North Carolina, who put together a potluck gathering attended by, among others, an eighty-year-old woman.

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The experience opened Manford's eyes not only to the diversity of the glbtq community but also to the need for a visible presence in areas other than major urban centers like New York and Los Angeles. "It was so important to go into a place where nothing was happening yet," he stated, adding that "groups emerged very fast in some of those places" after the organizing tour. The GAA offered ongoing support for their efforts.

Manford continued leading demonstrations in New York in the quest for equal rights. These included several confrontations with the mayor, John Lindsay, after incidents of police brutality and harassment of gay men.

In April 1972, to protest homophobic comments in newspapers, the GAA staged a demonstration at the Inner Circle dinner and comedy show, an annual event hosted by the New York press for civic and business leaders. At intermission, a GAA member seized the microphone and spoke briefly while others distributed leaflets. A scuffle ensued, and seven GAA members, including Manford, were injured.

Michael Maye, the president of the Uniformed Fire Fighters Association, was identified as Manford's assailant and brought to trial. Witnesses who had attended the Inner Circle event testified that Maye had punched, kicked, and "ground his shoe into [Manford's] groin area a number of times" while Manford was already prostrate on an escalator that was carrying him downward. One witness stated that Manford "seemed to be semiconscious" at the time.

On the stand, Maye denied assaulting Manford. He described himself both as "temperamentally incapable of committing such violence" and as a former national Golden Gloves boxing champion and "professional combat soldier" who "could kill a man" if he attacked him in the way described.

In spite of the testimony of the eye-witnesses to the beating, Maye was acquitted in July 1972. Nevertheless, the publicity generated by the affair brought attention to the problems of gay bashing, police harassment, and government indifference to the mistreatment of homosexuals.

The Manfords were outraged by the attack on their son, and Jeanne Manford wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Post decrying the fact that police officers had stood by and allowed it to happen. When the story was picked up by the New York Times, her principal asked her to be "more discreet" because parents were complaining. Jeanne Manford staunchly defended her right to speak freely, and the principal demurred.

Both Jeanne and Jules Manford began to speak to even wider audiences. They and their son were invited to appear on a television show in Boston shortly after the letter to the editor was published. Radio and television stations in other cities sought them out as well, and the Manfords--sometimes with their son, and sometimes by themselves--traveled to venues including New Orleans, Detroit, and Toronto to speak out against discrimination.

In June 1972 Jeanne Manford marched alongside her son in the Christopher Street Liberation Day parade, carrying a sign that read "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children."

"No one else got the loud emotional cheers that she did," recalled Morty Manford proudly.

When young people along the parade route began rushing up to her, kissing her, and imploring her to talk to their parents, she realized the need for a support group for families. The opportunity to start one came a short while later when she mentioned the idea to a fellow panelist--a then-closeted Methodist minister--at a discussion sponsored by the Homosexual Community Counseling Service, and he offered the use of his church for meetings.

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