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Manford, Morty (1950-1992)  
 
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New York City activist Morty Manford was present at the Stonewall uprising in 1969. Already involved in the nascent gay liberation movement, he devoted himself to the effort for glbtq rights with renewed zeal after witnessing such evidence of oppression.

Morty Manford was a lifelong New Yorker, born September 17, 1950 in Flushing, Queens, where his mother was an elementary school teacher and his father a dentist.

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At school Manford did extremely well academically and was well-liked by other students. His parents were therefore surprised when, at the age of fifteen, he asked to see a psychiatrist. The therapist scarcely addressed his homosexuality even though Manford was struggling to come to terms with his sexual orientation in a society where was routine.

Manford turned to a different psychiatrist, whom he found somewhat more helpful, although he was displeased that the doctor informed his parents about his homosexuality without his consent.

Jeanne Manford, who had already guessed the truth, was immediately accepting, but Jules Manford was initially concerned that "he hadn't raised [his son] properly." Once the family was able to speak openly and honestly together, however, and especially after Manford felt free to bring home gay friends to visit with him and his parents, Dr. Manford became supportive as well.

Manford graduated from Bayside High School in 1968 and enrolled at Columbia University. The previous spring he had read about the college's official recognition of the Student League, the country's first gay student organization, and was eager to join the group, whose struggle to gain recognition was an early victory for gay activism. He was not particularly impressed with the group, however, and he sought other venues in which to associate with other gay men.

As he recalled in an interview published in Eric Marcus's Making History (1992), "My gay life pretty much revolved around going to the bars, even though there was always the threat of bar raids . . . . The Stonewall was my favorite place."

A regular patron, Manford was there on the night of the infamous police raid in June 1969. He was among the men whom the police ordered to leave the building, but, like many others, he remained outside on Christopher Street to watch as events unfolded. The ejected customers were joined by a growing crowd of curious passersby. Manford was still present when the melee began and the Tactical Police Force arrived, but he left soon afterward. He had observed the rioting rather than taking part; nevertheless, he called the experience "a very emotional turning point for me."

On the Fourth of July, Manford traveled to Philadelphia to walk in a picket line in front of Independence Hall in what was then an annual demonstration for gay and lesbian rights--the "Annual Reminder" organized in 1965 by Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and other pioneering gay and lesbian activists. Back at home that night, he began feeling despondent over a romantic relationship that had gone badly, and he attempted suicide by taking a large number of tranquilizers that his psychiatrist had prescribed. His parents found him and quickly got him to a hospital.

Although the disappointment in romance may have been the precipitating event, Manford told Marcus that the reasons for his suicide attempt were actually more complex: "I think that all of my own conflict [about accepting his sexual orientation] was starting to come to the surface . . . . The struggle was still going on."

He went on to note that he later met other young gay people who had also attempted suicide because of the societal stigma placed upon them. Such a sense of marginalization continues to plague many glbtq youth, and in response, a number of organizations in various countries have established support services and telephone help-lines to counsel young people in distress.

In the spring of 1970, Manford attended a meeting of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) and was inspired by the group's commitment to working to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians. He became a member of the Columbia branch of the GAA, which, he recalled, "tried to make demonstrations fun and campy, and enjoyable, as well as making sure they had a serious impact."

Shortly thereafter, Manford was arrested for the first time. He and a friend were sitting on some steps on Christopher Street when a police offer ordered them to move along. Believing that the command was directly related to their being in a gay enclave, the young men refused, and they were taken to jail. Allowed a couple of phone calls, they contacted Bella Abzug, then a candidate for congress, who had appeared at a GAA meeting to express her support for the cause of gay rights. Abzug sent a lawyer to represent them in court the next morning. The attorney successfully argued that the men had been arrested merely because they were gay, and the case was dismissed.

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