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Sagarin, Edward (Donald Webster Cory) (1913-1986)  
 
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Edward Sagarin is the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde of the American movement. As Donald Webster Cory, he was the author of influential books that prepared the stage for the gay liberation movement; as Dr. Edward Sagarin, Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the City University of New York, he was the movement's great apostate.

Early Life

Sagarin was born in Schenectadty, New York on September 18, 1913 to Russian-immigrant, Jewish parents. His mother died when he was five years old. When his father remarried, the family relocated to New York City, where Sagarin was to reside for the rest of his life.

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From birth, Sagarin suffered from scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, which produced a noticeable hump on his back. This mark of difference no doubt made Sagarin sensitive to the misfortunes and stigmas suffered by others and may help account for the academic interest he would later develop in social deviants of all kinds, from homosexuals and dwarfs to schizophrenics and anti-war protesters.

After Sagarin graduated from high school, he spent a year in France, where he met André Gide and perfected his French. Upon his return, he enrolled at City College of New York, but with the Great Depression he was soon forced to drop out of college.

In 1934, Sagarin met Gertrude Liphshitz, a young woman from a large Orthodox Jewish family, who shared his left-wing political interests. Despite Sagarin's sexual attraction to men, they married in 1936 and soon produced their only child.

Sagarin supported his family by holding a variety of jobs, but eventually established himself in the perfume and cosmetics industry, becoming something of an expert on the chemistry of perfumes.

Donald Webster Cory, Homophile Activist

In 1951, Sagarin published The Homosexual in America: A Subjective Approach, under the name Donald Webster Cory, a pseudonym chosen to allude to Gide's Corydon. Although published by a small and somewhat disreputable press, Greenberg, The Homosexual in America was the first widely read non-fiction book in the United States to present knowledgeably and sympathetically the plight of the homosexual as told from the inside rather than the outside.

Although conceived independently of the Kinsey report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), and a more personal and anecdotal work, Cory's book benefited from the recent publication of Kinsey's findings, which had reassured gay men and lesbians in the late 1940s that they were not alone, that they in fact belonged to a group of considerable size.

Cory went beyond the scientific detachment and dry statistics of the Kinsey report to provide a sense of what it meant to be a homosexual in 1950s America. Moreover, he argued more boldly than anyone previously for the rights of homosexuals as a group. He described the persecution and discrimination visited upon homosexuals in almost all aspects of their lives, considered (though he did not dispute) the "sickness" theories of homosexuality, and indicated the vast diversity of homosexuals.

Most significantly, in The Homosexual in America, Cory presented homosexuals as a despised minority. "We are a minority," he declared, "not only numerically, but also as a result of a caste-like system in society . . . our minority status is similar, in a variety of respects, to that of national, religious, and other ethnic groups; in the denial of civil liberties; in the legal, extra-legal and quasi-legal discrimination; in the assignment of an inferior social position; in the exclusion from the mainstreams of life and culture. . . . On the other hand, one great gap separates the homosexual minority from all others, and that is its lack of recognition, its lack of respectability in the eyes of the public, and even in the most advanced circles."

In his conclusion, Cory struck a visionary note: "In the millions who are silent and submerged, I see a potential, a reservoir of protest, a hope for a portion of mankind. And in my knowledge that our number is legion, I raise my head high and proclaim that we, the voiceless millions, are human beings, entitled to breathe the fresh air and enjoy, with all humanity, the pleasures of life and love on God's green earth."

Cory, thus, called for the change of consciousness and the collective response among homosexuals that would not fully materialize until after the Stonewall riots of 1969.

The book was a tremendous success. The Homosexual in America was reprinted several times in the 1950s and translated into French and Spanish. It was particularly popular among members of the budding homophile movement of the day and immediately made Cory a hero in homophile circles.

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