The Early Days in Washington, DC
On Tuesday, January 17, 1961, I left Detroit's Michigan Central Station at 5 pm aboard a special Baltimore and Ohio train with five other young Democrats bound for John Fitzgerald Kennedy's inauguration.
I had turned 19 on December 26, 1960 and had just come out as a gay man on New Year's eve in downtown Toledo, Ohio in a wonderful gay bar called "The Scenic." The previous Sunday afternoon at this Toledo club, the bartender gave me the names of two gay bars in Washington. After arriving in the District, I attended the Young Democratic Inaugural Ball at the Mayflower Hotel on Wednesday evening, January 18. Later that evening, I left the ball and went by cab to the first of these bars, "The Pink Elephant" in the Harrington Hotel where I saw my first color television set and then to "Carols" on 9th Street, NW.
The following evening at 6 pm, Washington experienced the "Great Inaugural Snow.” About 11 pm that night, I went into a coffee shop called the Copper Skillet at Connecticut Avenue at N Street where I discovered there were numerous young gay men. I introduced myself to two of them, Douglas Tate and Jim Trice, and got invited to my first gay party at their apartment house at 1731 New Hampshire Avenue, NW now the Carlyle Suites Hotel. I had such a wonderful time in Washington that my friend, Dennis Wrynn, had to talk me into going home late on Saturday afternoon, January 21.
In April 1961, I saw a full page ad in The Detroit News promoting a number of books. One of the books was Donald Webster Cory's 1951 book, The Homosexual in America, A Subjective Approach. On my day off from work, I took the Lake Shore Line bus to downtown Detroit to buy the book. When reading Cory's book, I discovered there was a gay-rights movement.
I also brought a novel that spring, Allen Drury's 1959 Advise and Consent. Drury's story was about the US Senate, but its lead character was Brigham M. Anderson, senior Senator from Utah. Anderson had a homosexual experience while in the army during World War II and was a closeted gay man.
During June 1961, I returned to Washington for a week's vacation. After having lunch on a Thursday with Doug Tate in Farragut Square, I went into a bookstore where I brought another book, Jesse Stern's 1961 nonfictionThe Sixth Man, A Startling Investigation of the Spread of Homosexuality in America. While Stern displayed a contempt toward gays and lesbians, the book helped educate me and others about gay people.
On Thursday, December 28, 1961 – after careful consideration – I moved to Washington just two days into my 20th year. One of three major gay bars then in Washington was the Chicken Hut on the southside of H Street between 17th and 18th Streets, NW
There, on Sunday evening, February 25, 1962, I met Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, who had founded the gay rights movement in Washington the previous year and was president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the District's first gay rights group. Frank invited me to attend the next Mattachine Society meeting on the first Tuesday in March at an apartment on Harvard Street. NW
At that next meeting, Tuesday, April 3, 1962, I was elected to its board of directors and became the only minor then in the US involved in the tiny gay rights movement, which consisted of no more than 150 people.
But my most important experience at the Chicken Hut occurred on Friday evening, March 30, 1962 when I met Stephen Brent Miller, who became my partner just two months later and remained so until his death at George Washington University Hospital on Sunday, July 18, 2004 at 7:10 pm. Stephen was then just 19 and working in the Capitol Building for the House Appropriations Committee; and was attending Stenotype Institute of Washington to learn to become a stenotype court reporter.
On the first Saturday in April 1963, I traveled with Frank and others to Philadelphia for the planning meeting for the first East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) Conference which was held at Philadelphia's Drake Hotel on Walnut Street in September 1963. After the meeting that Saturday, I left with Bruce Scott, who was the Society's secretary in his blue Corvair for Manhattan where we stayed in his friend's apartment.
Late on Sunday afternoon, we drove home and stopped in Philadelphia at Barbara Gittings' apartment to pick up Frank. The late Barbara Gittings was the Frank Kameny of Philadelphia. A series of incidents happened to us on our drive home. In spring 1970, I wrote a 26-page short story, All The Way Home. My story relates Kameny's lonely struggle against the federal government, especially against the US Civil Service Commission, as well as Bruce Scott's experience. Scott also lost his job with the federal government because of his sexual orientation.
The 1963 ECHO Conference had a special significance in the development of the gay-rights movement. The banquet speaker that Saturday evening was a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Albert Ellis. He arrived with a young woman on his arm and proceeded to tell his audience that all homosexuals were mentally ill. His speech began a ten-year struggle with the American Psychiatric Association. The APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual then defined homosexuality as a mental illness. (But the movement, under Kameny's leadership, was successful in persuading APA to reverse its position on December 15, 1973.)
On Saturday, April 17, 1965, I, along with Kameny and eight others, participated in the world's first demonstration for gay-rights in front of The White House. That morning I prepared a poster, which read, "Fifteen Million US Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment." You can see Jack Nichols holding that poster in the photo above. Frank Kameny is marching just behind Jack. (photo courtesy UPI/Corbis-Bettmann) Gay men and lesbians were then still prohibited from federal employment.
On Friday evening, January 19, 1971, I held an organizational meeting in my apartment at 240 M Street, SW to run Kameny as an openly gay candidate for the city's non-voting delegate to Congress. I became Frank's campaign manager. On the February morning that we held a press conference to announce Frank's candidancy, I got up and turned on the radio in my apartment. I heard this voice say that "a new candidate today will swish into the political arena."
That morning, Frank said before numerous television cameras that "Queen Victoria is dead and the Pilgrims are long gone!" On Monday, March 22, the campaign received a $500 check from Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1956 for her performance in Three Faces of Eve. The next day, election day, Frank received 1,888 votes and placed fourth among six candidates. But in precinct 89 on Capitol Hill, Frank had 11%, in Foggy Bottom he won 8% and in Dupont Circle he had 5%.
Frank's campaign was the beginning of gay political influence in Washington. Frank also ran ahead of the Rev. Douglas Moore, who was the black power candidate, who received about 1,200 votes and was very anti-gay. TIME Magazine, in its review of the campaign, wrote, “…gay power beat black power." But the campaign's most important development was that for the first time the public and the media began seeing gay people not as individual homosexuals but as "the gay community."
The campaign got 7,800 signatures of registered DC voters to put Frank on the ballot and raised $7,500 to finance the campaign; that was a lot a money for a campaign back then.
In April 1971, we used the $500 to travel to New York to meet with Gay Activists Alliance of New York to form Gay Activists Alliance of Washington. The other members of my staff, Clifton Witt, Tony Jackubosky, Joel Martin, David Livingston, and Jim McClard, traveled with me. The decision to form GAA was made in New York
The major decision that we made was to exclude Frank Kameny from GAA's leadership, because the movement then was perceived as just Frank Kameny. Frank, who was not invited to come to New York, complained to me about our decision to exclude him from GAA's leadership by saying, "I am not going to put be out to pasture!" Later, Frank accepted the decision and never again held a leadership role.
Of course, Frank remains the father of the GLBT movement in the district.