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Geraldine Jackson

Geraldine Jackson (pseudonym), Los Angeles, October 31, 1976

 

Introduction: Geraldine Jackson was a Los Angeles-based activist whose involvement in the movement began with the early Mattachine Society, continued with the Daughters of Bilitis, and in the 1970s extended to organizing among LGBT teachers. Her recollections capture the excitement of those first years of the Mattachine Society, when it operated as a virtually secret organization. Jackson also highlights the unnamed sexism of the era, in which topics and discussions focused on the needs and experiences of men and often ignored the needs and experiences of women.

 

Interview:

Side #1A

Heard about Mattachine through ONE Magazine.  Heard about it in 1952.

Meetings of Mattachine held all over Los Angeles“a wide network”—most who went seemed to return—“there was also really nowhere else to go,”—“could say what you wanted to say and feel accepted… as if you had a family.”

Spirit was “tremendous”—“I’ll never have anything as exciting as the Mattachine.” “A pioneer movement,” “for once, people were able to bloom and be themselves. This was something we didn’t know before.”

Discussion topics: how did you find out about being gay?  How did you feel telling your parents?

“A certain pride about them,”—“we’re as good as they are”

Planning was done by guilds, with small nucleus. Invited by people who had observed you in meeting. Asked if you’d like to be a member. No one knew there were guilds until you were asked to join. Guilds planned and led discussion groups. Not imposed. If a discussion group member suggested a topic that was good, guild member would push it. “Not undemocratic. We were not grinding our own axes.”

“Mostly male, but a great number of women.” More women involved in those early days than later on. However, focus of discussion group most often on the male.

Attending not too long before asked to be a guild member. Approached by Dorr Legg who was already working for ONE Magazine.

Guild meetings: planning meetings, responsibility for certain Discussion Groups within a restricted geographic area. Discussion groups moved from house to house for security.

Discussion groups often had 40-50 people—meeting all over town. Guild had 8-12 members. Had responsibility for one discussion group. (Then says doesn’t remember if more than one or not.) Guild occasionally approached for other duties; but mainly planning for discussion groups.

Unclear to her whether there was a group higher than guild, but figures there must have been.

Mattachine eventually faded, weakened. Not as active in pushing discussion groups.

ONE Magazine—involved with ONE Mag. First wrote in 1st issue: article and also poetry—used name of Helen Ito.  “Very excited” about magazine. “A place where I and others can be heard.”  “It was like having roots.”

Daughters of Bilitis, LA: briefly president—but resigned after a couple of months—couldn’t afford to be public because of work: deputy probation officer for juvenile delinquency. Was announced that she’d have to be on TV and make her name public.  Remained active in DOB.

At start of DOB, also high morale and enthusiasm. An all-women’s organization was good. Too many men in Mattachine: topics went in male direction, needs, and interests. Women’s “brainwashing.” Lesbian had problems “of being women” too.  In Mattachine, “they didn’t feel really welcome.”

Activities: discussion topics, speakers from outside, dances, fundraising activities.

Psychologists: “we were still in the stage of needing approval from the outside,”—“bring in the experts and tell us we’re okay. I saw it from the beginning, I resented it from the beginning, but it was necessary.” Experts “had a certain amount of condescension. It was subtle, but it was there.”

DOB quite large in the beginning, then grew smaller. Would fade, grow, fade. Enthusiasm and morale at start wasn’t maintained. San Francisco seemed to have more push.

 

SIDE #1B

Kepner “one of the most emotionally and intellectually dedicated.”  His “modest nature” obscures that.

Fred Frisbee: one of the earliest people she remembers in Mattachine; a good discussion group moderator; in same guild with Jackson.  Jackson came into Mattachine shortly after the Jennings case. Martin Block also a member of her guild.

Initiation ceremony into a guild: Join hands together. Candles lit— semi-darkened room. “Almost a religious ceremony. When you became a member of the guild, you felt like you had a mission in the world.”—the reason why members worked so hard. “You felt that you were doing something terribly worthwhile for our people.”

Now involved in a new gay teachers group in LA—trying to get union recognition. “It has some of that old flavor of the Mattachine.” “Tremendous enthusiasm in it.”