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Konrad Stevens

Konrad Stevens, Los Angeles, January 5, 1977.

 

Introduction:  Konrad Stevens was part of the founding group of the early Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1951, and remained with it for the next two years.  His interview captures the sense of excitement that surrounded the experience and also discusses the divisions that led to the restructuring of the Mattachine Society in 1953.

 

Interview: 

SIDE #1A

Told about Discussion Group [DG] by a friend.

Just beginning to be gay bars in Los Angeles, but none owned by gays. Mostly semi-gay bars - a few gays, very discrete. Gangster types - out to make a quick buck; higher prices for drinks; packed them in. Must have been paying off.  Police would “flex their muscles, come in, and harass people.” Usually not arrest people. Stories about raids would circulate.

Decided to go to DG - most friends wouldn’t - afraid of getting into trouble. Progressive in their thinking - liked what he heard (realized we’re discriminated against too). About 75% of people in discussion group would use pseudonyms at first.

1st meeting: Chuck Rowland - became friends immediately. Impressed with the way Stim [?] talked – Bob Hull.

Harry, Dale, Rudi. (very quiet; seemed younger than he was; introverted. Rudi not a leader in any way - just there because Harry was)

c. 15-20 altogether. (8 others besides the group) Seemed that some of the others had been there before, though the DG’s were very new.

Must have been 1951; came back to 2nd meeting; then asked if they’d like to come to special meeting. Discussed organization. Hay had thought it out “very thoroughly.”  Had a proposal.  Hay “like a bulldozer. There were times we had to knock him down.”

Group of 5 hadn’t been meeting for too long - already friends. “it was scary, but I never wavered at all.” – enjoyable, not vacillating. Jim [Gruber] - “more timid”

“there was definitely a political atmosphere to this.” Had feeling others had dropped out of Communist Party because of position on homosexuality. But still agreed politically with CP.

Meeting very often - “we were meeting very often…We just lived Mattachine. We didn’t do anything else. We never went anywhere just for pleasure. When we went, it was organizing.”

1 night/week - 5th order; then one discussion group; then DG’s began splitting. Mattachine “a pyramid.” Each guild - main function was responsibility for DGs and getting people to come. Then members of guild would choose a representative for 2nd order. Etc.

By time of convention, 5th order=3rd order.  5th order also members of Mattachine Foundation plus professionals members. 5th order was “liaison” with straight society.

Within Mattachine, rumors circulate about communists: Mattachine something originated by CP to subvert society.   “a natural thing born out of fear.”

Lots of people heard about Mattachine, talking about it all the time, even if they had never attended DG.  No one knew who the leaders were.   “there was this tremendous fear. You could feel the fear. People thought that, when we were having meetings, the cops would come barging in and arrest everybody. Of course, it never happened.”

“We were revolutionaries, fearless revolutionaries, wanting to do all these wild things and nothing frightened us at all. We were afraid but it didn’t stop us.”

Members very frightened by letters to candidates. “It scared the hell out of a lot of people coming to DGs…Alienating.” Attitude of conservative members was “be nice and people will like you.” Two attitudes, left and right, timid ones always seemed to be more to the right.

Conservatives wanted to do charity work – “show society that you are good people and you’ll be accepted.”   Integrationist vs. Assimilationist - ongoing split. Demand equal rights; we want acceptance for who we were vs. nobody’s business; we act like they do.  In effect, meant pretending you weren’t gay.

Drag and Effeminacy:  At first, 5th order opposed. But more and more discussion and then attitude changed.

One of the biggest arguments: are we a minority or not? Reflected integrationist vs. assimilationist split. Hay very articulate in expressing minority group idea. Opposition says homosexuals are much too different to constitute a minority.

Discussion Groups: free-floating. Not lecturing at people. Wanted newcomers to become involved and become leaders. Leaders were learning, too, through DGs - we didn’t know much at first either, we changed too. “developed [our thinking] quite a bit from beginning to end.”

5th order did a lot more thinking than others.

SIDE #1B

5th order picked up ideas from Discussion Groups.  Much debate over whether deep, lasting same-sex “marriage” could exist - Hull and Jennings say no at first.

Recruiting was continuous - anyone who went to a DG could bring people. Many in DG didn’t know there was an organization. Unbelievable how many were afraid to come - especially because of their job.

“very warm…we held hands.”   “a very warm, emotional thing.”  “it was almost like family. We all grew to love each other very soon.” Lot of that warmth came from Chuck  – “very affectionate.”   Harry was “a very cold person. He had to force himself to show affection.”   Chuck was “the most loving of all.”

Dale Jennings case: “we relished the thought and were almost glad it had come up.”

Communist Party principle - couldn’t act unless you were equipped. Leadership necessary - grows out of practical work.  Saw Dale Jennings case as opportunity to develop leadership potential in people.

Probably 10-15 DGs at time - a lot of people already involved.  Jennings approached by someone in park at Wilshire - Jennings frightened, guy didn’t seem type. Dale walks home, followed. Guy asks to come in - Dale afraid to say no.

George Shibley, the lawyer  - “quite courageous”- trade-unions, civil rights of GIs. Had opposed the military. Spent years in jail.

Raised money; used it for “propaganda” purposes – “stirred people up.” For months, that’s all DGs talked about - told all friends.  Rumors that he was guilty. 5th Order says “so what?” Even if he is guilty, you can support him - laws aren’t fair.  “they had accepted their position in society and thought why question it.” Whole case a very educational experience.

Mattachine Foundation never that strong - didn’t move as fast as they wanted.

Hooker and Isherwood were friends of Stevens.  Invited them to a meeting of the Foundation - at that point, only Maxey. Both decline to become directors.  Hooker felt it would compromise her research. Isherwood gave $100 to Jennings case, but didn’t want to become formally involved. Steven’s mother and sister participated only on paper - doesn’t remember them ever going to a meeting.

1953 Convention: opposition within Mattachine (anti-communist) didn’t like the secrecy. Leaders felt that secrecy necessary to attract members - not because of their politics. Felt it was being directed by Moscow. Didn’t know who was pulling the strings. Suspected it was a CP project. They were becoming courageous enough that they wanted it open.

“We went into that convention realizing that it might be the end, at least of that phase of the movement.” Final Constitution made it impossible for the 5th order to continue as leaders, so decline leadership. Chuck, Steve, Bob, Jim continued for a while.  “It was dull and wasting time…the fighting, the beginnings, the revolution was over…I felt we were dragging our feet…everything was so watered down, nothing courageous would be done.”

e.g, the letter to candidates - would never be done by new leaders.  “They wanted to do nice things to make society accept them.” E.g., charity work.   “it became a social organization.”

Thinks Ken Burns was in 2nd order.

SIDE #2A

Says maybe 10-15 DGs in 1953. “The convention came too soon.” – not ready for it.  Red-baiting constantly “implied” - “an undercurrent” - “everyone knew what the rumor was.”

5th order quickly “drifted apart”

Stevens was a commercial photographer at the time.

ONE Magazine: Dale Jennings talented as a writer.

Dale given responsibility in 5th order - gave regular reports to 5th order, independent, but gets advice and direction. Says 8 people in 5th order.

Stan Witt very active from the beginning.  Martin Block also very active, but doesn’t think he was in 5th order.  Howard Senn [?] also very active.  Stan and Howard, however, don’t add very much.