Marc Stein Interview with Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen, 2 February 1993
Gittings was the founder of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis in the 1950s, the editor of the The Ladder (DOB’s magazine) from 1963 to 1966, and a member of Philadelphia’s Homophile Action League in the late 1960s. Lahusen, who was Gittings’s partner, was a member of DOB-New York in the early 1960s, a writer and photographer for the Ladder in the mid-1960s, and an active movement photographer in the 1960s and 1970s.
MS: You mentioned Clark Polak [the leader of Philadelphia’s Janus Society and the editor of its magazine Drum]. And maybe it's time to talk about him and the Janus Society…. I know you've talked a little bit about him being an irascible sort.
BG: He was very difficult and very brash and very abrasive with people. And also he did an awful lot for the movement…. He had this idea that Drum could be a gay Playboy. And therefore he mixed in the soft porn with all this news about law reform…and it was a startling idea and a little bit shocking in a way. And I had never seen soft gay male porn. So this was my very first time ever opening a magazine and seeing all those male nudes….
KL: And heretofore our newsletters and ONE magazine had been pretty circumspect….
BG: I was probably not too happy at seeing the skin stuff in his magazine at first because I had this kind of purist notion that we should be able to propagandize to the world and prevail. Our views should prevail on their own merits and I hadn't accepted the idea at the time that sex sells and that you should take advantage of that.
KL: Well, we were trying to contradict the idea that we were primarily sexual beings.
BG: That we were purely sexual actors.
KL: So we thought that we had to go in another direction.
MS: Well I think that's interesting what you said about Drum being a gay Playboy, because I think in many ways his philosophy was more like Playboy's.
KL: Well that's what he wanted. Those were his words…. And he believed in sex and down with puritanism and he thought that this was the way to go. And he made a lot of money at it. And yes he did have a book service that made a lot of money. And then he turned around and he used his money to help the cause. There's no doubt about it. Sponsoring law reform…and our picketing signs…. Our early picketing signs had been badly done, just scrawled by hand. And he said, "Hey, you've got to have good looking picketing signs." And he went out and bought them. I don't think he even picketed. I think his nose was out of joint with the organizations. And I don't think he even came and not because he was in the closet.
BG: So he would do printing. He would have printing done for us and he did the signs.
KL: Because the signs here at Independence Hall are highly readable. And those were all paid for by Clark.
BG: Very professionally painted. Very, very good. What a world of difference it made to the appearance of the picket lines.
KL: He was really abrasive, but you've got to hand it to him.…
BG: At one of the conferences of what was then called the East Coast Homophile Organizations, scheduled for Washington, D.C., there was to be a debate called, informally, "Act versus Teach." Should we put our eggs mainly in the basket of changing laws and policies to force the changes that we want in public attitude or do we try first to change public attitudes and then the changes in law would follow…. And for this debate, Frank Kameny was taking mainly the act position versus a Dr. Kurt Konietzko from Philadelphia who was taking mainly the teach position. And this sounded like a really good tug of war that was to happen. And I was trying to line up people to cover all of the events of the conference…. And I wrote to someone in Washington, a friend in Washington, and asked her to cover this debate between Frank Kameny and Kurt Konietzko.
MS: This was for The Ladder because you were the editor.
BG: For The Ladder. And at the time I was being asked by national headquarters of DOB to send them carbons of all my correspondence. So I dutifully shipped the carbons out and thought nothing more of it until suddenly came this letter excoriating me for planning to promote in the pages of The Ladder a viewpoint which was against the philosophy of the Daughters of Bilitis…. It was quite a surprise to me, because I thought, "Look this is just a debate that is going to be held at a conference." And here they're criticizing it before it's even happened and saying it shouldn't even be reported on….
KL: But they knew you had activist leanings.
BG: I guess so. Anyway, they claimed that it was against the philosophy of Daughters of Bilitis and I went ahead and I didn't ask the reporter that I'd originally asked. You and I covered it. You covered it…. Kay taped it and wrote it up for The Ladder. And afterwards I seem to remember getting a letter of congratulations from headquarters of Daughters of Bilitis saying that this was a very fine write-up. The very thing they criticized me for wanting to cover. Because it came out as very much of a draw. The debate was not as sharply one-sided as I had thought it would be. I thought Frank Kameny would come out on top and would leave Konietzko in the dust. That wasn't the way it came out. Konietzko put forward his arguments very persuasively. Frank gave his argument, saying if you wait for the public attitudes to change before you change the law, you will wait forever. And the Black people have learned that. So first you change the law and that creates a new reality that people have to accommodate to. And that forces the attitude changes a lot faster. Konietzko said, on the other hand, if you don't make those changes in people's hearts and minds, where it really counts, you're going to have to go to the courts each time you want it. And then go back to the courts and go back to the courts, because they will not grant you these rights in their hearts. And you'll have to keep going to the courts. So he said you have to do some public education and something to change attitudes. He's not against changing the law, but says it can't do it all by itself. The balance in the debate was very even and it was an excellent exposition of the virtues and drawbacks of each position. So I think when they saw it in print, they realized that it was a really good deal. But that was one of many problems that I was having with the powers that be at Daughters of Bilitis.
MS: There had been the conflict over picketing, I guess, when the picketing started.
BG: They wouldn't support it. They wouldn't support it. Most of the groups on the East Coast did support it finally, some a little reluctantly, some more eagerly. And when I wanted to run a pro and con in the pages of The Ladder, giving both for and against, what are the advantages of picketing and what are the drawbacks, I asked someone from Daughters of Bilitis to give a con attitude or position, and they would not do it. So I filled the pages with some other comments from other people. I didn't really know why they were opposed to it, because they certainly took up activism with great fervor not very long after that in San Francisco. It wasn't long after the picketing was starting and was very controversial on the East Coast that one of the major gay groups in San Francisco called a big town meeting of gay people at an election time and demanded that the candidates running for Board of Supervisors, which is City Council in San Francisco, and for mayor, come and talk to the gay population. That was a coup in itself. And they realized the power of politics. They made a tremendous political breakthrough there and they were in for it.
MS: You may have lost the battle but won the war, I guess.
MS: And then it seemed also there were some East Coast people who were on their side, who were very supportive of withdrawing DOB from ECHO and not picketing….
BG: There definitely was disagreement….
MS: And then shortly after that you were eased out of the editorship? Is that what happened?
BG: I was eased out in mid-'66. And the immediate reason given was that I was chronically late with the material that I had to send to headquarters. The final production was done out there…. It's true. I was frequently late. Not maybe chronically, but frequently late getting the material out and they were always running a little behind and having to work people hard at headquarters. But that was just the immediate excuse for getting rid of me.
MS: So it was more that you were becoming more militant.
BG: I think so. They wanted to take it in other directions.…
KL: The movement was just at the point of having some interesting debates going on, either/ors. We could have gone down one avenue or another avenue. There were those who said, "No, you can't go forward and speak for yourself. You've got to have the researchers…." We thought it was very important to have in The Ladder, in its pages, a good airing of these debates. And to make both sides as persuasive as possible.
BG: So that's why I liked that debate between Kameny and Konietzko, because it beautifully framed the pros and cons of each position.
KL: And even though we had our positions, for the sake of making it good reading, we wanted both positions to be strong. And I think the DOB powers out on the West Coast…
BG: Didn't see it that way.
KL: Didn't see that we would be that even-handed. They couldn't think we would be, 'cause they knew we were in the activist camp. And I think they didn't hand it to us. They didn't give us the credit for wanting to put together an intellectually exciting back and forth on some of these things.
BG: On the other hand, when I invited Daughters of Bilitis out West to explain their opposition to picketing as a tactic, they turned it down.
KL: Well I think they did it because they felt they couldn't stand up in the back and forth. Frank was pretty rough in terms of debating people.
BG: But all they had to do was write something to be put in the pages.
KL: Well they sent out Florence Conrad to take the defending research position against Frank and she didn't hold up so well.
BG: Well that's because we gave him the last say. That wasn't quite even-handed. But we gave her a fair chance.
KL: We tried to be.
BG: But look, we were trying to air the issues of the day, what they were. Now they may look very silly and archaic to people today with the issues so very different, but they were the main things that we wrote about and talked about at that time.…
KL: I think ECHO encouraged everybody and I think those pickets in Washington really galvanized people. The first pickets down in Washington were so important. I mean it electrified our little movement. O.K., 200 people, whatever it was. This was all a tempest in a teapot. It electrified all of us to hear that there was picketing at the White House.
BG: The first one being the one on Cuba….
KL: Or picketing in New York. There were a couple of those.
BG: They had almost simultaneous pickets at the United Nations in New York and at the White House in Washington, stemming out of Cuba's antigay policies. And just hearing about that handful of people stepping out into public view and doing this, even if it wasn't recorded anywhere. I mean somebody came around to record it, but even if it wasn't published, they had done it. They had taken the risk. They had taken the chance. And the signs and the messages, it was all very inspiring.
KL: And we were out in Ohio then, because I was closing out my family's home there and we were really a captive of family events. If we hadn't been there, I'm sure we would have been in the very first picket.
BG: We missed the first.
KL: We were in the next picket at the White House, but boy we were so thrilled. We could hardly wait to get back to do it, to do it, too.
BG: I was in the one at the Pentagon and the one at the White House in October, but I missed the ones at the State Department and I think the Civil Service Commission.…
MS: Right after Stonewall, I know there was a big movement conference in Philadelphia, ERCHO [Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations]. And it was at that conference that GLF [Gay Liberation Front] and GAA [Gay Activists Alliance] came down from New York.
BG: Yes. And one of the big GLF yo-yos.
KL: That was really amusing. They said, "Where are your women? Where are your Blacks? Where are your American Indians?" And they had all of them here already.
BG: He didn't know. He just didn't know.
KL: We had an American Indian, Becky Irons.
BG: He came down from New York with his rhetoric, with his radical rhetoric, to assail us for not being politically correct. And here are the members of Homophile Action League, which is mainly women at the time and includes some Hispanics and American Indians.
KL: All those Cubans. All those flaming Cubans who were there.
BG: And there were Blacks. And he said: "Where are your Blacks, where are your women, where are your Native Americans?"
KL: "Where are your Hispanics?"
BG: And they were already there in the room.
MS: So it was pretty empty criticism.
KL: Oh the amount of guilt tripping that went on and the harangues over political correctness.
BG: He was the one with what we called the million dollar boots, the radical with the million dollar leather boots. Where did he get the money? Where did he get the money to dress so elegantly when he came around to the meetings and chewed us all out for not being as leftist as he was.
KL: We were all the Philadelphia dowdies.
MS: So at that conference, it wasn't so much a gender conflict coming from feminism. That I guess was a little bit later. This was more, it sounds like, a conflict coming from the left.
BG: Oh yes. Oh they spent years in the '70s trying to guilt trip us. That we should do this and we should think that…. When Gay Liberation Front first got launched in New York, in the wake of Stonewall, it got out the gay troops to picket at the Women's House of Detention for the women who were in there for prostitution. Naturally, they're political prisoners. And to picket for the Black Panthers who were being given a real hard time by the law at that time. But they weren't getting us out for our own cause. Not as much, at any rate. And certainly the women weren't coming out to the House of D and the Black Panthers weren't coming around to support us. And that was part of the reason that the Gay Activists Alliance was founded in New York, because some of our people said, "Look, I'm going out to picket for the Blacks and I'm going out to picket for the women, but who's doing it for us?"
BG: We ought to be doing it for ourselves, because no one else is going to do it for us. We are the last minority, I think. We are the ultimate pariahs. We're the least popular. And we cannot expect other people to do the fight for us.
MS: Well in this context were you in favor of ending the pickets at Independence Hall. It was after Stonewall.
BG: I guess the handwriting was on the wall that their time was up. They'd served a wonderful purpose. They'd gone on for five years. They'd been effective. They'd done a lot for the community, but the time was up. It was time to move on to something else.
MS: So you didn't really fight for it at that conference.
BG: Probably felt a little twinge of regret, but not much more.
MS: Always looking forward.
BG: Well I don't know whether we talked at that conference about trying to resume the pickets, but possibly, if there was such talk, it might have been something of a different nature, a demonstration of a different kind.
KL: I think in a way we found ourselves in the old guard. The way the West Coast people must have felt when we were jumping up and down with the activists here and they felt sort of left behind or left in the dust for a little while.
Marc Stein Interview with Kay Lahusen, 29 September 1993
Kay Lahusen, who used the name Kay Tobin in much of her movement work in the 1960s and 1970s, was the partner of Barbara Gittings, who edited the Ladder from 1963 to 1966. Lahusen was a member of DOB-New York in the early 1960s, a writer and photographer for the Ladder in the mid-1960s, and an active movement photographer in the 1960s and 1970s.
MS: Can we talk a little bit about Clark Polak?
KL: …Well Clark owned a gay bookstore, which is to say he owned a sex bookstore. There was nothing at the time, except a few psychiatrists' books on curing people, where they claimed to have perfected a cure. They were sure it was a disease to begin with. And ONE magazine. And then pornography, soft and hardcore, mostly hardcore. And there was nothing to support a bookstore. You couldn't have had a bookstore and paid the rent unless you were primarily a porn shop. So Clark, I think, had a porn shop. And then I believe he sold it to his lover, Jay. And he then went on to work in his Janus Society….
MS: …What did Janus do?
KL: …I think Clark was pretty much of a one man band. He wanted to have his own thing. I don't think he wanted to work with a group. He wanted to do his thing.
MS: What did the Janus Society do
KL: Well he hired a very fine lawyer, locally, named Gil Cantor, Gilbert Cantor, who might have been in the ACLU…. He wrote a brief for Clark in a famous case….
MS: The Boutilier case, right.
KL: Yes…. Clark had his own ideas about how the movement should best advance. First of all, he thought that we shouldn't be so squeamish about porn. And he wanted to devise a gay Playboy magazine, so he did Drum. And it was soft porn, laced with a lot of news. And he engaged a clipping service…. And so when we were working on the Ladder and we just depended on news clippings drifting into us, willy-nilly, he had an organized way of going about it. So we sort of envied that. But he had a lot of news items and a lot of serious stuff about law reform and the need for it. And he said we should go ahead and get money through a magazine like Drum and then take it and channel it into serious challenges to the laws. And I don't think he was terribly keen on picketing. I think he sort of thought that wouldn't gain very much.
MS: There was one sit-in I know that he helped organize at Dewey's Restaurant. Does that ring a bell?
KL: That could be.
MS: And I know that Barbara has said in many interviews that he paid for some of the signs that were used at Independence Hall.
KL: Right, yeah, right, yeah. Well I think he thought that as long as we were going to do that we should look good. He had that much of a care for how we came off in the public eye. But I don't think he much favored picketing as a tactic. I think he really thought the best thing to do was to mount challenges in the courts.
MS: That's right, as far I have been reading. How do you explain, it seems to me, that there was one side of him that was highly respectable, going through the courts, paying for professional signs, and then the other side that was highly non-respectable, with his bookstore and his Drum magazine?
KL: Well I don't agree with your terms, first of all.
MS: O.K., tell me.
KL: I mean I agree with him that there's no reason why we shouldn't have sex magazines. There's no reason why, if Playboy mixes sex and hard news, we shouldn't mix them, too.
MS: I didn't mean to imply anything by that word. I meant more that when he wrote the briefs or when he had the briefs written, and I've read some of them, they downplayed the sexual aspect of gay life.
KL: Well Gil Cantor might have said this is the way to go.
KL: And maybe Clark was persuaded. I don't really remember. All I know is I think he felt the movement was a bunch of fuzzy idealists, ready to get out and picket, and that it was all well and good, but that the real thing you needed was money. Money talks. Get a magazine out there that earns a lot of money and then put that money into more serious challenges. And so he pursued his own agenda and I can't fault him for that. In terms of these bookstores, it's all well and good to look down your nose at primarily a sex bookstore, but there could not have been anything else. There was not the literature to support anything else. So there was no way to have a storefront, even one little place where people could congregate or go to speak to another human being who was gay. The only way to support it was to have a fairly sleazy looking little bookstore with mostly sex stuff around and literature that was rather disheartening, because there were like maybe ten books and they were most of them by shrinks. That's the way it had to get started.
Marc Stein Interview with Joan Fleischmann, 31 May 1994
Fleischmann was a high school teacher and a member of Mattachine Philadelphia and the Janus Society in the 1960s.
MS: Did you march at any of the Annual Reminders?
JF: Yes I did. I marched in one.
MS: Was it the first one? In '65?
JF: I believe it was the first one, because there's a picture in some book in which I can identify myself. I don't know which book it is. There are innumerable pictures in various books, but I saw one book and I found a picture of myself in one of them. And I thought, "Oh, great."
MS: That must have been a scary thing to do.
JF: It was. The thing I was most concerned about was television. I figured that otherwise it would be very difficult to identify people, because usually the photographs are grainy and so on and so forth. But I was concerned about television. And that's why I didn't do it anymore, because of tv. I was very envious. I did march on Washington, though; I did march on the Pentagon at one point.
MS: At one of those early demonstrations.
JF: And that was not a problem because it was Washington.
MS: Was it mostly New Yorkers and Washingtonians who came to the Annual Reminder, less so Philadelphians?
JF: Yes, I think so.
MS: And the Dewey's sit-in was just a few weeks before the first Annual Reminder. Were you at all a part of that or were you already less involved with Janus?
JF: I was less involved.
MS: And the picketing obviously created conflict with the national DOB [Daughters of Bilitis]. Do you remember what that was all about?
JF: No I don't. I remember DOB as being more a place for individuals to develop good feelings about themselves than as a real activist group. I mean the gab 'n javas, meetings of that sort, a lot of talking about why you were what you were and how you felt about it and things like that. And I don't think I was as much into that as I was into being more politically active. So DOB was never really my place particularly.
MS: After DOB decided to withdraw from ECHO, I have a reference to a group of Philadelphia lesbians going up to a DOB New York meeting, when they were still officially members of DOB New York and trying to get the DOB New York to vote to encourage the national DOB to change its mind.
MS: Were you part of that?
JF: Yeah, I remember that.
MS: Because I know it mentions Marge [McCann]. I can't remember if it mentioned you. But you went up there.
MS: And was the idea to take over the New York DOB?
JF: Well the idea was to try to get them to do something to make the national group change its behaviors. They were so conservative, I guess is the word I want. And we weren't. I mean, if I were the same age today as I was then, I'd probably be out in the front of ACT UP. Because that's the kind of person I was. But given the constrictors of jobs and things like that, we did try to change DOB. And there were lots of letters, again, back and forth to San Francisco, and those people were intractable. They had done good work in what they had done, but my god. And that's why in my opinion DOB finally ended up out of existence. There just wasn't any room for that anymore. Or any need for it perhaps. I mean social life, you can get. It seemed like it was more a social group than anything else.
Marc Stein Interview with Ada Bello, 7 February 1993
Bello was a Cuban American immigrant, a medical laboratory assistant and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and Philadelphia’s Homophile Action League in the 1960s.
MS: ERCHO [Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations] met in November of '69 in Philadelphia for a big conference, a big movement conference. And it was at that conference that they decided to not have any more of the Independence Hall demonstrations and to start having the Christopher Street parade.
AB: I think that was a conference where the Gay Liberation Front came. They were convinced that we were worse than reactionary. I mean they treated everybody like that.
MS: So you were there at the conference?
AB: Yeah and I was on the wrong side obviously. I mean I was on the receiving end of the rap. But things were happening. We just became obsolete overnight, just from the name. I mean after Stonewall, anything called homophile was just ready for the dustbin. So in a way I understand. I mean they were part of the making of the future, except it was somewhat unpleasant. We actually had the conference in a bar. It was called My Sister's Place during the day and then it became a bar at night….
MS: Do you remember where?
AB: Yeah, I think it was on Walnut on the second floor at about 20th.
MS: About how many people were at this conference?
AB: I would say about maybe fifteen or twenty, no more.
MS: So it was a relatively small. And were the people from GLF [Gay Liberation Front] men?
AB: There were three people. I think there were two men and a woman.
MS: And the rest were Philadelphia people?
AB: Yeah. And some people from New York, some other groups from New York.
MS: The West Side Discussion Group was a calming influence?
AB: Yes, obviously we were being zapped and we were reacting to the zap and they were trying to calm both sides.
MS: So was it GLF versus HAL [Homophile Action League]? Was that how it really was?
AB: Well I think it was GLF versus the organizers. And because it was held in Philadelphia, HAL was the organizer. We found the space and one of the things they said is that that was a segregated environment that we were meeting in. In fact, that happened to have been one of the few female gay bars that had a large number of black women.
MS: Did they mean segregated racially?
AB: Yeah. But everything was happening like that at the time. It was a big transition. In fact, the last Fourth of July picket, that must have been '68.
MS: It was 1969. It was right after Stonewall.
AB: Stonewall, right. That was when people started holding hands. And that was like an era ended and another one began. I mean that was it. Because before we all looked like we were ready to go to church.
MS: Had you been to the pickets?
AB: Yeah, I had been. I think it was the second year I was picketing.
MS: In '69. So maybe you went in '68 too?
MS: And you noticed there was a big change from the previous year?
AB: Oh there was a big change. And I don't think they even planned it. I mean all of a sudden one couple started holding hands and then everybody started holding hands. And actually Frank Kameny got a little bit upset, because we weren't supposed to present this type of image. We weren't supposed to be doing it in public. And of course I'm sure that the press picked it up because it was the first time. It was good.
MS: Do you remember who the New Yorkers were who came down for that?
AB: I don't remember. I know that Craig Rodwell brought a whole bus from the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop?
MS: For the July Fourth?
AB: Yeah. Do you mean who came down for ERCHO?
MS: For the ERCHO conference.
AB: I don't remember the names of the three people from GLF. I know there were two women who were very active in the West Side Discussion Group….
MS: Did you say, in the other interview that I listened to, that HAL tried to act as a bridge between the old guard and the new guard?
AB: I guess we did. I mean as you saw we actually talked about other issues besides the narrow gay issue. But you have to remember that at that point there were starting to be serious protests against the war and the issue of protesting the war, while marching as a gay contingent, that was about to tear some organizations apart. Maybe we didn't even go that far. I don't remember actually having to make any kind of decision. I mean we used to go to Washington and protest the war. We didn't carry a HAL banner.
MS: But a lot of the same people were involved?
AB: So I think that HAL was probably fairly liberal for the time, but with that name it couldn't survive. The name itself dated us.
Marc Stein Interview with Carole Friedman, 24 June 1993.
Carole Friedman was a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and Philadelphia’s Homophile Action League in the 1960s.
MS: [Do you remember] the July Fourth Independence Hall demonstrations?
CF: Oh yes, yes.
MS: Did you participate in it?
CF: Oh yes, I did participate in one of them….
MS: And I guess maybe it would have been the '68 one? There was one more after that in '69.
CF: That I don't know....
MS: What do you remember of it?
CF: Oh, gosh, I remember we would have worn skirts. It was a time of looking like the enemy so that they would think that we weren't so different after all. And it's funny. I mean I would now say they had every right to be frightened. We're just as different as they thought. Then I would have thought, no, no, we are just like you. I remember walking around in a circle. There were some placards. I remember Barbara Gittings being there. It seems to me it was a combination of men and women. I don't remember, did Frank Kameny come up from Washington for that? I don't remember who the other men were and if they were really part of our circle.
MS: …Some men came down from New York, I know. Does that sound familiar?
CF: Yeah, I think. Was that put on by ECHO [East Coast Homophile Organizations]? So it was regional…. I guess it was a regional thing, so it would have been a number of people and most of them I didn't know.
MS: Barbara makes it a point of saying that Clark Polak paid for nicely lettered signs.
CF: Oh, that I don't remember. I'm sure, if she said it, it must be true.
MS: Was it terrifying to do this openly in your hometown?
CF: It was scary. I don't think anything was ever as terrifying as that first elevator ride up to my first lesbian meeting. I think that's really true.
MS: What's so interesting about that was that that was inside, in an office.
CF: That was inside, yeah, but it was a symbolic moment of saying yes, really. So this was more a calculated risk, I suppose, in terms of the outside world: who would see and who would not see. But I guess my own sense is that that's not as risky as how you feel inside. And once that's clear, then the rest can flow pretty rationally from that.
MS: Did walking around the picket feel familiar because of civil rights work?
CF: Yes, yes, right, and I think that that part felt good, felt familiar, felt safe in a certain way, had a structure for it.
MS: So what kind of civil rights pickets had you done before. Did you do a whole lot of them or were there a few times that you had done them before in the Black civil rights movement?
CF: I had done some more rallies, I suppose, not picketing so much, but rallies in communities, more local kinds of things. But I think what was familiar was the sense of taking a principled stand and that's also protection. I'm not queer; I'm taking a principled stand; that kind of thing. So that if you're challenged, you could discuss it at a level that wasn't personal. It was about the social issue that you were rallying for. By then of course I was out to my family and I had addressed the areas that would have been of greatest risk.
Marc Stein Interview with Kiyoshi Kuromiya, 17 June 1997
Kuromiya was Japanese American and was born in a Wyoming internment camp during World War Two. In the 1960s, he moved to Philadelphia to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania; while there he became active in the student and antiwar movements. In 1970 he helped found Philadelphia’s Gay Liberation Front.
MS: To shift gears a little bit and backtrack to the early '60s, I know that's when you got involved with the civil rights movement and then later with the antiwar movement before you got really active in the gay movement. Is that fair to say?
KK: Yes. And within those movements I would say I was fairly closeted until 1965. Actually is that '65 or '66 when the first march at Independence Hall took place?
KK: '65, yeah.
MS: It happened for five years, so the last one was '69.
KK: In '65, there was a large antiwar march, 250 people. I knew every single person in that march. And I was in the march with twelve of us. In fact, I could almost name all twelve of them.
MS: At the '65 Independence Hall Annual Reminder?
MS: Or what became the Annual Reminder.
KK: Yeah, it was Clark Polak. And we met over at Trojan Book Service. Craig Rodwell, who later formed Oscar Wilde Bookstore. We were in a Falcon convertible. And we packed all the signs up, put them in the back of the convertible, and went down there. What's his name from Washington?
MS: Frank Kameny?
KK: Frank Kameny.
MS: Any women at that first one?
KK: Yes. Barbara Gittings was there? I'm not sure…. There were twelve of us. And I don't remember anyone else. Frank Kameny was insistent--it was very hot that day--that we not take off our coats or loosen our ties. We were wearing coats and ties because we wanted to make a good impression. The first impression, you know. We aren't monsters.
MS: Now, did you literally walk over from an antiwar demonstration? Is that what you were saying or no?
KK: No, no. I met over at Trojan Book Service and we drove over there with the picket signs. And we didn't know how many people would show up. It was small. There were twelve of us. I didn't know there was going to be an antiwar demonstration.
MS: Oh I see.
KK: So it was a pretty big coming out for me.
MS: Because they all saw you?
KK: Yeah. On the other hand, it was a pretty big coming out with that group. I mean there were other groups that knew I was gay. But people that knew me from the civil rights movement, including one person--I can mention his name, Horace Godwin--who's still around, who came up with his mother and his sister and thanked me. And later he came over to 27th Street to talk to me. But he was, I guess, somewhat closeted at the time.
MS: He's a Philadelphian or a Washingtonian?
KK: He's a Philadelphian. And he came over. I'm trying to think of other people that were there…. Possibly, and I couldn't be certain about this, but he would be at these events very regularly, Randy Wicker. But I knew some of these people. In fact, I knew Barbara Gittings from East Coast Homophile Organization meetings. I remember particularly, maybe a year earlier in '64, I think, one ECHO conference at the Barbizon Plaza on Central Park South. There were maybe twenty, maybe twenty-five, of us there.
MS: You had gone up from Philly to New York, right?
KK: Yes. I had gone up to New York to meet with them and this actually is in the videotape interview on Outrage '69, the Arthur Dong tape. I showed up there and suddenly realized--I was used to civil rights activists--these are the activists and they're really courageous and everything, but they were accountants and librarians. It was a little bit of a surprise. There were no flaming radicals. It was a pretty staid group of people…and very tame. And I was mostly looking for information. In fact, this activity and later the Homophile Action League in Philadelphia led me, at a meeting at the Unitarian Church at 22nd and Chestnut, to send a note up, at this fairly large meeting of the Homophile Action League in 1969, to the front of the meeting. And the note said we were or I was considering forming a Gay Liberation Front. And if anyone was interested, they should contact me at the back of the room. And they made an announcement at the meeting. And what was surprising to me was they changed all the wording around and everything. And I thought, "Well gee, that's odd." But the fact was that Basil O'Brien had talked to them about making an announcement, same announcement, same meeting. So that's when I first met Basil O'Brien. And that was the beginning of Gay Liberation Front in Philadelphia. And Basil died in 1985.
MS: I want to pick up on GLF, but just to stay in the '60s for a minute. The picture you just presented of ECHO, that's consistent with most of what I've seen. And yet Clark Polak seems to have been a little different from the other folks. Not nearly so respectable.
KK: I guess I was attracted because of that very fact. I was fascinated with Drum and with Trojan Book Service because it had a little more of the feeling that I was used to 'cause I'd been in civil rights. I had been in the sit-ins in November of 1962 on Route 40 in Maryland. We had been chased out of restaurants and bars there. And played God Bless America endlessly on the jukebox while they were refusing to serve us. And split a grilled cheese sandwich that they did serve a New York Times reporter. And I said, "Well we've been sitting here for six hours and hadn't been able to get anything. They won't throw us out because this is a Continental Trailways official stop and they would lose their license." They would lose their franchise if they threw us out, so they're just letting us sit. But we found they got some good music on the jukebox. And so God Bless America, we played it over and over. They finally unplugged the jukebox. The New York Times reporter gave me half of his grilled cheese sandwich. I broke it into little pieces and passed it down. And we were all eating these grilled cheese sandwiches. That's when the management got really angry. They were giving out free beer to all the townspeople. And it looked like it might get seriously dangerous so we left. The roads were icy. They chased us down the roads and cars were sliding all over the highway. But I was used to that, so I had the same feeling about Clark Polak and also Craig Rodwell. So the three of us met at Trojan Book Service and in I'm not sure whose car it was, probably Clark's. It was an old early '60s Falcon convertible. And we put all the picket signs. We had many too many picket signs. But I guess through the ECHO conference, they had announced the demo. And some people from other cities had showed up.
MS: So you had positive impressions of Clark Polak? Because not everyone did.
KK: Well I do in that he was doing stuff and other people weren't. And so I'm not talking about personalities. I'm sure the personalities would clash and I'm sure people thought he was a purveyor of porn and all that kind of stuff. But that didn't bother me one bit. And you probably could have said the same thing about Craig Rodwell. But Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore is pretty respectable.
MS: Was your feeling that the movement in both the Clark Polak wing and the other wing in the '60s treated lesbians well? Treated lesbians equally?
KK: I can't say that, O.K.? On the other hand, I can say that much of the leadership of the ECHO conferences was women. And I do acknowledge on the Outrage '69 interview that these people were really courageous, because there was a period of time when people that had respectable jobs could be ostracized and fired. There was a period of time when people did lose their jobs. Frank Kameny. And I was part of the movement and of course probably people didn't like me for other reasons. I thought it was absurd, Frank Kameny telling us we couldn't hold hands in the picket line, that we couldn't loosen our ties or take off coats. There were women in there. You couldn't wear slacks if you were a woman. He had made up this set of rules. It was purely for the press. It was the idea that this is the first event of its kind and we want the press to concentrate on the fact that we look and act like everybody else, not like a caricature, whatever that meant to him, of what people thought we were.