Larry Littlejohn, San Francisco, December 7, 1976.
Introduction: A San Francisco activist in the 60s, Larry Littlejohn was most closely involved with the Society for Individual Rights. His interview provides a sense of the uptick in gay male activism in SF in the 1960s, before Stonewall and the birth of gay liberation
Was living on East Coast. 1st contact was NY Mattachine. Freedom House lecture, advertised in Village Voice. Was gay already; had gay friends.
Went to a couple of meetings - met Donald Webster Cory - had heard about the book -“it was the only book. Lots of gay people had it.” 40-50 people at lecture. Cory a center of discussion - disappointed in him. Littlejohn about 21-22 at time - 1957-58.
“He [Cory] was a closet queen!”
Littlejohn had a college education but didn’t know intellectual people.
NY Mattachine office on Broadway. Met Dick Leitsch, director at the time. Moved to Washington, so didn’t get involved. Worked for government. “a dingy little two room office. This isn’t very successful looking or very big.”
Came to San Francisco, was developing a social conscience. Went to school in 1950s before big civil rights movement, Vietnam, etc. By 1960s, when he comes to SF, things different. Worked in Mississippi for black movement in 1960s for a summer. (says blacks really important for gays)
1964 in San Francisco - went to Mattachine first. Hal Call and Don Lucas full-time - but no one else really. No membership involvement. Mattachine Review is principal activity. If you wanted to be active, you volunteered to help in office under direction of Call. Littlejohn stapled Mattachine Review together.
SIR not yet in existence (he wonders if maybe he came to SF earlier).
Raid on gay bar - some men, including Guy Strait, decide to collect money for a defense fund – this was the origins of League for Civil Education. (Littlejohn not involved in that) - problems with LCE. Some LCE members decide to form new organization – Society for Individual Rights. Friend of Littlejohn involved. Invites him to a meeting at Jim Foster’s house on Grove St., across street from Bill Plath. “SIR really comes out of LCE.”
Littlejohn a newcomer, outsider. Others older, knew each other longer. Plath, Beardemphl, Foster, Forrester, Bill May, Wayne Hanaur (?) First leaders, founders, and most active. “a reaction to LCE and Mattachine”- want it to be different. “grassroots”
“We want to be and do anything that anyone wants to do.” Religion, politics, social activities, speakers bureau,frequent membership meetings; active member participation. Democratic.
“there really was membership participation and that was crucial for the success of the organization. People felt really involved. It was such a contrast to the Mattachine.”
Recruitment: everyone brought their friends.” There had never been anything like it.” (keeps contrasting with Mattachine). Grapevine, word of mouth. “In the gay community, particularly in San Francisco, word of mouth will spread something overnight.”
Significance of SIR: Sheer numbers. “we tend to respect numbers in our society.” “in the political sense, just numbers did it.” Plus “trappings”- stationery, fancy address etc. 1st office at 531 Clayton, Wayne and Bill’s house. Then at Glide Memorial Church, in Fellowship Hall. Held couple hundred. 100 or more coming to meetings.
Littlejohn active in getting a center for SIR. 83 6th street- an old union hall - culinary workers. A big deal “we’re respectable and established.” “We’re gonna let the politicians know that we’re viable, that we’re voters, and that they should listen to us.”
Candidate Nights - a tradition in SF. “Most of the men who came to SIR meetings didn’t want their boss to know they were gay or want their neighbors to know, but there was safety in being at a meeting.” Confidentiality absolutely assured and guaranteed.
SIR’s first political effort: done by political committee to question candidates and then let the gay community know their position on gay issues; candidates rated and ratings distributed in bars. Just like other organizations and groups did. Candidates not endorsed, but given a stamp of approval.
[Mostly too faint to hear!]
think he’s talking about Feinstein, 1969, how she won as head of board of supervisors, as an outsider, by about 4,000. And how she counted on gay vote, and maybe attributed her victory to gay vote.
I ask him about strategy. Importance of non-bar social activities - SIR= an alternative, safer from police. Dances-“people had a good time.” The first public, open gay dances. SIR had a couple of dances before Council on Religion and the Homosexual dance. Major harassment stops after CRH. But harassment by individual cops continues.
Besides large-scale social activity, SIR also had small social activities.
Question about Leo Laurence and radicalism. Littlejohn president of SIR at the time. SIR included a wide variety of people, but tended to be a little older, somewhat established
Kansas City meeting of NACHO - (Beardemphl and Littlejohn went to 65 ECHO)
Decide to call national meeting. Immediately, a division between a national organization vs. a clearinghouse for local organizations. National organization: Kameny the most vocal for it.
Did decide to try to get some national publicity - what to do? Protest exclusion on armed forces day. The only significant thing to come out of the meeting.
Also issue a press release - picked up by newspapers, including NY Times - mentioned in Toffler’s popular book Future Shock. “that’s how you change things.”
In SF, gay political consciousness was there before Stonewall. eg., Jose Sarria [very insistent about this]
San Francisco fought around the bar issue and won before NY: “damn it, we have the right to our own places.”
SIR geared up for 1966 armed forces demonstration. “picketing in those days was still a big thing. Today, its ‘ho-hum,’ but then it was an attention getter.”
At the federal building: stupidly, schedule it for Saturday, when no one is there. Trying to get in the papers. No dress code, but dressed up. Couple hundred show up, but standing on the other side of the street - about 60 end up picketing, most not intending to. Picked up by papers, TV. “homsexuals going public”
SIR “middle-class” - Not radical, or young. Other issues coming up - antiwar, Black Panthers, marijuana, etc. Laurence says SIR should be involved in all these. Littlejohn against it - said SIR had to remain gay-focused, otherwise people would drop away. But not antagonistic to radical gay organizations forming.
NACHO, 1970, in SF at SIR center. “a whole bunch of people just busted in and disrupted it, stopped all the activity.” More on it. Discussion of why NACHO collapses.
Discussion of why he left SIR: 1: financial mismanagement, ripoffs, use of organization for personal status. 2: too much pushing to support other issues. 3: personality/political clashes-“take-over” attempts and underhanded, sneaky factionalism.