Book Shelf

City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972

City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2000 (and later published with a new preface in a second edition by Temple University Press), is the first book-length study of lesbian and gay history in a major U.S. city, the first to focus on the history of relationships between lesbians and gay men, and the first to analyze relationships between everyday resistance and political activism in lesbian and gay communities. The book’s main argument is that while lesbian and gay activists challenged sexual oppression, they often reproduced conventional ideas about sex and gender differences.

The book's first part examines convergences and divergences between gay cultures and lesbian cultures in the geographies of everyday life in Philadelphia in the period from 1945 to 1972. The first chapter focuses on gay and lesbian neighborhoods; the second examines commercial spaces, including bars, restaurants, and clubs; the third concentrates on public space, including streets, bathrooms, and parks. Overall, the first part shows that large, diverse, and complex lesbian and gay communities existed in Philadelphia in this period; it emphasizes the gendered dimensions of gay and lesbian geographies; and it highlights the ways that sexual communities and urban geographies influenced one another.

The book's second part focuses on public cultures in the period from 1945 to 1960, before the existence of an organized lesbian and gay movement in Philadelphia. One chapter looks at representations of male and female homosexualities in local print culture. One looks at a major public controversy that developed when sexually-conservative Christians organized a major campaign against naming the Delaware River's new bridge for Walt Whitman. A third looks at public debates about police raids on beat coffeehouses, which the authorities blamed on drugs, interracial mixing, and homosexuality. All three chapters show that in the late 1940s and 1950s, homosexuality generally was represented as male in Philadelphia, which created distinct challenges and opportunities for gay and lesbian resistance.

The book's third part looks at homophile activism in Philadephia from 1960 to 1969. One chapter focuses on a major police raid on a homophile movement organizing meeting that took place in Radnor, Pennsylvania, in 1960. The next chapter addresses the work of Philadelphia's Mattachine Society and Janus Society in the years from 1960 to 1963, when local activists developed a politics of heterosocial respectability. The subsequent chapter explores the local homophile movement from 1963 to 1967, when the Janus Society adopted two new political strategies: militant respectability, as exemplified in annual homophile demonstrations that were held at Independence Hall on Independence Day, and sexual liberationism, which became influential when the locally-published Drum magazine became the most popular homophile movement periodical in the United States. The final chapter in this section focuses on the fall of the Janus Society and Drum magazine, which were destroyed by state repression, and the rise of new groups such as the Homophile Action League, which reinvigorated the politics of militant respectability. Together, these chapters show that the homophile movement challenged antihomosexual persecution, but did so in ways that reinforced gender differences and hierarchies.

The book’s fourth part explores new developments in Philadelphia lesbian and gay activism after New York City's Stonewall riots of 1969. One chapter focuses on Philadelphia's Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which was a multiracial group that promoted sexual liberation, radical coalition-building, and revolutionary social change. The next chapter examines Radicalesbians-Philadelphia, which promoted revolutionary lesbian-feminist politics that in many respects paralleled the politics of gay liberation. A third chapter in this section addresses the return of militant respectability when GLF and Radicalesbians collapsed, the Homophile Action League revived, and the Gay Activists Alliance became the city's leading lesbian and gay rights organization. These chapters show that even after the lesbian and gay movement experienced political radicalization and mass mobilization, it continued to promote conservative and conventional ideas about relationships between women and men.