Today’s post comes from Judith Adkins, an archivist with the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.
In June 1969, patrons of New York City’s Stonewall Inn and their supporters took to the streets to resist police harassment. National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month commemorates these events, widely credited with sparking the modern LGBT rights movement.
Well before the heady days of gay liberation, however, an earlier generation of “homophile” activists advanced the cause, step by step.
Chief among these pioneers was astronomer-turned-activist Franklin Kameny. Ousted from his government job in 1957 because of his sexual orientation, Kameny appealed his firing all the way to the Supreme Court. Mere months after losing that appeal in 1961, he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, the first gay rights organization in the nation’s capital.
This “first” led to another: In defense of Mattachine, Kameny became the first openly gay person to testify before the U.S. Congress.
In 1962 the Mattachine Society of Washington applied for and was granted a city license to fundraise in the District of Columbia. When Congress learned that an organization working on behalf of homosexuals had received such a permit, some members were not pleased. Congress’s jurisdiction over the capital city gave it the means to take concrete action.
On May 1, 1963, Congressman John Dowdy of Texas introduced a bill, H.R. 5990, to amend the existing D.C. Charitable Solicitations Act. Dowdy’s bill stipulated that before granting a fundraising license the D.C. Board of Commissioners had to certify that the grantee would “benefit or assist in promoting the health, welfare, and the morals of the District of Columbia.”
Dowdy’s original bill proposal makes it clear that Mattachine was both the impetus behind the bill and its intended target.
As president of Mattachine, Kameny requested that a representative of the organization be permitted to testify at any hearings held on the bill. In response, the committee invited Kameny himself to speak.