Southern History and Civil Rights in the News 17 September 2021

Scout Johnson's picture

This Week’s History:

On 19 September 1964, Randy Wicker and fellow members of the League for Sexual Freedom League (LFS) and the Homosexual League of New York (HLNY) demonstrated in front of a US Army Induction Center in New York City to protest the treatment of gays by the military establishment. At that time, homosexual behavior, or even suspected homosexuality, was an automatic dishonorable discharge, a mark that would follow former service members through the rest of their lives because military authorities also shared (supposedly private) draft and military records with prospective employers outside of the armed forces. Although there were only ten picketers and being a Saturday, there was not much foot traffic through the city, this is often recognized as the first public gay rights demonstration in the United States.

Wicker, the organizer had been working up to the demonstration over the previous two years. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, where he got his start as an organizer and formed his first gay organization, he relocated to New York City and worked with the Mattachine Society, which he found too conservative. He then broke away and formed the HLNY to engage in more direct-action activities. His first foray was to form a panel of gay men to counter a local radio show that featured psychologists claiming homosexuality as a mental disease. The interviews with Wicker’s panel were aired in July 1962 and are believed to be the first broadcast of gay men discussing homosexuality. He continued with speaking engagements throughout the Northeast and the publicity led him to being a guest on The Les Crane Show in January 1964, becoming the first gay person to appear openly on tv, without a disguise or fake name. (He was actually born Charles Gervin Hayden, Jr, but had been going by Randolfe Hayden Wicker since the late 1950s and legally changed his name in 1967)

After that protest and another in December 1964, which was a picket against a lecture given by a psychiatrist—again tying homosexuality to mental disease—and which is claimed as the second public gay rights protest, Wicker remained active in what was then called the Gay Liberation Movement. He was a witness to the Stonewall Uprising, though he decried the violence, and later a member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). He has written for numerous gay publications, including Gay and The Advocate. Randy Wicker is still active and still marching in the GLBTQ+ movement today.

 

References and Further Reading:

Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Michael G Long, ed., Gay is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny, Syracuse University Press, 2014.

Neil Miller, Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present, Vintage Books, 1995.

Tracy Baim, Barabara Gittings: Gay Pioneer, Prairie Avenue Productions, 2015.

Will Kohler, “The 50th Anniversary of the Little Known First Ever Pro-Gay Protest – September 19,1964

 

News Links:

Civil Rights

Greensboro: Civil Rights Center and Museum Works with Author To Launch Civil Rights Trail Experience,” WXII (Winston-Salem, NC)

A Beachfront Property Taken from a Black Family a Century Ago May Soon Be Returned,” NPR

South City Fifth Graders See Their Effort for Civil Rights Hero Expanded to Official Day,” The Daily Journal (San Mateo, CA)

Making Eyes on the Prize,” JSTOR Daily

Scars of History, Hope of Healing: Fort Lewis College Removes Inaccurate Depictions of Its Boarding School Past,” The Denver Post

“‘There Were Higher Hopes’: Did the FBI Fail in Trying to Resolve Civil Rights Cold Cases?” Houma Today (Houma, LA)

The West on Fire: L.A.’s Black Firefighters Battle Flames and Racism Throughout History,” KCET (Los Angeles, CA PBS)

Un(re)solved, PBS

 

Until next week, take care,

Michele “Scout” Johnson

Editor, H-South

 

This series of posts to H-South, “Southern History and Civil Rights in the News,” aims to generate and track informed public discussions of southern history and civil rights. To recommend a reading, please email Dr. Michele Johnson at mrj028@uark.edu