E-mail from Billy - Documenting the civil rights movement of homosexual citizens

From William A. Percy
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I am thinking that it might be worthwhile for us to think about how we got to where we are today in our community/movement/cause. Do you know how it went? I don't think it is one group or person but i do think we need to seek to learn for our own sake and perhaps it will help future generations. It would be a different story perhaps if we had not been as successful as we have been. But I honestly can't see how we have done as well as we have. I sure didn't keep a record of what all we've done, personally or as an organization. Thank goodness for publications lie yours which will help future historians. And we do have newsletters. But I can't remember some things and some come back suddenly without any reason.

But what things did we all do right? What was wrong, but didn't stop us. I think most people have said that AIDS, strangely, didn't slow our progress, even though we lost many great people, but in a way got the men and women to working together, and got us support from friends who were afraid to be "seen helping us before.

I don't think we have to say or think that only one or even two things we did were the reason so many people now support our fight for civil/equal rights. I speak personally when I say I'm amazed that in a sense just by being there and opening our office every weekday since 1953 had a great contribution. While today we hear celebrities say that they get lots of letters and communications telling them how grateful lonely homosexuals are knowing they are there, it's always been so. We have letters in our ONE/HIC files saying the same thing, from 53 on, as do the DOB and Mattachine, Mattachine Midwest files as well as your own and other publication files.

I don't think we can escape the fact that at the start most homosexuals were still worried that they might be sick, or sinful or criminal, etc. So it took all of those Mattachine, DOB ONE etc,meetings to get them to thinking that society might be wrong. Then our publications reached the general public and said to them, you are wrong, we are not criminal, etc. And as each year there were more "out" homosexual men and women, more organizations and publications, saying that, the public started questioning the sermons of religious bigots, or perhaps ignorant preachers, priests, etc. And it seemed that most of the "scientific" thinking actually came from religious beliefs. Dr Kinsey busted that bubble, as did Dr. Hooker.

With more of us we could and did argue from lots of views. We could then work on legal issues, religious issues, social service work, etc. Then we could start working with the various internal issues, such as kids with gay parents, parents with gay kids, etc. Do all kids today know of COLAGE? Do all parents know of PFLAG?

But even with the wonderful work of people like our own Don Slater, Dorr Legg, Jim Kepner, Del and Phyllis, Hal Call, Easterners Kameny, Gittings, ya'll in the center, Bill Kelly, Pearl Hart, et al, how do we explain that so few made such a great change? And the fact that so many people seemingly didn't even know ONE/DOB etc when they actually got started thinking and working for the cause?

I am sure this is a generic issue. Many young black kids didn't know of the NAACP or even CORE etc but finally logically realized that they were NOT second class citizens and deserved equal rights. And women finally realized that even though their husbands may be good men, sometimes you had to have the right to do what you wanted to do, such as vote, etc. so they sought equal rights.

I think it is right to say that we got no help from the academic community, the media ignored us, yet we got "through." We sure had no money. We had no rich or famous queers supporting the cause.

And even I had never read a single book on the issue, or even thought of it as a civil rights issue. Perhaps that is part of the answer. I just "did it." But when I did accidentally found ONE I saw the value in working to make people understand me. I didn't want their approval, but that they keep out of my private life. The right to privacy, and Don Slater said the Ninth Amendment covered that, is the most American of all beliefs.

I would like to hear what others who have worked in the movement think. I believe it is the obligation of social scientists and other academics to learn how our civil rights movement has worked.

One source of information is just going back and reading issues of Windy City Times, etc over the years. I think it is great to have Ellen, and good gay characters on Brothers and Sisters, Desperate Housewives, etc but I believe the people and groups in our movement have had more impact in changing the public's attitude. That may change in the future if more people read less and watch tv and seek information on the internet more.

Anyway, I am "thankful" for what we have done, the people we have worked with and am hopeful that future young homosexual men and women will take up the fight. But they should know that there were "pioneers" who risked a lot to make life for them as good as it is.

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