Mattachine Society

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The Mattachine Society, founded in 1950, was one of the earliest homophile organizations in the United States, probably second only to Chicago’s short-lived Society for Human Rights (1924). Harry Hay and a group of Los Angeles male friends formed the group to protect and improve the rights of homosexuals. Because of concerns for secrecy and the founders’ leftist ideology, they adopted the cell organization of the Communist Party. In the anti-Communist atmosphere of the 1950s, the Society’s growing membership replaced the group’s early Communist model with a more traditional ameliorative civil rights leadership style and agenda. Then, as branches formed in other cities, the Society splintered in regional groups by 1961.

Contents

Founding

Harry Hay conceived of the idea of a homosexual activist group in 1948. After signing a petition for Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, Hay spoke with other gay men at a party about forming a gay support organization for him called "Bachelors for Wallace".[1] Encouraged by the response he received, Hay wrote out the organizing principles that night, a document he referred to as "The Call".[2] However, the men who had been interested at the party were less than enthused the following morning.[1] Over the next two years, Hay refined his idea, finally conceiving of an "international...fraternal order" to serve as "a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society's Androgynous Minority".[3] He planned to call this organization "Bachelors Anonymous" and envisioned it serving a similar function and purpose as Alcoholics Anonymous.[4] Hay met Rudi Gernreich in July 1950. The two became lovers,[5] and Hay showed Gernreich The Call. Gernreich, declaring the document "the most dangerous thing [he had] ever read",[6] became an enthusiastic financial supporter of the venture, although he did not lend his name to it[7] (going instead by the initial "R"[8]). Finally on November 11, 1950, Hay, along with Gernreich and friends Dale Jennings and lovers Bob Hull and Chuck Rowland, held the first meeting of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, under the name "Society of Fools".[9] The group changed its name to "Mattachine Society" in April 1951, a name chosen by Hay based on Medieval French secret societies of masked men who, through their anonymity, were empowered to criticize ruling monarchs with impunity.[10]

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