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The Gay Revolution

The Story of the Struggle



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About The Book

“This is the history of the gay and lesbian movement that we’ve been waiting for.” —The Washington Post

The sweeping story of the struggle for gay and lesbian rights—based on amazing interviews with politicians, military figures, and members of the entire LGBT community who face these challenges every day.

The fight for gay and lesbian civil rights—the years of outrageous injustice, the early battles, the heart-breaking defeats, and the victories beyond the dreams of the gay rights pioneers—is the most important civil rights issue of the present day. In “the most comprehensive history to date of America’s gay-rights movement” (The Economist), Lillian Faderman tells this unfinished story through the dramatic accounts of passionate struggles with sweep, depth, and feeling.

The Gay Revolution begins in the 1950s, when gays and lesbians were criminals, psychiatrists saw them as mentally ill, churches saw them as sinners, and society victimized them with hatred. Against this dark backdrop, a few brave people began to fight back, paving the way for the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and beyond. Faderman discusses the protests in the 1960s; the counter reaction of the 1970s and early eighties; the decimated but united community during the AIDS epidemic; and the current hurdles for the right to marriage equality.

“A compelling read of a little-known part of our nation’s history, and of individuals whose stories range from heart-wrenching to inspiring to enraging to motivational” (Chicago Tribune), The Gay Revolution paints a nuanced portrait of the LGBT civil rights movement. A defining account, this is the most complete and authoritative book of its kind.


Dr. Carleton Simon was an enlightened man. Though special deputy police commissioner for New York State since 1920, he opposed the death penalty, and he advocated the rehabilitation of criminals. He opened a psychiatric clinic to serve the mentally disturbed down-and-out of the Bowery; and he disputed the use of the “water cure,” a torture technique devised by the US Army to interrogate prisoners during the occupation of the Philippines in World War II. He was a star among law enforcement officials and the medical establishment, and among society’s upper crust, too.1

But Dr. Simon had his idiosyncrasies and prejudices. The bald, hulking doctor dabbled in phrenology. He assured his formidable audiences, including the New York Academy of Medicine and the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, that a criminal could be identified even before he committed a crime by a drooping eyelid or a hanging corner of the mouth.2 Simon was also an expert on race. “Negro criminals,” he opined, were “dishonest, shiftless, and unreliable.”3 His 1947 lecture to the International Association of Chiefs of Police on “Homosexualists and Sex Crimes,” a model of bigotry and flawed logic, passed for science that lay people accepted uncritically. The “born-male homosexualists,” he asserted, are easy to spot by their female characteristics: their walk, body contour, voice, mannerisms, texture of skin, and also their interest in housekeeping and theatrical productions. The “women homosexualists” are fickle, always eager to add to their list of conquests, and are extremely jealous of the object of their lusts.

Though Simon granted that some homosexualists live as “decent members of society,” many, he insisted, have psychopathic personalities, are indifferent to public opinion, and become “predatory prostitutes.” He extolled the state of Illinois’s treatment of “homosexualist psychopathic individuals” and recommended it be adopted everywhere. In Illinois, convicted “homosexualists” could be held as psychiatric prisoners until they “recovered.” If they “recovered,” they were then tried for having committed sodomy, which was punishable in that state by up to ten years in prison.4

Dr. Simon had influential counterparts all over the country, such as Dr. Arthur Lewis Miller, a Nebraska physician who was state health director. From that position of authority, Dr. Miller disseminated his theory about the homosexual’s cycles of uncontrolled desire, which were as regular as women’s menstrual cycles. “Three or four days in each month, the homosexual’s instinct [for moral decency] breaks down, and he is driven into abnormal fields of sexual practice.” Because the homosexual can’t control himself, the doctor told the Nebraska State Medical Association, science must step in. “Large doses of sedatives or other treatment” were what Dr. Miller recommended to help the homosexual “escape from performing acts of homosexuality.”5

When Dr. Miller was elected to the US Congress, he brought his ideas with him to Washington. As Congressman Miller, he authored a Sexual Psychopath Law for the District of Columbia.6 The Miller Act, as it was called, passed both the House and the Senate without difficulty. It made sodomy punishable by up to twenty years in prison. It also mandated that anyone accused of sodomy (defined as either anal or oral sex) had to be examined by a psychiatric team. The psychiatrists would determine whether the accused was a “sexual psychopath”—one who through “repeated misconduct in sexual matters” had shown himself to be unable to control his sexual impulses. If a man were picked up several times by the DC police for cruising in Lafayette Park, for instance, the psychiatric team could diagnose him to be a “sexual psychopath,” and he could be committed to the criminal ward of the District of Columbia’s St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital, even before being allowed his day in court. Under section 207 of the bill, he would remain there until the superintendent of St. Elizabeth’s “finds that he has sufficiently recovered.” The Senate Committee on the District of Columbia called the Miller Act a “humane and practical approach to the problem of persons unable to control their sexual emotions.”7

•  •  •

President Harry Truman signed Dr. Miller’s bill into law in June 1948. Five months earlier, Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male had been published. No one who was reasonably informed could have escaped knowing about Kinsey’s book because it was reviewed in every major newspaper and magazine in the country. Kinsey’s name became a household word. He and his team had interviewed 5,300 men, asking each of them over three hundred questions: the Kinsey Study found that 46 percent of American males admitted that as adults they’d “reacted” sexually to both males and females; 37 percent admitted to having had at least one homosexual “experience” as an adult; 10 percent said that as adults they’d been “more or less exclusively homosexual” for at least three years.8

Even those who chose to believe that Kinsey’s numbers were inflated had to admit the likelihood that vast numbers of the male population were having sex with other men. But, in a stunning disconnect, lawmakers and the medical doctors who influenced them preferred to insist that people who engaged in such acts comprised a tiny distinct group, different from the rest of humanity. These “homosexuals” were lawbreakers and loonies, and they must be controlled.9
About ten o’clock on the evening of September 4, 1959, Thomas Ferry, a strikingly well-built young man in tight jeans and a form-fitting T-shirt, walked into Tiger’s, a beer-and-wine bar on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip. The routine wasn’t new to him; he’d been in Tiger’s five times in the last weeks. He sat down at the end of the long bar so that he could see the action, and he ordered a beer. Ten o’clock was early for a Friday night, and the crowd was thin. As Ferry sipped from his glass, he idly watched a shirtless man in his twenties, eyebrows penciled and eyes mascaraed, stand at the jukebox and feed it dimes, and then walk back to his seat with an exaggerated swishing of his hips. Ferry hadn’t taken more than a few sips of his beer before the bartender placed in front of him another full glass. The bartender nodded in the direction of a man sitting a few stools away. The man, in his thirties perhaps, was smiling at Ferry. Ferry had been in Tiger’s no more than ten minutes, but he knew he’d already caught his fish.

Ferry got up and walked over to where the man was sitting. “Thanks for the beer,” he said. “Do I know you?” “No, but I’d like to know you,” the man said. He introduced himself as Jim Cannon and offered his hand. Ferry shook hands warmly, and then pulled a business card from a back pocket and gave it to Cannon. The card said that the affable young man was Tom Ferry, a salesman. “Well, pleased to meet you, Tom,” Cannon said, putting the card in his wallet.

“Let me buy you a drink now,” Ferry said, standing close to Jim Cannon’s bar stool.10

Two of Jim Cannon’s friends who’d just come back from San Francisco walked into Tiger’s and, spotting Cannon, came over to chat about their gay adventures up north. Ferry stood there patiently, listening. “Why don’t you sit down,” Cannon suggested, and Ferry took the stool next to him. In the dark of the bar, Cannon, still talking with his friends, put a hand on Ferry’s knee. Ferry sat there. Cannon squeezed his thigh, stroked his pubic area, and Ferry still didn’t move away.

After Cannon’s friends went off to find a table, Ferry said casually, “Well, it’s too dead in here for me. I think I’ll leave. Do you want to go? My car’s across the street.”

“Yeah, swell!” Cannon said, flattered by the buff younger man’s willingness. They left and crossed the street together. Officer Martin Yturralde, who was waiting in the unmarked car, got out to witness Thomas Ferry flash his officer’s badge at James Cannon, pull out his handcuffs, and make the arrest. Officers Ferry and Yturralde deposited the stunned Cannon into the back of the car and drove him to the Hollywood police station, where he was asked to take out his wallet and show his identification. Officer Ferry plucked his “salesman” card from Cannon’s wallet because he knew he’d be using it again.11 James Cannon was charged under Penal Code 647.5: Vag-lewd, which covered vagrancy as well as lewd and lascivious conduct.

Ferry’s report was added to the record the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had been building for months—reports of dozens of visits to Tiger’s by undercover agents and officers. After the deputy attorney general of California examined their testimonies, he affirmed the ABC’s recommendation. The bar’s license was revoked.12

•  •  •

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had actually been created because of homosexuals. Before 1955, there was only an Alcoholic Beverage Commission, under the Board of Equalization. In 1951 the California Legislature authorized and pledged to finance a four-year study on “Sexual Psychopath Legislation” in twenty-three states and the District of Columbia.13 Four years later, horrified (as they’d expected to be) by what the study told about homosexuals and their “victims,” the legislators passed a constitutional amendment that created a Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and added a section to the Business and Professions Code that said that a liquor license could be revoked if a place was a “resort” where “sexual perverts” congregated.14

The newly created ABC was charged with maintaining public safety in establishments that served alcohol—and homosexuality, the legislature and most of America agreed, was intensely injurious to the public. Undercover agents and vice squad police were sent out on fishing expeditions, to find any evidence that the ABC could use to close the doors of homosexual bars. In San Francisco, by the late 1950s, there were so many undercover officers and agents that some nights they made up 25 percent of the people in the bar. For several months in 1959, for instance, agents were sent to a small, sedate bar on Geary Street, the Criterion Lounge. According to the hearing transcript of the agents’ testimony, one evening there were sixteen patrons and four undercover officers in the bar—each officer waiting for a patron to do something lewd to him.15

•  •  •

Lesbians were less likely than homosexual men to make a sexual move on a stranger after a brief conversation, but women agents and undercover officers were sent into lesbian bars as spies.16 Almost as soon as the Alcoholic Beverage Control was established in 1955, vice squad officer Marge Gwinn was sent with another undercover policewoman, Helen Davis, to do surveillance on Pearl’s, a lesbian bar that catered mostly to Latinas, for whom the place was like a social club. Gwinn passing for butch in boy’s pants and short pomaded hair, and Davis passing for her femme, hit pay dirt after only a few nights. Lorinda Pereira, a young woman in a dress and high heels, plopped herself down on the lap of short-haired Dorothy Gardner, who was decked out in a man’s shirt and fly-front trousers. Gardner petted Pereira’s leg and then rested her hand somewhere near Pereira’s pubic area—and Officers Gwinn and Davis quietly summoned their Oakland Police Department colleagues for a 1:30 a.m. raid. With a nod to the raiding police, the two officers identified the two women whose behavior was “injurious to public welfare and morals.” Pereira and Gardner were the first to be taken out to the paddy wagon. At the station, they were charged under Penal Code 647.5, “vag-lewds,” and were given suspended sentences of thirty days. Their “misconduct” was the heart of the ABC case to revoke Pearl Kershaw’s liquor license and shut the bar down.17

At a time when bars were the only public place where homosexuals could congregate, the loss of any gay bar was no small thing. Yet there was almost no public protest among gay bar-goers when Pearl’s was lost; nor when the North Coastal Area administrator of the ABC, Sidney Feinberg, declared a “vigorous” campaign to revoke the licenses of all gay establishments in the region. Feinberg, an imposing figure with a booming voice,18 announced publicly that he’d put a dozen undercover agents to work, “gathering evidence.”19 But to protest, homosexuals would have had to admit they were part of a group called “perverts” and “psychopaths.” Everywhere, homosexual anger was tamped down by shame and fear.20

•  •  •

If you let your homosexuality show, the streets were even more unsafe than the bars. George Barrett was a police officer with New York’s Sixteenth Precinct. “Germs,” “degenerates,” and “perverts” he called the homosexuals and “other lawbreakers” he ran into on his beat around Times Square, an area he dubbed “the sewer.” Barrett admitted to being “obsessed” with cleaning up the sewer and getting rid of the “germs.” His language, and his looks too, were a caricature of the hard-boiled film noir cop: “If I can’t get the best of a guy with punches, I’ll kick him, and if he’s a better kicker than I am, I’ll go with the stick or the jack, and if I have to, I’ll use my gun,” he told James Mills, a reporter for Life magazine in 1965. Mills described him in a long, illustrated feature article as having eyes as cold as gun metal and a jaw as hard and square as a brick. Barrett liked the description. “My wife says I got a mean look too,” he boasted. Most nights, Barrett roamed the area between Forty-Third and Forty-Fifth Streets, looking to bust homosexual prostitutes and their clients. He relished his work so much that he invited Mills to come along and watch the perverts with him.

“These animals, I’ll eat them up!” he told the reporter, who shadowed him up and down the streets. Barrett pointed out a group of five women standing together in a doorway: prostitutes and heroin addicts, all of them lesbians, he snarled. On a side street off Broadway, Barrett stopped when he saw a knot of six young men, two of them in a heated altercation. “Are you males?” he growled, though he knew they were. “Yes,” they said, startled by the sudden appearance of a cop. “Are you homosexual?” “Yes,” they admitted. “Well, you germs walk up this street to Broadway and get lost. Don’t come back.” To the one who was the most aggressive, a black man, Barrett said, “I’m going to walk you around the corner to the subway, and you’re going to run down that hole and get out of here, and if you ever come back, I’m going to drill you right between the eyes, you understand that?”

Even reporter James Mills was taken aback at Officer Barrett’s violent threat to the young man. “Yeah, I was rough on him,” Barrett agreed. “But I won’t be hearing from his lawyers because the guy is an admitted homosexual.”21 Not one of Life’s millions of readers wrote to express their disapproval.22
Poor or well-off; black, brown, or white; male or female—homosexuals were criminals or crazies or both. Vice squad officers Grimm and Beaudry spent the summer of 1962 cruising around the streets of downtown San Diego, protecting young sailors stationed at the naval base from the pitfalls of vice during their R & R. On the afternoon of July 1, they’d gotten a complaint, they said later, that “two Negro males” were extorting money from sailors by promising to hook them up with a female prostitute. At six o’clock the officers spotted a black man, Eldridge Rhodes, who fit the description of one of the supposed pimps. He was walking on Fifth and Market Streets in the company of Thomas Earl, a young white man who, though dressed in civvies, might be a sailor. Grimm and Beaudry parked their police car and tailed the two on foot for a block and a half, to one of the shabby downtown hotels. The plainclothes officers lingered in the doorway and saw the two men take the stairs up to a room on the second floor. The officers flashed their badges to the unnerved desk clerk and got the men’s room number.

The door to room 214 was closed, but through an open transom Officers Grimm and Beaudry heard a bed squeaking and “kissing-type” noises. Grimm discovered that the door didn’t fit tightly against the door frame, and there was a gap in the molding. Peering in, he could see the two men sitting on a bed, naked, embracing and kissing. When the men moved out of Grimm’s sight line, Beaudry gave him a boost so he could peer through the transom for a better view. Oral copulation.

Beaudry, too heavy for a boost, rushed back downstairs to the desk clerk and demanded a stool; he needed to confirm what Grimm had seen.23

Thomas Earl and Eldridge Rhodes were tried in 1963, a decade and a half since Drs. Simon and Miller had called for the psychiatric institutionalization of those found guilty of homosexual crimes. By now in many states, facilities had been built and mechanisms put in place. In California, there was Atascadero State Hospital, constructed in 1954 at the cost to taxpayers of over $10 million (almost $100 million in today’s money). Atascadero was a maximum-security psychiatric prison on the central coast where mentally disordered male lawbreakers from all over California were incarcerated. Inmates were treated at Atascadero by a variety of methods, including electroconvulsive therapy, lobotomy, sterilization, and hormone injections. Anectine was used often for “behavior modification.” It was a muscle relaxant, which gave the person to whom it was administered the sensation of choking or drowning, while he received the message from the doctor that if he didn’t change his behavior he would die.24

Earl and Rhodes were found guilty of violating Penal Code section 288a, which made oral copulation a crime in California that was punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.25 A district court sent them to Atascadero for an indeterminate period. Thomas Earl fought to get a retrial on the grounds that Officers Grimm and Beaudry did not have a warrant when they spied on him and Rhodes and broke into their hotel room. An appeals court ruled that looking through a gap in a door and listening to noises that came through a transom did not violate legal procedures, and once the officers saw what they saw, they were right to break into the room.26

•  •  •

Sally Taft Duplaix27 was a sophomore in 1956 at Smith, the rich-girl’s college. Classy all-American girl looks, stylish, and smart too, Sally had even been valedictorian at her posh high school. She seemed to fit perfectly into the Smith environment, until another student reported to the dean that she’d caught Sally and her roommate in flagrante delicto. Though wealthy whites, especially females, didn’t generally get arrested and committed to state hospitals for being homosexual, as did people like Thomas Earl and Eldridge Rhodes, they weren’t unscathed by the widespread assumption that homosexuality was a sickness and needed curing. A few years earlier, in 1952, that assumption had been made official in the American Psychiatric Association’s first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrist’s bible. Homosexuality was “pathological behavior,” the DSM stated. Sally Duplaix was sent to the Smith College doctor, who informed her parents that they must put their daughter under a psychiatrist’s care.28

Duplaix’s parents weren’t uneducated, but they knew no more about homosexuality than did most other straight people at midcentury. Their knowledge on the subject came mostly from popular media—magazines such as the widely read Collier’s, which called homosexuality “the biggest taboo,” and associated it with “sexual maladjustment and sex crimes that twist the lives of tens of thousands of people into patterns that are as pitiful as they are ugly.”29 A flood of books and popular articles by psychoanalysts such as Irving Bieber, Charles Socarides, and Edmund Bergler promised that rescue was possible. With enough psychoanalysis (and the money to pay for it) homosexuals could be transformed into heterosexuals. Duplaix’s parents found a psychoanalyst for her in Manhattan, and five days a week she was to take the train in from the suburbs in order to be cured.30

Duplaix showed up dutifully, but she was uninterested and uncooperative, the doctor said. He told her parents she’d do better in a residential facility. He recommended Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut, a place that looked like a five-star hotel on a country estate. As well off as Duplaix’s parents were, they had to take out a second mortgage on their home to afford the treatment. The facility specialized in super-rich alcoholics who came to dry out, but the doctor thought Duplaix would benefit from the multihour seven-day-a-week regimen of private and group therapy. She didn’t. She refused to stop saying that she was a homosexual and was not ashamed. The Silver Hill staff recommended that she be sent to a private mental hospital, the Elmcrest Psychiatric Institute in Portland, Connecticut.

There Duplaix was heavily medicated. She received both insulin-shock and electroshock treatments. She was told that if she didn’t behave, she’d be transferred to Littleton, the state asylum in the next town, which was far worse. She’d heard that lobotomies were sometimes performed to cure people of homosexuality, and she feared she’d be lobotomized.31 “Little Miss Spoiled in the Snake Pit,” she later said of her helplessness and dread at Elmcrest.

One evening Duplaix managed to escape, running through the autumn fields in search of a pay phone. She found one in a café not far from the hospital. She wanted to call her parents and beg them to get her out of Elmcrest. But the café was the first place the Elmcrest attendants looked for her. Before she could tell the telephone operator she wished to make a collect call, the attendants had bundled her into the hospital van and brought her back. From that point on, she was allowed to dress only in nightgown, bathrobe, and slippers, to assure she wouldn’t attempt another escape.

In December 1956, after five months of shock treatments and heavy medication, Duplaix was released to her parents, who again put her in psychoanalysis. She died in July 2012, at the age of seventy-six, still a lesbian.

The “malevolent monsters of the ‘mental health’ establishment,” she’d called the psychiatrists who treated her. But she’d overcome her anger toward her parents for throwing her to the monsters by telling herself that was what loving parents with some money and some sophistication did in the 1950s. It was no better and no worse, she theorized, than what poor or unenlightened parents did: they threw their homosexual children out into the streets.32

About The Author

Photograph by Phyllis Irwin

Lillian Faderman is an internationally known scholar of lesbian history and literature, as well as ethnic history and literature. Among her many honors are six Lambda Literary Awards, two American Library Association Awards, and several lifetime achievement awards for scholarship. She is the author of The Gay Revolution and the New York Times Notable Books, Surpassing the Love of Men and Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 27, 2016)
  • Length: 832 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451694123

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