Barbara Gittings with Isabel Miller (Alma Routsong) at a kissing booth at the American Library Association conference, Dallas, 1971. Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
In the nearly two decades prior to the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) – both founded in California, in 1950 and 1955, respectively – were early and leading American homophile groups. The term “homophile” was then in common use for gay and lesbian organizations. In the conservative post-World War II era they were considered quite radical for campaigning for the rights of gay men and lesbians to simply exist openly in society without fear of arrest or persecution.
The Mattachine Society of New York was formed in December 1955 by Tony Segura and Sam Morford, and the Daughters of Bilitis, New York Chapter, was founded in 1958 by Barbara Gittings and Marion Glass. Among the important issues they raised were the roles of government, religion, and psychiatry as major agents of oppression, and DOB chapter president Gittings called on libraries to be positive forces for change by offering appropriate books for young people grappling with their sexuality.
The Mattachine Society’s offices were located in 1133 Broadway from at least April 1959 to July 1968, first in Room 304 and later in Room 412. Soon after its founding, DOB New York shared Mattachine’s space, until September 1961. Under the innovative leadership of president Dick Leitsch (who was in that role from 1964 to 1972), Mattachine challenged the State Liquor Authority’s ban on serving gay people at the famous Sip-In at Julius’ bar in April 1966, and worked to stop police entrapment of gay men. Mattachine worked behind the scenes with political officials, such as Mayor John V. Lindsay and Commission on Human Rights chairman William H. Booth, to reduce oppressive policies against the community. These actions helped to improve the lives of LGBT New Yorkers and paved the way for future political work.
By at least 1965, East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) shared Mattachine’s offices. This was due to the fact that its conference in September of that year was in New York, at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, and that Leitsch was the conference coordinator. Founded in 1963, ECHO was the first regional American federation of gay rights groups. ECHO sponsored the famous July 4th Annual Reminders at Independence Hall in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1969.