overview

In July 1966, the homophobic policies of The Brooklyn Heights Press, then headquartered in this building, were the focus of a successful protest by the Brooklyn Heights Chapter of the Mattachine Society, an ad hoc offshoot of the Mattachine Society of New York.

By 1971, in the post-Stonewall era, the paper’s policies had completely reversed. It endorsed inclusion of sexual orientation in New York’s Human Rights Law and began running a bi-weekly “Gay Voices”column, which appeared until 1973.

Header Photo
Credit: Gale Harris/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.

History

In the 1950s and 1960s, as young professionals began to buy and restore the old rowhouses of Brooklyn Heights, a number were members of the LGBT community, mostly gay men. As early as 1962, the Brooklyn Heights Press (BHP), then located nearby at 151 Montague Street (it moved to this building by February 1965), began to express animus towards the gay presence in the neighborhood, writing “it is a well-known but tacit fact that after nine o’clock on a mild evening many persons quit the Promenade and leave it to the homosexuals.” This was followed by a series of letters to the editor both attacking and supporting gays. At first, the paper took an even-handed approach, albeit one that permitted the publication of such phrases as “Princes of the Promenade,” “misbegotten pansies,” and “Village fags and Times Square queens [who] … publicly flaunt their effeminacy in a most disgusting fashion.” In February 1964, a draft for a Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY) newsletter noted that BHP was again creating a furor with its homophobic articles. In 1965 and early 1966, the paper refused to publish advertisements from the New York Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, saying “we do not accept ads of any kind from homophile organizations.”

Things reached a boiling point in May 1966 when the Brooklyn Heights Association issued a position paper calling for increased policing to curb homosexual activities in the Heights. BHP wholeheartedly backed the Association’s position, saying that “the welfare of our children and young people is at stake.” Dick Leitsch, president of MSNY, and gay residents of Brooklyn Heights responded in several strongly-worded letters to the editor. Under the leadership of Herman Slade, an ad hoc Brooklyn Heights Chapter of the Mattachine Society (BHMS) formed and tried to set up a town hall meeting with the paper and the Association to air their differences. When the meeting was canceled at the last minute, BHMS leafleted the Clark Street subway station. Subsequently, BHMS picketed the paper’s offices and went door to door asking local merchants to stop advertising in the paper. Stung by the BHMS actions, the paper reacted with angry defiance insisting that it was only trying to stop the Heights from “becoming a wide open haven for exhibitionistic homosexualism.”

The editorials and letters went on until the end of September. In November BHP took the unprecedented step of running a front page article to announce the appointment of a new editor. After that the paper turned to other subjects.

Although BHP never renounced its earlier position, in November 1971, it introduced a new column, “Gay Voices,” by Jim Jarman and Sandra Chernick, members of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). The paper also ran an editorial supporting the passage of Intro 475 that would have added sexual orientation to New York City’s Human Rights Law, making it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. A GAA newsletter credited this complete change in policy to lobbying by Jarman, who was one of the founders of the Gay Alliance of Brooklyn (GAB). He and Chernick collaborated on the column for about six months, then another GAB member, Arnold Mandelbaum, replaced Chernick. It ran until April 1973, when the paper changed ownership, covering such topics as legal rights, religion, politics, the police, and family acceptance. According to Jarman and Mandelbaum, it was “the first regular feature on homosexuality in a mass circulation periodical.”

This entry, written by project consultant Gale Harris, was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Unknown
  • Year Built: c. 1857-67; lower three floors converted to offices and façade altered in 1928; upper stories stripped and cornice removed c. 1958.

Sources

  1. Brooklyn Public Library, A Look Back at Brooklyn’s LGBTQ+ History, bit.ly/2T4POYp.

  2. Daughters of Bilitis, New York City Chapter, Minutes, Oct. 3, 1965, Dec. 5, 1965, Jan. 9, 1966, Mar. 6, 1966, Minutes – Administrative Files, Daughters of Bilitis, National, Archives of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society, box 6, folder 20.

  3. Dick Leitsch, “Distressing,” Brooklyn Heights Press, June 9, 1966, 4.

  4. “Editorial,” Brooklyn Heights Press, July 28, 1966, 1, 4.

  5. “A Forthright Statement,” Brooklyn Heights Press, May 26, 1966, 1.

  6. Fred Wasserman, “Brooklyn Lesbian and Gay History Exhibition Project Notes, “[Compiled for the Brooklyn Historical Society, 1993-1994].

  7. “Gay Alliance of Brooklyn,” Gay Activist Alliance Newssheet, Gay Activist

  8. Alliance Papers, New York Public Library, box 18, folder 10.

  9. “Heights Association Issues Statement on Homosexual,” Brooklyn Heights Press, May 26, 1966, 1.

  10. Herman Slade, “Brooklyn Heights Mattachine Society,” Homosexual Citizen, 1966, 12-13.

  11. “Homosexuality Debate,” Brooklyn Heights Press, September 19, 1963, 4.

  12. “Homosexuality on the Heights,” Brooklyn Heights Press, October 18, 1962, 4.

  13. “Homosexuals Are Scapegoats,” Brooklyn Heights Press, September 12, 1963, 4.

  14. “Intro 475,” Brooklyn Heights Press, November 25, 1971, 4.

  15. Jim Jarman and Arnold Mandelbaum, “Gay Viewpoints,” Brooklyn Heights Press, April 5, 1973, 5.

  16. Jim Jarman and Sandra Chernick, “Gay Voices,” Brooklyn Heights Press, November 25, 1971, 2.

  17. Mattachine Newsletter manuscript, 1964, Mattachine Society of New York Records, 1951-1976, New York Public Library, box 4, folder 10, 5.

  18. New Editor Joins Hgts. Press,” Brooklyn Heights Press, November 10, 1966, 1.

  19. “’Operation Decoy’ Is in Effect on Promenade and Near St. George,” Brooklyn Heights Press, September 20, 1962, 1.

  20. “Our Position Will Stand,” Brooklyn Heights Press, August 4, 1966, 4.

  21. Sahid S. Besheer, “Letters to the Editor: Omnibus,” Brooklyn Heights Press, October 4, 1962, 4.

  22. Sulieman Osman, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Curated Themes

8 Sites

Brooklyn Heights

24 Sites

Activism Outside Manhattan

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

65 Court Street
Gay Activists Alliance Zap at the New York City Board of Examiners
Public Spaces
70 Willow Street
Oliver Smith Residence / Truman Capote Residence
Residences
91 Joralemon Street
Renée Cafiero & Nancy Garden Residence
Residences