Henry Gerber in an undated photo. Source: Washington Blade.
Henry Gerber wrote essays on homosexuality while living at Fort Jay. Photo by Jay Shockley/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.
Henry Gerber was jailed for several weeks at Castle Williams in 1942. Photo by Jay Shockley/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.
A life-size historic image at Castle Williams shows what jail cells looked like during Henry Gerber's time there, 2016. Photo by NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.
Exterior of Castle Williams. Photo by Jay Shockley/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.
A model of Castle Williams located within the structure, 2016. Photo by NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.
Society for Human Rights application, Chicago, 1924. Source unknown.
Henry Gerber gravestone, U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Source: Find A Grave website.
Henry Gerber House National Historic Landmark Plaque, Chicago. Source: National Park Service.
The Society for Human Rights, founded in 1924 by the Bavarian-born Henry Gerber (né Josef Henry Dittmar; 1892-1972) while living in Chicago, was the first American LGBT rights organization. Gerber had been an American soldier occupying Germany from 1920 to 1923 following World War I, and had come in contact with the “homophile” rights movement there.
Within a year of its creation, the Society for Human Rights disbanded due to Gerber’s arrest after publication of the Society’s second newsletter, and although he was acquitted, he lost his post office job. Gerber moved to New York several years later, re-enlisted in the Army, and was posted at Fort Jay on Governors Island, where he continued to write essays on homosexuality for a number of publications. While here, he was subject to harassment, including beatings and blackmail, because he was gay. He spent several weeks held in the guardhouse at Castle Williams in 1942, even though no evidence of illegal behavior was found.
Gerber was honorably discharged in 1945, and he continued the fight for gay rights for the rest of his life.