Harry Hay (upper left), then (l–r) Konrad Stevens, Dale Jennings, Rudi Gernreich, Stan Witt, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, and Paul Bernard | OutSmart magazine | 14207
Founded in 1950 by political radical Harry Hay, the Mattachine Society is usually regarded as America’s first gay rights advocacy group. They met in secret due to the atmosphere of the time, and organised in cells. In 1951 Dale Jennings was arrested on police entrapment charges. Police entrapment was a common form of harassment against homosexuals then. Suspects’ names were printed in the newspapers, which caused many to lose their jobs and become estranged from their families.
By standing up to defend Jennings, the Mattachine Society not only rose to the defense of one of their members, but also took on the notorious Los Angeles Police Department for its pattern and practice of homosexual harassment. Jennings’ charges were dismissed due to the judge catching the arresting officers in a lie. This victory was not reported in the newspapers, but the Mattachine Society took it upon themselves to publicize it through flyers distributed throughout Los Angeles to areas where homosexuals met. The result was a swelling of attendance at Mattachine Society meetings.
The Mattachine Society grew into a national movement, and with the Daughters of Bilitis (a lesbian organisation), became the main civil rights organizations for gays and lesbians in the USA until the Stonewall riot in 1969. The Mattachine Society was wound up in the 1980s.
Harry Hay was born in Worthing, England in 1912 and died on 24 October 2002. Harry Hay is now regarded by many as the father of gay liberation.