gerber/hart exhibit text

Excerpts from my work at the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives (2017-2021)

pearl hart

One of the first female attorneys in Chicago to specialize in criminal law, advocated tirelessly for children, women, immigrants, and gay and lesbian persons. In 1933 Hart became the first public defender in morals court, where she often defended women accused of prostitution. Within four months of taking the position, the court’s conviction rate dropped sharply from approximately 90% to 10%. As a founder of Mattachine Midwest and a member of the organization’s legal defense committee, Hart created a pamphlet for gay persons outlining constitutional and civil rights, as well as what to do when arrested. Although never openly identifying as a lesbian, Hart maintained long term romantic relationships with women, including poet and author Valerie Taylor. Called the “Guardian Angel of Chicago’s Gay Community” for her diligent fight against police harassment, Hart was inducted posthumously into Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992.

bill Kelley

A lifelong activist for homosexual rights and racial justice, William B. (Bill) Kelley’s influence and impact on behalf of civil rights cannot be overstated. Kelley moved to Chicago from Missouri to attend the University of Chicago in 1959. In 1965 he would join Mattachine Midwest and later help organize and serve as the secretary for the National Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO). Inspired by the civil rights movements, Kelley fought to apply the same strategies and discourse to the burgeoning homophile movement. Kelley grew frustrated with the lethargic pace of Mattachine Midwest, however, and left the organization. In 1970, he created Homosexuals Organized for Political Education (HOPE) which distributed a questionnaire for potential political candidates. During the 1970s and 1980s, Kelley was involved in several organizations in Chicago, attended the first White House meeting on gay issues in 1977, and served on the Advisory Council on LGBT Issues for twelve years. Though Kelley passed away in 2016, his legacy lives on not only through his history of activism but also in the collection that he and his partner, Chen K. Ooi, donated to Gerber/Hart Library and Archives. The collection has proved to be an invaluable asset to the creation and curation of these exhibits. Kelley was inducted into Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1991.

gay bar raids

While police raids on homosexual bars and tearooms were a common occurrence, the department saw its share of internal corruption. Following revelations in 1960 that the Summerdale police station on the city’s north side served as the nexus of a massive burglary ring, Daley earned praise for appointing O.W. Wilson, dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Criminology, as Chicago Police Superintendent. A master of using public relations to his advantage, Wilson was credited by the mainstream press, and many middle-class whites, with reducing corruption and bringing professionalism to the department, all the while launching a sweeping campaign of policing black and queer life using undercover police tactics that went unseen or ignored by the media.

To be a visibly homosexual person meant not only risking arrest and harassment, but also loss of employment and dignity. Many businesses felt no obligation to keep homosexuals employed, especially after they’d been exposed in the papers, a salacious tactic used by newspaper editors to gain readers. Chicago police, encouraged by the prospect of promotions, conducted frequent raids, used “stop and quiz” tactics, and made multiple arrests. This also courted political favor as well, as many of the bars were, as then Cook County sheriff (and future Illinois governor) Richard Ogilvie put it, “too revolting to describe in detail to the public.” Even carrying copies of the Mattachine Midwest Newsletter was damning evidence of an establishment's ill repute.

Homosexuals fared no better outside the city limits. On April 25, 1964, following a three-week surveillance campaign led by Ogilvie, Cook County deputies raided the Fun Lounge in Des Plaines, arresting more than 100 people for “deviate sexual conduct.” The next day, the Chicago Tribune would print the names of many of those arrested, including eight teachers and four municipal employees. While bar raids were common in Chicago, the raid on the Fun Lounge dwarfed previous incidents and rippled throughout Chicago’s homosexual community. Later dubbed by Ira Jones as “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” the Fun Lounge raid would become the launchpad for the formation of the first successful gay civil rights organization, Mattachine Midwest.

mattachine midwest

In 1965, Mattachine Midwest (MM) was formed in Chicago by Robert Sloane Basker, Pearl M Hart, Ira H. Jones, Bruce C. Scott, and Valerie Taylor, following the collapse of two unsuccessful chapters of the secretive and exclusive Mattachine Society. While the name recalled the earlier group, and although both groups shared a belief of progress for the homosexual community through education, political outreach, and community dialogue, MM was entirely independent and more inclusive in its membership, recognizing gay, lesbian, and bisexual members. By the late 1960s, MM transitioned into a more service-oriented organization, publishing a newsletter to connect the community and setting up a hotline for employment, healthcare, legal, and counseling assistance. It also assisted in organizing the NACHO (North American Conference of Homophile Organizations) conferences from 1966 on and counted such well-known LGBTQ activists as Bill Kelley among their members.

response to police violence

In the wake of persistent police harassment, Mattachine Midwest president Jim Bradford remained a voice of hope for the homosexual community. In order to make real change, Bradford believed the gay community must establish a dialogue with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Along with Bill Kelley, vice president of Mattachine Midwest, and William W. Brackett, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, the group began a series of talks with key figures in the CPD in 1966. The talks made little progress, and wouldn’t gain traction until 1969, when Bradford, new Mattachine Midwest vice president Tom Gertz, and attorney Renee Hanover met with the director of the vice control division, Captain Raymond Clark. In this discussion, Bradford found Clark to be amenable to their complaints and showed a willingness to see “...the law enforced equally.” Another meeting with 18th district (Near North neighborhood) commander Clarence Braasch also proved productive. Despite Braasch’s skepticism, he took the complaints against his officers seriously.

the trip

Catering to tourists and shoppers during the day, The Trip restaurant and cabaret at 27 E. Ohio St. transformed into a three-story gay hotspot after dinner hours and a private club on Sundays. On one of these Sundays in January of 1968, after a plainclothes officer gained entry using a fraudulent membership card and witnessed same-sex dancing, police raided The Trip and arrested 13 patrons for “public indecency” and “soliciting prostitution.” Although the charges were eventually dropped, Mattachine Midwest saw this raid as another example of unwarranted police harassment. 

 

In May of 1968, The Trip was raided again. While few arrests were made, the liquor authorities closed The Trip and revoked their liquor license. This was a common practice and served as the death knell for most bars. The appeal process would take months, and the bar would have to remain closed until matters were sorted.

The Trip’s owners decided to challenge the closing, hiring attorney Elmer Gertz to bring the case against the License Appeal Commission of Chicago. This was the first time a bar had challenged a shut down, and the case would eventually be brought to the Illinois Supreme Court, where the Trip was awarded a complete reversal.

 

Despite its closure, The Trip hosted numerous events, most notably the NACHO conference in 1968, and Mattachine Midwest would hold their monthly meetings there. The Trip would reopen to much acclaim and remain a vital part of Chicago’s gay community for several years after.

stonewall's impact in Chicago

In the early morning of June 28th, 1969, New York City police converged upon and raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village that served as a haven for many of the marginalized groups in the LGBTQ community, including drag queens, transgender people, sex workers, and homeless youth. This would be the third raid on the establishment in as many weeks, and police first began by arresting the employees for serving alcohol without a license.

After police emptied the Inn, the crowd refused to disperse, throwing objects at the police and trapping them inside. The police called for reinforcements as the mob outside surged to over 400 people. The riots would last for five days, with protestors creating barricades, performing kick-lines, and setting bonfires in the streets. The aftermath of the riots served as a galvanizing event for the LGBTQ community, seeing the creation of the Gay Liberation Front (the first organization to use “gay” in their name), and fostered unity with the civil rights and feminist movements. Within a year, cities across the country including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York were celebrating Gay Pride parades, with many others to follow. The Stonewall riots ignited the gay rights movement in New York, but outside of the city the news coverage was brief, and their impact would not be felt in other cities until months later. 

the fist of resistance

With its origins dating as far back as the 1800s, the symbol of the raised fist has been used over the decades primarily by civil rights activists, anti-fascists, and revolutionaries. The fist symbolizes solidarity and justice, serving as a rallying symbol for marginalized communities all over the world. The fist, most often combined with the homophile male-male/female-female symbol, was a common banner used in gay liberation pickets and protests.

alliance to end repression

Created in 1970 with the support of nearly 70 separate and diverse organizations (including churches and synagogues, trade unions, and human rights and community groups), the Alliance to End Repression worked to “change government practices that threaten civil liberties." The Alliance was a liberal-minded organization focused on social activism, carrying out its work primarily as task forces, which took on the representation of organizations that participated in support of the broad spectrum of civil rights initiatives of their choosing. Notably successful task forces included the Bail Task Force, the Prisons Task Force, the Police-Community Problems Task Force, and the Gay Rights Task Force. The Alliance strived to end police harassment and surveillance during the late 1970s, until a series of resignations by the founding members severely hampered the Alliance’s power as a vital voice for social justice in Chicago.

homophile definition

First coined in Germany by Karl Gunther Heimsoth in his 1924 dissertation “Hetero- und Homophile”, homophile only truly came into use in the US during the 1950s. The word was used rather than “homosexual” because it implied love rather than sex, reflected that there could be non-homosexual people in the movement, and did not have the connotations of criminality and illness that “homosexual” did at the time.

Medina temple protest

On June 14, 1977, thousands of gays and lesbians converged upon the Medinah Temple (today the Bloomingdale’s at 600 N. Wabash Avenue in River North) to protest a concert by Anita Bryant, an orange juice spokeswoman and self-appointed advocate for the anti-gay movement. Bryant sparked a national controversy after her “Save Our Children” campaign successfully led to the repeal of an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in Dade County, Florida. The repeal galvanized the national LGBTQ community, and upon her arrival in Chicago, activists responded.  

 

Organized by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago and the Committee for Gay Rights, the protestors circled the temple, chanting “pray for Anita” and carrying signs reading “God drinks wine, not orange juice.” The rowdy but peaceful gathering lasted for three hours, with only eight arrests being recorded. The protest - the first and largest of its kind in Chicago - was a turning point for the gay liberation movement and a crucial moment for LGBTQ rights in Chicago.

Henry gerber

Henry Gerber was born in Bavaria in 1892 and immigrated to Chicago in 1913. In 1917 he was briefly institutionalized for being homosexual, and following the United States entry into WWI, Gerber was given the choice of either being detained as an “enemy alien” or joining the army. Gerber chose the latter. While in Germany, Gerber discovered and contacted the thriving Bund für Menschenrecht (Federation for Human Rights, abbreviated as BfM), and subscribed to–and possibly even wrote for–homosexual publications. After the war, Gerber returned to Chicago and worked for the postal service.

Inspired by homosexual organizing in Germany, Gerber applied for a charter for the Society for Human Rights (SRH) from the state of Illinois in 1924, and thanks to careful wording the charter was granted. The stated goals and purpose of the Society were to “promote and protect the interests of people who by reasons of mental and physical abnormalities are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness…” Gerber signed the charter with two others and then attempted to raise funds for the SRH, contacting wealthy members of the gay community. To Gerber’s dismay, many declined out of fear of professional and societal repercussions. Despite the lack of membership, Gerber still published Friendship and Freedom, the first known gay periodical in the United States, of which only two issues were produced and no copies are known to have survived.

 

In 1925, the SRH was discovered and exposed. Gerber was arrested and all of his materials were seized. After going through three lengthy trials, the charges against Gerber were eventually dropped, but his life was in shambles: he lost his post office job, and his Society was branded in the paper as a nefarious “sex cult”. He no longer wished to continue the Society or form a new one. Despite his disillusionment, Gerber provided low-key support to homophile organizations like the Mattachine Society and ONE, Inc. until his death in 1972.