6 - 19
14 DAYS14 NIGHTS
Pioneers With Pens
ONE magazine forged early homosexual visibility in post-war Los Angeles
BY DOUG IRELAND
he very first homosex-ual publication to haveappeared with any regu-larity in the US was Vice Versa, which surfaced in Los Angeles in June 1947. It was produced by a secretary at RKO Studios whocalled herself Lisa Ben, an ana-gram for “lesbian,” and it lastedfor nine issues. It “fluctuatedfrom 14 to 20 stapled pages con-sisting of play and film reviews,poetry, fiction, and pointed socialcommentary through a ‘Queer as It Seems’ department.” Only ten copies were produced anddistributed to a close circle of friends who in turn were to passit on to others. This is one of the nuggets of largely forgotten gay history to be gleaned from “Pre-Gay L.A.” by C. Todd White, a visiting pro-fessor of anthropology at JamesMadison University, who basedthe book on his doctoral thesis. The volume’s subtitle is “A SocialHistory of the Movement for Homosexual Rights,” but that issomewhat misleading, becausemost of the book is a minutely detailed organizational history of ONE, Inc. and ONE magazine.It may be difficult for youngqueers of today, who’ve grownup watching “Will and Grace”and surfing the multitude of gay offerings on the Internet, tounderstand what extraordinary courage it took for the womenand men chronicled here to begin organizing associationsof homosexuals. White is right to point out the importance togay organizing of Alfred Kinsey’sfamous, best-selling 1948 study of sexuality, which, for the first time, documented a stunningarray of same-sex attractionsand practices, breaking thesense of isolation in which thesexual dissidents of the 1940sand 1950s lived. There is no better description of the reign of terror under which homosexu-als struggled to survive in that dark time than Kinsey’s, for ashe wrote then:“Rarely has man beenmore cruel against manthan in the condemnationand punishment of thoseaccused of the so-calledsexual perversions. Thepunishment for sexual acts which are crimes against persons has never beenmore severe. The penaltieshave included imprison-ment, torture, the loss of life and limb, banishment, blackmail, social ostracism,the loss of social prestige,renunciation by friendsand families, the loss of position in school or in business, severe penaltiesmeted out for convictions of men serving in the armedforces, public condemna-tion by emotionally inse-cure and vindictive judgeson the bench, and the tor-ture endured by those wholive in perpetual fear that their non-conformist sexual behavior will be exposed topublic view. These are thepenalties which have beenimposed on and against persons who have failedto adhere to the mandat-ed customs. Such cruel-ties have not often beenmatched, except in religiousand racial persecution.”No wonder that, as White writes, “Homosexual peoplesensed they had a champion inKinsey.” And in laying the foun-dation for an organization of homosexuals that would even-tually become the MattachineSociety at the end of 1950, itslegendary founder, Harry Hay,and his lover, Rudi Gernreich, when collecting signatures onCalifornia’s beaches for theCommunist-inspired Stock-holm Peace Petition against theKorean War, would initiate dis-cussions with signers by ask-ing, “Have you read the ‘Kinsey Report’?” In this way, they built up lists of names for future usein queer organizing.One of Mattachine’s sevenfounding members was Dale Jennings, a World War II com- bat veteran who, like Hay, wasa Communist. When he wasarrested on a phony charge of having solicited sex from anundercover cop, Jennings waspersuaded by Hay to fight thecharge in court, and with theaid of left-wing civil rights law- yer George Shibley — who hadcome to prominence as thedefense lawyer for the Mexican- Americans in the famous 1940s“Zoot Suit” murder case, a fact White doesn’t mention — Jen-nings eventually had his casedismissed. Mattachine, whichhad formed a Citizen’s Commit-tee to Outlaw Entrapment tofight the Jennings case, saw itsmembership boom as a result. The merit of White’s book is that it rescues from unjust obscurity Jennings, the first edi-tor of ONE magazine, and other founders of ONE, Inc. Another central figure in ONE was Wil-liam Lambert Dorr Legg — whofrequently used the pseudonymBill Lambert — a professor of landscape architecture and oneof ONE’s most erudite figures.Legg and his African-Americanpartner, Merton Bird, in the late1940s had founded the Knightsof the Clock, a small social andmutual aid organization for mixed-race homosexual cou-ples, and several of their fellow Knights joined them when Jen-nings and Legg led a split fromthe Mattachine Society to formONE in November 1952. The premier issue of ONEmagazine, the first pro-gay pub-lication distributed publicly inthe US, appeared in January 1953, and was peddled by itscreators “from bar stool to bar stool” in the many Los Ange-les gay bars for the price of a beer (20 cents). If Jennings was, according to White, “theheart of ONE magazine… dur-ing its first year,” the publica-tion’s dominant figure thereaf-ter was another of its founders,Don Slater, a young University of Southern California gradu-ate, thanks to the GI Bill, witha degree in English, who would be supported during his longtenure as the magazine’s edi-tor by his Latino lover, AntonioSanchez, a musician who alsohelped start ONE.By the end of its first year,ONE magazine could boast of nearly a thousand subscribers, with another 1,500 copies dis-tributed through newsstands.Lesbian activists like Stella Rush, Corky Wolf, and JoanCorbin also played an impor-tant role in the magazine, seeingto its art work, writing articles,and performing many of thetechnical and workaday choresneeded to publish it. After three issues, ONE mag-azine gave birth to ONE, Inc.Legg, who was hired as businessmanager at the princely sum of $25 a week and thus becamethe first full-time employee of a homosexual organization in America, increasingly began toconceive of the organization asa broader-reaching institution.
Freedom Train Productions, foundedin 2006 under the artistic direction ofAndre Lancaster, presents “Fire! NewPlay Festival 2009,” three weeks of polit-ical theater by emerging playwrights fea-turing black queer protagonists. In DerekLee McPhatter’s “Bring the Beat Back”(
), the beat is your last best hopefor salvation. In Ayanna Maia’s “Womanto Woman” (
Aug. 12 & 13
), black womenloving black women is a revolutionaryact. And in Patricia Ione Lloyd’s “DirtyLittle Black Girls” (
Aug. 19 & 20
), rebelnannies put their Park Slope employerson notice.
All staged readers are at7:30 p.m., with a StoryCorps inter-view with the playwright precedingeach reading at 7. 138 S. Oxford St.,btwn. Hanson Pl. & Atlantic Ave.,Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
For completeinformation, visit freedomtrainproduc-tions.org/fire.
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PERFORMANCEIt’s Hot Out There
This summer marks the 18th AnnualDixon Place HOT! Festival, a pioneeringfestival of queer performance and culture,
running through Aug. 8
, that bills itselfas the oldest continually running festivalof its kind in the world. The festival hub isthe brand new Dixon Place theater com-plex, with a 120-seat lab theater and anintimate performance café, at 161 ChrystieSt., btwn. Rivington & Delancey Sts. Inthe one-woman rock theater show star-ring Julia Steele Allen, a gay 17-year oldboy in an East Texas town is murdered,and his family struggles to deal withtheir loss and his legacy (
Aug. 6 & 7, 8-9p.m.
). In “Money Talks — Citizen Reno,”the beloved and feared downtown soloperformer returns with her take on theeconomy, in a rant that gives voice tothe qualms and queries of the Every(wo)man while removing some of the mys-tery shrouding finance, Wall Street, andmoney (
Aug. 6, 8-9:30 p.m.
). And theGender Fluids, a trio of performance art-ists — Kaj-anne, Lee Kyle, and Ferro —reunite for one night only in an evening ofmulti-media, dance, and various mishapsinvolving drag (
Aug. 8, 8-9 p.m.
). Forcomplete details, tickets prices, and reser-vations, visit hotfestival.org.
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PRE-GAY L.A.A SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE MOVE-MENT FOR HOMOSEXUAL RIGHTS
By C. Todd WhiteUniversity of Illinois Press$25; 280 pages;
ONE magazine, the first pro-gay publication distributed publicly inthe US, was peddled by its creators“from bar stool to bar stool.”