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Title: The proud plaintiff : the Mattachine Society of Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the invention of Gay Pride, 1957-1969
Author: Cervini, Eric
ISNI:       0000 0004 8501 1621
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Histories of the early gay rights movement in America have aptly placed emphasis on the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW), founded in 1961, and its founder, Frank Kameny. Told as part of broader social or political histories of the 1960s "homophile" movement, these narratives often recognize the MSW's ideological and tactical contributions to the fight against the federal government's gay purges; indeed, the Society is most known for the first gay pickets of the White House and its militant slogan, "Gay is Good." These histories, however, have overlooked a crucial component of the MSW's story: its legal alliance with the American Civil Liberties Union. This dissertation relies on tens of thousands of pages of archived personal papers (belonging to Kameny, his fellow homophile activists, and ACLU attorneys), recently declassified legal transcripts and government documents, the ACLU's own archives, dozens of audio recordings from the 1960s and 70s, and personal interviews with surviving MSW and ACLU members. Chapter One is a case study of Frank Kameny's dismissal from federal employment, a result of his homosexuality, and his development as 1) a plaintiff suing the government and 2) an early gay activist. Kameny saw the two roles as identical, and he formed the MSW to fight the federal government in court. Chapter Two follows the early years of the Society and its efforts to ally with the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union (NCACLU), formed within days of the MSW. Chapter Three examines a turning point in the relationship, when the NCACLU defended the MSW before Congress in 1963 and began to embrace gay rights as constitutional rights. Chapter Four traces the rise and fall of the MSW's picketing campaign in relation to its legal fight and the deployment of respectability. Finally, Chapter Five examines the fall of the MSW and the rise of modern gay pride celebrations, concluding that the Society ceased to exist in 1969 not only because of post-Stonewall irrelevance, but also because the NCACLU absorbed the group's raison d'être. I conclude that the greatest historical contribution of the MSW was its formulation and popularization of gay pride, first, as legal argument, and second, as a movement ideology to spur additional homosexual plaintiffs willing to sue the government. While previous histories emphasize Gay Liberation's eclipse of the relatively conservative Society, this dissertation demonstrates that the MSW's demise in fact represented the fulfilment of its effort to transform gay rights into a valid civil liberties issue. Today, as marginalized Americans and civil libertarians fight new legal battles against the federal government, this dissertation sheds light on how such struggles and alliances can shape minority groups, their ideologies, and their collective memories.
Supervisor: Gerstle, Gary Sponsor: Gates Cambridge Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: lgbt ; kameny ; mattachine