Saturday, April 21, 2018

Today in 1966, Three Homosexuals Walk Into A Bar -- Making LGBTQ History By Having a 'Sip-In'

The men at Julius’ in 1966. After they announced they were gay, the
bartender refused to serve them. 
Credit: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
On April 21, 1966, members of the New York Chapter of the Mattachine Society staged a "Sip-In" at the bar which was to change the legal landscape. Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, the society's president and vice president respectively, and another society activist, John Timmons, planned to draw attention to the practice by identifying themselves as homosexuals before ordering a drink in order to bring court scrutiny to the regulation. The three were going to read from Mattachine stationary "We are homosexuals. We are orderly, we intend to remain orderly, and we are asking for service."

The New York Times reported on April 20, 2016:

On a bright, warm day [52] years ago this week [on April 21, 1966], three young men went out to have a drink that they hoped would make history.

The men, members of the early gay rights group the Mattachine Society, aimed to challenge bars that refused service to gay people, a common practice at the time, though one unsupported by any specific law. Such refusals fell under a vague regulation that banned taverns from serving patrons deemed “disorderly.”

“At the time, being homosexual was, in itself, seen as disorderly,” said Dick Leitsch, 81, reminiscing the other day in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Mr. Leitsch, then the head of Mattachine’s New York chapter, and his cohorts called their action a “Sip-In,” a tipsy tip of the hat to the civil rights lunch-counter sit-ins then being held at places that segregated black patrons. The Sip-In was a pivotal moment for the gay rights movement, predating the Stonewall uprising by more than three years. That it is largely forgotten says a lot about how the gay political conversation has shifted over the past five decades.
Dick Leitsch, left, and Randy Wicker, two participants in the 1966 “Sip-In,” at Julius’
in the West Village.
Credit: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

On the day of the Sip-In, the activists invited four newspaper reporters, including Thomas A. Johnson of The New York Times. The plan was to convene at noon at the Ukrainian-American Village Hall, a bar on St. Marks Place. “But we were 10 minutes late,” Mr. Leitsch said with a laugh.

The Times reporter arrived on time, tipping off the owners, who shut the place. A sign in the window made the management’s attitude clear: “If you are gay, please stay away.”

In desperation, the group trudged over to Julius’ on West 10th Street. “It was a rather dull neighborhood place which was about three-quarters gay,” said Randy Wicker, 78, who joined the action there. “I called it a closet-queen bar.”

The activists knew Julius’ had to refuse them, because the night before, a man who had been served there had later been entrapped by an officer for “gay activity,” meaning the bar was in jeopardy of having its liquor license revoked. As they entered, the men spied a sign that read “Patrons Must Face the Bar While Drinking,” an instruction used to thwart cruising.

As soon as Mr. Leitsch approached, the bartender put a glass in front of him. When the men announced they were gay, the bartender put his hand over the glass; it was captured in a photograph by Fred McDarrah for The Village Voice.

According to Mr. Wicker and Mr. Leitsch, their battle to be served was a subset of a larger issue: the ritualized police entrapment of gay men for intent to have sex. “With this action, we were entrapping them into obeying the law,” Mr. Wicker said.

The next day’s New York Times featured an article about the event with the headline “3 Deviates Invite Exclusion by Bars.” Two weeks later, a far more sympathetic piece appeared in The Voice. The publicity prompted a response from the chairman of the State Liquor Authority, Donald S. Hostetter, who denied that his organization ever threatened the liquor licenses of bars that served gays. The decision to serve was up to individual bartenders, he said.

At that point, the Commission on Human Rights got involved. Its chairman, William H. Booth, told The Times in a later article: “We have jurisdiction over discrimination based on sex. Denial of bar service to a homosexual solely for that reason would come within those bounds.”

See the full New York Times story here.

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