[Gay Ephemera] [Mattachine Society]

Mattachine Society: Minutes of Coordinating Council Meeting

N.p. [San Francisco] N.p. 7 February 1954

9 pp., typed, rectos only. Mark of rusted staple to top left. Hole-punched in three places in left margin. Two ink corrections, one to p.5 ('Goal' for 'Goad'), the other on p.6 ('variant' for 'cariant'). (The Treasurer's Report, said to be 'Appended herewith', isn't. Whether it ever was, or was absentmindedly left out of the papers, is unknown). A little age-toned, last page a little stained on verso, otherwise clean, bright and uncreased.

The Mattachine Society was the offspring of the first national Gay Rights organisations in the United States. It started life in 1950 as the Mattachine Foundation, and was based in Los Angeles. It moved to San Francisco and became the Mattachine Society in April, 1953, but wasn't formally chartered until March the following year. These minutes, of a Coordinating Meeting which took place on 7 February 1954, record one of the last meetings held by the Society's executive before formal constitution took place the following month. Appended to them are documents outlining the Duties and Responsibilities of members of the Coordinating Council, and a draft Legal Policy of the Mattachine Society.

According to the minutes, ten members were in attendance (unnamed as usual, for security reasons), and the meeting was called to order 'with silent meditation'. Routine business appears to have been hurried through, with few reports presented. The main item for discussion seems to have been how best to organise the local chapters of the Society in preparation for its full incorporation the following month. To that end, there appears a two-page document entitled DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF MEMBERS OF THE COORDINATING COUNCIL, giving point-by-point instructions to each elected officer, from the Chairman to Area Council representatives through to the Recording and Corresponding [sic] secretaries, as to their roles.

There then follows a four-page document entitled LEGAL POLICY OF THE MATTACHINE SOCIETY. It was clear to everyone involved with the group that taking a public stance on sexual equality for all, as they were about to do, was to invite opprobrium, litigation and, in all probability, physical violence. Throughout the document, therefore, the word 'homosexual' is avoided, regarded as inflammatory in itself. 'Deviant' had already been rejected as a term of self-reference at a previous meeting, and so 'sex variant' becomes the preferred noun. As regards policy, in a discussion of where to extend legal aid a distinction is made between law-changing and law-breaking:

'5. It is impossible to consider any case where the guilt or innocence under existing law is all that is in question.Neither this Society nor any similiar existing organization has the machinery to do so since this invariably must lead to a prejudgment as to the guilt or innocence of the accused. This would not only not be fair to the defendent [sic] concerned and the public at large but the end result would be bad publicity for the Society and couls only work to the detriment of the Society as a whole since we would in effect be questioning the competency and justice of not only our law enforcement agencies but the judiciary itself.'

The Society goes on to outline its intention to fight cases only where discrimination and constitutionality, rather than innocence or guilt, is at stake. (Even this seems optimistic, since the Treasurer's Report presented to the previous month's meeting announced a grand total of $243 in the bank).

For the next ten years and more, the Mattachine Society was at the forefront of the campaign for Gay Rights in the United States, only to be superseded in the late 1960s by the more radical, confrontational movements spawned by the Stonewall riots. And for all that time, the organisation functioned according to the precepts set out in the documents attached to these minutes, documents which place the reader at the birth of the American Gay Rights movement.

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