A few weeks ago, after I'd finished lecturing on the gay liberation movement, a student walked up to me and asked when the concept of "homophobia" became popularized. I didn't really have a good answer for him. I told him about George Weinberg, the heterosexual psychologist who started out as a spokesperson for the homophile movement and later served as an adviser to the leaders of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). In the 1960s, Weinberg was about to appear on television to discuss homosexuality when, in the green room, he noticed that a female producer was trembling in his presence. He asked himself:
What the fuck is this? I'm charming, why would a woman act like this?Weinberg could only guess that she thought he was gay. In 1966, the "ah-ha" moment came as he was smoking a joint in his bathtub:
This is a fucking phobia!In 1971, he published Society and the Healthy Homosexual, which named homophobia and defined it as "the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals" due to repression or insecurity.
I could tell the student most of this, but as for when the concept entered the popular lexicon, I didn't have much of an answer. I figured that the GAA played a role in popularizing the term, so I think I vaguely said something to that effect, but I was hard pressed to be specific.
Now that the semester is over, I think I finally have an answer for that student. I recently read David Eisenbach's Gay Power: An American Revolution, which goes into great detail about what has been dubbed the "Inner Circle Affair" and the famous gay-bashing trial that came after it. I've used Eisenbach's book as my main source in writing this diary. It's a little embarrassing that I had never heard about this incident, especially considering I study anti-LGBT violence, so something like this should be right up my alley. On top of learning about an episode in LGBT history that I'd never heard of, I also learned more about how the concept of homophobia started entering the popular American discourse. I also learned that this specific incident was the brutal beating I referenced in this diary about Jeanne Manford and the formation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and erroneously called a "Gay Activists Alliance rally." Manford's son Morty, a central character in the story I'm about to tell, was brutally beaten not at a rally, but at the Inner Circle Affair. What you're about to read, then, is the reason PFLAG came into being.
If you're anything like me, you're probably asking yourself: What the hell is the Inner Circle? New York City's Inner Circle is an organization of political reporters within the city who meet every year to wine and dine with New York's political elite. In 1972, when the Inner Circle Affair took place at the Hilton, the gathering was certainly an old boys' club, as membership was restricted to men. Oddly, one of the rules of the organization was that "freshmen" members were required to attend in drag. Members in drag performed on stage for the rest of the group and put on sometimes-offensive skits. For example, at the Inner Circle gathering in 1972, one skit involved a lisping man in drag who badgered a politician about Intro 475, the gay rights bill being considered in the City Council at the time.
The GAA maintained in 1972 that the decision to protest at (or what the GAA called "zap") the gathering was made at the last minute after an Inner Circle guest became offended by a performance and called GAA leaders. The truth, however, is that the decision was made days before when gay activist and adviser to the Bronx borough president Ethan Geto (who was invited to the gathering) suggested it would be a good time to get the GAA's name in the papers. After all, all the important reporters were going to be in the room. How could they ignore it? Getting their name and message out there was especially important to GAA leaders after a Daily News editorial referred to gay people as "fairies, nances, swishes, fags, lezzes--call 'em what you please." Clearly, the media had a reporting problem when it came to gay people, and the GAA knew tackling the problem was critical.
So the zap was on. On the night of April 15, right after the curtain came down before intermission, twenty to thirty activists with the GAA arrived at the gathering. Shortly before the activists showed up, Mayor John Lindsay "joked" to the gathering:
I've had more trouble with queens than any politician since Henry VIII.He had no idea.
Uniformed Firefighters Association Vice President Frank Palumbo, who was seated in the ballroom, claimed that one of the invading activists had a bullhorn and called guests "bastards" and "closet queens." Uniformed Firefighters Association President Mickey Maye corroborated this report. As Maye watched the activists disrupt the gathering and throw leaflets at guests, he became angrier and angrier. The rage only increased when two activists seized the microphone and started accusing the reporters in the audience of actively working against gay people. Finally, a hotel employee pushed one of the activists against a wall and punched him, throwing him to the floor. Some Inner Circle guests attacked the other activist, armlocking and punching him.
In the meantime, the seizing of the microphone was enough to throw Maye into a blind rage. It is worth briefly describing this man. Maye was a veteran and later became the Golden Gloves heavyweight champion in 1951. As a firefighter, he won six commendations for bravery. As the leader of the union, he was fiercely patriotic and conservative. Ironically, in 1962, Maye was hired as a bouncer by Dirty Dick's, a New York gay bar. This was a large, strong man, and he was not afraid to use that to his advantage. His preference for physical intimidation and violence certainly came through at the Inner Circle gathering. Maye immediately grabbed the nearest activist and lifted him off the floor. He finally let go when his friends, including State Senator Bob Garcia, intervened. But he soon grabbed another activist. Not listening to the pleading of his friends, he led the protester by the collar out of the ballroom and into the lobby. Palumbo and a friend followed him with yet another activist they seized.
What exactly happened in the lobby is not known. Maye later testified that the activist grabbed his groin. Whatever happened, Maye punched the man, throwing him to the floor. When he fell, he held onto the front of Maye's pants, ripping a large hole in them. In the process of this happening, Palumbo also punched the activist that he had taken. All hell broke loose.
This is where Morty Manford comes in. It is also worthwhile to take a moment to describe Manford. In the GAA, which was already pretty militant, Manford was among the most militant members. In many ways, Manford and Maye represent a microcosm of the "generation gap" of the Sixties. Two years prior to the Inner Circle Affair, when Manford was twenty years old, he boldly interrupted one of Mayor John Lindsay's speeches to grill him on police brutality against gay people. He was carried away by security and released, after which he immediately returned to the stage. This was Manford's personality, and it made him a great fit for the GAA.
When Manford heard the violence in the lobby, he rushed out to find the carnage caused by Maye and Palumbo. He ran over to Maye and kicked him in the groin. Maye reciprocated by punching him repeatedly in the face, throwing him to the floor, and proceeding to kick him relentlessly. Manford screamed for a police officer (and law enforcement was close by), but none would intervene. Maye then pushed Manford onto the escalator, which he rode down on his back, beaten and bloodied. Upon reaching the bottom, another man met him and beat him in the stomach. Maye, apparently not getting enough violence, rushed down to join in, stomping on Manford's groin.
The end result was a bloody mess. Maye left it all behind and returned to the ballroom, where he found an extra pair of pants backstage. Manford, in the meantime, left the building bloodied and moaning.
When word got to Geto, he ran outside in a panic to find Manford and the other activists. He finally found Manford lying on a sidewalk. Geto asked a nearby police sergeant if an ambulance had been called, to which he received no response. Geto finally exclaimed, "I am a city official and I would like to know if there is an ambulance on call." The sergeant replied, "We are taking care of it, just mind your own business." Geto did not trust the sergeant, and probably for good reason. He took Manford to St. Luke's Hospital in a cab, where he was treated for his injuries.
Meanwhile, back at the Hilton, activists and some Inner City guests demanded that the police intervene and arrest Maye. A sergeant had only this to say:
I wouldn't arrest Mickey for you creeps.Indeed, no police officers involved themselves. Ignoring anti-gay violence, of course, was par for the course for the New York Police Department, so why should the Inner Circle Affair have been any different?
Manford did not give up easily, however. The day after the incident, he filed a "John Doe" complaint, since he could not identify Maye by name. Eventually, witness reports confirmed that Maye was one of the attackers, and Manford positively identified him. He also filed a malfeasance complaint against the police department because of the officers' non-involvement during the incident. The police, of course, did not act on the complaints, and no arrest warrant for Maye was issued. When the New York Post called the police department for information on the case, in fact, a public relations officer had this to say:
[Manford's complaint] stinks. I would get off it if I were you, they can't identify Maye. They should have been arrested for trespassing.Indeed, the Post was the only reason the story got any attention at all. Despite the best reporters in New York being gathered in the same room and witnessing the same event, only Pete Hamill of the Post actually found the story "fit to print." Once the Post started providing extensive coverage of the case, however, other papers, including the New York Times, started paying attention. Public officials soon followed suit. City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer, Congresswoman Bella Abzug, and then-Congressman Ed Koch all demanded an investigation of the incident. Even Mayor Lindsay ordered an investigation of "the deplorable incident."
Meanwhile, the GAA took full advantage of the media attention. They held a press conference, where Manford wore an eye patch. They also held an anti-Maye rally that included a speech by Gore Vidal. The GAA boasted in a letter to supporters that the incident
generated the best news coverage by far the gay liberation movement has ever received...The glaring light of publicity drew the gay community and to some extent, the straight, liberal establishment, into the fray at last. Better late than never.Indeed, the media coverage of the incident did generate a significant amount of support for the gay community from the heterosexual establishment and society at large.
GAA lawyers finally filed a petition with the New York State Supreme Court to order Mayor Lindsay and District Attorney Frank Hogan to arrest and prosecute Maye and other assailants. The court very quickly responded and ordered Lindsay and Hogan to show cause for why they would not take action against Maye. Hogan responded by putting together a grand jury, which finally charged Maye with harassment, a violation that called for fifteen days in jail and a $250 fine. A GAA lawyer nailed it when she said:
If an ordinary person committed these acts he'd have been arrested forthwith, indicted for several serious crimes of assault and be in jail.In addition, in order to appear "balanced," Hogan brought up an activist on trespassing charges, which were later dropped because "the court's time could be put to better use."
The trial that resulted after the grand jury charged Maye was a huge media event. Manford, who--like other GAA activists--knew the value of the media, said the following in a letter to supporters:
More than any event in the history of our city, the Inner Circle beatings can be the vehicle to educate the large masses about Homosexuality and the double standard by which Homosexuals are judged. These issues must be promoted for discussion so that meaningful change can be realized.Such publicity came at a price, however. GAA activists continued to be harassed throughout the trial. For example, one activist was allegedly cornered by two men one night because they thought he had film of what happened at the Inner Circle gathering. Another activist was discussing the case on the phone at the GAA headquarters when a third party reportedly broke into his conversation to let him know that the phone was being tapped, something the telephone company confirmed. Yet another activist woke up one morning to find an index card slipped under his door reading, "Lay off Mickey."
But the publicity had other effects. Manford used the opportunity to inject the concept of "homophobia," which had been introduced to him by Weinberg, into popular discourse. At a press conference, Manford lectured New York reporters on the concept:
When homophobes want to have same-sex love, they are unable to do so in a civil manner. Their hatred for and fear of it is so acute, they cannot behave rationally. They cannot accept their own homosexual proclivities, and so must resort to violent rape--the violent violation of the body of a member of the same sex. On Saturday night I was so raped by a number of men at the Inner Circle affair, I have reason to believe one of these men was Michael Maye, President of the United Firefighters Union.During Manford's testimony in the trial, he often used the concept, referring to Maye as "a homophobic savage." The president of the GAA released a press statement during the trial that shows the importance of the concept in the GAA's media campaign:
A mental disease is rampaging throughout this country. The name of the disease is "homophobia." A homophobic believes that homosexuals must be forbidden to enjoy the freedoms and the responsibilities of a free society. We must be forbidden to hold responsible jobs, to possess social status, and to even have suitable living quarters.Those keeping up with the trial--and it was covered extensively by the media--were made quite familiar with the concept of homophobia. Media outlets were not shy about using the word "homophobia" in its reporting. For the first time, anti-gay people were portrayed as the sick ones, the ones with mental problems. Maye himself fed his image as "a homophobic savage" by proclaiming in a television interview:
I don't know what I am doing here. Homosexuals, Queers, and every degenerate in the country is here.On July 5, 1972, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shirley Levittan dismissed the case because of insufficient evidence. Although the case against Maye was lost, the GAA had succeeded in portraying him as an unstable homophobe. More significantly, activists had succeeded in turning the dynamics between gay and anti-gay people on their head by introducing the concept of homophobia into popular American discourse. Although it would probably be simplistic to say that the Maye trial is the reason the concept became popularized, it is undoubtedly a very significant reason.
As for Manford and Maye, their post-trial careers went in opposite directions. Manford won the presidency of the GAA. Maye, on the other hand, lost his reelection bid for president of the firefighter union. One fireman said to a reporter about Maye:
We don't pay him to go around beating up kids. We pay him to get us a good contract. This homo thing is making us all look bad. We could use some more money instead.Another major development came out of the Inner Circle Affair: the formation of PFLAG. Manford's mother Jeanne--to whom Manford had come out earlier--saw a television news broadcast about the beating and exclaimed:
How dare they touch my son! The nerve of them! Who are they! I pay taxes and the policemen stand by and let him get beaten by those things.She then wrote a letter to the Post, in which she said:
I am proud of my son, Morty Manford, and the hard work he has been doing in urging homosexuals to accept their feelings and not let the bigots and sick people take advantage of them in the way they have done in the past and are continuing to do.
Jeanne marched side-by-side with her son at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade that year holding a sign reading: "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children." When she was asked by many in attendance at the march to speak to other parents, she decided to launch support groups in which parents could learn to accept their gay and lesbian children. That soon morphed into what we now know as PFLAG, which today has over 350 chapters and 200,000 members and supporters. Jeanne died recently, but her work in honor of her son lives on in the thriving organization that she started, which makes such a difference in the lives of LGBT people and their families.
As for Morty, he died in 1992 from AIDS complications. However, LGBT activism owes a great debt to this man who not only took a beating, but used the opportunity to change the landscape on which we fight for our rights.
So, to my student: There's a better answer than the one I gave you in class. Hope that helps.