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03 February 2012
New York City in the 1960s
Unlike in California and elsewhere in the US, neither cross-dressing nor being homosexual (as opposed to homosexual acts) as such were criminal in New York. However the New York police regarded homosexuals as morally depraved and arrested persons assumed to be such on whatever grounds that they could. In particular they used entrapment, and raided clubs and bars and arrested those found within. By 1966 the NYPD was arresting over 100 men every week on charges of 'homosexual solicitation' -- mainly resulting from entrapment. The wave of decriminalization of homosexuality that spread across Europe, East and West, and to Canada never reached the US. In 1953 then President Eisenhower signed a government order adding 'sexual perversion' as a reason for investigation and dismissal. Police and military records were shared with private employers. Thousands were dismissed from their jobs with no recourse. No known 'sexual pervert' could gain or retain a professional license. Cross-dressing was taken as evidence of homosexuality even when the person was married. The police had an informal rule that you should be wearing at least three items 'appropriate to your sex'. The New York State Liquor Authority had its own laws: homosexuals and transvestites were decreed to be 'lewd and dissolute' and their presence in a bar made it disorderly and subject to closure. Because no gay bar could be legal, the mafia ran most of them, not caring about licenses, bribing the police and blackmailing the customers. The very harshness of the penalties led to many judges being unwilling to sentence gays, lesbians and transsexuals, and giving a fine or probation instead. However the possibility of getting the wrong judge stifled expression and inhibited lives.
Given this policing background, the amount of gay, lesbian and trans activity in the city was quite remarkable. Here we will be looking only at the trans activities.
From 1960-8 Gail Wilde allowed her apartment as a transvestite meeting place, and referred to it as the Downtown Branch in reference to Susanna Valenti's place in uptown, and the less documented Vicky's place in midtown. Felicity Chandelle was arrested in 1964 for cross-dressing under an obscure New York Law about dressing as an Indian. She lost her long-term job with Eastern Airlines because of assumed homosexuality.
Carlson Wade was publishing several books each year on sex and gender.
The major place for drag shows was the 82 Club. The balls organized by Phil Black were starting to evolve into the House system that was documented in Paris is Burning. Flawless Sabrina was organizing drag pageants that would culminate in the one filmed as The Queen, 1968. Later balls were organized for the Mattachine Society by Lee Brewster.
Libby Reynolds in mufti tricked with Raymond Burr in 1960, but was written up in Confidential Magazine as if Burr had picked up a drag queen.
Dorian Corey was performing at the Pearl Box Review with a live boa constrictor. Pudgy Roberts, Minette, Joe Tish, Terry Noel, Sonne Teal, Ty Bennett, Kim August, Tommy Dorsey, Ajita Wilson and Angie Stardust were performing in New York.
Mario Montez and Francis Francine were appearing in avant garde films.The teenage International Chrysis was looking for a break, as was Holly Woodlawn; Jackie Curtis started writing plays. The future Jayne County did not arrive in New York until 1968.
The young Marsha P Johnson moved to Manhattan, as did the young Candy Darling, and the young Sylvia Rivera.
The Stonewall Inn Restaurant was gutted by fire in the mid 1960s, and re-opened in 1967 as a mafia gay bar. Mobster Vito Genovese owner of the 82 Club had been convicted of heroin trafficking in 1959 and was in prison.
Patricia Morgan and Zazu Nova were turning tricks; Pat's friend Diane Kearny, the future HBS activist, was also friendly with 82 Club performers.
The future Renee Richards was experimenting.
Drs Leo Wollman and Harry Benjamin were helping transsexuals in New York. Richard Green saw patients at Harry Benjamin's New York office 1964-6, as did Ethel Person in the 1970s.
In 1962 John Money became head of the Psychohormonal Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. In 1965 John Money cajoled Johns Hopkins into opening the first US Gender Identity Clinic, and Reed Erickson donated $85,000 to it over a period of some years. The first transsexual to have surgery at Johns Hopkins, Phyllis Wilson, was a dancer in a New York night club in 1966, and the gossip around her led to the Clinic giving an exclusive report to the New York Times.
Zelda Suplee ran the Erickson Educational Foundation from its New York office.
Mario Martino ran the Labyrinth Foundation for trans men.