Gerard “Gerry” Brissette (November 12, 1926–September 20, 1980) almost singlehandedly organized what we now know as the Mattachine Society in the San Francisco Bay Area.
With his direction, facilitation, and participation the organization in Northern California grew from a virtually useless mailing list in mid-February 1953 to being active enough to send delegates to the Mattachine’s constitutional convention in April and May of that year. Nearly as quickly, following the conventions, Brissette became disillusioned with the organization’s trajectory and fell away. Due to a series of letters between Brissette and Mattachine cofounder Chuck Rowland in 1953, we are privy both to Brissette’s early biography as well as his motivations and challenges in building the organization in San Francisco and the East Bay. A 1976 interview of Brissette conducted by historian John D’Emilio aids in the latter regard as well.
This profile of Gerry Brissette is adapted from my work-in-progress with the working title The Feeble Strength of One: Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Maxey, Marx and the Mattachine. Because its length likely would prevent its eventual publication as-is, I offer it on The Tangent Group.
With this new volume, Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out, Aston fills a much needed lapse in LGBT+ pop history. Unlike books such as Zoot Suits and Second-Hand Dresses (1988) edited by Angela McRobbie and John Gill’s Queer Noises (1995), the former which deals with the subject tangentially and the latter which deals with it personally and sporadically, Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache (taking its name from a late ’60s Northern soul hit) moves decade by decade through the 20th century (a bit before, and after), just as the music itself comes into play.
I edited and commented on this extensive interview of LGBTQ activist, publisher, and eroticist Hal Call, conducted by author Paul D. Cain (Leading the Parade: Conversations with America’s Most Influential Lesbians and Gay Men, 2002).
In my time looking at the lives of members of the early Mattachine, perhaps the most enigmatic was Paul Benard (April 24, 1916–November 7, 1954).
One of the eight men pictured in the famous “Christmas tree” photograph taken by Jim Gruber in 1951, Benard turns out to have been considered for a role in the Mattachine’s leadership. He left the group and left Los Angeles but remained in contact with members, only to die in 1954.
To my surprise last year, a chance query by Víctor Macías-González, Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at University of Wisconsin–La Crosse provided me with Benard’s birth name, and I was able to construct a very detailed account of his early life. Had the existing Mattachine leadership known about his involvement in the “little” and leftist theater endeavors of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, they’d have seen him as a comrade.
This profile of Paul Benard is adapted from my work-in-progress with the working title The Feeble Strength of One: Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Maxey, Marx and the Mattachine. Because its length likely would prevent its eventual publication as-is, I offer it here. Lengthy as it is, more study of Paul Benard is warranted.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation turned 108 this year, originally having been considered a reform of what the New York Times called a “tangle” of the Secret Service. “The plan is nothing less,” wrote the Times in 1908, “than the merging of the Secret Service and the detective agencies of all departments of the Government into a Bureau of Criminal Investigation, a sort of Federal police, to be incorporated under the Department of Justice.” Lest the notion of such a Federal force strike fear, the Christian Science Monitor cooed:
These employees of the government are not ‘police spies’ and should not be denominated as such even by those who entertain a passing resentment toward the system. In the great majority of cases they are simply confidential agents of the government, and their calling is just as legitimate as that of the confidential agents of corporate and private business concerns.
People interested in what the FBI has been up to during the last century can browse its Vault, an online treasure trove of thousands of documents released either via Freedom of Information Act requests, or by the Bureau’s own largesse.
A sexually circumscribed stroll through The Vault’s index reveals files on several shady characters: Alfred Kinsey, Amelia Earhart, Alger Hiss, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Black Dahlia aka Elizabeth Short, Bayard Rustin, Bettie Page—that’s just the A’s and B’s. (All subjects are listed—but not precisely sorted—by first names.) The C’s are worth a gander, revealing the Bureau’s political inquiries: Cardinal Francis Spellman, Clark Gable, Carl Sagan, Casey Kasem, Christic Institute, César Chávez, Carl Sandburg, Coretta Scott King, COINTELPRO, and none other than Clyde A. Tolson—J. Edgar Hoover’s first mate in the FBI.
Vile Vault examines the FBI investigation of the Mattachine Society and ONE magazine. And the identity of a snitch.
Wallace de Ortega Maxey was a founding member of the Mattachine Foundation, which was the public face of the clandestine Mattachine Society. In that capacity, Maxey is best known as having hosted the Mattachine’s constitutional conventions, in the spring of 1953, at Los Angeles’ First Universalist Church where he was pastor. Later, Maxey became a champion of free speech, to the point of being a defendant in a significant obscenity case.
I composed two versions of the profile of Maxey.
A relatively brief overview of Maxey’s life focusing on his work with the Mattachine and anti-censorship efforts, posted on The Tangent Group
I edited and commented on this extensive interview of LGBT[he hated Q] archivist Jim Kepner, conducted by author Paul D. Cain (Leading the Parade: Conversations with America’s Most Influential Lesbians and Gay Men, 2002).
Chuck Rowland was a founding member of the Mattachine Society. He was active with ONE Inc. and founded the short-lived Church of One Brotherhood. Upon retiring from twenty years of teaching in 1982, Rowland founded Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles.
Bob Hull (above center with fedora) was a founding member of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles with Harry Hay, Chuck Rowland, Dale Jennings, and Rudi Gernreich. Mattachine set the stage for the gay liberation activism of the 1960s and 1970s, but because of his suicide in 1962, Hull wouldn’t see the movements, marches, and militancy that would soon follow.