1952 was a watershed year for the Mattachine. The organization had begun its engagement with the larger community by standing in solidarity with Mexican Americans who, like homosexuals, were targets of the Los Angeles Police Department. With the arrest of its cofounder Dale Jennings in March of that year, the Mattachine had a test case of its own to rally ’round, but in that effort the group turned inward rather than outward. I examine this dynamic in the first of three articles, “Harry Hay Meets His Match.” I also look toward the remarkable woman Hay met along the way.
The gamble to back Jennings paid off. His superb legal representation—bankrolled by Mattachine fundraising—resulted in a hung jury, allowing the organization to capitalize on an impossible dream: an admittedly homosexual man beating a charge of lewd vagrancy. “Blown Cover: The Arrest of Dale Jennings” reviews some of the particulars of the case, including the identity of his arresting officers. I also examine LAPD’s liberal employment of the lewd vagrancy allegation as well as its use of a tactic known as the “third degree” and brutalization in general.
In the fall of 1952, emboldened by Jennings’ success in court, the Mattachine once again turned its gaze outward, this time to civic leaders and local candidates for office. The vehicle of outreach was a brief survey known to have been completed by only three or four respondents, but when it came to the attention of a local newspaper columnist, the concerns he voiced about the Mattachine turned out to reflect those already in the minds of its members, as discussed in “Queer Questionnaire and Coates Column.”
The above three articles are 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 their length likely would prevent their eventual publication as-is, I offer them via The Tangent Group.
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.
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.