Today in LGBT History – May 23

Over the years, I have heard hundreds of newly-minted progressive activists wish they could have marched with Dr. King. Now we have a chance to get involved in the battle for equality, and I find most whites are as oblivious this time around as they were the first. We are oblivious to systemic racism, crushing poverty, and, without the draft, even the prospect of war and the militarism that is consuming our national budget and priorities.  —Rev. Michael Piazza

Learning our history IS resistance! Thanks for taking this journey with me. Now go write your story!

Today in LGBT History – May 23

1791, France – France creates a new law system where rape is the only punishable sex crime. Sodomy, a former capital offense, is not included, leading France to be the first country to decriminalize sex between men.

1908, Switzerland – Annemarie Minna Renée Schwarzenbach (23 May 1908 – 15 November 1942) is born. She was a Swiss writer, journalist, photographer and traveler. From an early age she began to dress and act like a boy, a behavior not discouraged by her parents, and which she retained all her life. In fact, in later life she was often mistaken for a young man. In 1930 she made contact with German actress Erika Mann (November 9, 1905 – August 27, 1969). She was fascinated by Erika’s charm and self-confidence. A relationship developed, which much to Annemarie’s disappointment did not last long because Erika had her eye on another woman: the actress Therese Giehse(6 March 1898 – 3 March 1975), although they always remained friends. In 1935 she returned to Persia where she married the French diplomat Achille-Claude Clarac (31 August 1903 – 11 January 1999), a gay man. They had known each other for only a few weeks, and it was a marriage of convenience for both of them, since she obtained a French diplomatic passport which enabled her to travel without restrictions. They lived together for a while in Teheran but when they fled to an isolated area in the countryside to escape the summer heat, their lonely existence had an adverse effect on Annemarie. She turned to morphine, which she had been using for years for various ailments, but to which she now became addicted. She is reported to have had affairs with the daughter of the Turkish Ambassador in Teheran and a female archaeologist in Turkmenistan.

1920 – Harvard establishes a committee to investigate homosexual activity on campus. The tribunal becomes known as the Secret Court of 1920. Records of the tribunal are discovered in 2002. Many of those interrogated were never charged and have not been identified. In 2002, a researcher from The Crimson, the school’s undergraduate daily newspaper, came across a box of files labeled “Secret Court” in the University Archives. After a protracted campaign on the part of the paper’s staff, the university released five hundred documents relating to the Court’s work. An article by Amit R. Paley in The Crimson’s weekly magazine Fifteen Minutes reported the 1920 events on November 21, 2002. 

1953 – When the Mattachine Society reconvenes to approve a constitution, it refuses to seat delegates associated with the Communist Party, including Chuck Rowland (Aug. 24, 1917-Dec. 27, 1990), one of the original 1950 Mattachine founders. For the remainder of the decade, the society pursues a low profile, non-confrontational approach to winning societal acceptance of lesbians and gay men. Rowland founded Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles. The Mattachine Society, founded in 1950, was one of the earliest LGBT (gay rights) organizations in the United States, probably second only to the short-lived  Society for Human Rightsin Chicago (1923). Communist and labor activist Harry Hay(April 7, 1912 – October 24, 2002)formed the group with a collection of male friends including Chuck Rowland in Los Angeles to protect and improve the rights of gay men. Branches formed in other cities and by 1961 the Society had splintered into regional groups. In 2002, Mattachine Midwest was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. A new Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. was formed in 2011 and is dedicated to original archival research of LGBT political history.

1969 – In this day’s issue of the American porno magazine Screw, a column appears by Jack Nichols and Lige Clarke using the term homophobiato refer to straight men’s fear that they might be gay. Screw is usually a straight man’s magazine. John Richard “Jack” Nichols Jr. (March 16, 1938 – May 2, 2005) was a gay rights activist who co-founded the Washington, D.C. branch of the Mattachine Society in 1961 with Franklin E. Kameny(May 21, 1925 – October 11, 2011). He and his partner Lige Clarke(February 22, 1942 − February 10, 1975), began writing the column “The Homosexual Citizen” for Screw magazinein 1968. It was the first LGBT-interest column in a non-LGBT publication. As a result of this column, Nichols and Clarke became known as “The most famous gay couple in America.”

1973 – Prescott Townsend (June 24, 1894 – May 23, 1973) was an American cultural leader and gay rights activist, from the 1930s through the early 1970s. In the 1950s, he held meetings at his home/bookstore, which he described as “the first social discussion of homosexuality in Boston”. He founded a Boston chapter of the Mattachine Societythough after the group grew, he was forced out. In talks in Boston and Provincetown he promoted his “Snowflake Theory” of human personality and sexuality, stating that the human mind is like a snowflake in that no two are alike, and each has six opposing sides: I/You, He/She, Hit/Submit. Townsend had been suffering from failing health brought on by Parkinson’s Disease.

2013 – The Boy Scouts of America’s national council votes to remove the ban against gay scouts, causing conflict with some faith-based supporters. The policy for adult leaders remained in place until July 27, 2015.

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(Historical information obtained from a variety of sources including QUIST at,, Lavender Effect,, Arron’s Gay Info, All Things Queer, RS Levinson, Amara Das Wilhelm,, Safe Schools Coalition, and/or Wikipedia. If you wish to edit an item or add an item, please send an email to me at Thanks!)

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