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The homophile movement is a collective term for the main organisations and publications supporting and representing sexual minorities in the 1950s to 1960s around the world. The name comes from the term homophile, which was commonly used by these organisations. At least some of these organisations are considered to have been more cautious than both earlier and later LGBT organisations; in the U.S., the nationwide coalition of homophile groups disbanded after older members clashed with younger members who had become more radical after the Stonewall riots of 1969.

The October 1957 edition of The Ladder, mailed to hundreds of women in the San Francisco area, urged women to take off their masks. The motif of masks and unmasking was prevalent in the homophile era, prefiguring the political strategy of coming out and giving the Mattachine Society its name.
Mattachine Newsletter, Colorado, 1957, Collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Archives Center, Collection AC1146, Box 2, folder 10


The homosexual organizations and publications of the 1950s and 1960s, which commonly used the term "homophile", are now known collectively as the homophile movement.[1]

After the gains made by the homosexual rights movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the vibrant homosexual subcultures of the 1920s and '30s became silent as war engulfed Europe. Germany was the traditional home of such movements (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) and activists (Magnus Hirschfeld, Ernst Burchard, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs or Max Spohr), but in Nazi Germany gay literature was burned, gay organizations were dissolved, and many gay men imprisoned in concentration camps. The Swiss journal Der Kreis ("the circle") was the only homosexual publication in Europe to publish during the Nazi era. Der Kreis was edited by Anna Vock, and later Karl Meier; the group gradually shifted from being female-dominated to male-dominated through the 1930s, as the tone of the magazine simultaneously became less militant.

After the war, organizations began to re-form, such as the Dutch COC in 1946. Other, new organizations arose, including Forbundet af 1948 ("League of 1948"), founded by Axel Axgil in Denmark, with Helmer Fogedgaard publishing an associated magazine called Vennen (The Friend) from January 1949 until 1953. Fogedgaard used the pseudonym "Homophilos", introducing the concept of "homophile" in May 1950, unaware that the word had been presented as an alternative term a few months previously by Jaap van Leeuwen [es; nl], one of the founders of the Dutch COC. The word soon spread among members of the emerging post-war movement who were happy to emphasize the respectable romantic side of their relationships over genital sexuality.

A Swedish branch of Forbundet af 1948 was formed in 1949 and a Norwegian branch in 1950. The Swedish organization became independent under the name Riksförbundet för sexuellt likaberättigande (RFSL, "Federation for Sexual Equality") in 1950, led by Allan Hellman. The same year in the United States, the Mattachine Society was formed, and other organizations such as ONE, Inc. (1952) and the Daughters of Bilitis (1955) soon followed. By 1954, the monthly sales of ONE's magazine peaked at 16,000. Homophile organizations elsewhere include Arcadie (1954) in France and the British Homosexual Law Reform Society (founded 1958).

These groups are generally considered to have been politically cautious, in comparison to the LGBT movements that both preceded and followed them. Historian Michael Sibalis describes the belief of the French homophile group Arcadie, "that public hostility to homosexuals resulted largely from their outrageous and promiscuous behaviour; homophiles would win the good opinion of the public and the authorities by showing themselves to be discreet, dignified, virtuous and respectable."[2] However, while few were prepared to come out, they did risk severe persecution, and some figures within the Homophile movement such as the American communist Harry Hay were more radical.

In 1951, the president and vice-president of the Dutch COC initiated an International Congress of European homophile groups, which resulted in the formation of the International Committee for Sexual Equality (ICSE). The ICSE brought together, among other groups, the Forbundet of 1948 (Scandinavia), the Riksförbundet för Sexuellt Likaberättigande (Sweden), Arcadie (France), Der Kreis (Swiss), and, later, ONE (U.S.). Historian Leila Rupp describes the ICSE as a classic example of transnational organizing; "It created a network across national borders, nurtured a transnational homophile identity, and engaged in activism designed to change both laws and minds." However, the ICSE failed to last beyond the early 1960s due to poor attendance at meetings, lack of active leaders, and failure of members to pay dues.[3]

By the early-1960s, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the United States were forming more visible communities, and this was reflected in the political strategies of American homophile groups. Frank Kameny, an American astronomer and gay rights activist, had co-founded the Mattachine Society in Washington 1961. While the society did not take much political activism to the streets at first, Kameny and several members attended the 1963 March on Washington, where having seen the methods used by Black civil rights activists, they then applied them to the Homophile movement. Kameny had also been inspired by the black power movements slogan "Black is Beautiful", coining his own term "Gay is Good".[4] From the mid-1960s, they engaged in picketing and sit-ins, identifying themselves in public space for the first time. Kameny further implemented the use of social protest methods of advocating for rights through his timeline as an activist. While earlier in his career as an activist, he as well as other organizers picketed out the White House. Not only did Kameny continue his work with the Mattachine society, but furthered on to work with other notable gay rights groups like ACT UP, where he continued to use civil disobedience in his efforts to "...accord gays and lesbians the same rights and privileges enjoyed by all citizens."[5] Formed in 1964, the San Franciscan Society for Individual Rights (SIR) had a new openness and a more participatory democratic structure. SIR was focused on building community, and sponsored drag shows, dinners, bridge clubs, bowling leagues, softball games, field trips, art classes, and meditation groups. In 1966, SIR opened the nation's first gay and lesbian community center, and by 1968 they had over 1000 members, making them the largest homophile organization in the country. The world's first gay bookstore had opened in New York the year before. A 1965 gay picket held in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, according to some historians, marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Meanwhile, in San Francisco in 1966, transgender street prostitutes in the poor neighborhood of Tenderloin rioted against police harassment at a popular all-night restaurant, which was called the Compton's Cafeteria riot, having occurred at Compton's Cafeteria. These and other activities of public resistance to oppression led to a feeling of Gay Liberation that was soon to give a name to a new movement.

Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village is now a National Historical Landmark

In 1963, homophile organizations in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. joined to form East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) to more closely coordinate their activities. The success of ECHO inspired other homophile groups across the country to explore the idea of forming a national homophile umbrella group. This was done with the formation in 1966 of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO, rhymes with Waco).[6] NACHO held annual conferences, helped start dozens of local gay groups across the country and issued position papers on a variety of LGBT-related issues. It organized national demonstrations, including a May 1966 action against military discrimination that included the country's first gay motorcade.[7] Through its legal defense fund, NACHO challenged anti-gay laws and regulations ranging from immigration issues and military service to the legality of serving alcohol to homosexuals.[8] NACHO disbanded after a contentious 1970 conference at which older members and younger members, radicalized in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall riots, clashed.[9] Gay Sunshine magazine declared the convention "the battle that ended the homophile movement".[10] The gay liberation movement, which emerged around this time, replaced the term "homophile" by a new set of terminology such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual.

Organisations and publications





United Kingdom

United States


See also


  1. ^ Clayton Whisnant (2012). Male Homosexuality in West Germany — Between Persecution and Freedom, 1945–69. Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137028341. ISBN 978-1-349-34681-3.
  2. ^ Sibalis, Michael, 2005. Gay Liberation Comes to France: The Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR), French History and Civilization. Papers from the George Rudé Seminar. Volume 1 PDF link
  3. ^ Rupp, Leila (2011). "The Persistence of Transnational Organizing: The Case of the Homophile Movement." The American Historical Review 116:4 (Oct. 2011): 1014-1039.
  4. ^ Yurcaba, Jo (28 February 2021). "Different fight, 'same goal': How the Black freedom movement inspired early gay activists". Retrieved 14 October 2022.
  5. ^ L., Bullough, Vern (2008). Before Stonewall : activists for gay and lesbian rights in historical context. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-56023-193-6. OCLC 1017737717.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Bianco 1999, p. 174.
  7. ^ Fletcher 1992, p. 42.
  8. ^ Bianco 1999, p. 175.
  9. ^ Armstrong 2002, p. 79.
  10. ^ Quoted in Armstrong 2002, p. 79
  11. ^ "Digitale Collectie". (in Dutch). Vriendschap. Archived from the original on 29 September 2004. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  12. ^ a b c "Sexuality Studies at UC Davis, Sexuality Studies Resources Held in the UC Davis Shields Library's Special Collections Department". Retrieved April 8, 2006.