The Mattachine Society of Washington

Jack Nichols & Ron Balin, Secretary of the Mattachine Society of Washington

Ron Balin, Secretary of the Mattachine Society of Washington, and co-founder Jack Nichols, in 1963. Photograph contributed by Jack Nichols.

After months of organizing, the Mattachine Society of Washington convened for the first time on November 15, 1961. At that meeting, Kameny was elected president and an official statement was prepared, saying that group would use any legal means to “secure for homosexuals the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as proclaimed for all men by the Declaration of Independence, and to secure for homosexuals the basic rights and liberties established by the word and the spirit of the Constitution of the United States.” 

Unlike other existing gay groups, the Mattachine Society of Washington did not limit itself to inviting straight “experts” to come speak about homosexuality or engaging in social service work for its members. Instead, Kameny began letter-writing campaigns to any public officials he thought might listen, and even some he must have known would not, up to and including President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson. They also began a newsletter, the Gazette, and instead of just distributing it to members or trying to hand it out in local gay bars, the group decided to mail it to the President, Supreme Court justices, the Attorney General, members of Congress, and even to J. Edgar Hoover himself. The FBI had been conducting surveillance of the Mattachine Society of Washington, and Hoover and the FBI were furious to begin receiving a homosexual newsletter. FBI agents met with Mattachine representatives and demanded that Hoover’s name be removed from the mailing list. Instead, Mattachine invited Hoover to attend a homosexual conference taking place in D.C. and offered to stop sending him the newsletter if the FBI would destroy all its Mattachine Society of Washington files. The FBI ignored Mattachine’s offers, and Mattachine continued to send Hoover the Gazette.