Chicago, 1924: The Society for Human Rights

In 1924, Henry Gerber of Chicago made the first known attempt at organizing gay men in the United States to fight for their civil rights.

Gerber had worked for the U.S. army in Germany during the early 1920s and come into contact with a German gay rights group, the Bund fur Menschenrecht, the Society for Human Rights, that had been founded in 1919. Upon returning to the United States, Gerber attempted to found a U.S. version of the Society for Human Rights, but he met with little success in attempting to organize American homosexuals. Their newsletter, Friendship and Freedom, had only two issues, and most copies were seized when Gerber and other members of the Society came to the attention of the police and were arrested.

Grave of Henry Gerber

Grave of Henry Gerber. Photo by Philip Clark.

Although the case against them was ultimately dismissed, Gerber’s defense cost him all his life savings and he was fired from his job at the Post Office. He ultimately re-enlisted in the Army, served in WWII, and eventually came to live at the U.S. Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C. He died in 1972 and was buried at the U.S. Soldier’s and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.

Gerber’s early attempts at organizing had no discernable short-term effect, but there is some evidence that his efforts were known to Harry Hay, the driving force behind the first sustained United States gay rights’ group: the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles.