First Amendment Pioneer

Gay, Vol. 2, no. 60

April 1970 was not a good month for Womack. Womack's first major prosecution under obscenity law occurred in April 1960 and the second major prosecution came 10 years later in April 1970. In the political and social atmosphere of the 1950s and the 1960s, gay publications were suspect on any and all counts. Much of the federal enforcement of obscenity laws was handled by the US Postal Service.

The first break in obscenity prosecution of homosexuals and homosexual materials came in the January 13, 1958 US Supreme Court ruling in ONE vs. Olesen that held that homosexual materials per se were not boscene and could not be banned from the mails. Federal indictment of Womack and Guild Press first came in November 1959 when a grand jury indicted Manual Enterprises, one of Womack's publishing ventures at the time, on multiple counts of using the mails for delivery of a catalog containing "obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy, and vile" materials. Womack was sentenced to concurrent terms of one to three years. However, he avoided prison by arguing that he was homosexual and, by the standards of the American Psychiatric Association, mentally ill. He spent 18 months in St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Anacostia, from which he continued to run his enterprises in the city below. The appeal of the US Postal Service prosecution (online at http://www.usps.com/judicial/1960deci/1-246.htm) reached the US Supreme Court. The Court ruled on June 25, 1962, that homoerotic materials were no longer obscene per se. The decision is a landmark in obscenity and first amendment law and were a significant victory for the LGBTQ community.

Notwithstanding the Supreme Court ruling, Guild Press and Womack continued to receive attention from federal authorities. In November 1963, Womack, two associates and Potomac News were indicted again on 23 counts of distributing obscene, lewd, and filthy publications across state lines. Five months later, on April 24, 1970, the DC Metropolitan Police Department, the FBI, and the US Postal Service raided the Guild Press building on 8th St SE in a raid that lasted over five hours. Simultaneous raids in the antipornography drive were carried out in Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, LA, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Norfolk. A month earlier, a court in Portsmouth VA had ruled that obscenity applied only where sexual activity is depicted.

However, Womack's indictment in 1970 charged him with 15 counts of using under-age models. The case became a cause celebre in the local gay community. Members of the fledgling Gay Activists Alliance/DC and Dr. Franklin E. Kameny prepared affidavits of support. GAA/DC protested the denial of bail, noting that

"In view of the routine issuance of gond to murderers, thieves, narcotics dealers, and those guilty of crimes with victims, we find outrageous the denial of bond to a publisher of books -- ANY books -- on the obviously specious ground that he is a 'danger to the community'. ... We feel that not only has Dr. womack not been doing harm to the community but he has supplied a valuable service to the community and should be commended not condemned. We, the homosexuals, know this and it our community which utilizes the materials in question." GAY, September 22, 1971, vol 2. n 60, page 8.

Womack was convicted, sentenced to 30 to 90 months imprisonment (reduced to six months), banned from the District of Columbia and prohibited from association with Guild Press. He retired to his home in Virginia Beach where he operated a conventional bookstore, Budget Books. In 1978 he was again arrested and charged with four sex crimes involving juveniles.

Professor Womack eventually retired and moved to Boca Raton FL where he died in 1985.