Showy Strategies

2nd White House protest

In May 1965, the Mattachine Society of Washington held its second White House protest. Jack Nichols, front, holds a sign reading "Fifteen Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment." Photo: UPI



In addition to its letter writing campaigns, Mattachine Society of Washington employed public strategies to protest the government and society’s treatment of gays and lesbians. The American Psychiatric Association officially listed homosexuality as a mental disorder, but Jack Nichols and Mattachine were the first gay group to publicly blast the APA and declare its position nonsense. They also organized some of the first ever gay pickets, as seven men and three women protested outside the White House on April 17, 1965. A second picket, in May 1965, received national media attention, with the Associated Press, Reuters, UPI, the New York Times, and other media outlets publishing reports. 

Older gay groups tended to be opposed to picketing as a strategy and thought those who pursued it were crazy, but this didn’t stop the Mattachine Society of Washington. Over a period of months, they picketed the White House, the Civil Service Commission, the State Department, and the Pentagon. In conjunction with Mattachine Society-New York and others, they also began a picket that was to be called the Annual Reminder, held between 1965 and 1969. Each 4th of July weekend, marchers picketed outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

While picketing was one strategy, the Mattachine Society of Washington did not abandon less showy strategies in their fight for civil rights. They developed two pamphlets, “If You Are Arrested” and “How to Handle a Federal Interrogation,” in an attempt to inform D.C.’s gays and lesbians of their rights and the best strategies to avoid losing their jobs. They continued to pressure the Civil Service Commission to change its policies, and finally got a meeting in late 1965 with CSC officials. However, CSC Chairman John Macy, a long-time antagonist, dismissed their protests and refused to reconsider the CSC’s position.