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A secret world grows open and bolder. Society is forced to look at it — and try to understand it

These brawny young men in their leather caps, shirts, jackets and pants are practicing homosexuals, men who turn to other men for affection and satisfaction. They are part of what they call the “gay world,” which is actually a sad and often sordid world. On these pages, LIFE reports on homosexuality in America, on its locale and habits and sums up what science knows and seeks to know about it.”

LIFE Magazine, July 27, 1964

The 1964 LIFE Magazine article titled “Homosexuality in America” set off a tidal wave of oppression against gay people in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Police Department was particularly irrate that the City had been singled out as a haven for homosexuals: “In the city of San Francisco, which rates as the ‘gay capital,’ there are more than 30 bars which cater exclusively to a homosexual clientele.” Mayor George Christopher and Police Chief Thomas Cahill were determined to clean up the City’s nightlife. Gay bars were raided, and patrons were arrested.

The Berkeley campus police joined in the effort to suppress public homosexual activity. In a panel discussion titled “Gay On Campus Before Stonewall” held in 1988 in Pauley Ballroom, alumnus Martin Stowe recalled his 1964 arrest in a men’s room in the Student Union:

STOWE: I was apprehended, accused of — charged with lewd and lascivious behavior. They had me — of course, you know, after all, we’re very intellectual compared to others — so they had me write up my own charge sheet. I thought that was sort of interesting. I claimed that I was doing research. [Audience laughs] Well, you know the funny part about it: I was. I’ll tell you about that later.

But I was, anyway, I was charged, convicted, and that sort of thing. But before hand the Chief of Police said to me, “Now,” he said, “I hope that you will co-operate with us.” And I said, “Oh, gee, I certainly will if I can.” So he said, “Would you mind naming all of the people that you know on the faculty, the administration and students?” Well, I think at that particular time I probably knew more faculty, more administration and more students who were gay than anybody else. They couldn’t have picked a better person. So I said, “What do you need those names for?” They said, “We’re going to try to help them.” And I said, “Well, Chief, I have to admit to you that I am a student here, and I am in Forensic Psychology, and I know the limits of any help you would be able to provide anyone who is gay, so I’m afraid that I have to refrain from giving you that information.” So we went on with the whole thing, and that was it.

Now, in the old days, you would have been dragged before the Dean and probably kicked out of school. Nothing happened. I mean, there was no official response to that whatsoever.

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: What year was that?

STOWE: This was in — Sixty-four. No response. It was just as well. I’ll tell you why. Because the guy who arrested me, the policeman who arrested me was an old closet queen, who I had remembered from my undergraduate days. He ran a private gymnasium, and everybody knew he was as gay as a pink lizard. [Audience laughs] And somehow between that time and the time I had gotten back for graduate studies, he had gotten on the police force and they had used him for this particular kind of enticement — we won’t call it “entrapment,” just enticement. And so I said nothing about it, and went on from there. But anyway, it led me to — it sharpened your understanding of what was happening at that particular time, your sensitivity to everything that was going on within the organization.

Only six years later the atmosphere among gay people on campus was very different. In the wake of the Gay Liberation Movement, some students became more open — even confrontational — about their sexuality, and insisted that they be accorded the same rights taken for granted by straight students. A flier distributed in Sproul Plaza on 23 March 1970 describes one incident:

HOMOSEXUAL PLAY

On the afternoon of Friday, March 20, Dunbar Aitkens and Dannel Worrell were on the grass by Sproul Plaza, University of California, doing what men-women couples are freely allowed to do there — sometimes holding hands and sometimes embracing while lying beside each other. About 3:00 P.M. several police arrested them, claiming there had been numerous complaints of Aitkens and Worrell “engaged in homosexual play with each other.” They were booked, and escorted off-campus with a written order not [to] re-enter the campus for two weeks.

There will be a homosexual play-in at Queen’s lawn, S.W. corner of Sproul Hall, March 24 where the crime will doubtless be re-enacted by many, while a press conference will be in progress on the spot to talk about the “homosexual” and “heterosexual” play and our rights.

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Read More About It

  • Gay on Campus Before Stonewall,” UC/GALA Gay Awareness Week, March 16, 1988 [ tape recording and transcript], The University Archives, University of California, Berkeley
  • Social Protest Collection, Container 8: Gay Movement (BANC MSS 86/157c), The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
 
 

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Copyright 2002 Regents of the University of California. Email: benemann@law.berkeley.edu.