Mattachine Society

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Mattachine Society was the first homosexual organization in the United States .

The organization was founded by Harry Hay with some friends. The first group met on November 11, 1950 in Silver Lake , Los Angeles . This group included Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich , Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland and Dale Jennings. The organization was not legally registered until 1954 when another group took over the helm.

Several other affiliated organizations were soon formed in other cities such as San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington . The primary goal was to achieve public acceptance of homosexuality in society. In the organization's manifesto, the first members wrote:

"Physiological and psychological handicaps need be no deterrent in integrating 10 percent of the world's population towards the constructive social progress of mankind."

"Physiological and psychological weaknesses need not prevent us from integrating 10 percent of the world population towards a constructive social development of humanity."

The organization published the magazine The Mattachine Review .


The name of the organization Mattachine Society comes from Harry Hay. According to Hays, this is based on a French group of masked men from the Renaissance and the Middle Ages whom he studied at the time while preparing for a course on the history of popular music. In 1976, in an interview with Jonathan Ned Katz , Hay was asked about the background of the name. Hay mentioned the French group Sociétes Joyeux , which existed during the Renaissance :

“One masque group was known as the 'Société Mattachine'. These societies, lifelong secret fraternities of unmarried townsmen who never performed in public unmasked, were dedicated to going out into the countryside and conducting dances and rituals during the Feast of Fools, at the Vernal Equinox. Sometimes these dance rituals, or masques, were peasant protests against oppression - with the maskers, in the people's name, receiving the brunt of a given lord's vicious retaliation. So we took the name Mattachine because we felt that we 1950s Gays were also a masked people, unknown and anonymous, who might become engaged in morale building and helping ourselves and others, through struggle, to move toward total redress and change. ”

“One of the masked groups was known as the Société Mattachine . These societies - lifelong secret societies of unmarried men who never met unmasked - had the purpose of leaving the city together to hold dances and rites in the country during the solstice festival. Sometimes these dance rituals or mask games represented the protest of the rural population against the oppression - whereby the masked, on behalf of the population, received the majority of the brutal retaliation of the respective sovereign. That's why we called ourselves Mattachine , because we believed that we gays of the 1950s were also masked people, unknown and anonymous, who could possibly get involved in moral building and help others and themselves, struggling to make amends and To move change. "

This French group was named after Mattaccino (in English Mattachino ), a character in Italian theater. Mattaccino was a kind of fool who spoke the truth before the king when no one else dared. The mattachin (from the Arabic word mutawajjihin - "mask bearer ") were originally Moorish sword dancers who wore colorful costumes and masks.

The Mattachine Society used so-called harlequin diamonds as their emblem .

Organization objectives

The Mattachine Society wanted to liberalize society in the United States towards greater acceptance of homosexuality and offered a range of services and advice to the gay community. The organization also lobbied for the elimination of the criminality of homosexuality in the states of the United States.

Connections and development of the organization up to Stonewall

Many of the founding members of the Mattachine Society were associated with communism . The organization was initially based on the cell structure of the Communist Party of the United States . As the effects of the McCarthy era deepened in the United States, some members and supporters became concerned about the Mattachine Society's association with communism. Hay, a designated member of the United States Communist Party for 15 years, then resigned from the Mattachine Society . In the years that followed, the leadership structure was less influenced by communism and more shaped by a moderate ideology that was similar to the civil rights movements of African American people that existed at the time .

Although Harry Hay stated that he had never heard of the first ever gay movement in Germany (see German activists such as Adolf Brand , Magnus Hirschfeld , and Leontine Sagan ), he is known to have worked with German immigrants in the United States, such as, among others Rudi Gernreich , spoke about it.

Initially, Mattachine Society existed as a single, national organization based in Los Angeles. From 1956 other groups developed: first in San Francisco, then groups in New York City, Washington, Chicago and other places followed. In 1961 there was an internal conflict in the organization. The group from New York City split up and renamed the Mattachine Society of New York, Inc.

Another internal conflict within the organization resulted in the establishment of another new organization called ONE, Inc. ONE also supported women and together with Mattachine they helped the lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis to publish the journal The Ladder in 1956 . Daughters of Bilitis was the lesbian counterpart to Mattachine Society and the two organizations worked together on various campaigns. Under changed new leadership, however, the Daughters of Bilitis came under heavy criticism by the new feminist organizations in the early 1970s , as they did not support the collaboration of the Daughters of Bilitis and Mattachine Society . Furthermore, Mattachine Society worked with other groups in the ECHO ( East Coast Homophile Organizations ) in the 1960s .

Further development according to Stonewall

From the mid-1960s, and especially after Stonewall , Mattachine Society lost its influence within the community. Younger LGBT activists in particular saw the organization as too adapted, outdated and harmless, as this new generation did not see them too confronted with society. A newer militant generation of activists (as a result of the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution) emerged.

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