Gay Liberation and a Mid-Century Coming Out Story

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I had mixed reactions when I was informed that WIN was coming out with a special issue on the homosexual and his oppressed state in society. I wondered if the time was right for such a step with the Movement. I feared that such an issue might prove divisive and hurt more than it helped. Now that I have seen the issue and obtained the opinions of friends on it, I think you were right after all.” R.C., Chicago

I’ve sent you some money at times but now I’m through. Please take my name off your list and do not send an more to me.” J.T., Los Angeles

The present issue deals with homosexuality, a subject that, despite its controversial nature, I feel should not be hidden. However, on page 23 you published a photo of three nude males as an advertisement, which is, I think very poor judgement. I am 17 years old and live in a very conservative community, and based on this issue, my parents have decided I must end my subscription.” P.S., Tustin, CA

What a magnificent article by David McReynolds—a piece of his soul, honest, fragile, intense. His guts are over shadowed only by his humanity.” R.N. Barre, VT

Allen Ginsberg collage, WIN 1969Those are a few snippets from letters-to-the-editor in reaction to the November 15, 1969, issue of WIN magazine, which featured articles by Paul Goodman and David McReynolds and two shorter pieces on the budding gay liberation movement. David was on the staff of WRL at the time. His friends and associates all knew he was gay, but homosexual acts were still illegal. WRLers all knew the story of Bayard Rustin’s 1953 arrest and subsequent firing by FOR.

The Stonewall Uprising took place in June of that year by gays much younger than Paul and David, a fact David reflects on in a 2015 piece for the final issue of WRL’s more recent incarnation of WIN. In it he notes that he remained on the staff, WIN survived some dropped subscriptions, and WRL carried on despite some resignations. As Wendy Schwartz, who was on the early WIN staff, says today: “the older, more traditional members had difficulty adding gay rights to WRL’s concerns, just as they resisted embracing feminist and economic equality as core WRL principles.”

NOTES for a more coherent article, by David McReynoldsDavid’s “NOTES for a more coherent article” in WIN, November 15, 1969 begins:

Months ago, before this issue of WIN was being discussed and before the "Gay power" street action in the Village and before the trees were cut down in Queens [], I had decided, for reasons that remain as mysterious to me as the seasons, to make public the fact that I am homosexual. Originally I was simply going to "drop the remark" into a longer political article, noting that times had changed so greatly that I could deal with my own sexual life thus briefly. But things are not, after all, that easy.

The kids could not care less, either about any personal statements I might make or about this issue of WIN. They are neither more nor less homosexual than I recall them 20 years ago, they are just far less hung up about the matter. But tolerant as the kids may be, they do not pay my salary at WRL and they do not, by and large, send in the extra contributions needed to keep WIN going. That money comes from an older generation. Do I have the right, as a staff member of WRL and an associate of WIN, to threaten the public image of one of America's oldest and largest pacifist groups, or make the raising of funds more difficult for WRL and WIN, by a "personal honest" of this kind? Am I not imposing upon the WRL and WIN a burden that it would be better I did not impose?

Read the full article here…

- blog post by Ruth Benn