Fifty years ago, there were riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
It was a year of massive protests and fighting back against institutions, and the gay community joined in mainstream protestsand started to fight back against police harassment.
This week at www.windycitymediagroup.com see personal stories and a look back at the 1968 raid on The Trip gay bar. See links to the related articles at bottom.
The following essay by Marie J. Kuda was written for Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Movement, edited by Tracy Baim, published in 2008 by Agate. Kuda died in 2016. A collection of her essays will be published this fall, edited by Baim.
In the 21st century, "Stonewall" is the accepted buzzword for the beginning of the gay liberation movement in the United States. It conjures up a vision of bar-raiding Greenwich Village cops terrorized inside the Stonewall Inn by a bunch of angry queens outside, tossing rocks, bottles, a Molotov cocktail and shouts reminiscent of Network ( 'I'm not going to take this anymore!' .
But in Chicago, the events of that June day in 1969 barely made a ripple. The riot was not immediate national news. A few local gay papers existed around the country, but there wasn't any real national gay press. When word from New York finally reached here, it was recorded in July's Mattachine Midwest Newsletter with the same emphasis as was given to the item on vigilante residents of the borough of Queens who, in a campaign against homosexuals reportedly frequenting a neighborhood park, had cut down dozens of its trees. According to the writer, William B. Kelley, "The New York Times ran at least three days of stories, one editorial and one letter on the subject. They were against cutting the trees."
Chicago gays chose to challenge the status quo in the courts instead of the streets. In a city coming out of 1968 with a nationwide reputation for police brutality, discretion was indeed the better part of valor. The Trip case, challenging bar closings, went to the Illinois Supreme Court; the case of Mattachine Midwest Newsletter editor David Stienecker involved defending him against charges brought by an officer who arrested gays in tearooms ( public washrooms ). While slower and more low-key than Stonewall, these two cases led Chicago gays to become proactive instead of reactive in their fight against oppression and discrimination.
The Trip case
Chicago's equivalent to Stonewall began 40 years ago with a police bust at The Trip, a gay-owned restaurant-bar complex at 27 E. Ohio St. The Trip had a main-floor restaurant, a second-floor cabaret and a third-floor playroom with pool table and pinball games. At midday, because of its location just west of North Michigan Avenue, the restaurant catered to luncheon crowds of shoppers, often featuring women's fashion shows. The area was undergoing an upswing; a few gritty hotels with questionable clientele remained, but new upscale businesses were mediating the fringes of adjacent Rush Street nightlife. On the borderline, The Trip became quite gay after the dinner hour, and on Sundays it operated as a private club.
One Sunday in January 1968, police raided The Trip, arresting 13 patrons on charges of public indecency and soliciting for prostitution. A plainclothes officer had gained entry by using a membership card obtained illegally during an unrelated arrest and made the charges after observing members dancing together as same-sex couples.
When the case came to court in March, attorney Ralla Klepak defended, and charges against patrons and management were dismissed. The Mattachine Midwest Newsletter, reporting on the incident, saw it as an illustration of further harassment by police, noting that dancing was not illegal per se and that the ACLU would welcome an opportunity for a test case. ( In 1970, The Trip would become one of the first venues to have same-sex dancing, even before Chicago Gay Liberation picketed bars for that right. )
A second raid in May 1968 by two plainclothesmen resulted in the arrests of one patron and one employee; but, more significantly, the local liquor authorities issued an emergency closing order pending appeal on the revocation of The Trip's liquor license. This was common practice in Chicago and a kiss of death for gay bars. If they appealed the order ( the appellate process could drag on for months ) they had to remain closed pending a decision; meanwhile their clientele moved on and they were effectively put out of business. The Trip had barely been open a year, the bad publicity from the earlier raid had ruined its luncheon business, and owners Dean Kolberg and Ralf Johnston were not about to see their investment tank.
The Trip hired attorney Elmer Gertz to mount a case against the License Appeal Commission of Chicago after it upheld the license revocation. The Mattachine Midwest Newsletter reported that no gay bar had previously challenged being shut down before The Trip case. It took a significant amount of time for the case to wend its way to the Illinois Supreme Court. The final decision ( a complete reversal ) was in Johnkol, Inc. v. License Appeal Commission of Chicago, 42 Ill. 2d 377, 247 N.E.2d 901 ( 1969 ).
Meanwhile, even though closed during 1968, The Trip hosted a variety of movement events. The North American Conference of Homophile Organizations ( NACHO ) , a coordinating group made up of delegates from 26 organizations, met there for its third annual nationwide conference, just days before the Democratic National Convention riots. Mattachine Midwest also held its monthly public meetings there while the business was closed.
Mattachine Midwest was an independent corporation created in 1965 after years of failure to sustain local chapters of the West Coast-headquartered organizations Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis. The impetus for the new organization was a particularly brutal raid on the Fun Lounge, a rather sleazy suburban bar that packed in a queer clientele on weekends. The Chicago Tribune led off the report in its April 26, 1964, edition with a headline indicating eight teachers had been seized in a 'vice raid' that also netted 95 other men and six women. The article listed names, addresses and occupations of those arrested ( a common practice of the time ) along with asides that 'many of the men carried powder puffs and lipsticks' and that a quantity of 'freshly shipped' marijuana had been seized. Subsequently there were reports of job losses and a rumored suicide.
Although The Trip had been allowed to reopen, the police still visited; in 1971 a patron was arrested on the old-standby charge of public indecency, but the charge was dismissed. The owners became overly protective of their business, allegedly refusing to call police when a Mattachine officer was robbed at gunpoint while at a meeting with an out-of-state activist on the third floor. In a 1972 on-site interview with the owners, Chicago Today columnist Barbara Ettorre noted the bar was full, with men from all walks of life, all ages, every manner of dress. The bar's management told her that weekends were "crowded wall-to-wall" and that they had a uniformed Andy Frain company usher to check IDs. They were going to make certain none of their patrons would be subject to arrest.
Chicago in 1968
In 1968, Chicago was going through critical times, well beyond the constant harassment of the gay community. In addition to reports on bar raids and park arrests, Mattachine Midwest's referral service received many calls from draft resisters; the anti-Vietnam War movement was well under way. Gays could not serve if identified when drafted: few wanted to go, but no one wanted to be branded with a stigma that would affect their economic and social lives.
After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in April 1968, Chicago's West Side erupted in four days of anguished riots and looting. The police and National Guard were called out; the notorious 'shoot to kill' order was given. Then Bobby Kennedy, seen as the Democrats' likely candidate for president, was murdered. The Democratic Party's nominating convention was to be held in Chicago that August. Anti-war activists, a variety of New Left groups, old-line hippies, Yippies, and others were calling for people to come to Chicago and stage demonstrations at the convention site. Abe Peck, now self-described as 'hippie-rad editor turned journalism professor,' tried to dissuade misguided flower children from coming to the city, warning them in his counterculture newspaper The Seed about the potential for violence here.
In addition, many civil-rights groups ( Black, women's, gay ) had been infiltrated by the FBI's COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program whose goal was to disrupt, disorganize and cause internal dissension in an effort to neutralize a group's activities. The program originated in the Cold War anti-communist 1950s and perfected its 'dirty tricks' down through the Nixon administration. Its informants planted derogatory stories ( they had been responsible for labeling former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson 'gay' during his bid for a presidential nomination ); they used anonymous letters and surveillance, embedded 'moles,' opened mail, blackmailed, and by other devious means invaded the rights of U.S. citizens.
Chicago police also had their covert group, the Red Squad. This group in various incarnations had its origin all the way back in the days following the Haymarket labor riot of 1886 in which seven policemen were killed and dozens injured. The objects of the squad's covert activities switched over the years from anarchists, to communists, to any left-leaning organizations of the civil rights era.
In the early 1970s when attorney Rick Gutman of the Alliance to End Repression ( of which Mattachine Midwest was a member ) was about to challenge the Red Squad in court on constitutional grounds, the squad reportedly destroyed thousands of files. Activist John Chester, who in 1972 was the first open gay on the Alliance's Steering Committee, reports that he 'replaced a woman who was a Red Squad spy.' Historians have speculated many of the threats that Mayor Richard J. Daley said ( after the convention protests ) had prompted him to order the police and National Guard to clamp down on demonstrators were 'planted' by one of the embedded groups ( COINTELPRO or the Red Squad ) and then reported by the other as fact.
Red Squad records are sealed at the Chicago History Museum ( until 2012 ) , but when finally disbanded, the squad was reported to have accumulated files on more than 250,000 individuals and 14,000 organizations. As part of the settlement of the suit against the Red Squad, it was learned that the squad had also obtained information at the first gay political convention, called in Chicago in February 1972 to develop demands for a gay plank to be presented at the major party conventions.
The 1968 NACHO convention at The Trip was held Aug. 11 through 18. Activists from around the country converged and passed a 'Homo sexual Bill of Rights.' One item demanded a national policy that had been law in Illinois since 1961, that sexual acts by consenting adults in private would not be held to be criminal. A motion by pioneering activist Franklin E. Kameny made 'Gay Is Good' the slogan of the movement.
Meanwhile, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam ( the MOBE ) and other protest groups were arriving daily. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, the MOBE failed in its attempt to get an injunction against the city in U.S. District Court to preclude the refusal of permits for a variety of activities, and the ban against sleeping in the parks.
Late Thursday, Aug. 22, on Wells Street in the Old Town area just west of Lincoln Park, two young runaways were being pursued by police. One, Jerome Johnson, a 17-year-old Native American from South Dakota, allegedly produced a handgun and was shot and killed by Youth Officer John Manley of the Damen Avenue District. An April 1970 article by Ron Dorfman in the Chicago Journalism Review reported it as 'the only fatality remotely connected with the Democratic National Convention of 1968 ... touching off the first angry rally in the park the week before the convention.' Word spread quickly and a memorial march was held.
After the rally on Sunday, Aug. 25, as poet Allen Ginsberg and a group of gays were 'omming' peacefully in Lincoln Park past the 11 p.m. curfew, police weighed in with batons swinging. The Chicago Tribune Magazine later called this the 'beginning' of the convention riots, the first large-scale police-public confrontation.
The David Stienecker case
David Stienecker had come to Chicago originally from the small town of Climax, Mich. In the mid-1960s he met Bill Kelley and Ira Jones, who were active in Mattachine Midwest; they prevailed upon him to join the organization. In 1966, Stienecker heard New York activist Craig Rodwell speak at an MM public meeting. Rodwell was a native Chicagoan who would return to New York and later open Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, the country's first gay bookstore. Stienecker said he was 'blown away by his frankness and activism' and they had a brief affair; Stienecker followed Rodwell to New York.
On Wed., Aug. 28, 1968, Stienecker, still in New York, watched the fateful televised report of the police beating demonstrators across from the Conrad Hilton Hotel, convention headquarters. He returned to Chicago in December to find Mattachine Midwest embroiled in a variety of actions to ward off increasing police harassment. President Jim Bradford and attorney Renee Hanover were meeting with police commanders in attempts to mitigate the violence. Stienecker became editor of the MM Newsletter and joined in reporting and pursuing the issues.
Throughout 1969, activism also continued around the trial of those charged during convention week: the 'Chicago Seven,' as they became known after Black Panther Bobby Seale was bound, gagged, and subsequently removed from court for protesting the legitimacy of the trial. When U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Foran characterized the convention riots as 'a freaking fag revolution,' Chicago gay activists printed up buttons with the phrase. MM and its officers individually wrote protest letters to the mainstream press.
The number of entrapment arrests escalated in the parks and tearooms. 'You have to remember that at this time in Chicago the only way you heard about things was by word of mouth,' Stienecker told John Poling in 2002 during an interview for Poling's thesis on Mattachine Midwest. The organization's answering service and newsletter were the only game in town. Members and the gay grapevine reported on the increased police activities.
Stienecker thought that one zealous officer with a reputation for physical violence merited particular attention and that the community should be warned against him: 'It wasn't a matter of hearing about one incident, but rather hearing almost weekly about another Officer Manley entrapment that finally made us realize this was serious and something had to be done. People's lives were at stake, not necessarily physically, but every other way. ... I think there was something seriously wrong with Manley, but I'm not sure what it was. I wanted to get under his skin and we all wanted these incidents to stop.'
Draft resistance and the anti-war movement had also been increasing in intensity. A popular film comedy, The Gay Deceivers, centered on two straight guys passing as gay to avoid the draft. It didn't sit too well with gays for whom this was a critical issue.
But when Stienecker wrote about Manley in the September 1969 MM Newsletter, he titled his article "A Gay Deceiver, or Is He?" Describing Manley and his arrest techniques, Stienecker suggested that he enjoyed his work too much, and posited that it would be a great way for a closeted cop to get his rocks off and still come out smelling like a rose. The article mistakenly used 'Charles' instead of 'John' as the officer's name. In the October 1969 issue Stienecker ran a correction, with a brief follow-up and a photograph of Sgt. John Manley.
In early 1970, a newly formed gay group at the University of Chicago learned that Sgt. Manley was scheduled to speak Feb. 25 on 'Youthful Offenders' to the Women's Bar Association of Illinois. In the Feb. 6 issue of the Chicago Maroon and a concurrent Gay Liberation Newsletter, Step May, Nancy Garwood, and Bill Dry signed an article calling for a picket and leafleting of the WBAI protesting Manley's appearance. May and Garwood were later 'outed' to their parents in anonymous letters with a veiled warning about messing with a Chicago police officer. ( Dry was not a UC student and would go on to be a founder of Gay Liberation at Northwestern University. ) On the day of the demonstration when they saw Manley in person at the WBAI picket, one UC student, Alice Leiner, recognized him as having attended a planning meeting and passing himself off as an out-of-town gay activist named Mandrenas.
On the morning of Feb. 7, 1970, Manley himself showed up at David Stienecker's third-floor apartment with a warrant for his arrest on the charge of 'criminal defamation' ( hapter 38, Section 27-1, Illinois Revised Statutes, since repealed ). Stienecker told Poling: 'I wasn't sure if I was going to go to jail or be taken for a ride and beaten up. ( That was not uncommon in those days. ) So, yes, I was scared.'
Perhaps validating his earlier assessment of Manley, Stienecker also said the cop 'insisted on watching me dress in the bathroom.' ( In a later Chicago Journalism Review article, 'Mattachine editor arrested,' Ron Dorfman noted that the warrant for Stienecker's arrest had been issued in October 1969, shortly after the second Manley article had appeared. ) Stienecker told Poling that although Manley suggested he just plead guilty and the judge would give him 'a slap on the wrist,' he insisted on calling an attorney: 'I mention this because it shows the attitude of the cops at the time. They never believed a gay person would fight a charge.'
The March 1970 MM Newsletter headlined Stienecker's arrest, railed against Manley's contempt for freedom of the press, and noted this was 'the first case … in which an official of a homophile organization has been arrested for writing an article.' MM President Bradford wrote that he regarded Stienecker's arrest as a sign of Mattachine Midwest's effectiveness in the fight against police abuse. Both the MM and UC-CGL newsletters called for any information on Manley, urging anyone willing to testify to come forward. Attorney Renee Hanover represented Stienecker, and the case was eventually dropped because the prosecution hadn't made a case and Manley failed to make three court dates.
As their trial dragged through federal court, one of the Chicago Seven and other activist leaders, including Stienecker, were asked to speak at a rally at the Logan Monument in Grant Park. In its coverage of the event, the Chicago Tribune devoted a couple of paragraphs to Stienecker. His employer, World Book Encyclopedia, had seen the item, and a couple of months later he was fired ( an investigation indicated, because he was gay ) . Stienecker wanted to sue 'but the ACLU didn't think we had a good case because I quickly got a better job. I would also have to involve gay people [ from World Book ] who were very closeted, and it would have ruined their lives.'
It would be naive to conclude that these two cases ( The Trip's and Stienecker's ) on their own changed the treatment of gays in Chicago overnight. But they certainly gave notice for the first time, to the city and the police, that it wasn't going to be the same old, same old anymore.
More importantly, disparate gays alone, and in groups, understood that they too could stand up and fight for their rights. By mid-year there were gay groups on all the major college campuses in the area. New organizations ( CGA, IGLA, IGRTF ) began polling and political action. Lesbian and gay newsletters popped up everywhere. Former members of MM dispersed throughout the new organizations. Instead of just the Mattachine referral hotline there were now directories, newspapers, clinics, a lesbian center with a bookstore and library, social service organizations from Rogers Park to Hyde Park Beckman House and Gay Horizons, and a gay community center on West Elm Street.
In 1971, the president of the Chicago Gay Alliance presented the Judiciary Committee of the City Council with its first demand that amendments be added to existing housing and employment laws to include 'sexual orientation' in the list of prohibited forms of discrimination. In just a few years, with the old guard as midwives, a citywide community had been born.
With research contributions by William B. Kelley
Note: This piece originally ran in Windy City Times in 2008.
View the entire 1968 feature series at these links: