1950s in LGBT rights

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List of years in LGBT rights (table)

This is a list of notable events in the history of LGBT rights that took place worldwide in the 1950s.



  • August 28 — The Supreme Court of California rules in Stoumen v. Reilly that the mere congregation of homosexuals at a bar was not sufficient grounds for suspending the bar's liquor license.[4] The ruling came in the case of the Black Cat Bar, a San Francisco gay bar that was the target of a 15-year campaign by state and local authorities to shut it down.[5]


  • June 23 — Following his arrest on charges of "lewd behavior", Mattachine Society co-founder Dale Jennings exercises his right to a jury trial in an era when men almost uniformly pleaded guilty to such charges. At trial he acknowledges his homosexuality but denies the specific charge. The jury deadlocks 11-1 for acquittal and the charges are dropped. Mattachine declares a legal victory and membership in the Society swells.[6]
  • November 15 — articles of incorporation for One, Inc., an early homophile group, are signed.



  • March 16 — The Army–McCarthy hearings convene to investigate conflicting charges made by the United States Army and Senator Joseph McCarthy about allegations of preferential treatment that McCarthy and his aide Roy Cohn had secured for Cohn's friend David Schine. The hearings include inquiries into the supposed security risks posed by homosexuals employed by the federal government and include instances of gay-baiting by Special Counsel for the Army Joseph Welch. Notably, Welch defines a pixie as being "a close relative of a fairy". "Fairy" is a slang term for "homosexual" and Welch's remark is interpreted as a jibe at Cohn, a closeted homosexual.[9]
  • August — Following a series of high-profile arrests and trials, the Wolfenden Commission is formed in England to examine the possibility of reforming the laws relating to male homosexual conduct.[10]


  • The New York chapter of the Mattachine Society is founded.
  • April 14 — in the wake of a moral panic brought on by the sexual assault and murder of a boy in 1954, Iowa enacts a "sexual psycopath" law,[11] allowing for the involuntary commitment of anyone charged with a public offense who possessed "criminal propensities toward the commission of sex offenses".[12] Twenty gay men from the Sioux City area, none of them suspected of having any connection with the crime that inspired the law, were committed in 1955.[13] Another 13 men were arrested in a sweep in 1958, but were not committed as sexual psychopaths.[14]
  • October 19 — The Daughters of Bilitis, the first American organization specifically for lesbians, is founded in San Francisco.[15]
  • October 31 — Three men are arrested in Boise, Idaho on charges of lewd conduct and sodomy, inciting a moral panic in Boise that resulted in 16 arrests, 15 convictions and almost 1,500 people being questioned.[16]
  • December 22 — The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denies an appeal from Raymond W. Longernecker, whom the Veterans Administration (VA) had denied benefits under the G.I. Bill. Longernecker held a blue discharge, which meant he had been separated from military service under conditions neither honorable nor dishonorable. The Court found that two laws specifically denied the courts jurisdiction over such decisions by the VA Administrator. Nevertheless, the Court noted that the denial of benefits should only have occurred if Longernecker had been dishonorably discharged and that the VA Administrator was acting without authority in treating a blue discharge as if it were dishonorable.[17]


  • The Homosexual Law Reform Society forms in England for the sole purpose of decriminalizing homosexual acts.[18]
  • September 4 — The Wolfenden report is published in England. The committee recommends "that homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offense". The committee also recommended that the age of consent for sexual acts between men be set at 21, in contrast to 16 for heterosexual and lesbian sex.[19]
  • December 20 — Frank Kameny is fired from his job as an astronomer in the United States Army's Map Service in Washington, D.C. because of his homosexuality. A few days later he is blacklisted from seeking federal employment. These events spur Kameny into being a gay rights activist.[20]



  • May — LGBT people clash with police at Cooper's Donuts, a hang-out for drag queens and street hustlers who were frequently harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Police arrest three people, including John Rechy, but other patrons begin pelting the police with donuts and coffee cups. The LAPD calls for back-up and arrests a number of rioters. Rechy and the other two original detainees are able to escape.[22]
  • December 23 — In Vallerga v. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Supreme Court of California rules that a 1955 statute allowing ABC to revoke the liquor license of any establishment that was a "resort ... for sexual perverts" violated the state constitution.[23] The court indicates that had the revocation been based on accusations of homosexual conduct rather than the mere gathering of homosexuals, it might have upheld the statute. It established the right of LGBT people to congregate in California as long as they did not express their sexuality physically.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bullough, p. 342
  2. ^ Jennings, p. 152
  3. ^ Hogan and Hudson, pp. 382—3
  4. ^ Stoumen v. Reilly, 37 Cal.2d 713 (Supreme Court of California August 28, 1951).
  5. ^ D'Emilio p. 187
  6. ^ D'Emilio, pp. 69—70
  7. ^ Miller (1995), p. 252
  8. ^ Executive Order 10450
  9. ^ Giblin, pp. 225—26
  10. ^ Miller (1995), p. 283
  11. ^ Miller (2002), p. 84
  12. ^ Miller (2002), p. 76
  13. ^ Miller (2002), pp. 127—8
  14. ^ Miller (2002), pp. 217—8
  15. ^ Aldrich and Wotherspoon, p. 253
  16. ^ Gerassi, p. 126
  17. ^ Longernecker v. Higley, 229 F.2d 27 (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit December 22, 1955).
  18. ^ Miller (1995), p. 285
  19. ^ Miller (1995), pp. 283—84
  20. ^ Murdoch and Price, pp. 52—3
  21. ^ One, Inc. v. Oleson, 355 US 371 (United States Supreme Court January 13, 1958).
  22. ^ Faderman and Timmons, pp. 1–2
  23. ^ Vallerga v. Dept. Alcoholic Bev. Control, 53 Cal.2d 313 (Supreme Court of California December 23, 1959).
  24. ^ Eskridge, pp. 94—5


  • Aldrich, Robert and Garry Wotherspoon (2001). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22974-X.
  • Bullough, Vern L. (2002). Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context. New York: Haworth Press. ISBN 1-56023-193-9.
  • D'Emilio, John (1983). Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-14265-5.
  • Eskridge, William N. (2002). Gaylaw: Challenging the Apartheid of the Closet. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00804-9.
  • Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons (2006). Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02288-X.
  • Gerassi, John, with introduction by Peter Boag (1966, reprinted 2001). The Boys of Boise: Furor, Vice and Folly in an American City. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-98167-9.
  • Giblin, James Cross (2009). The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0-618-61058-8.
  • Jennings, Kevin (1994). Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay & Lesbian History for High School & College Students. Los Angeles: Alyson Publications. ISBN 1-55583-254-7.
  • Miller, Neil (1995). Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-09-957691-0.
  • Miller, Neil (2002). Sex-crime Panic: A Journey to the Paranoid Heart of the 1950s. Los Angeles: Alyson Books. ISBN 1-55583-659-3.
  • Murdoch, Joyce and Deb Price (2001). Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court. New York: Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. ISBN 0-465-01513-1.