[Chapter 09] That Dare Not Speak Its Name: The Rights of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals and Transgender People

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One of the most galvanizing raids [at a gathering of gay people] took place not in a bar but at a 1965 New Year's costume ball benefiting a San Francisco group called the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). CRH formed in 1964 after leaders at Glide Memorial Methodist Church, located in San Francisco's rundown Tenderloin neighborhood, contacted local homophile organizations about creating a ministry for young male prostitutes who congregated in the area. That led to a three-day retreat of fifteen members of the Bay Area clergy and fifteen leaders of homophile groups, including Daughters of Bilitis founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. They discussed issues such as theology and homosexuality, and attitudes of the clergy and homosexuals towards each other. By the end of the retreat, the group had formed CRH to continue the dialogue.

In late 1964, San Francisco gay and lesbian groups agreed to cosponsor a Mardi Gras-themed costume ball to raise funds for CRH at California Hall, two blocks from City Hall. Prior to the event, CRH ministers and attorneys met with the San Francisco Police Department's "Sex Crimes" detail. The police opposed the event and threatened to arrest anyone in drag. CRH emphasized that the affair was private, implying that police could not dictate dress codes. The meeting ended with police agreeing to allow the dance to take place, and CRH representatives believing that law enforcement would not interfere.

Running a Police Gauntlet

That understanding, however, crumbled when police blocked off all intersections leading to California Hall, set up floodlights in front of the building, gathered at the entrance, and took still photos and movies of everyone entering.

Couple going to CRH eventCouple going to CRH eventDespite this gauntlet, about five hundred courageous people went inside. Police then harassed the event organizers on many pretexts. Herb Donaldson, an attorney and legal advisor at the ball who later became a San Francisco Superior Court judge, recalled:

The plainclothes police started coming in to make inspections. There was a fire inspection. There was a health inspection. I think it was about the fourth inspection when we said, "That's enough! If you want to come in, you're going to have to get a search warrant." We were cheek-to-cheek with the police. We were just standing there and they were standing there. They didn't believe we would stand them off.

A group of uniformed officers with movie cameras pushed past the ticket table, running roughshod through the crowd on the dance floor, terrifying partygoers. Police arrested legal observer Donaldson and three other CRH volunteers for "obstructing an officer in the course of his duties," even though the police did not claim that any-one attempted to physically restrain them or prevent them from entering.

Ministers Fight Back

Ministers associated with Council on Religion and the HomosexualMinisters associated with Council on Religion and the HomosexualPolice intimidation drove away hundreds of the expected fifteen hundred attendees, but in the long run the incident damaged the police. The following day, seven CRH-affiliated ministers held a press conference condemning law enforcement's behavior. The incident helped the general public realize that gay people were the targets of police harassment. San Francisco Mayor John F. Shelley demanded a full accounting of the incident from Police Chief Thomas Cahill.

Donaldson remembered that CRH ministers and their wives, "all dressed up in their Sunday 'go to church' clothes" at his criminal trial, which "was so important for the jury to see--to see the support."

The police insisted that the six uniformed and nine plainclothes officers were only at the event to enforce alcoholic beverage control laws and that they did not plan in advance to make any arrests. One officer, however, seriously undermined that argument when he admitted on cross-examination that prior to leaving the Hall of Justice he had prepared fifty numbered cards intended for police photographs of people arrested.

A New Era of Gay Activism

Municipal Court Judge Leo Friedman declared that the evidence was insufficient to support the charge of obstructing the police. It was clear, the judge stated, that the police were intent on disturbing the party. Suddenly ending the trial, he advised the jury to bring in a verdict of "not guilty," based on a motion of Donaldson's ACLU attorney, Marshall Krause. After ten minutes of deliberation, the jury announced its unanimous vote: not guilty

The CRH ball and its aftermath ushered in a new era of gay activism to San Francisco. CRH issued a pamphlet entitled "A Brief of Injustices: An Indictment of Our Society and Its Treatment of the Homosexual," documenting employment discrimination, police harassment and entrapment, and anti-gay violence. The CRH incident also contributed to the formation of Citizen's Alert, a twenty-four-hour community hotline organized by Del Martin, for lesbians and gay men to report incidents of police abuse.

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