1. Film: The Children’s Hour (1961)
The 1961 film The Children’s Hour brought to the screen a 1934 play by Lillian Hellman. The play itself was based on a true story about two women teachers ostracized after a rumor spread alleging that they were lovers.
Censorship laws at the time required the first movie version of the play to erase homosexuality from the plot, but the 1961 version, starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirly Maclaine, returned to the play’s original storyline.
In this movie, two female teachers—Karen and Martha—start a school together in New England. Karen (played by Hepburn) is engaged to marry a local doctor, Joe, but their lives unravel when one of the school’s students (who is also the granddaughter of the doctor’s wealthy aunt) spreads a rumor that Karen and Martha are engaged in a homosexual affair. Towards the end of the movie, Joe asks Karen if the rumors are true. She denies them, but breaks off their engagement, and Joe leaves.
Watch the scenes that follow by clicking on the below YouTube link, and continue watching through the end of the movie. Then read the documents below.
2. The Daughters of Bilitis
First, read the following introduction to the Daughters of Bilitis by Marcia M. Gallo. Then, read this 1958 article from the organization’s newsletter, The Ladder. (You will have to click on “PDF Full Text” to see the letter.)
Winds of Change: The Daughters of Bilitis and Lesbian Organizing
by Marcia M. Gallo
Frustrated with their inability to meet other lesbians, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon accepted an invitation to get together with three other female couples in San Francisco in September, 1955. The eight lesbians who gathered that Friday night at Noni and Mary’s hoped there would be other women in the Bay area who would want to enjoy parties and conversation in the privacy of one another’s homes. Out of their discussions grew the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first national lesbian organization in the U.S. While DOB started as a small, secret social club, by the early 1960s there were chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, as well as San Francisco, and a well-regarded monthly magazine by and for lesbians, The Ladder. Through dances and debates, advocacy and research, conferences and correspondence, the Daughters helped build a significant 20th-century movement for social change.
Out of their discussions grew the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first national lesbian organization in the U.S. While DOB started as a small, secret social club, by the early 1960s there were chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, as well as San Francisco, and a well-regarded monthly magazine by and for lesbians, The Ladder. Through dances and debates, advocacy and research, conferences and correspondence, the Daughters helped build a significant 20th century movement for social change.
They started out in a climate of hostility and fear. In the mid-1950s, all of society’s major institutions and opinion-makers—from religious leaders to medical authorities, from judges to the local police and politicians—condemned homosexuality and persecuted gay men and women.
In major cities, there were some bars and restaurants that allowed gay people to gather (and spend money on watered-down drinks), but these places could be and were raided by police at any time. DOB was a response to these conditions and it was many things to many women. First and foremost, it was where a gay or questioning woman could go to meet a new girlfriend, begin to heal a broken heart, or find validation for her life. It was a circle of friends to share good times and bad as well as a network of peer counselors who offered support and guidance. It was a resource center for questions about homosexuality and a nice place to go on Saturday night. DOB was a potent mix of counseling and social services, with a dash of grassroots organizing thrown in. Like its members, it grew and changed with the times.
One of the first things DOB did was create living-room discussions of topics of concern to lesbians, but open to all women. Their sensitivity to the intense fear of the time—a fear that is hard for us to even imagine today—meant that one did not have to declare herself to be a lesbian to join the Daughters of Bilitis. Even the name of their new group provided protection from exposure: they chose the title of an obscure 19th-century erotic poem, “Songs of Bilitis,” supposedly written by one of Sappho’s lovers and “translated” by Pierre Louys. It was published in the U.S. as part of a paperback collection of Louys’ work in 1955. By using a coded name for the new organization, as well as in the use of pseudonyms by many members, the Daughters utilized secrecy while pursuing a strategy of lifting the veil of silence surrounding lesbian life in the mid-twentieth century.
DOB in Chicago
DOB’s Chicago chapter was organized in late 1961 and officially chartered in 1962. “Del Shearer” helped get the chapter started and led it until 1965; she also served as a national vice-president of DOB. Among the early members of Chicago DOB were noted lesbian poet and writer Valerie Taylor (“Velma Tate”), a frequent contributor to DOB’s monthly magazine The Ladder, as well as sister Midwesterners Jeannette Howard Foster and Barbara Grier (“Gene Damon”). Close cooperation with other Chicago homophile activists—such as pioneering civil rights attorney Pearl Hart—were a hallmark of the group, as was its conscious outreach to black communities and newspapers.
The Chicago Daughters worked to increase lesbian visibility in the electronic media. In 1964, “Miss Shearer” was the only woman of five participants in a “lively two-hour exchange” televised on Chicago’s WBKB in April and reported in the October issue of The Ladder. It was one of the first televised discussions featuring “known” homosexuals. “Del Shearer” articulated the homophile movement’s perspective:
Organizations like Daughters of Bilitis want to see the homosexual move out of his cubbyhole and join the rest of society as a responsible person. Also, they want to get society to accept the homosexual as a person.
But in a 1965 letter to DOB’s Governing Board, Shearer resigned. She took the opportunity to express her strong disagreement “at this time or in the very near future” with the issue of picketing by homophile groups which was then being organized by ECHO (East Coast Homophile Organizations). She called it “ridiculous if not utter insanity,” expressing her concern that homophile activists had not yet adequately influenced “the reflection of custom and public policy.” Shearer also urged that DOB withdraw from ECHO to protect DOB’s “separate identity.” She ended her letter with “I would much prefer to see D.O.B. small and sound than great and vulnerable.”
DOB’s Contributions to Lesbian Organizing
Shearer’s words were prophetic. As the Daughters in the mid-1960s debated whether, when, and how to engage in growing gay rights protests and coalitions, their involvement in the homophile movement shifted. The issue of feminism—always part of DOB’s agenda—sharpened as well. Within a few years, some members were urging that DOB join the newly-resurgent women’s movement and lessen its involvement with male-dominated gay rights groups. Further, despite the existence of more than a dozen local chapters, by 1968 the national organization was weakening. There were internal disputes over local autonomy and initiative. Two DOB leaders circulated a proposal to disband the national board and form a loose federation of chapters under a “United Daughters of Bilitis, Inc.” banner.
In the summer of 1970, when then-editor Grier and DOB president Rita La Porte severed The Ladder from DOB so that Grier could publish it privately, it seemed that there was no longer any need for a national structure. DOB abolished its governing board and gave its chapters the freedom to continue their work on the local level. With The Ladder gone (it lasted only two more years), the Los Angeles DOB chapter soon developed its local newsletter into a new national lesbian magazine, Lesbian Tide. It became the second groundbreaking publication to be produced by the Daughters.
Some DOB chapters—notably, New York and San Francisco—kept organizing throughout the 1970s and the DOB group in Boston was active until 1995. Outside the U.S., the Minorities Research Group (MRG), founded by Esme Langley and other British lesbians in 1963 and actively supported by DOB, continued to work on lesbian rights throughout the 1960s. Its magazine, Arena Three, was, like The Ladder, distributed internationally. In 1969, a DOB chapter organized in Melbourne by Marion Paull and Claudia Pearce was the first “openly homosexual political organization” in Australia. (6)
The small secret San Francisco social club had helped launch an international lesbian movement. The Daughters of Bilitis stands today as an important example of women’s organizing during oppressive times. Through its leadership in the predominantly male homophile movement of the 1950s and 1960s, its unique publication The Ladder, and its network of local chapters, DOB played a crucial role in creating lesbian identity, visibility, institutions, and political strategies from 1955 to 1970. In addition, the Daughters helped to broaden the very definition of social change to include female sexuality.
3. Obituary for Del Martin
New York Times, August 28, 2008
Del Martin, who married her partner of 55 years, Phyllis Lyon, on June 16 in the first legal gay union in California and who helped found the pioneering lesbian-rights group the Daughters of Bilitis, died Wednesday in San Francisco. She was 87.
The cause was a broken arm that exacerbated her existing health problems, Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told The Associated Press.
The June wedding was not the couple’s first effort at legalizing their union. In February 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco challenged California’s marriage laws by announcing that the city would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples who requested them. Of the more than 4,000 couples who married before the California Supreme Court intervened a month later, Ms. Martin and Ms. Lyon may have been the oldest, and were certainly first and the most celebrated.
That summer, though, the California Supreme Court invalidated all licenses for same-sex marriages, arguing that the mayor had exceeded his legal authority. Ms. Martin and Ms. Lyon were among the original plaintiffs in a series of lawsuits that led to the court’s declaring same-sex marriages legal this year.
Mr. Newsom invited the couple to be the first couple to marry under the new ruling. This they did, in San Francisco’s City Hall, after living together as a couple for more than half a century.
On Wednesday, Ms. Lyon, 83, said in a statement, “I am devastated, but I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed.”
Ms. Martin was born Dorothy L. Taliaferro on May 5, 1921, in San Francisco. She studied journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State College. At 19 she married James Martin, but the marriage ended in divorce four years later. Their daughter, Kendra Mon, survives, as do two grandchildren and Ms. Lyon.
While working for a construction trade journal in Seattle, Ms. Martin met Ms. Lyon, an employee at the same firm, and the two became romantically involved and entered into a permanent relationship in 1953. In 1955, having moved to San Francisco, they joined with six other women to found the Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organization for lesbians in the United States, which soon established branches around the country. The name was taken from “Songs of Bilitis,” a collection of lesbian love poems by Pierre Louys.
Ms. Martin was the organization’s first president, and from 1960 to 1962 she edited its newsletter, The Ladder, which Ms. Lyon had edited from its inception in 1956. The organization disbanded in 1970 as more radical lesbian groups came to the fore.
In 1964 Ms. Martin helped found the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which lobbied city government to end police harassment of gay men and lesbians and change discriminatory laws.
Ms. Martin is believed to have been the first openly gay woman to be elected to the board of directors of the National Organization for Women, where she agitated to put lesbian issues on the table. She was also an active member of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which was founded in 1972 to support gay candidates in San Francisco.
In her later years, she was a member of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 1987 she earned a degree from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.
She wrote a book, “Battered Wives” (1976), and two others with Ms. Lyon, “Lesbian/Woman” (1972) and “Lesbian Love and Liberation” (1973).
4. Supreme Court to Decide Same-Sex Marriage
San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2012
More than eight years after San Francisco’s mayor told city clerks to ignore state law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and four years after gays and lesbians first won and then lost the right to wed in California, the burning question of who can marry in the state - and perhaps the nation - has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
After weeks of indecision, the justices granted hearings Friday to supporters of California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and the 1996 federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act. That law withholds federal recognition and spousal benefits, including joint tax filing, Social Security survivor payments and immigration sponsorship, from married same-sex couples. According to researchers, there may be 100,000 or more such couples in the nine states where same-sex marriage is legal, and in California, where 18,000 couples wed during a brief period of legality in 2008.
The cases will be heard in March or April, with rulings due by the end of June.
They will be argued before a court widely regarded as the most conservative in many decades - but one that includes justices who have ruled twice in favor of gay rights.
A 1996 ruling struck down Colorado’s prohibition of local gay-rights ordinances, finding that the ban was unconstitutionally based on antagonism toward gays and lesbians. In 2003, the court overturned state laws against gay sexual activity as a violation of privacy and personal autonomy. Both rulings were written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who may hold the deciding vote in the marriage cases.
Neither of the earlier cases set standards for reviewing other antigay laws or mentioned same-sex marriage, which was not yet legal in any state.
Times have changed
But times, and public opinion, have changed - most visibly in Maine, Maryland and Washington, whose voters on Nov. 6 became the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage in statewide referendums.
One constitutional law professor, David S. Cohen of Drexel University in Pennsylvania, said Friday that the court “has to be aware of the trend, and will not rule against equality, knowing what the future holds.”
But the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage rights could also lead the justices to conclude that gays and lesbians are gaining enough support in the political system that they need no special judicial protection.
While the Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of both Prop. 8 and the federal DOMA, it’s not clear that either ruling will resolve the broader issue of whether the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws gives gays and lesbians equal marriage rights in all states.
The court could reach that issue, particularly if it upholds one or both laws and decides that states and the federal government can refuse to recognize same-sex unions. The justices could also take the narrower approach of the federal appeals courts that struck down both Prop. 8 and DOMA without deciding whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
Prop. 8, approved by 52 percent of the voters in November 2008, amended the California Constitution to overturn a May 2008 ruling by the state Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.
In February, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Prop. 8 had withdrawn rights from a historically protected minority for no apparent reason other than moral disapproval of homosexuality - an unconstitutional act, the court said, under the Supreme Court’s precedent in the 1996 Colorado case.
On Friday, Andy Pugno, chief counsel for the conservative religious coalition called Protect Marriage that sponsored Prop. 8, said the Supreme Court will now be able to “uphold the will of more than 7 million Californians who voted to preserve the unique definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman.”
Theodore Olson, lawyer for the American Foundation for Equal Rights and two same-sex couples who challenged Prop. 8, countered that the court’s review “brings us closer to the day when every American will be able to equally enjoy the fundamental freedom to marry.”
Setting things in motion
The court’s order also resonated in San Francisco, where then-Mayor Gavin Newsom defied the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2004 - authorizing nearly 4,000 weddings that were soon nullified by the state Supreme Court, but setting in motion the legal case now before the nation’s highest court.
“I have every confidence that come summertime, we will once again be on the right side of history,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has joined the suit against Prop. 8.
The ban on same-sex marriage remains in effect while the case is on appeal.
Also still in effect is the Defense of Marriage Act, despite rulings by a half-dozen federal courts, including two Bay Area judges, holding it unconstitutional.
Those courts have concluded that the federal government, which has historically respected states’ definitions of marriage, discriminated against gays and lesbians by denying them benefits from state-recognized marriages.
The Supreme Court granted review in the case of Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old New York woman who was ordered to pay more than $363,000 in estate taxes after the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. Windsor would have been exempt from the tax if the federal government had recognized their marriage.
The court also left open the possibility of avoiding a decision in either case by asking for arguments on whether backers of the two laws - Protect Marriage for Prop. 8, and a House Republican-led group for DOMA - have standing, or the legal authority to defend the measures in court.
Protect Marriage stepped in after California’s top officials, including then-Attorney General and now-Gov. Jerry Brown, declined to defend Prop. 8. House Republicans intervened after President Obama withdrew support from DOMA and sided with the law’s opponents.
Lower courts have ruled that both groups have standing to defend the laws. If the Supreme Court disagrees, it could dismiss the cases without ruling on the merits - an action that, in the Prop. 8 case, would clear the way for same-sex marriages in California.
The cases are Hollingsworth vs. Perry, 12-144, and U.S. vs. Windsor, 12-307.
Hearings: In March or April, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Ruling: Rulings are due by late June, the end of the court’s 2012-13 term. If Prop. 8 is overturned, gays and lesbians will be allowed to marry in California. If DOMA is struck down, as many as 100,000 couples will be entitled to federal benefits.
In the meantime: Prop. 8 remains in effect, barring same-sex marriages in California and denying state recognition to such marriages performed in other states or countries after the measure passed in November 2008. DOMA also remains in effect.
Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Marisa Lagos contributed to this report.