June 19, 2017
The Gay Pride March will joyously wend its way down Fifth Avenue on Sunday to celebrate the tremendous advances of gay rights in recent decades. As they come through NoMad, most of those marching will not realize that they will pass one of the movement’s most historic sites. 1133 Broadway was home to the offices that were the birthplace of the gay movement — offices where courageous men and women began the fight for justice during very oppressive days.
Two pioneer homophile groups, The Mattachine Society of New York and the Daughters of Bilitis, had offices at the St. James Building. The groups were in Rooms 304 and 412 of the St. James, where they stayed until July 1968.
The Mattachine Society moved into its St. James offices in April 1959, subsequently sharing its space with The Daughters of Bilitis. The Mattachine Society was one of the first organizations to fight on behalf of the gay community for political equality. Founded by Sam Morford and Tony Segura, it worked to fight police entrapment of gays and challenged the State Liquor Authority’s ban on serving gay patrons. The Daughters of Bilitis, founded by Marion Glass and Barbara Gittings, fought oppression in the LGBTQ community and advocated for the placement of books on sexual orientation in libraries for gay youths struggling with their sexuality.
Working at a time when being openly gay put one at risk, these heroes risked going to jail and public scorn, as well as their personal safety, job security and lives to lay the groundwork for all the freedom and rights that followed.
The St. James has a rich history and many famous people and groups that changed history had offices in the building. We will highlight these in future posts, but on Sunday, let’s remember these predecessors and honor their work by supporting the movement for human equality.