Monday, October 31, 2011

Legacy: Know Your GLBT History!

Today, on this, the final day of GLBT History Month, I would like to draw your attention to an unsung Iowan hero in the cause of our freedoms: James Gruber, one of the Founding Members of the Mattachine Society in 1950.  Sadly, it has recently come to my attention that he passed on February 27 in his Santa Clary home (FL.) at the age of 82; he was the group's last surviving Founding member, founded with his boyfriend, Konrad Stevens and Harry Hay, with three others.  This was one of the first national groups in the country, with chapters in several states.  His biography may was crystallized by the South Florida Gay News:
Born in Des Moines on August 21, 1928, Gruber...enlisted in the marines.  ...  After [he] was honorably discharged in 1949, he studied English literature at Occidental College and befriended authors Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden, and psychologist Evylyn Hooker.
In April of 1951 Gruber and his boyfriend, Konrad "Steve" Stevens attended a meeting hosted by a gay advocacy group [Bachelors Anonymous] soon to be known as the Mattachine Society...  According to historian John D'Emillion, it was Gruber who suggested the name Mattachine Society for the new group, inspired by Hay's talk about the medieval "mattachines".
 ...  Gruber readily embraced his "newly chosen family" and brokered a meeting between the Society and Gruber's famous friends Isherwood and Hooker.
Gruber was also responsible for a famous photo of the Mattachine Society [see hyper-link] that now appears in LBBT history books.  According to historian Daniel Hurewitz, "Hay was so concerned about secrecy that Gruber had to convince him that there was no film in the camera when he took the picture; he revealed the truth years later."*
On November 12, 1998, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in Los Angeles gave Gruber a Public Service Award as a "pioneer and barrier broker".  Gruber lied his lat years in Santa Clara, enduring ill health but ably assisted by his good friend Nicholas Pisca.  Gruber left behind a manuscript, The Devient: An Illustrated Autobiography which details his life and times.

Among the Mattachine Society's first acts was the successful legal defense of Gay men who were frequently targeted for entrapment by the police; most Gay men during this era simply pled guilty and paid a fine (an act which, until the early 1970s could cost you your job once it was published in the local paper!).

James has, indeed, left us a rich legacy which has been partially documented in the film about Harry Hay, Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay (2001); and, we are better-off, today, for his contributions and his heroic activism.  I am presently attempting to contact the Iowa Hall of Pride, as well as the Iowa Historical Building in the hope that an exhibit may be dedicated to him in his memory for all that he has done for us.  Unfortunately, his memoirs--surely a powerful testimony, has not been published--an injustice, to be sure!  Hopefully a publisher will make it available to the public soon.

* According to Lambda Literary, "due to laws prohibiting homosexuals from gathering in public and private spaces, the group met under strict anonymity, using pseudonyms even with each other."

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