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The Queen City
Denver’s Homophile Organizations from 1950-1970
PRIDE Month is an annual celebration for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community. The LGBTQ+ community has always had a presence in Denver and Colorado. During the mid-twentieth century, people in the LGBTQ+ community lived in a world that did not accept who they were as individuals. These individuals experienced constant fear of exposure. They feared the police because of police brutality, harassment, and arrest. They feared the media because their names, addresses, and jobs would be published in the newspaper if they were arrested by the police. They feared the loss of friends, family, jobs, housing, and livelihood if they were exposed as being LGBTQ+. These fears, for many in the community, still exist and are experienced today.
At both the national level and in Denver, the need to have a space where LGBTQ+ individuals could meet safely, and organize grew in popularity during the Homophile Movement, which lasted from the 1950s through the 1960s. The Homophile Movement in the US grew out of the creation of three separate organizations: One Inc, the Mattachine Society, and the Daughters of Bilitis. Homophile simply is a homosexual. Another way to think of the Homophile Movement is a movement of homosexuals who wished to emphasize a sense of community and deemphasize the sexual aspect of their identity that concerned the public. All these organizations had origins in California in the early 1950s. Two of the organizations eventually came to Denver in the mid-to-late 1950s: the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. They created community publications and hosted meetings to provided gay men and women with the opportunity to find each other, and build community.
In 1957, several gay men met in Denver and applied to start the Denver chapter of the Mattachine Society. The Mattachine Society sought “to build a collaborative world and brotherhood in which organizations like the Mattachine Society will be completely unnecessary.” Here in Denver, the Mattachine Society was one of the earliest groups available to gay men and lesbians to find a sense of community and build self-confidence. We know about the Mattachine Society because of their monthly newsletters that ran from January 1957 to June 1961. The newsletters provide a glimpse into the LGBTQ+ community and their efforts to accept themselves and educate others. History Colorado has some of these newsletters available for research and individual reading. You can find them in the “Gay Coalition of Denver” MSS. 01151 collection, available at the Stephen H. Hart Research Center.
From 1959 through 1968, the Colorado LGBTQ+ community built a community of notable strength. In September 1959, the Mattachine Society held its annual convention in Denver at the Albany Hotel. The hotel is now torn down but previously was located on 17th and Stout near present-day’s Hilton City Center.
This convention brought national attention—both wanted and unwanted—to the LGBTQ+ community of Denver. It assisted the LGBTQ+ community in seeking media exposure at all levels, which helped to further education and acceptance. In addition to media coverage, this convention also brought police and FBI investigation into the Mattachine Society in Denver and around the country. The image is of a memo taken by the FBI in 1959 about the meeting. Of interest are some of the names of the leaders of the Denver chapter. They include Wendall Sayers, a more recently re-discovered LGBTQ+ leader in the Homophile Movement.
In 1968, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) held their national convention in Denver at the King’s Inn off of Colfax. A national organization of Lesbians, the DOB was founded in California. At a time when bar spaces, which were a place for LGBTQ+ people to gather, were subject to frequent raids accompanied by police brutality, members of DOB found themselves looking for a space that could provide more safety. DOB provided information to its members about community history, aided women who were afraid to come out, and operated as a social club. The Daughters of Bilitis did not have a Denver chapter, however hosting the national convention in Denver demonstrated the importance that Denver played on the national stage, as not all cities were chosen to host this convention. The image is a sample of the registration form sent to all members to fill out and return to the DOB headquarters. Check out the cost to stay for one night!
The late 1950s through the late 1960s was a critical decade for the LGBTQ+ community in Denver and beyond. It was a catalyst for building a community, fighting for change, and building a framework of acceptance. Organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis helped pave the way so that work can continue today.