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Lilli Vincenz and the Early Gay Rights Movement

An Interview with Gay Rights Pioneer Lilli Vincenz


May 1967 radio interview with Frank Kameny, Jack Nichols and Lilli Vincenz.

May 1967 radio interview with Frank Kameny, Jack Nichols and Lilli Vincenz.

The Homosexual Citizen
At our last picket [in 1969, right after Stonewall] we had an influx of New Yorkers who were really excited about what had happened. Stonewall was a watershed, of course as everybody already knows. No more dress rules. It was interesting. The old members of Mattachine versus the new grass roots people. They had sandals. We weren’t supposed to have sandals. We weren’t supposed to have beards. Ties and coats for men and skirts or dresses for women. There was quite a difference there between the old guard and the new guard. That was the last picket.

A camera man and I filmed the Christopher Street Liberation Day parade from the Village to Central Park. We did interviews. That was an 11 minute film. There were plenty of photographs, but there wasn’t any filming, except mine.

Tell me about your memory of Stonewall. I know you were not there…

We certainly heard about it. There was a lot of communication between the various gay groups that existed. I was not there in 1969. We heard about the Drag Queens throwing coins at the police and pulling out one parking meter. There was wonderful excitement in the air.

It sounds like Mattachine was conservative with the dress code and everything, was there any fear that the riots of Stonewall would give the movement a bad name?

Oh no, we didn’t think in terms of a bad name at all. In fact, at the Mattachine Society we were pioneers when it came to legal activities. For example, we decided that homosexuality was as good as heterosexuality. We challenged the sickness policy of many organizations including the psychiatrists and psychologists. I remember how gay people thought it might be a bad thing to declare that homosexuality is basically good.

The picketing meant that we were there to be noticed. We were not quite radical, but we were devoted to our cause and we had good plans. We laid the foundation for later activism.

We realized no one else could do what we were doing. We were in Washington, DC and there were a lot of gay circles all over the place but the government workers would have nothing to do with the Mattachine Society.

Did you later get involved with grass roots politics?

Yes. 1971 was the first time Washington was having non-voting members in Congress. A couple of friends said, how about if we run Frank as a non-voting delegate. He only had one misgiving and that was that we had to have enough signatures to be put on the ballot. And we did that.

We stood in front of Safeways and Drug Stores and we talked to people. Any reference to homosexuality was buried in the middle of the platform. We got many more than were needed.

That was very exciting. It drew a lot of people into the campaign. And women started calling the Mattachine Society. My partner at the time and I decided, we couldn’t just talk to each woman personally. So we opened our house each Wednesday. That became an institution from 1971-1978 every Wednesday night and we had wonderful times. We had entertainment there and little workshops. Meg Christian sang. The Furies came. Washington Feminists came. Some dancing.

You also got involved with Daughters of Bilitis, right?

Oh, I was involved right from the beginning. I met Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin in 1963. We communicated right away. My picture is on The Ladder. I wrote a little something about coming out. We connected and became wonderful friends. I’m still in touch with Kay. Barbara and I were invited places to be speakers.

We did have DOB come to various events. I remember one time in a meeting and the representative got upset because she thought there was sexism in the gay community. And that was true too. Washington Mattachine was all male, except for two of us.

You’re being honored as a Super Hero of Capitol Pride, what does that mean to you?

I’m very pleased and honored. I’m glad that I’m reconnecting with the gay community locally. But I’m retiring at the end of June. I have worked as a therapist since 1975.A lot of women did therapy with me. Later on I would advertise in the Blade. I loved working with the gay community. At first it was all women, and then there were more men. And when I became a provider on insurance panels I saw straight people.

What are your plans after retirement?

In 1992, my partner and I founded the Community for Self Development to promote gay-positive learning environment to empower gay women and men and all gay-friendly people psychologically, creatively and spiritually. We had conferences, we had retreats, we had classes, but it became too much for us after a while. Now I’m retiring, so once a month we’ll have a creative self-development group. Anyone can come, it’s free.

I’m also doing a lot of music. I have a little group called Ashgrove Players. I play fiddle. My partner and I have been together 25 years. We’ve been doing a lot of cruises. We went to Tahiti in March with Olivia. We’ve been on 14 Olivia cruises. We’re very busy.

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