Dick Leitsch

Dick Leitsch, president of the Mattachine Society of New York, speaks to the press about his group's Sip-In demonstration in protest of New York liquor laws that prevented serving gay customers, New York City, April 21, 1966. Credit: Unknown.

Episode Notes

From Eric Marcus: There’s a lot to be said for gaining 30 years of perspective. When I first met Dick Leitsch in 1989, I had a lot of preconceived notions about the one-time president of the Mattachine Society of New York. I’d read about Dick in my research as one of the old guard, the pre-Stonewall “accommodationists” who were more focused on fitting in and getting along than trying to upend the apple cart.

And I brought my judgments, too (which I recorded in my post-interview notes and address in my introduction to this episode). I think that my own discomfort with embracing the sexual liberation part of the movement, which I memorably encountered with Hal Call, definitely colored my view of Dick. He was an out and proud sexual adventurer who wasn’t shy about saying that what got him into the movement in the early 1960s was his pursuit of sex with men, not the fight for gay rights.

Dick Leitsch, president of the Mattachine Society of New York, at Mattachine’s office at 1133 Broadway off Madison Square Park, December 30, 1965. Photo by Louis Liotta/New York Post Archives. Credit: Photo by Louis Liotta/New York Post Archives/© NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images.

So how do I reconcile the man I remembered as an accommodationist with the man I re-met when I listened to my 30-year-old interview with him? The heroic figure, the brash and seemingly fearless activist who challenged the old guard homophiles, organized one of the earliest public LGBTQ protests, and confronted New York City’s police department and political leaders over entrapment and discriminatory laws that put gay people in danger every time they entered a gay bar? By bringing you this MGH episode. And I hope that by sharing this episode, in which Dick gets to tell some of his story in his own voice, he’ll forgive me for misjudging him, wherever he is—drinking cocktails, smoking cigarettes, and cruising handsome young men.

Dick Leitsch reading an issue of Gay, New York City’s first gay newspaper, 1970. Credit:  Photographer unknown.

To learn more about Dick Leitch, please explore the resources, archival photos, and full episode transcript that follow below. And be sure to listen to our “Farewell Dick Leitsch” episode that we recorded in part at Dick’s “going away” party, just weeks before his death on June 22, 2018.


Read about Dick Leitsch’s life in his New York Times obituary and check out our special “Farewell to Dick Leitsch” in memoriam episode here.

Dick Leitsch donated his personal papers to the New York Public Library (NYPL) archives. Read the New Yorker article on Leitsch and the NYPL, and explore the Mattachine Society of New York’s archives, which are available at the NYPL.

In this episode, Dick Leitsch talks about the picket he participated in across from the United Nations.  To learn more about that protest, check out the website of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project here.

The June 1966 issue of the Daughters of Bilitis magazine The Ladder, which featured Ernestine Eckstein on the cover, reported on the issue of police entrapment in New York City. You can read the article, which contains a reference to Dick Leitsch, here on pages 12 and 13.  For a historical overview of the police use of gay entrapment, read this Atlantic article by George Chauncey.

Learn more about the 1966 Sip-In that Dick Leitsch staged in this Hornet video and this NPR piece, both of which feature Leitsch, as well as this New York Times article.  The New York Times originally reported on the Sip-In under the scathing title “3 Deviates Invite Exclusion by Bars”; you can read the article here.

The Sip-In protest at Julius’ bar in Greenwich Village, April 21, 1966, led by Dick Leitsch (staring at bartender), president of the Mattachine Society of New York, and three other Mattachine activists. From left, John Timmins (turned away from the camera), Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, and Randy Wicker. The photo captures the moment when the bartender refused service after the four announced that they were homosexuals. Credit: Photo by Fred W. McDarrah, courtesy of his estate.

In 2016, Julius’, the bar where the Sip-In took place, was placed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Learn more on the website of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.  Julius’ was also used as a location in the 2018 film Can You Ever Forgive Me? about lesbian writer Lee Israel, portrayed by Melissa McCarthy; The Advocate published a piece about the bar and its history here.

Listen to Dick Leitsch talk about the idea of gay people holding hands out on the street from a 1969 interview on WNYC public radio.

Dick Leitsch appears in the PBS documentary Stonewall Uprising, which can be streamed on the American Experience website here. It features several Stonewall veterans as well as Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, who led the police raid on the Stonewall Inn. Leitsch also wrote an article about the uprising, which first appeared in the New York Mattachine Newsletter and was then reprinted in The Advocate.

Dick Leitsch, 1999. Credit: Photo by Robert Giard, © Jonathan G. Silin, courtesy of Yale University Library Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

At the time of the Sip-In, Dick Leitsch served as president of the Mattachine Society of New York. For an in-depth look at the early days of the Mattachine Society, check out C. Todd White’s Pre-Gay L.A.: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights and James T. Sears’s Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation. And listen to our episodes featuring Mattachine co-founders Harry Hay and Chuck Rowland, as well as our episodes featuring Hal Call and Randy Wicker.

Dick Leitsch, high school senior photo, Louisville, Kentucky, 1953. Credit: Courtesy Dick Leitsch.


Episode Transcript

Eric Marcus Narration: I’m Eric Marcus and this is Making Gay History!

I could be pretty judgmental, not quite as judgmental as my late Grandma May, but this apple didn’t fall far from that tree. After I interviewed Dick Leitsch on Monday, January 23, 1989, at his apartment on West 72nd Street in Manhattan, I wrote the following in my post-interview notes:

Dick greeted me at the door wearing 501 jeans and a plaid cotton shirt opened one button too many. The jeans looked stuffed. Dick, who was charming, had the look of someone who has smoked too much, and perhaps he drank too much as well. Hard to say. During the interview he went from one cigarette to another, sometimes barely taking a half-dozen quick drags before putting it out. Dick’s apartment is a prewar two bedroom. The sofas were covered in wine-colored velvet. The floor was covered with a green deco oriental. I longed for the white walls and beige furniture of home.

After reading about Dick in the 1960s and talking to him on the phone, I expected to meet a younger man. This is not the first time I’ve been surprised by the age of these ’60s activists. I just expect gay men to be young.

Reading those words today, I’m cringing just a bit. I’m older now than Dick was then. It wasn’t until three decades after that interview, getting to know Dick in the months before he died in June 2018, that I came to understand him better, to actually grow quite fond of him, and to appreciate his key role in the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement.

Dick Leitsch moved to to New York City on the eve of the turbulent 1960s—but he didn’t come here on a mission to fight for gay rights. Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Dick had always had his sights set on the Big Apple. He said he wanted to “go to New York and smoke cigarettes and drink cocktails like Bette Davis.”

When Dick arrived in February 1959, a crackdown on gay bars was in full swing and only a handful were open. During the day, Dick worked at Tiffany’s selling earrings, and at night he went to clandestine gay bars, which on Friday and Saturday nights weren’t so secret because of the lines of men waiting to get in. But Dick didn’t mind the lines because, as he told me, he’d often pick up someone in the line and head home without having to spend a dime. A totally different kind of online dating…

So Dick had zero interest in politics, but a substantial interest in getting laid. And that, coincidentally, is how he found his way into the early gay rights movement.


Dick Leitsch: I was wandering down Greenwich Avenue, which in those days nobody went to Christopher Street, everybody cruised Greenwich Avenue. And, uh, I saw this boy, I thought he was so pretty. So I kind of turned the corner of Christopher and stopped, and leaned up against that building on the corner. And sure enough he came up and talked to me. So we went home and fucked, and that was Craig Rodwell, of the Oscar Wilde Bookshop.

Craig Rodwell in his Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, likely in 1971. As an active member of the Mattachine Society of New York, he suggested that Mattachine open a bookstore that would also have offices and space for community meetings, but when Mattachine rejected this idea, he decided to do it himself, despite having no experience running a bookstore. He modeled the store after the Christian Science reading rooms he had grown up with, which sought to impart a positive image of the world. Credit: Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

I became good friends with him and his roommate, Colin somebody. Colin Oswald, I think. And, uh, so anyway, I was seeing Craig, but every time I would call Craig and say, “Do you want to go to the movies, do you want to do this, do you want to do that?” he said, “Oh, I have to go to Mattachine.” I said, “Queen, what are you doing?” And he said, “Oh, well, you know, Mattachine is very important.” “Give me a break, queen. We don’t have to be political. Let’s go fuck.” No, no, no, no, no. And so finally, just to be with him, I started hanging out at Mattachine, and there was this guy named Julian Hodges who was head of it. And it was really in transition, because half of it was this bunch of old farts, Al Baruba and his ex-lover and Norman Kilpatrick, who was 87 years old, and all these tired old fairies, and they spent all these years sitting there, and they had bridge parties, and they had Bunco parties, and looking so desperately for a pat on the head.

Eric Marcus: Who were they looking for, who did they want the pat on the head from and why did they want it?

DL: Anybody. Anybody. Just somebody to say, “It’s okay to be gay, honey. It’s okay to be gay.” And Julian and Craig and Randy Wicker were the radicals. And one of the things that Craig and Julian and Randy were fighting was the “I’m not worthy” attitude. “Sure you’re worthy, honey. You’re as good as anybody else. Don’t let them knock you down just because you’re queer.” And the three old, the old queens who ran the place just hated, just hated all of them. And couldn’t wait to—you know, just get these people out of our hair, we want to sit here and play Bunco, we don’t want to do all of this stuff.

EM: What characterized the radicals? What did they want?

DL: Julian was out, she wanted to, she was the only politician. I mean, he wanted to build voting blocks and do all this kind of stuff. And Craig and Randy wanted to demonstrate and carry picket signs and be like Dr. King and take over. You know, we’re going to do things. I mean, we don’t have to sit here in the closet anymore and play bingo. We can go out and do stuff and take over the world and change everything. And so I kind of hung out with them and I caught it, you know? I caught the fever. And, uh, so it was Julian and Craig and Randy and me. And that was just about it in that organization.

EM: Were there regular meetings that you went to?

DL: Oh, yeah. The, it was set up, they had a little office at, uh, oh, 1133 Broadway, on the corner of 26th Street. It was on the third floor. It was a little tiny office. Not any bigger than this room. And, uh, they had some bookshelves, and they had some desks, and they had a telephone, and, uh, supposedly they had this counseling service, but what they basically wanted to do—I mean, they wanted people to come in and cry on their shoulders and they all wanted to sympathize about how awful it was to be gay, and so we took over this counseling service, too, and we kind of revolutionized… I mean, people called to say, “Oh, I’m gay, and I’m so—” “Well, come in and talk to us. We have office hours every night from…,” I think we had them 5:30 till 10:30 or something. And so people would come in, and we said, “Sure, it’s right to be gay, you know, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful!”

And, uh, I don’t know, we got, you know, modern-looking, more intelligent-type shrinks. And we did the same thing with lawyers. They used to refer everybody to Irwin Strauss, who was this old lawyer queen, or this awful woman who wore funny hats, awful old bitch—she got me out of jail once, though. But they were just, you know, shysters, they just took your money, they didn’t care what happened to you. And so we got, uh, Frank Patton from Ellis, Stringfellow & Patton, and a bunch of other lawyers that were, you know, interested. And if you had a legal problem, we didn’t care if it was because you got busted for being gay or what. If you had a legal problem, you called Mattachine, we’d send you to a lawyer. We couldn’t pay for you. You had to pay for it yourself. But we’d find you a good guy, and we’d follow your case through and help you out, because we were trying to develop test cases. We decided that was going to be the next step. So we did that.

The next important thing we did… Castro started putting gay people in labor camps. So we decided we’re going to have a demonstration in front of the United Nations.

EM: You advocated, then, public picketing?

DL: Yes, that was our chance.

EM: In front of the United Nations?

DL: Yeah. Because we wanted, we always wanted to demonstrate. And these old farts, “Oh, no, no, you’ll go to jail. People will throw rocks at you on the street, you’ll get beat up, you’ll get bashed.” I said, “Well, everybody else is picketing, why shouldn’t we?”

Dick Leitsch (in front) and Craig Rodwell at the fourth-ever gay rights demonstration in the United States—and the third in New York City—in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, across the street from the United Nations, April 18, 1965. Planned to coincide with a picket in front of the White House a day earlier, LGBTQ people protested the treatment of homosexuals in both Cuba and the United States. Credit:  Photographer unknown.

EM: This was at a time when everyone else was protesting for civil rights, it was—

DL: Everybody. Yeah, I mean, the Blacks were marching all through Selma and all that kind of stuff, I mean, everybody was marching and demonstrating, and why the hell shouldn’t we be? “Oh, no, no, no, people hate fairies, you know, they’ll throw rocks at you. Aaah!”

EM: Did they think it would destroy Mattachine, it would destroy the gay cause?

DL: It was going to destroy the gay world! It was going to bring down the wrath of God on everybody. Of course, they had good reason to believe this. You know, because they’d just gotten through the McCarthy years. You know, they had good reason to believe this. I shouldn’t put them down for it, because, I mean, they had gone through a very bad time, when, you know, as soon as they found out you were gay, you were fired from your job. You couldn’t work. You couldn’t work in Hollywood. If you were gay you were probably a communist, and communists couldn’t work in Hollywood. You certainly couldn’t work for the government. You couldn’t work for anybody who had a government contract. You couldn’t work for IBM or somebody like that who wanted to work for the government, who wanted a government contract. And you would get fired on the spot. So they had a good reason to be scared.

EM: But why weren’t you scared, why wasn’t the new crowd scared?

DL: I didn’t have the sense to be scared. You know? A lot of times people used to say to me, “You’re very brave.” And it’s not that I’m very brave, it’s just that I was too damn dumb to realize I was making a fool out of myself.

EM: Was it because you were young?

DL: I guess it was because I was young and didn’t have any sense. And so we did, we got cardboard, we made big picket signs.

EM: What did some of the signs say?

DL: Oh… [Background noise.] Oh, Jesus. [Inaudible.] And this is Julian wearing his little ’60s hat.

EM: Look at that.

DL: “Labor camps today, ovens tomorrow!”

EM: “Homosexual citizens want an end to government hostility.” That’s wonderful.

DL: Mm-hmm. First gay demonstration in New York.

EM: And there were also, there were protests planned for other places as well?

DL: Well, that’s the problem, you see, we called Frank Kameny, who was with Washington Mattachine, and we told him we were going to do this. And Frank Kameny had been very avid to go out and have demonstrations and pickets. But he hadn’t done any yet. And he got very upset because he wanted the first gay demonstration to be in Washington.

EM: And you were going to beat him to the punch.

DL: And we were going to beat him to the punch. And so he quickly organized one down there. But—

EM: So he organized—in fact, that was in spring/summer of ’65. And I know he arranged for a protest in front of the White House and—

DL: Right, yup. And he got very upset. But anyway he did come up for ours. And so our demonstration here was just Julian and Craig and Randy and me.

EM: Any women?

DL: I think Madeline Cervantes. Barbara Gittings came up from Philadelphia. And Frank came up from Washington. Jack Nichols came up from Washington. Have you talked to Jack?

Barbara Gittings and Dick Leitsch at a Reminder Day picket, July 4, 1966 or 1967. Credit: Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

EM: I haven’t. In fact, I need his number.

DL: Okay. I was going to call him. Usually every August he comes up to visit, and he always stops by, and we spend a day together. And I always get a Christmas card from him. And this year he didn’t come in August and I didn’t get a Christmas card. And over Christmas, I called a number of people who usually I talk to during the year and haven’t talked to lately, and eight out of 10 of them either have AIDS or their lovers have AIDS. And so I’ve stopped calling people.

EM: It’s too depressing.

DL: Right. Yeah, I keep thinking, as soon as I get my nerves together I’m going to call Jack and make sure she’s okay. Please, Jack, be alright. Anyway, there was about 10 or 12 of us. And Curtis and Al and Norman and all the rest of them were standing across the street watching, they wanted to be witnesses, you know. Before we got beat up…

EM: They weren’t marching.

DL: Oh, no! God, no! They thought it was awful! Some of the people wouldn’t even show up to watch! And we marched up and down, and the cops were very nice. And cars passing by, nobody said anything bad, everybody was, “Get Castro! Get Castro!” So we got all this support and it worked out real well. So we did it and we got away with it, and it was all wonderful. Little old ladies and people going off to church and stuff would stop us and shake our hands and say, “Well, it’s about time you people started standing up for yourself.” And we got all this positive feedback. And, you know, the old guard was very impressed by this. And so they started giving us our way. And letting us do more things that we wanted to do.

EM: I need to change tapes. Do you want to take a break for a second?

DL: No, that’s—

EM: Tape two, side one.

DL: They used to have these crackdowns constantly, particularly around Times Square, where they were going to get the homosexuals and derelicts off the streets. And they still, you know, now it’s the drugs and prostitutes, but it’s, they use the same rhetoric, you know, for homosexuals, prostitutes, and derelicts. And always having these cleanups and these sweeps and these things. And so Ed Koch decided he wanted to get the queens out of the Village, and so he started agitating, and it was in the papers.

EM: Right, this was ’66.

DL: Yeah, he started agitating, it was in the papers, that he wanted the Village swept of all these derelicts and homosexuals and prostitutes and shit. What they were doing, in these cleanup things, they were using police entrapment. And they’d make a lot of arrests. And they had this vice squad, it wasn’t called a vice squad, something out of the police department, it was like a vice squad. And they were like traffic cops. They worked on sort of commission. You know? These cops were plain-clothes cops, they were out on the streets eight hours a day, in plain clothes, nobody saw them, and there was no working at a desk or putting in papers… And the only way you could tell these people were working was by the number of arrests they made. And it came to a point where if you wanted a promotion, you’d better have a lot of arrests.

Dick Leitsch (left) and MGH’s Eric Marcus, at Dick’s “going away” party at Dick’s New York City apartment on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Dick is holding a December 30, 1965, New York Post article on police entrapment in which he was featured. Credit: Sara Burningham.

EM: How did they entrap people? What was the…

DL: Well, they had a formula that they would write in their notebooks, these little black leather notebooks cops carried. And when they got to court, no matter what actually happened, they would come up with a formula story. Because they would arrest, you know, 10 or 20, and they’d get them all mixed up and they couldn’t remember Tom from Jim from John. And so they’d just read this little formula out of their notebook. And every once in a while, judges would start throwing the cases out of court because, “Hey, wait just a minute, the same thing happened to the last guy and the guy before that. How come the same thing happens to you all the time, Mister?” You know, sometimes they would get suspicious.

EM: What was the routine?

DL: You know, “He did approach me, and he did touch me upon the genitals, and he did invite me to go to his house for sexual purposes.”

EM: So all it required was just, it was just a pickup, and that was—

DL: Yeah. A lot of them were hired for their looks. They were good-looking cops. And they would go to bars a lot, or they’d go like down on Christopher Street, or in the bushes in Central Park, or someplace like that, and they’d just hang out.  And sometimes people would go up and actually talk to them or actually touch them, and they were usually at a, they were supposed to have a partner in the background who could hear everything, and they always said they did, whether he was around or not. He might be on the next bench working another number, you know, working another arrest. But they always said they were together. And they would go to bars and stuff, and they would get picked up, or said they got picked up, and then they’d arrest you, and take you to court, and ruin your life.

And a lot, a lot of people who got arrested, particularly in subway tearooms and in the park, were, like, closet queens, people who were, like, priests, and doctors, and stuff like that, who couldn’t hang out, you know, like at Julius’ or someplace, they didn’t want to be seen in the gay community. They’d get horny and they’d go to these places and that’s where they always got caught. And so most of the people who called Mattachine for referrals were people who had, you know, some standing in the community. It wasn’t just ditzy queens. Ditzy queens were all down at some ditzy queen bar being ditzy. But these were important people, and then the newspapers would say, well, you know, the cleanup, it’s succeeding, 500 people were arrested in the last two months, and all that. And you knew every damn one of them was an entrapment, either a hooker or a gay person got entrapped.

And it was at that time that we decided that we would have our Sip-In. And so, um, we sat down and talked about it, and so Craig and the guy I was living with at the time, John Timmins, and I, decided that we would do it. Because the liquor law said that a licensee has the duty to keep his place orderly. If he lets it become disorderly, he loses his license. And so they would use this disorderly conduct statute and entrap gay people, and then use that against the bar owners to close the bar.

So we decided that that was a violation of our right to freely assemble. And we talked to Frank Kameny about it, talked to everybody about it, and the consensus was that, yes, we had to do this, and, yes, we had to get press coverage, but we couldn’t invite the television people, because the presence of television cameras and all that recording equipment could make a place disorderly, and so we should just stick with the print media, and so we sent telegrams to all the newspapers and magazines saying we were going to do this the next day at noon at a place called the Ukrainian American Village, on St. Mark’s Place. Because they had a sign on the front door saying, “If you’re gay, stay away.” And a number of places had that, for obvious reasons. And so we decided that was the place, so we announced that we were going to do this the next day at noon.

From left, Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, and John Timmins, all members of the New York chapter of the Mattachine Society, sit in a booth at the Howard Johnson’s in Greenwich Village during their Sip-In demonstration in protest of New York liquor laws that made it illegal to serve gay customers, New York City, April 21, 1966. The men were served without incident at the restaurant; they later visited Julius’ where they were denied service. Credit: Photo by Fred W. McDarrah, courtesy of his estate.

EM: Did you tell them you were coming?

DL: No. And of course, being gay, we were late. So we got there about a quarter past twelve, and when we arrived, Ukrainian American Village was boarded up with the gates down, and all this press was standing around. “What’s going on here?” And the guy from the Times said, “Well, you weren’t here yet, so we went in and talked to the manager and asked him what he thought about this demonstration, and he said, ‘What demonstration?’ And we told him. So he decided he was going to close for the day. What are you going to do now?” And what we had done, we had this letter on Mattachine stationery. And we said, in it, simply that we were gay people and we just want to be served food and liquor, and we are orderly, and we intend to remain orderly. And please serve us, or something like that. And the three of us had signed it.

And so we were going to present this to the managers. So that place closed on us, and so we said, okay, we’ll go to Howard Johnson’s, which was on Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, where Crazy Eddie is now. And they were very hostile to gay people there. They used to, because they used to get a lot of after-bar crowd, and they didn’t want it, so they started chasing it off. And so we went in there and asked for the manager, and this guy came out wearing the dirtiest whites I have ever seen, he’d obviously been dishwashing, because the dishwasher was out or something, and he said, “What’s going on here?” and we showed him our little note, and he said, “Well, what the hell do you want with me, get the waiter.” And the press jumped up. “Don’t you know it’s against the law to serve homosexuals?” And he said, “What do you mean it’s against the law to serve homosexuals? They can’t make a law like that! Albany? Three quarters of them are gay and all of them are drunks, how can they make a law like that? Give them whatever they want!”

So we got served, and we had [inaudible], we were stuck again with egg on our face. And so they said, “What do you do now?” And we said, well, we’ll go up the street here, there’s a little place here on Sixth Avenue and I guess, was it 10th Street? Where Trudy Heller’s used to be? And it’s called Hawaiian Village, and we went there. And this great big old Mafia cat comes out, the only $800 dollar suit and a big cigar in his mouth and crocodile shoes. “Yeah, whaddya want?” We said, “We want to get served.” He said, “So? Get a waiter!” We said, we gave him the little note that said we’re gay and all that. He said, “Give ’em whatever they want!” to the waiter. And the press said, “Don’t you know you can’t serve them? They’re homosexuals.” “I don’t mind all they’re homosexuals. They ain’t doing nothing homosexual!” So we got served. We had to sit there and drink our goddamn Cokes. We’re sick of Cokes by now. And, um—

EM: So you were trying not to get served.

DL: Yeah, we were trying to prove a point, that you can’t get served food or drink in New York if you’re gay.

EM: Right.

DL: And everybody was serving us. And the press was having a wonderful time. They were ordering vodka and tonics and everything else and getting shit-faced drunk on the newspapers’ time. And we were ordering Cokes and 7-Ups and trying to stay sober and get this thing off the ground. And the press was really encouraging us to go ahead and do this. And so—

EM: They needed the story!

Craig Rodwell at Riis Park, a popular gay beach in Queens, New York, 1960. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

DL: Yeah! And so we were on the street, with this press, and there’s 10 reporters. Only like three of them used the story, but they were all over there. And, uh, “Well what are you going to do now?” And we said, “Well, we guess we’re going to give up.” “You can’t give up! We have spent all day doing this and you gotta make your point!” And Craig said, “Well, you know, everybody’s serving us,” and Craig’s a ditzy little queen anyway, and saying, “It’s not gonna work, na na.” And I said, “We gotta keep trying until it does work.” I said, “I got a great idea. You know that preacher got arrested at Julius’ like last week or the week before. They won’t serve us.” And John said, “Well, you can’t really go do this to a gay bar.” I said, “Why not, we did it at the Ukrainian American Village.” “Well, that’s different, that’s a Mafia bar.” I said, “Well, it doesn’t make any difference, you know, we’re gonna make the point, and if Julius’ minds, fuck ’em. We’ll never go to Julius’ again. There are other bars we can drink in.” Stonewall opened down the street, and, uh, by this time. So we said, okay.

And so we all went around to Julius’ and we walked in. By the way, Randy Wicker was with us, he was our witness, ‘cause we needed, the lawyer said we needed, should have some witnesses around. So we went in, and we walked up to the bar, and the man put the glass down and asked us what we wanted. And there were all these queens having cocktails at four o’clock in the afternoon. Very elegant, very grand queens in those days at Julius’.

EM: What do you mean by elegant? Describe them.

DL: They all wore old three-piece suits and held their cigarettes like this, and everything. It was just like ’66 and they all worked in Madison Avenue or wherever, and they were just so grand. And they were getting out of work and having cocktails, and here we were, and so we’d go walking in. We asked for a drink, and the guy started to make us a drink, and we handed him the little note, and he said, “What does it say, I don’t have my glasses,” or “I can’t read it.” And so Craig or somebody read the note to him, and he covered the glasses with his hand. And he said, “I can’t serve you if you’re gay. You know that. You’re with the Mattachine Society. You know it’s against the law to serve homosexuals. We got busted last week, we got cops sitting in the damn door, we gotta go to court, na na na na, we can’t serve you.”

And I looked around at all these sissies sitting at the bar, and I thought, Carry on, girlfriend. The bartender was straight. But, so we didn’t get served. And so the press, you know, what’s-his-name took these pictures, and the Times did a story and the Post did a story and all that. And so we got our coverage, and we were very pleased with ourselves. And, you know, how can you not serve food and liquor to homosexuals, don’t they eat and drink? And people were talking about it. And it was on the talk shows. And they talked about it on the call-in radio programs.  It became kind of an issue.


EM Narration: Dick Leitsch wasn’t satisfied with the great press, which included publication of that now iconic Fred McDarrah photo of the bartender at Julius’ refusing to serve them, his hand over the glass. Dick took the fight to the courts, going back to Julius’ and offering legal help. The bar had been deemed a disorderly premises following an entrapment arrest. For Dick, entrapment was the single most important issue for the gay rights movement to tackle. If you can’t get together in public places without risk of arrest, you can’t live your life. If you were a gay man in New York City back then, wherever you went, you risked falling prey to an undercover police officer doing his very best to trick you into letting down your guard, and showing an interest in him. Back then, an arrest like that spelled personal, professional, and financial ruin for many.

In the aftermath of the Sip-In, the Mattachine continued its effort to push back against entrapment. Mattachine got the the then-liberal newspaper the New York Post to run a series of articles focusing on the issue, featuring the stories of men caught up in the police web. Mattachine also participated in meetings with senior city officials, including the then local Democratic leader, Ed Koch, who would one day go on to be the city’s mayor. Koch objected strongly to any change in police efforts to “clean up the Village,” which of course meant going after the homosexuals and the gay bars. According to Dick, then Mayor John Lindsay and New York City Police Department Chief Inspector Sanford Garelick committed to ending the hated practice, although it did not entirely end for some time.

Remember, this was 1966. And the Stonewall riots wouldn’t happen for another three years. So for all those who say that Stonewall was the start of the so-called modern LGBTQ civil rights movement, I’d like to know what wasn’t modern about what these front-line activists were doing.

As a matter of fact, the June 1966 issue of the lesbian magazine The Ladder that we focused on in our last episode—the one with the cover story about Ernestine Eckstein? In that issue, if you turn the page after the interview that Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen did with Ernestine—literally on the next page—you’ll see the headline “Entrapment Attacked.” The article that follows details the Mattachine Society’s battle against entrapment in New York City led by Dick Leitsch.

You see, those filament-thin connections that tie our history together, the ones I mentioned at the very beginning of this season, those connections can also be the strong bonds that support a movement. And as that issue of The Ladder shows in black and white, those alliances, those bonds, were being forged, organized, and activated by Ernestine and Dick, Barbara and Kay, Frank Kameny and others years before those explosive nights outside the Stonewall Inn.

Many thanks to everyone who makes Making Gay History possible: executive producer Sara Burningham, producer Josh Gwynn, production coordinator Inge De Taeye, photo editor Michael Green, and social media producer Denio Lourenco. Special thanks to Jenna Weiss-Berman. Our theme music was composed by Fritz Myers.

Making Gay History is a co-production of Pineapple Street Media, with assistance from the New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division and the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.

Special thanks to Tim McDarrah, Fred McDarrah’s son, who so generously provided some of the photos of Dick Leitch, including the one of the Sip-In, that you’ll find in the episode notes at makinggayhistory.com.

Season four of this podcast has been made possible with funding from the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Calamus Foundation, and our listeners—like Paul Smith. Thanks Paul!

Stay in touch with Making Gay History by signing up for our newsletter at makinggayhistory.com. Our website is also where you’ll find previous episodes, archival photos, full transcripts, and additional information on each of the people and stories we feature.

So long! Until next time!


Letter from President Barack Obama to Dick Leitsch, March 2, 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Dick Leitsch.