Henry Gerber: The gay rights pioneer you probably never heard of

Henry Gerber

Henry Gerber

Last week — Thursday, Feb. 12, to be exact — the National Historic Landmarks Committee, chaired by Dr. Stephen Pitti of Yale University, unanimously approved the nomination of the Henry Gerber House, located at 1710 North Crilly Court in Chicago, to move forward as a National Historic Landmark.

The nomination advances now to the National Park System Advisory Board in May and then to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for final approval.

But here’s my question: Do you know who Henry Gerber is and while LGBT people should care about his house possibly becoming a National Historic Landmark? No? I didn’t either, I am embarrassed to admit. So I looked it up.

Henry Gerber

Henry Gerber was born June 29, 1892, as Henry Joseph (maybe Josef?) Dittmar in Bavaria. He changed his name to Henry Gerber when he emigrated to the U.S. in 1913, when he was 21. He and other members of his family located in Chicago because of the huge German immigrant community there.

Early in 1917, Gerber was committed for a short time to a mental institution because he was gay. But after the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 2, 1917 and entered World War I, Gerber — like other German immigrants — was given the choice of being declared an enemy alien and locked up (you know, like what happened to a lot of Japanese-Americans in World Word II), or enlisting in the Army. Surprise, surprise, Gerber chose to enlist in the Army.

Gerber was assigned to work as a printer/proofreader with the Allied occupation forces in Coblenz, and spent about three years serving in the military.

During that time in Germany, Gerber learned about Magnus Hirschfield and his Scientifc-Humanitarian Committee, and their efforts to repeal Germany’s Paragraph 175, the law that criminalized sex between men, and which was responsible for keeping many gay men imprisoned following World War II, even after other prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were freed. Gerber also spent some time in Berlin while he was stationed in Germany, at a time when Berlin had a thriving gay subculture.

When he got out of the Army, Gerber returned to Chicago and went to work for the U.S. Post Office there. But he didn’t forget what he had seen and learned in Germany, and in 1924 Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights, the oldest documented LGBT organization in the country.

Gerber filed for and received nonprofit status for his new organization, and African-American clergyman John T. Graves signed on as president. Graves, Gerber and five other men were named as members of the organization’s board. The state of Illinois granted the Society for Human Rights its charter on Dec. 10, 1924. Gerber also started “Friendship and Freedom,” the SHR’s newsletter, which is the first known gay-interest publication. It only lasted for two issues, as most SHR members were afraid to have it mailed to their homes.

Gerber and Graves and the other board members decided to limit SHR membership to gay men, specifically excluding bisexuals. Unfortunately, SHR Vice President Al Weininger was married with two children. And Weninger’s wife reported SHR to a social worker in the summer of 1925, calling them “degenerates.”

Gerber was interrogated by police, who arrested him, Graves, Weininger and one other man. Even though Gerber was tried three times, charges against him were eventually dismissed. Still, it ruined his life: Defending himself cost him his life savings and he lost his job for “conduct unbecoming a postal worker.”

And the Society for Human Rights was destroyed in the process.

In 1927, Gerber traveled to New York, where a friend introduced him to an Army colonel who convinced Gerber to re-enlist. He served until 1945 when he received an honorable discharge. During that time, he ran a pen pal service called “Connections,” most of the members of which were heterosexual.

After leaving the military, Gerber lived in New York wrote for a number of publications, occasionally writing about the case for gay rights. Sometimes he used his own name; sometimes he wrote under the pen name Parisex.

Gerber also corresponded extensively with other gay men, discussing strategies for organizing and for addressing prejudices against gays.

Toward the end of his life, Gerber moved into the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., dying there on Dec. 31, 1972, at the age of 80.

 

Remembering Gerber

Gerber was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992, and The Gerber House was designated as a Chicago Landmark on June 1, 2001. Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library is named in honor of Gerber and another early defender of gay rights, attorney Pearl M. Hart.

Recognition of the Gerber house will acknowledge the extraordinary significance of 1710 North Crilly Court not only to LGBTQ citizens but to America’s own account of its civil rights struggles, according to a press release from Rainbow Heritage Network, a national association for those concerned about the recognition and preservation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer history and heritage.

The Henry Gerber House nomination was prepared by Jonathan Farr, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, Andrea Rottmann and April Slabosheski, graduate students at the University of Michigan, as part of the University of Michigan Public History Initiative. Their advisor was Dr. Michelle McClellan.

The nomination was presented to the Landmarks Committee by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto. The nomination was written as part of the National Park Service’s LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which was announced at Stonewall by Secretary Jewell in May 2014. Mark Meinke, co-founder of the Rainbow Heritage Network and Megan Springate, prime consultant for the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative and co-founder of the Rainbow Heritage Network, were among those who spoke in support of the nomination.

There are only six places recognized by the National Historic Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places\programs for their association with LGBTQ history: Stonewall Inn in New York (a National Historic Landmark), The National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco (a National Monument), and Carrinton House in New York, Cherry Grove Community House and Theater in New York, the Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence in Washington, D.C., and the James Merrill House in Connecticut ( all on the National Register of Historic Places).

You can see the Gerber House nomination here.

The National Park Service LGBTQ Heritage Initiative is online here.

 

—  Tammye Nash

WATCH: Naked athletes frolicking. Yeah, that (NSFW)

The rowers for the Warwick crew team original made a naked calendar as a fundraiser. Now they do it, in part, to support gays in sports. Bully for them!

Watch the NSFW video below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Google supports gays in Sochi … subtly

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For the non-LGBT-friendly, the opening page of Google today probably looks like a way to mark the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia: skiers, skaters, snowboarders in colorful boxes over the search engine’s name. But pay closer attention: There are six letters in Google, six boxes, and six colors — red, orange, yellow, green, blue purple. Those are the six colors in the gay rainbow (there are seven colors in the true spectrum, purple being divided into indigo and violet). What’s the significance of Google placing its Olympians amid the gay flag? It’s pretty obvious. Corporate America has finally caught on, with Anheuser-Busch pulling its people out of Russia as well.

Here’s hoping at least one ice skater does a routine set to Pussy Riot — heck, we’d even take Clay Aiken.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Al Madrigal goes gay in the Deep South on ‘The Daily Show’

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 10.29.34 AMThe Daily Show is always on the cutting edge of progressive causes, including gay rights, but this segment, in which correspondent Al Madrigal goes to Alabama and Mississippi to find out which is more homophobic takes a brilliant, unexpected turn. Without diminishing the bigotry and violence gays face in some communities, it’s a heartwarming and eye-opening look at being gay in the South.

Check it out after the jump, or you can link directly to it here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: A funny — and moving — segment from ‘The Colbert Report’

Vicco mayorAnyone who watches The Colbert Report knows that Stephen Colbert’s shtick is pretending to be a reactionary right wing nutcase (a la Bill O’Reilly) while ironically promoting his own liberal politics. He’s done plenty of segments “attacking” the death of DOMA, or “advocating” DADT. But I can’t think of a segment on his show that has been as informative, funny and touching as this one about a gay mayor in small-town Kentucky that aired last night.

Watch until the very end. I bet you’ll be as choked up as I was.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Is boycott of Orson Card’s ‘Ender’s Game’ good policy or free publicity?

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It’s not that I’m sympathetic toward him, but Orson Scott Card can’t catch a break with the gay fanboys lately.

The Mormon sci-fi author and anti-gay activist wrote a book, Ender’s Game, in 1984 that was well-received among sci-fi folks. Then around 1990, he started speaking out against homosexuality. His vocal opposition to same-sex marriage drew more criticism — all of it, let’s say outright, completely justified. He’s even on the board (still) of the National Organization for Marriage.

Earlier this year, when DC Comics announced Card would be authoring the Superman Anthology, gay comic bookstore owners like Dallas’ Richard Neal drew a bright line, saying if the homophobic Card was allowed to write it, stores like Zeus would refuse to carry it. The artist hired to draw the serial pulled out as well.

Now Card is in the news again. Oscar nominees Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld have completed principal photography on the film version of Ender’s Game, due out in November from Oscar-winning director Gavin Hood. Readying for San Diego’s Comic-Con next week, the studio began rolling out the stars to promote the movie; Ford and co-star Asa Butterfield are even on an Entertainment Weekly cover.

And here stands the new controversy. Card is credited as author of the source material as well as serving as producer on the film, and so a boycott had been brewing, with organizers from New York-based Geeks Out asking folks to sign a pledge denying “support” to the film (which, we assume, means buying a ticket).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lambda Legal holds victory celebration tonight at Hotel Palomar

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Every year about this time, Lambda Legal’s Dallas office holds a summer kickoff party. But there’s rarely been a season worth partying it up more than this one. With the recent triumphs in the U.S. Supreme Court, the gay rights group has a lot to celebrate — no wonder the theme is “Victory!”

You can be part of the festivities at Hotel Palomar’s Central 214, where cocktails and bites will be served while you learn about the details of the upcoming Landmark Dinner. It’s all taking place starting at 5:30 p.m.; you can get more information on their Facebook page.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: RuPaul on DOMA, with ‘Love!’

America’s most famous drag queen, known for throwing her share of shade, gets serious for a minute, gathering the cast and crew of the upcoming Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race to make a statement about the repeal of DOMA. Everybody say “Love!”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Natalie Maines: The gay interview

Natalie2To quote a Dixie Chicks song, Natalie Maines has “been a longtime gone.” The fearless frontwoman for the female country band — which, before they hit it big, were frequent performers at Sue Ellen’s — has her first solo disc, seven years after Taking the Long Wayand its unapologetic single “Not Ready to Make Nice” in response to the singer’s political dig at then-President George W. Bush. Maines goes her own way for her new CD, Mother, which we reviewed here. Now our Chris Azzopardi follows that up with this interview, where Maines reveals why she went rock (country “seemed so fake”), how being disowned — and her new short hair — made her feel closer to the gay community and whether now — a decade after her Bush outburst — she’s ready to make nice.

Dallas Voice: You’re sporting that punkish ’do; before, with the Dixie Chicks, it was the long, blond locks.  Maines: I know. Well, with the Chicks, I definitely felt like I was playing dress up a bit — but I liked it!

Are you conscious of your look and how it represents the music?  With two kids, there’s not enough time in the day to spend on what I look like; this is a much easier look. And it fits my personality more. I had short hair growing up, and it always felt right for me.

Has the short hair scored you more lesbian cred?  [Laughs] I barely leave my house, [but] maybe. But the lesbians liked me already! Yeah, this is definitely a lesbianish haircut I’ve got going on. I don’t mind. I love Rachel Maddow. She would be my lesbian girl crush.

Why Rachel?  She’s hot! And she’s smart and beautiful … and I like her hair.

I could see it working out between you two.  Yeah, I think that would work. I don’t know if my husband or her girlfriend would think so.

You’ve always had a really loyal gay fan base, even before you publicly chastised George W. Bush. How do you explain your connection with gay fans?  We had some very costume-y, over-the-top looks that the gays do appreciate. [Laughs] But after the controversy, I feel like there was even more of a connection, and that’s just because we both know how it feels to be hated just for who we are — not for doing anything, bothering anyone, murdering anyone or being arrested. Just for being us. Apparently, that’s not good in some people’s eyes. But also, too, to just continue being and let other people get used to it — learning to be OK with yourself and just putting it out there, and people can either like you or not, but it’s really on them.

Were you noticing more support from the gay community at shows after the incident?  Yeah. And we would get lots of emails, and a lot of the community would come right up and say, “I love that you did this. I didn’t listen to your music before, but after this, I went and bought every record.” However it was that they showed their support, I definitely felt it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Only 1 El Paso mayoral candidate supports pro-LGBT Proposition 7

Steve Ortega

Steve Ortega

Only one of six candidates for El Paso mayor is strongly backing an initiative to include LGBT protections in the city’s nondiscrimination policy and maintain domestic partner benefits.

Councilman Steve Ortega said he strongly supports Proposition 7, which will be voted on May 11.

“To me, this is the civil rights issue of our time,” Ortega told the El Paso Times. “It’s non-negotiable for me. A community that doesn’t fight against discrimination tolerates it, and I never want El Paso to be in that category.”

The council approved DP benefits in 2009 but voters later voted to end them. Ortega was a proponent when the council added them again in 2011.

Proposition 7 would add sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. Its passage would allow the city to continue to offer health benefits to employees’ opposite- and same-sex partners. Reversing the benefits would require another voter-approved charter amendment.

Conservative businessman Robert Cormell told the Times that he would repeal domestic partner benefits if he is elected mayor.

“It’s a financial decision,” he said. “It’s not a gay issue. It’s an unmarried issue.”

The other candidates —Leo Gus Haddad, Oscar Leeser, Hector H. Lopez and Jaime O. Perez — wouldn’t commit to a stance on the nondiscrimination policy or DP benefits but said they support equality.

—  Dallasvoice