Forty years ago, Jack Nichols, who died this week in Florida, was among a group of brave gay men and lesbians who gathered on July 4 at the site of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to stage the first public demonstration protesting American society’s treatment of its homosexual population.
The group was conservatively attired and carried simple white poster-board picket signs to raise public awareness of a community that previously had lurked largely in society’s shadows or in its late night bohemian haunts.
This past weekend, the Equality Forum, which annually stages a week of events celebrating the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community in Philadelphia, kicked off its 2005 events by once again gathering at the Liberty Bell to honor those pioneers of 1965. Much of the everyday freedom our community takes for granted these days resulted directly from the visionary courage of the men and women of which Jack Nichols was an outstanding example.
Nichols was active from the early ‘60s in the Mattachine Society, the first major civil rights group for gay men. He was instrumental in the decade-long effort that led the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its Index of Medical Disorders. Once we were free of the stigma of pathology, it became increasingly difficult for society to justify our criminalization.
Nichols was tireless in his advocacy for our community. He appeared with Mike Wallace on national television as an out gay man in 1967—and lost his job. With his boyfriend, Lige Clarke, he published a weekly newspaper, GAY, in New York for four years beginning in 1969.
In recent years, he was tireless in editing a gay news and entertainment Web site, GayToday.com from his home in Cocoa Beach. He was a consistent source of assistance and counsel to this newspaper, generously sharing information and pictures so we could better do our job.
Several months ago, Nichols and I chatted by phone. Explaining that he was no longer doing GayToday.com, he expressed the hope that he could do some projects for Gay City News. But he died too early, and that never happened.
If you have occasion this year to formally celebrate Independence Day, give some thought to Jack Nichols. He was always thinking about you.