Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2022-06-08
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

LGBT HISTORY MONTH: A pre-Stonewall LGBT sit-in
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ray Simon, Philadelphia Gay News
2014-10-28

This article shared 4965 times since Tue Oct 28, 2014
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


The sit-in at Dewey's, which occurred at a Philadelphia restaurant in the spring of 1965, is not as well known as the Stonewall Riots, but it deserves wider recognition.

On the evening of Sunday, April 25, 1965, staff at the diner turned away more than 150 people they believed to be LGBT. According to the August 1965 issue of Drum magazine, which mixed beefcake pictorials with news for gay men, the restaurant's staff refused "to serve a large number of homosexuals and persons wearing non-conformist clothing."

Eventually, three teenagers — two boys and one girl — refused to give up their seats, in effect beginning a sit-in. In the week that followed, LGBT activists used tactics borrowed from the civil-rights movement to put pressure on the restaurant's owners until the ban was lifted.

On closer examination, the sit-in at Dewey's suggests that gay militancy began at least a few years before Stonewall. It also hearkens back to a time when gays, lesbians and transgender people clearly saw their struggles as intertwined.

For Marc Stein, a professor of history at San Francisco State University, the sit-in at Dewey's not only adds to our knowledge of the past, it also prompts us to reevaluate our current understanding of LGBT history.

"I think one of the important things to see is that there was a history of these episodes for at least five years before the Stonewall Riots," Stein said during a telephone interview.

"I think for a lot of us," he continued, "if there's one thing we want to challenge, it's the notion that the movement began at Stonewall or the notion that Stonewall was the first time that gays and lesbians, that LGBT people, fought back."

The story of the sit-in at Dewey's may very well have been forgotten if it were not for Stein. The mainstream media ignored the incident then and it received scant attention from scholars before Stein began his research. Fortunately, a handful of men and women mentioned the restaurant to the historian while he was interviewing them for his book, "City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-72."

Dewey's was a small, family-owned chain of diners that operated in Philadelphia from the 1940s to the 1970s. When the chain's owner, Farrel Yesner, passed away in 2003, his obituary stated that "Dewey's doled out tasty comfort food to customers at restaurants that were mostly old-fashioned lunch counters."

The all-night eateries served customers from all walks of life, but its 13th Street and 17th Street locations drew many LGBT customers, especially after the bars closed. According to Laurie Barron, one of Stein's interviewees, the restaurant was known as "Fag Dewey's." And another, Joan Fleischmann, told him that at Dewey's "you'd find streetwalkers, you'd find drag queens, you would find everybody."

Why things came to a head on Sunday, April 25, 1965 is unclear. The June 1965 newsletter of the Janus Society, the local homophile organization, indicates that the diner's management had grown tired of a group of young LGBT kids just sitting around, being rowdy and ordering little, so it encouraged its employees to shoo them away.

As Stein put it, "What I do know is that in the months or years leading up to the Dewey's sit-in, that Dewey's had become a late-night hangout, especially for young people and for lots of people we would now call trans."

That night, staff interpreted the directive zealously. Eventually, three teens refused to budge, the police were called and so was Clark Polak, a local LGBT businessman and advocate. At the time, Polak was head of the Janus Society and also published Drum magazine.

Exactly what Polak did that night is unknown. The businessman claimed that he was advising the teens of their rights, but Stein acknowledges it's easy to imagine him getting cantankerous.

"We know from other stories that Polak would scream and curse at the police, but he would also argue. He was almost fearless. So I'm sure emotions got intense," Stein said.

The police promptly arrested Polak and the three teenagers. The savvy businessman quickly organized a picket outside Dewey's. Roughly 1,500 pieces of literature were distributed to customers and passersby over the next five days. Finally, on Sunday, May 2, just one week after the initial confrontation, a handful of teenagers began a second sit-in.

The police were once again summoned, but this time they refused to arrest anyone. Both parties spoke to one another, the situation was defused and the restaurant resumed serving LGBT customers.

This was no small victory. Writing in the Janus Society's May 1965 newsletter, its editor, Barbara Horowitz ( who signed her work Barbara Harris ), asserted, "There is no reason to assume that this cannot be called a job well done."

That same editorial also makes it clear that Horowitz, and, by extension, Polak, recognized that what took place was about more than just being able to order a cup of coffee. As Horowitz wrote:

"All too often, there is a tendency to be concerned with the rights of homosexuals as long as they somehow appear to be heterosexual, whatever that is. The masculine woman and the feminine man often are looked down upon by the official policy of homophile organizations, but the Janus Society is concerned with the worth of an individual and the manner in which she or he comports himself."

That statement suggests that at least some LGBT activists saw the limitations of pursuing a policy of militant respectability, which was, roughly speaking, the notion that straights would accept LGBT people if only LGBT people could demonstrate that they were just like everybody else.

There is still more work to be done regarding Dewey's. Who were the three teenagers arrested that first evening? Were they the same teenagers who initiated the final night's sit-in? Who manned the picket lines? Were the people involved in the action radicalized by it? What happened to them as the years passed? These remain unanswered questions.

Perhaps fighting for the opportunity to sit in a diner and order a meal appears trivial, but it is important to remember that the civil-rights movement had already demonstrated that seemingly mundane actions could have profound implications.

Studying the sit-in at Dewey's, Stein discerns significant implications for our understanding of LGBT history. Later in the 1960s, a new kind of LGBT activism emerged: the gay liberation movement, which was more radical than the earlier homophile movement.

For many, Stonewall was the momentous beginning of that next phase of activism, but Stein believes otherwise. In the sit-in at Dewey's, he finds evidence of LGBT militancy beginning much earlier than 1969.

"The idea of fighting back, the idea of borrowing tactics from the civil-rights movement, that stretches back 20 years before Stonewall," he said.

As Stein and his fellow LGBT historians do more research, a fuller picture of LGBT life in the decades after World War II is taking shape. The sit-in at Dewey's, for example, can no longer be dismissed as an isolated, random event, thanks to the work of transgender scholar Susan Stryker.

Her 2005 documentary, "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria," examines a 1966 incident in San Francisco that is strikingly similar to the sit-in at Dewey's with one difference: at Compton's, the drag queens literally punched, kicked and scratched to defend themselves.

Obviously, more work must be done. But recognizing the significance of what a ragtag group of LGBT teenagers and the adults who supported them accomplished at Dewey's is a good first step.

Ray Simon is an editor and freelance writer in Philadelphia. He has written about everything from cryptograms to drag kings, and environmental sustainability to video games.

View the leaflette handed out at the Dewey's demonstration April 1965 at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/DeweyLeaflette1965.pdf .


This article shared 4965 times since Tue Oct 28, 2014
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes first Black woman on U.S. Supreme Court 2022-06-30
- On June 30, Ketanji Brown Jackson marked a milestone in U.S. representation when she was sworn in as the first Black woman in history to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. She also becomes only the ...


Gay News

Pride Live hosts NYC center groundbreaking, 'Stonewall Day' 2022-06-25
- On June 24, Pride Live held an official groundbreaking ceremony for the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center (SNMVC), which is the first LGBTQ+ visitor center within the National Park System. Slated to open on June 28, ...


Gay News

'General Hospital,' Kelly Clarkson among Daytime Emmy winners 2022-06-25
- ABC's General Hospital—already the winningest sudser in daytime history—was named Outstanding Daytime Drama on June 24 while The Kelly Clarkson Show took home the prize for Outstanding Talk Show at the 49th annual Daytime Emmy Awards. ...


Gay News

Out at CHM: Panelists discuss HIV/AIDS' continued impact on dance community 2022-06-25
- The Chicago History Museum (CHM) hosted a June 23 panel with doctors and dancers who shared their experiences with the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as ideas for continuing to address the disease today. Following the discussion, ...


Gay News

Parker makes history in Sky victory; Cubs, White Sox lose 2022-06-24
- On June 23, Chicago Sky player Candace Parker made history as the first WNBA player with three career triple-doubles in Chicago's (12-5) 82-59 win over the Los Angeles Sparks (6-10) at crypto.com Arena. An audience of ...


Gay News

Photos of Chicago's Daniel Sotomayor included in new Smithsonian exhibit 2022-06-22
- The Smithsonian's first gallery dedicated to Latino history and culture has opened its doors to the public at the National Museum of American History, NBC News noted. Billed as a precursor to a national Latino museum ...


Gay News

Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center to open, reuniting historic Stonewall Inn 2022-06-21
-- From a press release - New York, NY, June 21, 2022 — Pride Live, a social advocacy and community engagement organization for the LGBTQ+ community, today announced plans to open the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center (SNMVC). Set to be the ...


Gay News

WORLD Pride events, Darren Hayes, Virgin Mary poster, LGBTQ+ Scotland 2022-06-12
- A celebratory march made its way through the Thailand capital of Bangkok—the first of its kind in almost 16 years, DW.com reported. The "Naruemit Pride 2022" event, using the Thai word for "creation," was the result ...


Gay News

Out at CHM's 'Dancing for Life' to take place June 23 2022-06-10
- The Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., is continuing its Out at CHM series with "Dancing for Life: Moving through HIV/AIDS" on Thursday, June 23, 5:30-8:30 p.m. In honor of Chicago designating 2022 as the ...


Gay News

Critically acclaimed Queer Serial History Podcast continues new series into Pride Month 2022-06-06
-- From a press release - In Queer Serial's radio drama style, NLGJA award-winning producer Devlyn Camp is bringing gay history to life with news & gay radio shows from the archives, unheard interviews between historian Will Roscoe & Supervisor Harry Britt, ...


Gay News

Vandersloot makes history in Sky win; Cubs, White Sox lose; NU softball 2022-06-04
- In WNBA action, the Chicago Sky (6-3) defeated the Atlanta Dream (6-4) 73-65 on June 3 in College Park, Georgia. The Sky are still undefeated (4-0) in Commissioner's Cup games. Courtney Vandersloot passed Allie Quigley to ...


Gay News

Probable monkeypox case confirmed in Chicago 2022-06-02
- On June 2, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced a single presumptive monkeypox case in an adult male Chicago resident with recent travel history to Europe, per ...


Gay News

Imperial Court, Task Force to add five icons to 'Wall of Honor' at the Stonewall Inn on June 23 2022-06-02
-- From a press release - NEW YORK, NY, JUNE 1, 2022—On Thursday, June 23, five LGBTQ icons will be added to the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The honor wall was inaugurated in ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Laverne Cox, PBS special, Ricky Martin, queer books/authors 2022-05-29
- Nouveau Productions and PBS announced a new collaboration for Pride Month, per a press release. The special True Colors: LGBTQ+ Our Stories, Our Songs will offer a unique look at the history of the LGBTQ+ community ...


Gay News

Chicago Bears release schedule; Yankees pound White Sox 2022-05-13
- After alternating home and road games throughout the entire 2021 season for the first time in franchise history, the Chicago Bears have a more conventional schedule in 2022, according to a press release. It features three ...


 



Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.