Did Fidel Castro Trigger The US Gay Rights Movement?

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The dictator's belated acknowledgment and disavowal of his persecution of homosexuals prompted this fascinating email from Frank Kameny, the most important activist in the early gay rights movement:

While, Castro had no notion, of course, of what he was doing in this context at that time, in my view and in my interpretation of the dynamics of the 1960s Gay Movement, he triggered Stonewall and all that has followed.

News of Castro's incarceration of gays in detention camps in Cuba came out early in 1965 -- probably in March or very early April. At that time "the 60s" hadn't yet erupted in their full force, but the precursors were very well advanced. Picketing was considered the mode of expression of dissent, par excellence. 

Jack Nichols approached me to suggest that we ("we"= The Matachine Society of Washngton, of which I was President) picket the White House to protest Cuba's action. I felt that it was rather pointless to picket the American President to protest what a Cuban dictator was doing. So I suggested that we broaden and Americanize the effort. One or more of our signs said (in gross paraphrase, here, from memory) "Cuba persecutes Gays; is America much better?", and others specifically addressed governmental and private anti-gay discrimination here, and other gay-related problems of the day.

And so, on April 17, 1965, ten of us gathered in Lagayette Square, marched across Pennsylvania Avenue to a site amongst the other demonstrators designated by the police officer on duty, and picketed. That was followed by another White House picket in late May; at the Civil Service Commission (now the OPM) in June; the Pentagon in July (and again in May, 1966); the State Department in August; and finally, a huge demonstration (55 people!!!) at the White House in October, with participants from New York and Chicago.

That July 4, we also staged the first of 5 annual "Reminder Day" pickets in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The last of those was scheduled for July 4, 1969, a few days after Stonewall-to-be., and was widely publicized in New York (as the previous July 4 ones had been) in the preceding weeks. It was well attended by New Yorkers, indicating that it was well known there.

Ever since, it has been my view, and remains so, that those demonstrations created the protest-oriented mindset which made Stonewall possible, and that without it Stonewall just wouldn't have happened. Therefore, several steps removed, and obviously utterly unbeknownst to him. by his 1965 detentions of Cuban gays, Fidel Castro precipitated and triggered Stonewall and all that we have gained from it since. So, if you enter into a same-sex marriage, or are helped by a gay-protective anti-discrimination law, or run for elective office an an open gay, thank Fidel.

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