This is a very exciting year at Alice as we approach December, 2011, the 40th anniversary of our organization. We have planned many events and activities to celebrate. In our newsletter, we will be featuring Alice History articles through December. This first article will be about Alice Pre-History, recounting the period that led to the formation of our club.
Before Alice was chartered by the Democratic Party in December, 1971, the LGBT community in San Francisco had already been forming into the beginnings of an organized movement. LGBT people had been in San Francisco since the Gold Rush, but San Francisco became recognized as a refuge for LGBT people after WWII. During the war, LGBT Americans found an easy way to leave their small towns and find other LGBT people in the armed services (especially the Navy). After the war during the 1950’s McCarthy Era, the military began psychiatric screenings of armed service members and began a mass discharge of LGBT service members.
San Francisco, a major port town where service members were discharged, became a new home for many of these discharged service members, and this helped establish San Francisco’s reputation as a refuge for the LGBT community. Many of the cooks and stewards who worked on ships in the Navy started a new life in San Francisco opening the first LGBT bars in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, such as the Black Cat, a bar that became renowned for drag performances.
While San Francisco was becoming a refuge for LGBT people, homosexuality was still treated with great hostility even in San Francisco. California sodomy and dress code laws banned homosexuality and drag, and these laws were used by police as justification to raid bars and jail queer people.
It was in this context that Jim Foster, the founder of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, began to organize to fight oppression. In September, 1964, he founded a precursor organization to Alice, The Society for Individual Rights (SIR), the first gay rights organization for men in San Francisco (following Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon’s founding of The Daughter’s of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in San Francisco and America).
Next month this column will continue with the story of the founding of Alice. Also, be sure to join us in August for two evenings of Alice History at the GLBT History Museum!
Nathan Purkiss, Emeritus Board
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club