“ONE” Ban’s Sixtieth: The birth of LGBT free speech

The Order

Sixty years ago, the U.S. Postal Service launched an all-out attack on gay speech....and lost.

Sixty years ago, the U.S. Postal Service launched an all-out attack on gay speech….and lost.

Newly discovered original documents at the One Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries reveal inspiring editorial and personal courage backed by a stand-up young lawyer into civil liberties : then Los Angeles-based attorney Eric Julber.

Formed by members of the original Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, “ONE” was the first gay and lesbian magazine of ideas with contributors like Norman Mailer, going far beyond the oldtime “physique” magazines of the day. In October, 1954, the U.S. Postal Service declared “ONE”  obscene,lewd, lascivious and filthy, revoking its permit to use the U.S. mail. This was a death sentence for a magazine….and gay and lesbian speech. No speech. No movement.  Back to the bars and classified advertising.

The cover story of the October, 1954 issue was a legal feature entitled “You Can’t Print It!” on government censorship and gay content by Julber.

The Minutes of the ONE Corporation reveal the severity of the situation faced by Julber and the ONE editorial staff. “Counsel stated possibility that Post Office may try to detain the December All-fiction issue, not merely for confiscation, but as a basis for criminal prosecution….December is still a postal risk, even though it will be mailed sealed first class, in its entirety”.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled against “ONE” in March, 1956, declaring “ONE” obscene, but went one chilling step further (link above). “The suggestion advanced that homosexuals should be recognized as a segment of our people and be accorded special privilege as a class is rejected,” wrote Judge Thurmond Clarke.

The newly discovered Minutes of “ONE”‘s meeting in 1957, show the determination and vision that belong in textbooks to come. Eric Julber “described his own shock at the ruling, at the intensity of the prejudice, even at highest levels. He felt strongly that, win or lose, we ought to take this case to the Supreme Court. That we must work for the right of homosexuals to freedom of speech and press…..After two unseconded motions, (it was) moved ‘That we continue fighting our case to the Supreme Court’. Eric said that IF the Supreme Court ruling SHOULD go against us, we would have to pull in our horns a bit and go ahead. Motion carried unanimously. Question of how to feature case was left up to the Editorial Board.” (Minutes for Corporation Meeting, 3/18/57)

“ONE”, represented pro bono by Julber, who himself was not gay, won at the Supreme Court in January, 1958.  Still sounding strong and very clear about this 1954 case in January, 2014 living in Carmel, California, Julber says he came to the case, pro bono, because of his commitment to civil liberties.

What we want to know, in 2014: who was running this operation in Washington, D.C.? Certainly not the LA postmaster. Likely it was the boss, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, an Eisenhower political appointee, perhaps on orders. We will be researching this piece of our deleted political past. ONE Archives Director Joseph Hawkins believes it was an attempted “mid-century erasure” of homosexuality and any shred of gay or lesbian political identity. “Obscenity” was just the lewd cover story.