April 23, 2016

50th Anniversary for “Julius” The Oldest Gay Bar in NYC


   

                                                                         
In 1966, three years before the Stonewall riots, a trio of gay rights activists staged a small but significant protest at Julius' Bar in Greenwich Village, where they took seats at the bar, informed the bartender of their sexual orientation, and ordered drinks. This was at the time a radical act—many bars were refusing to serve openly gay customers, and NYC cops routinely raided gay bars, which were threatened with liquor license revocation for "gay activity." Julius' refused to serve the men that day, and Village Voice photographer Fred W. McDarrah captured the exact moment when the barkeep put his hand over a glass to take it away.  To mark the 50th anniversary of the "Sip-In," as it was called (as a nod to the sit-ins of the civil rights movement) some of the same activists recreated the scene at Julius' Bar yesterday. Chief among them were Dick Leitsch and Randy Wicker, who recently recounted the history of that time  The men, members of the early gay rights group the Mattachine Society, aimed to challenge bars that refused service to gay people, a common practice at the time, though one unsupported by any specific law. Such refusals fell under a vague regulation that banned taverns from serving patrons deemed “disorderly.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of the "Sip-In," as it was called (as a nod to the sit-ins of the civil rights movement) some of the same activists recreated the scene at Julius' Bar yesterday. Chief among them were Dick Leitsch and Randy Wicker, who recently recounted the history of that time in a fascinating NY Times profile. An excerpt:
The men, members of the early gay rights group the Mattachine Society, aimed to challenge bars that refused service to gay people, a common practice at the time, though one unsupported by any specific law. Such refusals fell under a vague regulation that banned taverns from serving patrons deemed “disorderly.”
“At the time, being homosexual was, in itself, seen as disorderly,” said Dick Leitsch, 81, reminiscing the other day in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The activists knew Julius’ had to refuse them, because the night before, a man who had been served there had later been entrapped by an officer for “gay activity,” meaning the bar was in jeopardy of having its liquor license revoked. As they entered, the men spied a sign that read “Patrons Must Face the Bar While Drinking,” an instruction used to thwart cruising.
The next day’s New York Times featured an article about the event with the headline “3 Deviates Invite Exclusion by Bars.” Two weeks later, a far more sympathetic piece appeared in The Voice. The publicity prompted a response from the chairman of the State Liquor Authority, Donald S. Hostetter, who denied that his organization ever threatened the liquor licenses of bars that served gays. The decision to serve was up to individual bartenders, he said.
At that point, the Commission on Human Rights got involved. Its chairman, William H. Booth, told The Times in a later article: “We have jurisdiction over discrimination based on sex. Denial of bar service to a homosexual solely for that reason would come within those bounds.”
Coinciding with this week's remembrance, Julius' Bar, one of the oldest bars in Manhattan, was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is calling on the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to give the establishment landmark status. (The Stonewall Inn, located a block away, was granted Landmark status last year.)
"As important as the Sip-In was, it is easy for this kind of history to be lost," said Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "And it has been through the efforts of dedicated advocates that the significance of this event has been remembered and given its due. One critical way in which we ensure that history is remembered is to honor and preserve the sites connected to events like these. That is why Julius’ needs and deserves New York City landmark status. Without such designation, even with National Register listing, this building could be altered or destroyed in the future."
State Senator Brad Hoylman pointed out, "It's been said that those who dont' remember the past are doomed to repeat it. While we've come far in securing LGBT rights over the last 50 years, don't think for a second that these rights couldn't be taken from us. Look at what is happening in North Carolina and Mississippi. And let's not forget that transgender New Yorkers don't have full rights, that we still allow therapists to try to convert gay kids, and that non-biological parents in same sex relationships have fewer rights to their kids."
He added, "It's important that we preserve our LGBT history. We don’t want this historic building to become a Starbucks!"

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