Tag Archives: LGBTQ

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ 

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ

from Claude Debussy,  “Trois Chansons de Bilitis”
founded September 21, 1955

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ

Deep history

On Museum tours at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts I try to emphasize to guests that the many movements  we associate the 60s with were not new. What was historic was the chronological convergence of so many movements.

And so it is with the gay rights movement. Most people think of the so-called Stonewall Riots in July 1969 as the beginning of LGBTQ activism. It certainly is an important milepost, but not the beginning.

Like any view contrary to the status quo’s view, the idea that homosexuality is a normal human trait, not an illness, not an immoral lifestyle, has deeper roots than 1969. And as progressive-appearing as the following chronology is, keep in mind that there were far more homophobic  incidents and politically- biased initiatives than positive during the time period.

  • In 1873: English writer  John Addington Symonds’ 1873 essay “A Problem in Greek Ethics,” extolled the ancient Greeks’ liberal views of sexuality, helped seed a revolution by paving a literary path for the modern gay rights movement. Fully aware of the potentially incendiary contents of his work, Symonds limited the first print run of his essay at ten copies, cautiously circulating them among only trusted colleagues. In the century and a half since the work’s 1883 publication, scholars have painstakingly collected the five versions known to survive. Then, Johns Hopkins University curator Gabrielle Dean stumbled upon a long-forgotten sixth in 2019. He noted that the Greeks accepted and even celebrated relationships between men, offering a stark contrast with the values of 19th-century England, where homosexuality was illegal. Rachel Wallach for Johns Hopkins’ Hub wrote that his essay was the first major English language analysis of ancient Greek sexuality.
  • in 1910 anarchist Emma Goldman spoke of the need for acceptance.
  • on December 10, 1924,  Henry Gerber founded  The Society for Human Rights in Chicago. It was the first US gay rights organization.
  • on January 5, 1948, Alfred Kinsey and his team published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. It helped allow objective discussions  of homosexuality.
  • on November 11, 1950, in Los Angeles, gay rights activist Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society. The Society aimed to “eliminate discrimination, derision, prejudice and bigotry,” to assimilate homosexuals into mainstream society, and to cultivate the notion of an “ethical homosexual culture.”
  • in January 1953, LGBT:  ONE, Inc. an early gay rights organization and associated with the Mattachine Society published the first  issue of ONE Magazine
  • on September. 14, 1953  Alfred Kinsey published a second study,  Sexual Behavior in the Human Female This one reported that “2 to 6% of females, aged 20-35, were more or less exclusively homosexual in experience/response.”
1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ

San Francisco

And in San Francisco on September 21, 1955 the Daughters of Bilitis became the first lesbian rights organization in the US.

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ

Pierre Louÿs

The name for the group came from an 1894 collection of  lesbian-themed poems, Les Chansons de BilitisPierre Louÿs. He said  the poems were his interpretation of poems that the ancient Greek poet Sappho wrote. Louÿs wrote that Sappho had found the poems on a wall and that a woman Bilitis wrote them. Louÿs was actually the original author.

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ


Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were two of the founders. They simply wanted to dance together. That was against the law in 1955. One of Daughters of Bilitis’s primary purposes was to host social functions and to provide alternatives to the frequently-raided lesbian bars and clubs.

Though small in membership, the DOB had chapters across the US.

As with any organization that society views as made up of perverted or sick individuals, those members differed in their views as to how to react. Should there even be a reaction? Would any reaction simply bring more attention and more discrimination? Should a reaction be as strong as society’s actions?

Gradually the DOB became as much a political as social organization.

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ

The Ladder

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ

In October 1956 DOB published the first issue of The Ladder.  Lyon edited it initially under the pen name Ann Ferguson. The Ladder published until  1972.  Barbara Grier and the DOB president Rita LaPorte both felt a  stronger lesbian feminist stance was needed. Should the DOB align itself with male gay rights groups? And by 1972, the feminist movement was seen by many as equally if not more important.

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ


After 14 years the DOB dissolved, but it had helped continue the historic tradition of the LGBTQ community organizing and educating Society

1955 Daughters Bilitis LGBTQ

Richard Baker & James McConnell

Richard Baker & James McConnell

Married September 3, 1971

Perhaps some day June 26 will be a holiday recognizing the historic import of the US Supreme Court decision on that date in 2015 when the Court decided in Obergefell v Hodges that same -sex marriage was legal according to the US Constitution.

Some day.

Richard Baker & James McConnell

Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell met at a barn party on Halloween night, 1966, in Norman, Oklahoma. They fell in love and on March 10, 1967 Baker proposed to McConnell.  McConnell said yes, but only if they could marry.

Yes you read correctly. It was 1967 and of course the large majority of Americans would have found the idea of two men marrying as laughable as it was illegal.

Richard Baker & James McConnell

Long road

In 1970, the couple lived in Minneapolis and in May they kept their and several other same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses to Minneapolis court clerk Gerald R. Nelson. The clerk denied the licenses saying that marriage was limited to “persons of the opposite sex,” though the Minnesota laws said nothing about such a limitation.

Baker and McConnell sued. Not only did the judge uphold the clerk’s decision, but he specifically ordered that no such licenses be issued.

Despite the setback, both men were determined to find a way forward. McConnell adopted Baker in August 1971 so that the couple would be able to access some tax benefits and inheritance rights for each other. Also Jack Baker legally assumed the gender-neutral name “Pat Lynn McConnell” and on August 16, 1971, using Baker’s new name, the town clerk of Mankato, a small town west of Minneapolis in Blue Earth County, issued them a marriage license.

Richard Baker & James McConnell


On September 3, 1971, the Rev. Roger Lynn of the United Methodist Church officiated their marriage  in a private ceremony.

The Blue Earth County Attorney challenged the legitimacy of their marriage license, but a grand jury “found the question not worth pursuing.” Baker and McConnell considered themselves legally married from then on.

Six weeks after their wedding, on October 15, 1971, the Minnesota  Supreme Court ruled that marriage “is a union of man and woman” that the Constitution did not provide for same-sex couples to get married.

Richard Baker & James McConnell

Federal appeal

Baker and McConnell appealed their case to the US Supreme Court. Almost exactly a year later, on October 10, 1972, that Court stated: “Appeal from Sup. Ct. Minn. dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.”

That one sentence established a powerful and long-lasting precedent, one often used by the opponents of marriage equality for the next 30 years.

Richard Baker & James McConnell

A life together

Richard Baker & James McConnell

Baker and McConnell continued their lives together as a happily married couple and continued their activism. Baker became an attorney and a local politician, and McConnell had a 37 year career as a librarian with Hennepin County. They have both retired and continue to live in Minnesota.

Wedding Heard ‘Round the World

Richard John Baker v. Gerald R Nelson

In 2016 the University of Minnesota Press published The Wedding Heard ‘Round the World, America’s First Gay Marriage written  by Michael McConnell with Jack Baker.

Satisfying Coda

September 18, 2018, a district court in Minnesota issued a ruling that said, “The marriage is declared to be in all respects valid.”

“The ruling was a long time coming, but I knew the courts would eventually rule in our favor,” said Baker. “Over the years, many legal scholars have reviewed our case and concluded that the law was on our side.”

February 16, 2019, just two days after Valentine’s Day, the Social Security Administration sent a letter to Jack Baker and Michael McConnell confirming once and for all that their 1971 marriage was legal, stating that they were indeed entitled to monthly husband’s benefits.

Link >>> Marriage Equality dot org story

Richard Baker & James McConnell