During Pride month, in early June, Transgender American Veterans Association and WPATH held the nation's first Transgender Military Summit in Washington D.C.; followed by a laying of a wreath, honoring all American veterans, at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The roundtable summit brought together some two dozen of the nation's leading advocates, experts, supporters, and transgender veterans, giving visibility in the nation's capitol, for a detailed discussion on the issues, integrity, duty, and leadership of the honorable service of patriotic transgender Americans in our armed forces.
I'm at that tender old age when memories from long ago pop up while reading the obituaries. So it was in late June when news came of the death of Dick Leitsch at 83, a lesser known pioneer of gay rights history. Leitsch was one of the founders and leaders of the Mattachine Society in the 1950s and 1960s. Mattachine was one of the first obscure advocacy organizations for gay rights, during the days when the mere mention of homosexuality was an unspoken taboo topic. At a time when it was illegal for homosexuals to gather in public places or to be served in bars, Leitsch led a 'Sip-In' demonstration at what is now one of the oldest gay bars in the nation, Julius', which led to the end that discriminatory policy. He was also said to have been one of the ringleaders of the legendary Stonewall Riot.
None of that notoriety had anything to do with my long forgotten memories that poped out of the depths of my past when I read of his demise. Back in the dark primitive days around 1964 when I was a terrified 15 year old who had just discovered the I was gay, there was no internet nor other means of finding out anything about who I was, nor any gay center or other place where a kid could get safe affirmative counseling. Like nearly everyone else like me, I was on my own to find my way in the world. Then I read about the Mattachine Society in an obscure little paperback book on gay life in New York City. I looked them up in the phone book, and called. A man answered! Scary. I said, "Um.... I have 'a friend' who thinks he might be ....um, you know, and he was wondering if..... um....?" I really had no idea what I wanted to ask. Dick Leitsch, at the other end of the line, was used to these calls from confused teenagers. He was very kind and suggested that I tell 'my friend' to visit their office in the City where I could speak with a counselor. The following Saturday, I emptied my piggy bank and bought a ticket on the Long Island Railroad from my safe suburban enclave to the City and found my way to the Mattachine in an office 5 floors above Herald Square in a dowdy old office building.