Supplement Regarding the Beginnings of Gay Activism

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On April 21, 1966, three young men went out to have a drink at Julius’ Bar in Manhattan’s West Village that they hoped would make history. Julius’ is the oldest gay bar in NYC. 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 that fell under a vague regulation barring taverns from serving patrons deemed “disorderly.” They called their action a “Sip In,” a reference to the civil rights lunch-counter sit-ins then being held at places that segregated black patrons. The Sip In was a pivotal moment for the gay rights movement, predating the Stonewall riots by more than three years. The next day’s New York Times featured an article about the event with the headline “3 Deviates Invite Exclusion by Bars.” “By all accounts, this was one of the first, if not the very first, planned act of civil disobedience for L.G.B.T. rights,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “It set a lot of incredibly important changes in motion.”  (Jim Farber, NY Times, 4/21/16)

No law was overturned as a result of the Sip In, but the New York City Commission on Human Rights later declared that homosexuals had the right to be served. The Sip In was a catalyst for gay rights protests in the West Village and led to the opening of private clubs for gays like the Stonewall Inn. Three years later, in the same neighborhood, young gays started The Stonewall Riots in protest to continued police harassment.