(June 29, 1892 - December 31, 1972) U.S.A.
Lesbian and Gay Activist
Henry Gerber was born in Bavaria as Joseph Henry Dittmar, and arrived at Ellis Island in October, 1913. With members of his family, he moved to Chicago because of its large German population. After working briefly at Montgomery Ward, he was interned as an alien during World War I. He wrote that although this was not right, he did receive three meals a day.
From 1920 to 1923 he served with the U.S. Army during the Occupation of Germany. While in Germany, he came into contact with the German homosexual emancipation movement. He subscribed to German homophile magazines and was in contact with Magnus Hirschfeld's Scientific-Humanitarian Community in Berlin.
In December 1924, after his return to Chicago, Henry, pioneering gay activist, writer, and editor, was the first to make an attempt to organize homosexuals in the United States. This took place in Chicago, where he founded the organization of Chicago Society for Human Rights (SHR), America's first known gay rights organization, on December 10, 1924, and received a charter from the State of Illinois. He planned to reach gays (membership being limited to homosexual men) across the country through "Friendship and Freedom," a self-published newsletter.
In July 1925, however, after publishing only two issues of the newsletter, SHR's vice-president's wife discovered her husband's activities and reported the group to a social worker. SHR soon was shut down for moral turpitude. Gerber was arrested and held for 3 days without a warrant or being charged with any infractions. Upon release he lost his job for "conduct unbecoming a postal worker".
During the 1930s he managed a personal correspondence club and wrote articles in gay publications under a pseudonym. The correspondence club became a national communications network for gay men. In the 1940s, Gerber exchanged a number of letters with Manuel Boyfrank of California. Boyfrank was enthusiastic about organizing to combat homosexual oppression. Gerber offered his assistance, but refused to risk his job again. He continued his assistance through personal correspondence and numerous articles.
Although his organization was crushed by a cabal of social control agents, Gerber sowed the seed of gay pride and the idea of fighting for gay rights in scores of correspondents, directly and indirectly influencing Harry Hay, Jim Kepner, Tony Segura, Donna Smith, Fred Frisbie, and others who worked to establish the homophile movement of the 1950s.
Gerber then moved to New York City where he reenlisted in the U.S. Army and served for 17 years. After World War II, he retired to Washington, D.C., where he lent support to a new generation of gay activists in the Mattachine Society. He died at the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home in Washington, D.C., at the age of 80. He lived to see the Stonewall Rebellion and the start of a new era of activist gay and lesbian liberation organizations.