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William Dale Jennings
(October 21, 1917 - May 11, 2000) U.S.A.

William Dale Jennings

Writer and campaigner

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Born in Amarillo, Texas, Jennings was brought up in Denver, Colorado. Following his graduation from high school, in the late 1930s he moved to Los Angeles which was just becoming the birthplace of the US lesbian and gay rights movement. There his lifelong fascination with stage and screen began to bloom. In Pasadena, he distinguished himself as writer, producer and director.

In 1942 he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed for two years in Guadacanal, a notorious World War II battleground. He earned many honors, including the Bronze Star, for his service. After being honorably discharged from the Army in 1946, he returned to Los Angeles, studying theatre during a two-year period at the University of Southern California.

In 1950 he was the occasional lover of the student Robert Hull. In November 1950 Robert Hull showed Dale Jennings the Harry Hay's prospectus, Preliminary Concepts. Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Robert Hull, Chuck Rowland, and Dale Jennings met on 11th and 13th November to form the Mattachine Society, America's first major homophile organization.

It was in 1952 that Jennings mounted, for the very first time, a court challenge to the Los Angeles Police Department's busied enticement and entrapment of gay men. Refusing to back down in the face of acute police intimidation, he became known by fellow activists in the 1950s as "The Rosa Parks of the Gay Rights Movement."

Jennings had been followed home from Westlake Park (which is now MacArthur Park, in Echo Park), Los Angeles, by a plainclothes vice officer inside a public restroom. Having no interest in the man, Jennings left, but the man insisted on walking Jennings home.

Upon arriving at Jennings' house, the man invited himself in, continuing to have his sexual advances rebuffed, until he finally forced Jennings' hand down the front of his pants; at that moment, the undercover officer handcuffed Jennings, arrested him, and charged him with solicitation and indecent behavior. Demoralized at first, he chose to fight the charge in a previously unheard of course of action.

Mattachine
Members of the Mattachine Society in a rare group photograph. Pictured are
Harry Hay (upper left), then (left to right) Konrad Stevens, Dale Jennings, Rudi Gernreich, Stan Witt, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland (in glasses), Paul Bernard. Photo by James Gruber.

With Mattachine's support, Jennings took an exceedingly risky approach and challenged the arrest in open court. They devised a virtually unheard-of plan to challenge the entrapment at trial: Jennings would admit to being homosexual and defend himself in open court in a "he said-he said" against police officers. On June 23, 1952, after forty hours of deliberation, the jury requested the judge dismiss the case, as eleven jurors voted for acquittal, while one juror had announced that he would hold out for guilty until hell froze over. Jennings, in other words, was acquitted, marking a rare victory against the legal oppression of homosexuals.

News of the victory spread, and the Mattachine Society's membership exponentially grew in a matter of months. Although physical retaliation in the face of police harassment did not become a tool of the gay rights movement for more than a decade, Dale Jennings' legal retaliation should not be ignored.

In 1953, at the annual Mattachine Society Banquet, Jennings declared, "We are that little band that the Future will celebrate... in today's absence of tomorrow's laurels, let us immodestly crown ourselves... for we are most surely making history. We most surely are leaders, historic fighting leaders! Our only mistakes occur when we forget that fact".

In the aftermath of the victory, Jennings and other Mattachine members grew frustrated with the organization's unwillingness and inability to spread the word, prompting Jennings, Chuck Rowland, Dorr Legg, and others to establish ONE Magazine, a publication that became one of the most important resources in the early homophile movement.

In the early 1950s, Jennings was one of the co-founders of One Magazine, the first gay publication in the country. In 1954, the postmaster in Los Angeles began confiscating the magazine, claiming it was obscene. This led to another landmark lawsuit, which culminated in a 1958 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a publication dedicated to equality for homosexuals was not obscene. The decision paved the way for numerous gay and lesbian publications.

In the 1960s, Jennings was a member of The Homosexual Information Center where he sat, with Don Slater on the governing board. "Dale Jennings was a very significant figure in the history of our movement," said William Glover, who had worked side by side with Slater. "He was a giant among the founders of the movement on America's West Coast."

He also wrote three books, and The Cowboys was made into a film starring John Wayne, and then it briefly became a television series. He also published both The Ronin and The Sinking of the Sarah Diamond.

In 1953, Dale Jennings addressed the annual Mattachine Society Banquet; he offered, in part,

"We are that little band that the Future will celebrate... in today's absence of tomorrow's laurels, let us immodestly crown ourselves... for we are most surely making history. We most surely are leaders, historic fighting leaders! Our only mistakes occur when we forget that fact."

He died of respiratory failure at the age of 82, at Specialty Hospital, La Mirada, California. We celebrate that little band, including Dale Jennings, who most surely made history.

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Sources: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia & http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/

His work include:

  • The Ronin; A Novel Based On A Zen Myth (1968)
  • The Cowboys (1971)
  • The Sinking of the Sarah Diamond (1974)
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