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Jim Kepner
(September 19, 1923 - November 15, 1997) U.S.A.

Jim Kepner

Archivist, historian, writer and activist


James Lynn Kepner, who never knew his actual birthday, was found in September 1923, aged about eight months, wrapped in a Houston newspaper, under an oleander bush in Galveston, Texas. He did not learn that he had been adopted into a hard-drinking, working-class family until he was nineteen.

In 1942 he followed his adoptive father to San Francisco, witnessed his first raid of a gay bar (the Black Cat), and began collecting books and clippings about homosexuality. His penchant for collecting books and clippings about homosexuality would ultimately result in a large and valuable archive. Jim Kepner became so "an early gay rights advocate who preserved the movement's history even as he helped to write it."

Between 1943 and 1951, the restless Kepner moved to Los Angeles, New York, Miami, back to San Francisco, and finally settled in Los Angeles. He wrote for several science fiction magazines in 1947-48, and wrote movie reviews for San Francisco's Daily People's World in 1949

He was secretary, then president, of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society and led a splinter group that became the Futurian Society. Its members joined the Communist Party. After being expelled from the Communist Party in the 1940s because of his homosexuality, Kepner moved to Los Angeles and in December 1952 joined the Mattachine Society, the first modern political organization for homosexuals. However, he was uncomfortable with the ashamed unassertiveness of most of its other members.

Beginning in April 1954, he wrote extensively for ONE Magazine under his own name and several others. His use of pseudonyms was not to hide his identity (since he also published under his own name), but to disguise the fact that ONE Magazine had so few staff writers.

Assisted by correspondents from around the country, who sent him clippings from local newspapers about police raids and crackdowns, Kepner also documented the witch hunts of the era.

In October 1954, Los Angeles postmaster Otto Olesen seized copies of ONE Magazine and refused to allow it to be mailed on the grounds that it was "obscene, lewd, lascivious, and filthy." Although lower courts upheld the postmaster's decision, in 1958, the United States Supreme Court upheld One 's right to distribute the material through the mail. The unanimous reversal paved the way for the freer dissemination of gay rights advocacy.

In 1956, Kepner co-founded the One Institute to research and catalogue queer history and culture; "our history remained thin," Kepner later wrote, "often depending on intimations, suppositions, and telltale signs of cover-up."

In 1960, tired of battling the authoritarian and conservative Legg, Kepner withdrew from ONE activities, became a cab driver, and enrolled in Los Angeles City College. He recalled taking classes he could easily have taught.

Kepner helped organize a February 11, 1967 rally following a police raid on the Los Angeles Black Cat bar. The rally increased membership in a new militant group named PRIDE that had been hastily formed. When One Magazine ceased publishing in 1968, Kepner began reporting for The Los Angeles Advocate, the local gay paper that evolved into The Advocate. And, through it all, Kepner amassed a collection of documents and memorabilia that formed the basis of the International Gay and Lesbian Archives, which merged with the One Institute in 1994.

Jim Kepner
Jim Kepner, Los Angeles, California, 1992. Photo © Robert Giard Foundation

Starting in 1971, Kepner made the documents and memorabilia that he had been amassing available to researchers at a place he rented. This ultimately became the International Gay and Lesbian Archives, consisting of over 25,000 books, as well as many thousands of other items. Kepner's archives were merged with the collection of the ONE Institute in 1994 at the University of Southern California. The combined collection comprises more than 2,000,000 items.

An anthology of Kepner's 1950s writing, Rough News, Daring Views: Pioneer Gay Journalism was in press at the time of Kepner's death in Midway Hospital in Los Angeles. Until his death, he continued to tinker with Becoming a People: A 4,000-Year Chronology of Gay and Lesbian History, which he had published privately in 1983.

Jim Kepner died of complications due to a perforated intestine; he was about seventy-four.


Source: excerpts from an article by Stephen O. Murray - http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/

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