Leitsch was one of the first Mattachine leaders and pre-Stonewall activists who dared to use his own name - to seek publicity to expose oppression, and to use the courts to sue for homosexual rights. He was also charming and charismatic, a well-polished Kentuckian who presented a much-needed "regular guy" image. In addition, he had what many of the later, more radical gay leaders lacked: a sense of humor.
His parents had been among the first white members of the NAACP in Louisville. Leitsch greatly admired Martin Luther King's nonviolent methods in forcing integration, and he attempted to emulate King in his own political sphere. In 1966, Leitsch organized a "sip-in" demonstration to create a test case against the liquor authority, the purpose of which was to legitimize gay bars.
Leitsch contacted all of New York's daily newspapers and The Village Voice. He told them that he and two other Mattachine members were planning to meet at a particular Greenwich Village bar and announce to the lucky bartender, "We are homosexuals and wish to be served." If a bartender knowingly served homosexuals, he jeopardized his bar's liquor license. If he refused, MSNY was ready to instigate a lawsuit.
The big day arrived. The tree gay men and members of the press met at the bar. The introductory request was delivered. The smiling bartender said he didn't give a damn if they were orangutans, so long as they had money to pay for the drinks. Then everyone sat down and had a drink. The test case was not progressing well.
The rather sizable group moved on to another bar. "We are homosexuals..." They were served again. The press was getting fidgety. Everyone downed their drinks and they tried a third bar. Served again. Frustrated and slightly high, the group headed for Julius's, what today is the oldest existing gay bar in Manhattan. In 1966 Julius's had been having trouble with the liquor authority. At long last a bartender said, "then I'm sorry, I can't serve you." Dick nearly hugged him.
The press scribbled away as Leitsch explained that the Mattachine Society, along with the ACLU, was planning to sue Julius's. But not to worry, he said, the society would pay all of Julius's legal expenses. The object was simply to have the liquor authority's anti-homosexual policies overturned.
The threatened lawsuit never materialized. The New York Liquor Authority turned over the policy voluntarily - after learning from their lawyers that they didn't stand a chance in hell of winning. Also, the press was behind Leitsch, and a liberal public in New York City had been made aware of the authority's discriminatory policies. The battle was won - not with a bang, but a whimper. Gay bars became legal.