First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The first national meeting of gay and lesbian organizations fostered communication among a wide variety of groups from across the United States and Canada, giving structure to what had been a loose configuration of civil rights organizations focused on lesbian and gay rights. The groups would soon form into the first GLBT political action coalition, the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations, in 1968.

Summary of Event

In 1965, an estimated fifteen million gays and lesbians were living in the United States. The first gay or lesbian group to survive for any legitimate period of time, the Mattachine Society, had by then been in existence for nearly fifteen years. Only a handful of scattered organizations had taken shape by the end of the 1960’s, while the persecution and harassment of homosexuals continued. [kw]First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes (Feb. 19-20, 1966) [kw]North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes, First (Feb. 19-20, 1966) [kw]American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes, First North (Feb. 19-20, 1966) [kw]Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes, First North American (Feb. 19-20, 1966) [kw]Homophile Organizations Convenes, First North American Conference of (Feb. 19-20, 1966) [kw]Organizations Convenes, First North American Conference of Homophile (Feb. 19-20, 1966) North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Homophile Organizations, North American Conference of [c]Organizations and institutions;Feb. 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes[0600] [c]Civil rights;Feb. 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes[0600] [c]Government and politics;Feb. 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes[0600] Colwell, Clarence Kelley, William

Protesters carry signs outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1965, in one of the first rallies of its kind for gay and lesbian rights. The early rallies helped inspire centralized political organizing by gay and lesbian organizations around the country.

(Courtesy, Equality Forum)

At the Third Annual East Coast Homophile Organizations conference in 1965, organizations discussed how little was known about each other’s structure and actions, and that the lack of communication and collaboration among organizations was an impediment to the progress of the GLBT movement. In this light, a conference was planned for a central location, convenient enough so that groups from all over the United States and Canada could meet to exchange ideas and strategies. Shortly thereafter, the liaison committee of the Mattachine Society of New York drafted a preliminary agenda and invitation list for the meeting, which was set for Kansas City, Missouri, on February 19 and 20, 1966. Each organization would be allotted three votes during the conference, and each group could send delegates with the authority to cast those votes.

Clark Polak, president of the Janus Society in Philadelphia, originally had arranged for the conference to be held in a photography studio, but numerous complaints were made that such a space would compromise the dignity of the event. Instead, the conference, held at the State Hotel, included forty individuals (eight of whom were women) representing sixteen organizations. Dick Leitsch, president of the Mattachine Society of New York, had asked William Beardemphl, president of the Society for Individual Rights in San Francisco, to moderate the event. Although Beardemphl would attend the event, he declined the honor to moderate and alternately suggested the Reverend Clarence Colwell, president of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual of San Francisco, Council on Religion and the Homosexual Religion and the Homosexual, Council on and another person, who was not gay or lesbian; both accepted the offer.

Among the organizations present were Citizens News (San Francisco); ONE, Inc. (Los Angeles); ONE in Kansas City; Daughters of Bilitis (San Francisco, New York, and Chicago chapters); Janus Society of America (Philadelphia); Mattachine Society (San Francisco); Mattachine Midwest (Chicago); Mattachine Society of New York; Mattachine Society of Philadelphia; Mattachine Society of Florida; Mattachine Society of Washington; National League for Social Understanding (Los Angeles); Tangents (Los Angeles); and Tavern Guild of San Francisco. William Kelley of Mattachine Midwest presided as secretary for the conference.

The first order of business had been to learn about the goals and practices of each respective organization. With the exception of the Daughters of Bilitis, every homophile organization had a predominantly male membership and, not surprisingly, directed its concern at problems believed to be faced mostly by gay men: police harassment, unequal law enforcement, and harsh penalties for practices of solicitation or public sex. The Daughters of Bilitis wanted confirmation that the conference would “be as concerned about women’s civil rights as [it would be about] male homosexuals’ civil liberties.” Additionally, groups were working to end discrimination in government employment and the military (including obtaining security clearances), to abolish sodomy laws, and to address the prevailing belief that homosexuality was a sickness. Some organizations came with the understanding that the conference was simply a forum for communication on such issues, while others came with the distinct hope to start a unified national front, but only four of the organizations granted their delegates voting authority.

Constituents agreed to establish a legal defense fund (in principle only), to hold a nationwide protest on Armed Forces Day (May 21), to publish a work on various aspects of homosexuality, and to produce a pact of cooperation to open communication and to update one another through publications, by-laws, and constitutions. The conference issued a statement to the press that “objective research projects undertaken thus far have indicated that findings of homosexual undesirability are based on opinion, value judgments or emotional reaction rather than scientific evidence or fact” and that “each homosexual should be judged as an individual.” Finally, attendees agreed to hold another conference, in San Francisco, in August of the same year.


The conference in Kansas City marked the birth of the first concerted effort toward a national interorganizational GLBT rights movement. The planning conference continued to meet and became the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO). The coalition promoted an unprecedented amount of communication and collaboration that did not see reproach. New organizations surfaced, and new individuals joined the movement after the conference. By 1967, NACHO claimed a membership of six thousand individuals and organizations. The first national day of protest was held as scheduled on May 21, and a legal defense fund was established in San Francisco.

The national day of protest, the founding of the legal defense fund, and further intergroup actions fostered through NACHO brought attention to injustice toward gays and lesbians. Between 1966 and 1969, for cases concerning dismissals from civil service, courts started to demand from prosecutors evidence other than the charge of “immoral conduct” between consenting adults in private.

NACHO would convene five more times: San Francisco in 1966, Washington, D.C., in 1967, Chicago in 1968, Kansas City in 1969, and San Francisco in 1970. The organization had fostered an environment that emboldened young leaders and laid the groundwork for a more radical GLBT movement, which was sparked into action by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City. North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Homophile Organizations, North American Conference of

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blasius, Mark, and Shane Phelan. We Are Everywhere. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">DeLeon, David, ed. Leaders from the 1960’s: A Biographical Sourcebook of American Activism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">D’Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Duberman, Martin B. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcus, Eric. Making Gay History: The Half Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rimmerman, Craig A., Kenneth D. Wald, and Clyde Wilcox, eds. The Politics of Gay Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

December 10, 1924: Gerber Founds the Society for Human Rights

1950: Mattachine Society Is Founded

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

1955: Daughters of Bilitis Founded as First National Lesbian Group in United States

May 27-30, 1960: First National Lesbian Conference Convenes

April 19, 1967: First Student Homophile League Is Formed

August 11-18, 1968: NACHO Formally Becomes the First Gay Political Coalition

July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed

June 28, 1970: First Lesbian and Gay Pride March in the United States

November 28, 1970: Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement

1973: National Gay Task Force Is Formed

October 18, 1973: Lambda Legal Authorized to Practice Law

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

April 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded

Categories: History