Fifty years ago a person could be refused service in a bar simply for being gay, and his or her mere presence could result in the bar’s closure by the State Liquor Authority.
On April 21, 1966, Dick Leitsch led members of the Mattachine Society, an early gay rights organization, on a pub crawl of sorts to challenge the law. It was known as the Sip In. They were served at a few spots, but denied service at Julius’.
They challenged the law and eventually won. State liquor laws could no longer penalize an establishment for serving homosexuals.
The event generated publicity; they invited the media along and the only lensman to cover the entire day was, of course, the Village Voice's Fred W. McDarrah. They went first to a Ukranian spot on St. Mark's, then the old HoJo's on 6th Ave. and 8th St., then a Hawaiian themed bar across from the Jefferson Market Library. Then Julius’.
Inspired by the lunch counter sit-ins, Leitsch said, it was one of the earliest acts of organized LGBT civil disobedience in the United States.
On April 12, to mark the 50th anniversary of the event, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation hosted a panel discussion with two of the surviving members from the Sip In, Dick Leitsch and Randy Wicker, along with event host and Julius’ historian Tom Bernardin, and Ken Lustbader and Jay Shockley of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.
Why did Leitsch conceive of the Sip In? "Somebody had to do something," he said at the panel. He came off as entirely humble for a man described by one audience member as the "the gay equivalent of Martin Luther King or Gloria Steinem; what Dick means to the modern gay rights movement can hardly be underestimated."
Read more about him and the event in the New York Times this coming Sunday. The paper is planning to run a large feature on the Sip In.
Today, the United States has less than one dozen official historic sites relating to gay rights, which is awful, if not a surprise. New York City has one: Stonewall, which came after spots in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities were anointed. Lustbader, Shockley, and colleagues Andrew Dolkart and Amanda Davis are leading the effort to have the site nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Check out the amazing work they are doing here: http://nyclgbtsites.org/, and learn some fascinating things.
Go to Julius’ and have a beer and a burger and talk to Tom Bernardin, who practically lives there.
And go on a Save The Village tour and see Julius’ (and have a drink!) and learn more about the history that was made there.