Chicago's Stonewall: The Trip Raid in 1968
by Marie J. Kuda
The following article was written for the Chicago Gay History
Project, a Web site launching later this summer. A companion book,
Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Movement,
edited by Tracy Baim, will be published this summer by Surrey Books.
This essay is among many by Marie J. Kuda included in the book.
Pictured: A police arrest during the riots outside the 1968
Democratic National Convention ( photo courtesy of the Chicago
History Museum ) and David Stienecker in 2008 ( photo by Tracy Baim ) .
In the 21st century, "Stonewall" is the accepted buzzword for the
beginning of the gay liberation movement in the United States. It
conjures up a vision of bar-raiding Greenwich Village cops terrorized
inside the Stonewall Inn by a bunch of angry queens outside, tossing
rocks, bottles, a Molotov cocktail and shouts reminiscent of Network
( "I'm not going to take this anymore!" ) .
But in Chicago, the events of that June day in 1969 barely made a
ripple. The riot was not immediate national news. A few local gay
papers existed around the country, but there wasn't any real national
gay press. When word from New York finally reached here, it was
recorded in July's Mattachine Midwest Newsletter with the same
emphasis as was given to the item on vigilante residents of the
borough of Queens who, in a campaign against homosexuals reportedly
frequenting a neighborhood park, had cut down dozens of its trees.
According to the writer, William B. Kelley, "The New York Times ran
at least three days of stories, one editorial and one letter on the
subject. They were against cutting the trees."
Chicago gays chose to challenge the status quo in the courts instead
of the streets. In a city coming out of 1968 with a nationwide
reputation for police brutality, discretion was indeed the better
part of valor. The Trip case, challenging bar closings, went to the
Illinois Supreme Court; the case of Mattachine Midwest Newsletter
editor David Stienecker involved defending him against charges
brought by an officer who arrested gays in tearooms ( public
washrooms ) . While slower and more low-key than Stonewall, these two
cases led Chicago gays to become proactive instead of reactive in
their fight against oppression and discrimination.
The Trip case
Chicago's equivalent to Stonewall began 40 years ago with a police
bust at The Trip, a gay-owned restaurant-bar complex at 27 E. Ohio
St. The Trip had a main-floor restaurant, a second-floor cabaret and
a third-floor playroom with pool table and pinball games. At midday,
because of its location just west of North Michigan Avenue, the
restaurant catered to luncheon crowds of shoppers, often featuring
women's fashion shows. The area was undergoing an upswing; a few
gritty hotels with questionable clientele remained, but new upscale
businesses were mediating the fringes of adjacent Rush Street
nightlife. On the borderline, The Trip became quite gay after the
dinner hour, and on Sundays it operated as a private club.
One Sunday in January 1968, police raided The Trip, arresting 13
patrons on charges of public indecency and soliciting for
prostitution. A plainclothes officer had gained entry by using a
membership card obtained illegally during an unrelated arrest and
made the charges after observing members dancing together as same-sex couples.
When the case came to court in March, attorney Ralla Klepak defended,
and charges against patrons and management were dismissed. The
Mattachine Midwest Newsletter, reporting on the incident, saw it as
an illustration of further harassment by police, noting that dancing
was not illegal per se and that the ACLU would welcome an opportunity
for a test case. ( In 1970 The Trip would become one of the first
venues to have same-sex dancing, even before Chicago Gay Liberation
picketed bars for that right. )
A second raid in May 1968 by two plainclothesmen resulted in the
arrests of one patron and one employee; but, more significantly, the
local liquor authorities issued an emergency closing order pending
appeal on the revocation of The Trip's liquor license. This was
common practice in Chicago and a kiss of death for gay bars. If they
appealed the order ( the appellate process could drag on for months )
they had to remain closed pending a decision; meanwhile their
clientele moved on and they were effectively put out of business. The
Trip had barely been open a year, the bad publicity from the earlier
raid had ruined its luncheon business, and owners Dean Kolberg and
Ralf Johnston were not about to see their investment tank.
The Trip hired attorney Elmer Gertz to mount a case against the
License Appeal Commission of Chicago after it upheld the license
revocation. The Mattachine Midwest Newsletter reported that no gay
bar had previously challenged being shut down before The Trip case.
It took a significant amount of time for the case to wend its way to
the Illinois Supreme Court. The final decision ( a complete reversal
) was in Johnkol, Inc. v. License Appeal Commission of Chicago, 42
Ill. 2d 377, 247 N.E.2d 901 ( 1969 ) .
Meanwhile, even though closed during 1968, The Trip hosted a variety
of movement events. The North American Conference of Homophile
Organizations ( NACHO ) , a coordinating group made up of delegates
from 26 organizations, met there for its third annual nationwide
conference, just days before the Democratic National Convention
riots. Mattachine Midwest also held its monthly public meetings there
while the business was closed.
Mattachine Midwest was an independent corporation created in 1965
after years of failure to sustain local chapters of the West
Coast-headquartered organizations Mattachine Society and Daughters of
Bilitis. The impetus for the new organization was a particularly
brutal raid on the Fun Lounge, a rather sleazy suburban bar that
packed in a queer clientele on weekends. The Chicago Tribune led off
the report in its April 26, 1964, edition with a headline indicating
eight teachers had been seized in a "vice raid" that also netted 95
other men and six women. The article listed names, addresses and
occupations of those arrested ( a common practice of the time ) along
with asides that "many of the men carried powder puffs and lipsticks"
and that a quantity of "freshly shipped" marijuana had been seized.
Subsequently there were reports of job losses and a rumored suicide.
Though The Trip had been allowed to reopen, the police still visited;
in 1971 a patron was arrested on the old-standby charge of public
indecency, but the charge was dismissed. The owners became overly
protective of their business, allegedly refusing to call police when
a Mattachine officer was robbed at gunpoint while at a meeting with
an outof-state activist on the third floor. In a 1972 on-site
interview with the owners, Chicago Today columnist Barbara Ettorre
noted the bar was full, with men from all walks of life, all ages,
every manner of dress. The bar's management told her that weekends
were "crowded wall-to-wall" and that they had a uniformed Andy Frain
company usher to check IDs. They were going to make certain none of
their patrons would be subject to arrest.
Chicago in 1968
In 1968, Chicago was going through critical times, well beyond the
constant harassment of the gay community. In addition to reports on
bar raids and park arrests, Mattachine Midwest's referral service
received many calls from draft resisters; the anti-Vietnam War
movement was well under way. Gays could not serve if identified when
drafted: few wanted to go, but no one wanted to be branded with a
stigma that would affect their economic and social lives.
After Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in April 1968, Chicago's
West Side erupted in four days of anguished riots and looting. The
police and National Guard were called out; the notorious "shoot to
kill" order was given. Then Bobby Kennedy, seen as the Democrats'
likely candidate for president, was murdered. The Democratic Party's
nominating convention was to be held in Chicago that August. Anti-war
activists, a variety of New Left groups, old-line hippies, Yippies,
and others were calling for people to come to Chicago and stage
demonstrations at the convention site. Abe Peck, now self-described
as "hippie-rad editor turned journalism professor," tried to dissuade
misguided flower children from coming to the city, warning them in
his counterculture newspaper The Seed about the potential for violence here.
In addition, many civil rights groups ( Black, women's, gay ) had
been infiltrated by the FBI's COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence
program whose goal was to disrupt, disorganize and cause internal
dissension in an effort to neutralize a group's activities. The
program originated in the Cold War anti-communist 1950s and perfected
its "dirty tricks" down through the Nixon administration. Its
informants planted derogatory stories ( they had been responsible for
labeling former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson "gay" during his bid
for a presidential nomination ) ; they used anonymous letters and
surveillance, embedded "moles," opened mail, blackmailed, and by
other devious means invaded the rights of U.S. citizens.
Chicago police also had their covert group, the Red Squad. This group
in various incarnations had its origin all the way back in the days
following the Haymarket labor riot of 1886 in which seven policemen
were killed and dozens injured. The objects of the squad's covert
activities switched over the years from anarchists, to communists, to
any left-leaning organizations of the civil rights era.
In the early 1970s when attorney Rick Gutman of the Alliance to End
Repression ( of which Mattachine Midwest was a member ) was about to
challenge the Red Squad in court on constitutional grounds, the squad
reportedly destroyed thousands of files. Activist John Chester, who
in 1972 was the first open gay on the Alliance's Steering Committee,
reports that he "replaced a woman who was a Red Squad spy."
Historians have speculated many of the threats that Mayor Richard J.
Daley said ( after the convention protests ) had prompted him to
order the police and National Guard to clamp down on demonstrators
were "planted" by one of the embedded groups ( COINTELPRO or the Red
Squad ) and then reported by the other as fact.
Red Squad records are sealed at the Chicago History Museum ( until
2012 ) , but when finally disbanded, the squad was reported to have
accumulated files on more than 250,000 individuals and 14,000
organizations. As part of the settlement of the suit against the Red
Squad, it was learned that the squad had also obtained information at
the first gay political convention, called in Chicago in February
1972 to develop demands for a gay plank to be presented at the major
The 1968 NACHO convention at The Trip was held Aug. 11 through 18.
Activists from around the country converged and passed a "Homo sexual
Bill of Rights." One item demanded a national policy that had been
law in Illinois since 1961, that sexual acts by consenting adults in
private would not be held to be criminal. A motion by pioneering
activist Franklin E. Kameny made "Gay Is Good" the slogan of the movement.
Meanwhile, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in
Vietnam ( the MOBE ) and other protest groups were arriving daily. On
Wednesday, Aug. 21, the MOBE failed in its attempt to get an
injunction against the city in U.S. District Court to preclude the
refusal of permits for a variety of activities, and the ban against
sleeping in the parks.
Late Thursday, Aug. 22, on Wells Street in the Old Town area just
west of Lincoln Park, two young runaways were being pursued by
police. One, Jerome Johnson, a 17-year-old Native American from South
Dakota, allegedly produced a handgun and was shot and killed by Youth
Officer John Manley of the Damen Avenue District. An April 1970
article by Ron Dorfman in the Chicago Journalism Review reported it
as "the only fatality remotely connected with the Democratic National
Convention of 1968 ... touching off the first angry rally in the park
the week before the convention." Word spread quickly and a memorial
march was held.
After the rally on Sunday, Aug. 25, as poet Allen Ginsberg and a
group of gays were "omming" peacefully in Lincoln Park past the 11
p.m. curfew, police weighed in with batons swinging. The Chicago
Tribune Magazine later called this the "beginning" of the convention
riots, the first large-scale police-public confrontation.
The David Stienecker case
David Stienecker had come to Chicago originally from the small town
of Climax, Mich. In the mid-1960s he met Bill Kelley and Ira Jones,
who were active in Mattachine Midwest; they prevailed upon him to
join the organization. In 1966 Stienecker heard New York activist
Craig Rodwell speak at an MM public meeting. Rod-well was a native
Chicagoan who would return to New York and later open Oscar Wilde
Memorial Bookshop, the country's first gay bookstore. Stienecker said
he was "blown away by his frankness and activism" and they had a
brief affair; Stienecker followed Rodwell to New York.
On Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1968, Stienecker, still in New York, watched
the fateful televised report of the police beating demonstrators
across from the Conrad Hilton Hotel, convention headquarters. He
returned to Chicago in December to find Mattachine Midwest embroiled
in a variety of actions to ward off increasing police harassment.
President Jim Bradford and attorney Renee Hanover were meeting with
police commanders in attempts to mitigate the violence. Stienecker
became editor of the MM Newsletter and joined in reporting and
pursuing the issues.
Throughout 1969, activism also continued around the trial of those
charged during convention week: the "Chicago Seven," as they became
known after Black Panther Bobby Seale was bound, gagged, and
subsequently removed from court for protesting the legitimacy of the
trial. When U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Foran characterized the
convention riots as "a freaking fag revolution," Chicago gay
activists printed up buttons with the phrase. MM and its officers
individually wrote protest letters to the mainstream press.
The number of entrapment arrests escalated in the parks and tearooms.
"You have to remember that at this time in Chicago the only way you
heard about things was by word of mouth," Stienecker told John Poling
in 2002 during an interview for Poling's thesis on Mattachine
Midwest. The organization's answering service and newsletter were the
only game in town. Members and the gay grapevine reported on the
increased police activities.
Stienecker thought that one zealous officer with a reputation for
physical violence merited particular attention and that the community
should be warned against him: "It wasn't a matter of hearing about
one incident, but rather hearing almost weekly about another Officer
Manley entrapment that finally made us realize this was serious and
something had to be done. People's lives were at stake, not
necessarily physically, but every other way. ... I think there was
something seriously wrong with Manley, but I'm not sure what it was.
I wanted to get under his skin and we all wanted these incidents to stop."
Draft resistance and the anti-war movement had also been increasing
in intensity. A popular film comedy, The Gay Deceivers, centered on
two straight guys passing as gay to avoid the draft. It didn't sit
too well with gays for whom this was a critical issue.
But when Stienecker wrote about Manley in the September 1969 MM
Newsletter ( see image, page 79 ) , he titled his article "A Gay
Deceiver, or Is He?" Describing Manley and his arrest techniques,
Stienecker suggested that he enjoyed his work too much, and posited
that it would be a great way for a closeted cop to get his rocks off
and still come out smelling like a rose. The article mistakenly used
"Charles" instead of "John" as the officer's name. In the October
1969 issue Stienecker ran a correction, with a brief follow-up and a
photograph of Sgt. John Manley.
In early 1970 a newly formed gay group at the University of Chicago
learned that Sgt. Manley was scheduled to speak Feb. 25 on "Youthful
Offenders" to the Women's Bar Association of Illinois. In the Feb. 6
issue of the Chicago Maroon and a concurrent Gay Liberation
Newsletter, Step May, Nancy Garwood, and Bill Dry signed an article
calling for a picket and leafleting of the WBAI protesting Manley's
appearance. May and Garwood were later "outed" to their parents in
anonymous letters with a veiled warning about messing with a Chicago
police officer. ( Dry was not a UC student and would go on to be a
founder of Gay Liberation at Northwestern University. ) On the day of
the demonstration when they saw Manley in person at the WBAI picket,
one UC student, Alice Leiner, recognized him as having attended a
planning meeting and passing himself off as an out-of-town gay
activist named Mandrenas.
On the morning of Feb. 7, 1970, Manley himself showed up at David
Stienecker's third-floor apartment with a warrant for his arrest on
the charge of "criminal defamation" ( Chapter 38, Section 27-1,
Illinois Revised Statutes, since repealed ) . Stienecker told Poling:
"I wasn't sure if I was going to go to jail or be taken for a ride
and beaten up. ( That was not uncommon in those days. ) So, yes, I was scared."
Perhaps validating his earlier assessment of Manley, Stienecker also
said the cop "insisted on watching me dress in the bathroom." ( In a
later Chicago Journalism Review article, "Mattachine editor
arrested," Ron Dorfman noted that the warrant for Stienecker's arrest
had been issued in October 1969, shortly after the second Manley
article had appeared. ) Stienecker told Poling that although Manley
suggested he just plead guilty and the judge would give him "a slap
on the wrist," he insisted on calling an attorney: "I mention this
because it shows the attitude of the cops at the time. They never
believed a gay person would fight a charge."
The March 1970 MM Newsletter headlined Stienecker's arrest, railed
against Manley's contempt for freedom of the press, and noted this
was "the first case … in which an official of a homophile
organization has been arrested for writing an article." MM President
Bradford wrote that he regarded Stienecker's arrest as a sign of
Mattachine Midwest's effectiveness in the fight against police abuse.
Both the MM and UC-CGL newsletters called for any information on
Manley, urging anyone willing to testify to come forward. Attorney
Renee Hanover represented Stienecker, and the case was eventually
dropped because the prosecution hadn't made a case and Manley failed
to make three court dates.
As their trial dragged through federal court, one of the Chicago
Seven and other activist leaders, including Stienecker, were asked to
speak at a rally at the Logan Monument in Grant Park. In its coverage
of the event, the Chicago Tribune devoted a couple of paragraphs to
Stienecker. His employer, World Book Encyclopedia, had seen the item,
and a couple of months later he was fired ( an investigation
indicated, because he was gay ) . Stienecker wanted to sue "but the
ACLU didn't think we had a good case because I quickly got a better
job. I would also have to involve gay people [ from World Book ] who
were very closeted, and it would have ruined their lives."
It would be naive to conclude that these two cases ( The Trip's and
Stienecker's ) on their own changed the treatment of gays in Chicago
overnight. But they certainly gave notice for the first time, to the
city and the police, that it wasn't going to be the same old, same old anymore.
More importantly, disparate gays alone, and in groups, understood
that they too could stand up and fight for their rights. By mid-year
there were gay groups on all the major college campuses in the area.
New organizations ( CGA, IGLA, IGRTF ) began polling and political
action. Lesbian and gay newsletters popped up everywhere. Former
members of MM dispersed throughout the new organizations. Instead of
just the Mattachine referral hotline there were now directories,
newspapers, clinics, a lesbian center with a bookstore and library,
social service organizations from Rogers Park to Hyde Park Beckman
House and Gay Horizons, and a gay community center on West Elm Street.
In 1971 the president of the Chicago Gay Alliance presented the
Judiciary Committee of the City Council with its first demand that
amendments be added to existing housing and employment laws to
include "sexual orientation" in the list of prohibited forms of
discrimination. In just a few years, with the old guard as midwives,
a citywide community had been born.