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The First LGBT Rights Organization in the United States

“[T]o promote and protect the interests of people who by reasons of mental and physical abnormalities are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness which is guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence and to combat the public prejudices against them by dissemination of factors according to modern science among intellectuals of mature age. The Society stands only for law and order; it is in harmony with any and all general laws insofar as they protect the rights of others, and does in no manner recommend any acts in violation of present laws nor advocate any manner inimical to the public welfare.”

– Henry Gerber’s statement in his charter filing for non-profit organization status in Illinois

The Society for Human Rights, established in Chicago in 1924, is granted an official State of Illinois Charter on December 24, 1924, making it the oldest documented homosexual organization in the nation. Founder Henry Gerber – who was inspired by Germany's Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld and his work with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee – also produced the first American publication for homosexuals, Friendship and Freedom. In 1925, a few months after being officially chartered by the State of Illinois, members of the group – including Gerber – were arrested on “obscenity” charges, the result of a tip provided by one of the members’ wives. Though the charges were eventually dropped, the legal fees bankrupted Gerber and the scandal cost him his job with the U.S. Postal Service. As a result, the group was forced to disband before it could fully embark on its mission to promote tolerance and understanding of homosexuality. Despite its brief existence and its small size, the Society for Human Rights is recognized as the first homosexual rights organization in the United States – a precursor to the modern gay liberation movement that would not come about until three decades later. Gerber – whose name graces LGBT Chicago’s Gerber-Hart Library and Archives – is widely regarded as a visionary who anticipated strategies others would one day use with great success.

Demography

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Interwar Period (1918-1939)

Commemorations & Honors

Henry Gerber House Named a Chicago Historic Landmark (2001)

Henry Gerber House Named a National Historic Landmark (2015)

Resources

Related Videos

Chicago History Museum Out in Chicago Exhibition- Society for Human Rights

Authorship

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Resources Coordination