An outside staircase near the Silver Lake Reservoir is more than an opportunity to do cardio.
The steps also serve as a monument to one of the most influential figures in L.A.’s storied history of LGBTQ+ advocacy.
In the early 1940s, Harry Hay lived in a house near the stairway in the 2300 block of Cove Avenue. Nearly a decade later, on Nov. 11, 1950, Hay and four other gay men met and proposed an idea that would lead to the creation of the nation’s first gay rights group.
This group was one of the first gay rights organizations established in the United States and was enormously influential in the development of the national gay rights movement.
Initially, they called themselves the Anonymous Bachelors. But in April 1951, they renamed the group The Mattachine Society.
The name was taken from a fraternal order of masked performers that traveled the French countryside during the Middle Ages.
Jennings was famously arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover Los Angeles police officer.
Jennings was one of the first gay men to contest these accusations.
Most gay men at the time pleaded guilty to avoid public scrutiny.
Jennings’ decision to fight back was a pivotal point in the gay civil rights movement.
The Mattachine Society raised funds and promoted Jennings’ case nationally. The trial began June 23, 1952, and lasted ten days.
Jennings confessed to being a homosexual, but denied any wrongdoing.
While there were different accounts of what exactly happened that day, by the end of the trial the jury voted 11–1 for acquittal on the basis of police intimidation, harassment, and entrapment of homosexuals.
The judge dismissed the case.
Jennings’ trial brought national attention to the Mattachine Society, and membership to the group grew rapidly following his acquittal.
While Jennings was one of the founders of the Mattachine Society, his views on how to best fight for equal rights for gay people differed from the organization.
Jennings wanted to fight for the right to be left alone, while Hay and the rest of the Mattachine Society wanted to make gay people visible to the public and fought for more awareness.
Despite the organization’s newfound prominence, Hay left the society in 1953, but remained involved in LGBTQ advocacy efforts in Los Angeles
On April 7, 2012, on what would have been Hays’ 100th birthday, the City of Los Angeles recognized the Cove Avenue stairways as a historic cultural monument and named it The Mattachine Steps.
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