1924: Henry Gerber and the Society for Human Rights

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Henry Gerber was born in Bavaria in 1892 and immigrated to Chicago in 1913. In 1917, he was briefly institutionalized for being homosexual. Following the entry of the United States into WWI, Gerber was given a choice between being detained as an “enemy alien” or joining the army. Gerber chose the army. While stationed in Germany, he came in contact with the Federation for Human Rights, a German homosexual rights organization.

After the war, Gerber returned to Chicago and founded the Society for Human Rights in 1924. The Society was the nation’s first known homosexual organization. While it was incorporated in the State of Illinois, references to homosexuality were not included in its incorporation application. The stated goals and purpose of the Society were to “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.” The Society published two issues of its newsletter Friendship and Freedom were printed, but no copies have survived.

Society for Human Rights

In 1925, the daughter of one of the Society’s members told the police her father was involved in a strange cult. As a result, the police raided Gerber’s home, confiscated items related to the Society, and arrested Gerber. This led the Society to disband, less than a year after it was founded. Gerber lost his postal job because of "unbecoming conduct" and moved to New York City. He retired to a veteran's retirement home in Washington, D.C., where he died in 1972.

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Disillusioned and fearful of losing another job, Gerber never again became involved in the homosexual rights movement. However, he ran a pen pal service for gay men called Connections in the 1930s and wrote articles in gay publications under pseudonyms.

While Chicago continued to have an active gay and lesbian subculture, mostly in Tower Town (the area around Water Tower) and in the speakeasies and jazz clubs on the Southside, there were no known homosexual organizations in Chicago until the 1950s

1924: Henry Gerber and the Society for Human Rights