North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO)
Attempts to articulate a national language of gay rights began with the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations, or NACHO. Founded in 1966, NACHO (pronounced nay-ko) aimed to unite the disparate gay rights groups in the United States into a national organization to advance the homophile movement. While it produced some successes, like a Homosexual Bill of Rights, its initial ambitions were stymied by internal disputes and outside pressure from more militant gay liberationists.
For the first half of the twentieth century, most gay rights organizations operated regionally in the United States. Various chapters of homophile groups existed in cities across the country, but they mostly focused on local concerns in their given area. The Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay rights groups, began as a national organization, but it had splintered off into decentralized regional chapters by 1961. The lesbian group the Daughters of Bilitis maintained a national structure, but they were the exception. The localized framework of most gay rights groups changed in the middle of the 1960s. In 1963, Washington, D.C.-based activist Frank Kameny organized the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO), a regional association compromised of gay rights groups from New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. After several years, ECHO members called for a national conference of homophile groups.
The first NACHO conference took place in Kansas City, Missouri on February 19-20, 1966. Six members of Chicago’s Mattachine Midwest attended, and Bill Kelley served as the secretary. Several issues were discussed, but perhaps the most important was how to articulate a national expression of what the different homophile groups wanted to achieve. One group present at the conference, the Philadelphia-based Janus Society of America, proposed an eight point “Statement of Purpose.” After much debate, the conference adopted portions of the Janus Society statement “in principle” to reflect “unified homophile opinion.” Key points of the conference statement included:
- Laws against homosexual conduct between consenting adults in private should be removed from the criminal codes.
- Homosexual American citizens should have precise equality with all other citizens before the law and are entitled to social and economic equality of opportunity.
- Each homosexual should be judged as an individual on his qualifications for Federal and all other employment.
- Homosexuality should not be a bar to military service. Even under existing military standards, a person dismissed for homosexuality should be given a fully honorable discharge.
Six months later, NACHO met again, this time in San Francisco. Although the conference did not revisit the Janus Society points adopted in Kansas City, it did appoint a series of committees to study important issues relevant to the movement. A committee on homosexuals in the military was convened, for instance, as was a committee on youth and homosexuality. Mattachine Midwest delegates Roland Keith and William Kelley of Chicago proposed a committee to study the prospect of a national homophile federation, but it was voted down. The delegates also designated October 1, 1966 as a national day of protest for gay rights, although it is unclear how many groups followed through on the plan. It is clear that on that date, Mattachine Midwest staged a protest outside of the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Sun-Times building because the papers would not print ads for the organization.
Debates over the purpose of the NACHO dominated the 1967 meeting held from August 16 to 18 in Washington, D.C. On one side, activist like Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings argued that the conference needed to “plan…and coordinate” the movement going forward. In effect, this view echoed the position of the Mattachine Midwest delegates at the 1966 San Francisco meeting. Other attendees argued that the goal of the NACHO was to be “consultive” in nature. In the end, the Kameny wing of the conference won out. A Committee on Unity was established to examine how to create a national federation of homophile groups going forward. Lastly, the NACHO attendees passed two motions. One called for an end to the ban on gay people immigrating to the United States, and the second urged police departments across the country to end harassment of gay men.