Have you heard of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual and the infamous New Year's raid of 1965?
It all began with a surprising alliance between ministers and gay activists. In May 1964, San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Methodist Church, led by Rev. Cecil Williams, a progressive Black minister in the Tenderloin District, partnered with a group of "homophile" activists, as they called themselves at the time.
Together, they planned to organize a “Church and the Homosexual” conference, which featured a clergy tour of the city’s gay bars. The event represented a “re-birth of Christian fellowship,” reported lesbian activist Del Martin in her organization's publication, The Ladder.
That December, the ministers and the homosexuals formed a joint Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which planned a New Year’s Eve costume ball for its first event. The ministers, after hearing tales of police harassment, won promises from San Francisco authorities that the homosexuals’ event could occur without disruption––no raids, no arrests.
When the ministers and the homosexuals arrived to the event—600 attended in total—they were met with a line of police cars at the entrance. The attendees faced the flashes of police photographers as they entered the hall, fully aware of the authorities’ message: if you were a homosexual or supported the cause, the police would remember your face.
Fifteen officers invaded the hall, “intimidating and terrorizing the guests,” according to one CRH account. When three volunteer attorneys and a straight housewife—she was collecting tickets at the entrance—blocked the officers’ entrance and demanded a warrant, the four were arrested. The ministers escorted the terrified homosexuals to their cars, hoping to shield them from arrest or further incriminating photographs, but the officers threatened to arrest them, too.
The following day, in a January 2 press conference, seven ministers, three of whom stood in cassocks, accused the SFPD of “intimidation, broken promises and obvious hostility.”
“Angry Ministers Rip Police,” announced the San Francisco Chronicle.
“It was always the testimony of the police officer versus the homosexual, and the homosexual, fearing publicity and knowing the odds were against him, succumbed,” reported Del Martin. “But in this instance the police overplayed their part.”
The San Francisco affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union leapt to the lawyers’ defense, and six weeks later, the volunteers faced their trial. That day, the courtroom was packed with ministers, queers, and their supporters.
The judge asked one Sex Detail officer why so many officers arrived at the ball, but the officer pled ignorance: "We went just to inspect the premises,” he said.
The courtroom laughed.
When asked why the police had taken photographs of the attendees, the officer was slightly more forthright: “some of them might be connected to national security,” he explained.
On February 11, to the courtroom’s shock, the judge interrupted the proceedings and directed the jury to return a Not Guilty verdict. "Complaining officers sat with mouths agape,” reported the Chronicle.
The trial, and the support of the ministers, had a national ripple effect. The following month, in Washington, D.C., five "homophile" activists and eleven religious figures met for three hours in an auditorium at American University. Following in the footsteps of the San Francisco CRH, the group discussed ways to “remedy the alienation and estrangement which now exists between the homosexual and the religious community,” as a press release later put it. The event was the first of its kind on the East Coast.
Two years later, in the early hours of January 1, 1967, yet another police raid at a New Year's Eve celebration provoked new queer militancy in Los Angeles. In the raid's aftermath, openly gay minister Troy Perry created his own gay-friendly church, which still exists: the Metropolitan Community Church.
The New Year, in other words, is incredibly queer.
For more on the 1965 CRH raid, see D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 193; Del Martin, “The Church and the Homosexual: A New Rapport,” The Ladder 8, no. 12 (September 1964), 9; and “Trial Halted on Technicality,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 12, 1965.