Documentation of LGBTQIA+ communities prior to the Stonewall riots of 1969 can be sparse. During the immediate post-World War II period, all manifestations of non-heterosexuality were under deliberate government attack within the era’s overall attempt to find and root out all “un-American activities.” Through a series of measures—the U.S. State Department purging employees with “homosexual proclivities,” the FBI maintaining lists of known or suspected homosexuals, and Dwight D. Eisenhower issuing an order barring non-heterosexual people from federal employment—those who fell outside the established norms were driven underground as perceived threats to national security.
The U.S. Post Office participated in the “Lavender Scare” by keeping track of addresses where any material related to homosexuality was mailed. They frequently seized items said to be “obscene.” In many cases, any reference to homosexuality whatsoever rendered a publication “obscene.” Trying to run a magazine for LGBTQIA+ people in the mid-20th century was thus a significant challenge, and preserving the record of the existence of such magazines was sometimes difficult.
Legal challenges to this oppression quickly mounted. In One, Inc. v. Oleson, the first Supreme Court case to deal with homosexuality, the justices examined lower court rulings that had supported Los Angeles Postmaster Otto Oleson in his claims that the October 1954 issue of ONE: The Homosexual Magazine could not be mailed under the Comstock Act’s prohibition on the postal service delivering obscene material. Oleson’s rationale was as follows: the magazine contained a story about a lesbian’s feelings for another woman that might be “lustfully stimulating to the homosexual reader,” a poem about gay cruising that used “filthy language,” and an advertisement for another magazine that might lead readers to other “obscene matter.” The justices’ unanimous ruling on January 13, 1958 reversed the decisions of two lower courts and eased—although it did not eliminate—the official suppression of LGBTQIA+ publications. In essence, it rejected the claim that any mention of homosexuality was automatically obscene. A series of other high court rulings on obscenity cases gradually chipped away at restrictions on similar materials.