On June 22, 2018, the eve of NYC Pride, we lost an LGBTQ+ rights pioneer, Dick Leitsch, who led the 1966 ‘Sip-In’. Before homosexuality was decriminalized in the US, homosexuals were banned from entering bars, refused service, and often arrested during raids such as the one which took place at Stonewall sparking the riot. Inspired by the lunch-counter sit-ins, where black activists went to segregated restaurants and refused to leave until they were served, Dick and his friends did the same at Julius Bar, stating “We are homosexuals.” The Mattachine society took the case to court and won. Julius Bar has since become a gay bar and was Dick Leitsch’s most beloved hangout.
I was lucky enough to know Dick through Julius Bar’s monthly Mattachine Parties. I always visited him at his usual table, where he held court with his mentees, to say hello and give him my love! In my time knowing Dick, I was privileged to introduce many friends to the legendary activist who was always eager to meet new people and interact with my generation of queer people! Even as his health declined, his spunky sense of humor never faltered, for instance when I gave him a birthday card he immediately asked “is it obscene?”, I told him “no”, “Then I don’t want it!” he laughed, and playfully tossed it across the table, only to graciously take it back and read it in spite of its egregious lack of filth!
The last interaction I had with him held such weight- it was at April’s Mattachine celebration. I was informed of Dick’s worsening condition in March but hadn’t heard any updates, so when my friend Ricardo informed me that Dick was present I got verklempt and rushed over to his table to be certain to give him my love as usual. He said “Hello you!” and when I told him I wanted to be sure to talk to him, he responded “I’m so glad you did” and then kissed my hand, saying I looked “very glamorous”, a phrase he repeated no less than five times about an outfit I’d never describe as such, yet it felt like truth coming from him. I didn’t know Dick as well as many of my Mattachine friends did, but the encounters I had with him mean a great deal to me and I feel truly honored that I was able to befriend him to the extent I did.
Dick Leitsch was a forefather of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and a vital figure in queer history who deserves to be remembered. I’ll miss him and will forevermore toast to him at every Mattachine.
“If you’ve had a drink in a bar in New York City without fear of being refused service for being gay, or of being arrested or caught up in a raid, raise a glass to to Dick Leitsch. And remember where we came from.”- Matthew Riemer
Theatre Kid / Actor / Playwright / Cabaret Performer / Dramaturg / Feminist / Playbill Rescuer / Queer / Nonbinary (They/Them Pronouns, Please)