“Because I’m dying, everybody thinks I’m interesting,” Dick Leitsch told his visitor David Kortava of The New Yorker.
Leitsch, now in his 80s, had at one time been president of the early gay-rights organization the Mattachine Society, within which he spearheaded campaigns to “end police entrapment and discrimination by local bars.” Leitsch was famously photographed being denied service at the landmark gay rights “sip-in” at Julius bar. He was also the sole openly gay journalist covering 1960s events in the community such as the Stonewall riots, which he reported on for The Advocate when it was a budding publication.
Because recently he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Leitsch is donating his files and writings to the New York Public Library (NYPL).
In 1959, Leitsch, at age 24, relocated from Kentucky to New York City, where he worked as a painter, a bartender and a decorator before embarking on activism and journalism.
Presently Leitsch resides in an Upper West Side apartment, where lately he’s been flooded with concurrent callers such as Kortava and Jason Baumann, the NYPL assistant director for collection development, both of whom visited on the same day.
“Since they told me I’m dying, every day has been like this. I get no rest whatsoever. Everybody in the world is turning up,” Leitsch stated.
Baumann, who is also the NYPL’s LGBTQ-initiative coordinator, spent his visit sifting through dozens of boxes containing such gems as a copy of the Spartacus-published The American Bicentennial Gay Guide (1976 of course), written by Leitsch, along with his originally submitted manuscript. The archivist also inventoried a set of index cards on which Leitsch had typed “gay slang terms from antiquity.” Alice Blue Gown was code for a uniformed police officer. Basket was “the bulge caused by the organs when wearing tight pants.” Leitsch’s entry for auntie defined the term as either “an ageing or middle aged homosexual, offtimes effeminate in character,” or “a person of settled demeanor who cautions against intemperate acts.”
Baumann discovered that Leitsch’s collection of periodicals is an actual treasure trove: After Dark, Christopher Street, Female Mimics, a 1969 Time on homosexuality, the Mattachine Society monthly bulletin, plus an issue of Gay from 1971 containing an interview Leitsch had with Bette Midler at age 25.
Baumann left after finishing one of many necessary inventorying sessions.
To Kortava, Leitsch reminisced about all the mementos throughout his home. “Every item in this apartment has a story,” such as a plastic school bus labeled GAY SCHOOL BUS (manufactured by the Gay Toy Company in the 1960s). He even shared a photo from his high school days.
“In Kentucky, nobody does anything except have babies, go to church, and play basketball. And I don’t do any of those, so I wasn’t gonna live there.”
Leitsch cut short the visit with Kortova at a sensible 10:30 p.m., to rest up for a party planned for the next day of 50 friends congregating at his apartment, something he considered calling “Dick Leitsch: Not Dead Yet.”
“Had I known how much fun this would be, I’d have done it a lot sooner.”
(Featured photo: Rebecca Fudala)