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LGBTQ History #8: First U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on LGBT Issues

The U.S. Supreme Court building

There are a dozen lawsuits making their way through the courts at any one time now, but for a long time, the laws regarding homosexuality went unchallenged. Believe it or not, the very first case to make it to the Supreme Court regarding any LGBTQ issue was a question of free speech in 1958.

One, Inc. published a magazine called ONE: The Homosexual Magazine, which was one of the first LGBTQ publications with a wide distribution. After the U.S. Post Office and the FBI objected, the postmaster of Los Angeles at the time declared the October 1954 issue of the magazine obscene. That way, he didn’t have to mail it.

Specifically, the courts took issue with a story titled “Sappho Remembered,” in which a young woman goes to college and falls in love with her roommate. The appeals court called it “cheap pornography.”

The magazine sued. The first court decision and the appeals court both sided with the post office, but the Supreme Court not only accepted the case, it ruled in favor of the magazine in what has to be one of the shortest decisions in its history. It reads: “The petition for writ of certiorari is granted and the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed.”

There was no commentary whatsoever, but it forced the post office to deliver the magazine. The gay press has always been hugely important, especially to people who may live in isolated areas and who had no other way to connect with other LGBT people. We at Tagg Magazine are particularly grateful that writing about our lives and community has been fully protected as free speech.


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