LGBTQ+ History Month: One, Inc. v. Olesen

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One, Inc. v. Olesen (1958), is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision for LGBT rights in the United States. It was the first U.S. Supreme Court ruling to deal with homosexuality and the first to address free speech rights with respect to homosexuality.

ONE, Inc., a spinoff of the Mattachine Society, published the early pro-gay “ONE: The Homosexual Magazine” beginning in 1952.  After a campaign of harassment from the U.S. Post Office Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles Postmaster Otto Olesen declared the October 1954 issue “obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy” and therefore unmailable under the Comstock laws, a set of federal acts passed by the United States Congress under the Grant administration along with related state laws,which criminalized usage of the U.S. Postal Service to send any of the following items: obscenity; contraceptives; abortifacients; sex toys; personal letters with any sexual content or information; or any information regarding the above items.

In the October 1954 issue of One, Inc.,  the Post Office objected to several stories, including ”Sappho Remembered”, a story of a lesbian’s affection for a twenty-year-old “girl” who gives up her boyfriend to live with the lesbian, because it was “lustfully stimulating to the average homosexual reader”; “Lord Samuel and Lord Montagu”, a poem about homosexual cruising that it said contained “filthy words”; and (3) an advertisement for The Circle, a magazine containing homosexual pulp romance stories, that would direct the reader to other “obscene” material.

The magazine, represented by a young attorney who had authored the cover story in the October 1954 issue, Eric Julber, brought suit in U.S. District Court seeking an injunction against the Postmaster.

In March 1956, U.S. District Judge Thurmond Clarke ruled for the defendant. He wrote: “The suggestion advanced that homosexuals should be recognized as a segment of our people and be accorded special privilege as a class is rejected.”

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision unanimously in February 1957.

Julber filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on June 13, 1957.

On January 13, 1958, that court both accepted the case and, without hearing oral argument, issued a decision reversing the Ninth Circuit.

One, Inc. v. Olesen was the first U.S. Supreme Court ruling to deal with homosexuality and the first to address free speech rights with respect to homosexuality.

In its next issue, ONE told its readers: “For the first time in American publishing history, a decision binding on every court now stands. … affirming in effect that it is in no way proper to describe a love affair between two homosexuals as constitut(ing) obscenity.”

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One Response to LGBTQ+ History Month: One, Inc. v. Olesen

  1. wow! the right-wing freaks were at it back then too. one person’s beauty is another person’s ugly. and don’t think for one second that the current DC atmosphere doesn’t want to “return to these glorious days of yesteryear.” BECAUSE THEY DO! VOTE BLUE 2018!

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