Jack Nichols (2009)


Jack Nichols is a native Washingtonian. 

Photo courtesy of Jack Nichols, © Patsy Lynch

“There is no tyranny more morbid than that dictating to love and affections and no slave more pitiful than he who succumbs to such dictation.”

“... there is a narrowing of consciousness that takes place if gays and straights think themselves as separate camps of humanity ... we must drop this dualistic approach to homosexuality and heterosexuality.  There is no ‘them.’  There is only ‘us.’ “

“That love’s wonderfully varied expressions can break through unreal crusts of fear and misunderstanding.  That lovers can come out of the past’s dark closets.”

"... my baggage included not only ideology, but strategy as well.

Jack Nichols excelled at channeling his indignation into activism and journalism.  In a 1997 article for Gay Today, Nichols described himself in the 1960s as "a happy homo", a phrase given great detail in his last book The Tomcat Chronicles (2004). But Jack was equally an instigator and agent provocateur, and a humane good-humored friend. 

Jack was raised in Chevy Chase, proud of his Scottish heritage and fond of the verses of Burns and Whitman. His last work, The Tomcat Chronicles, is a unique portrait of the life of a very 'out' young gay man in and around Washington in the 1950s and 1960s. The book provides many vignettes of both the social life of gays and lesbians and of Jack's increasing involvement in the active campaign

for gay civil rights. 

In 1961, Jack co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington with Dr. Frank Kameny. Writing of his early association with Dr. Franklin E Kameny Jack said,

"I quickly saw that the federal bureaucracy's treatment of Kameny as just another gay victim would rebound on its own head. It fashioned in him a tireless thorn in the side of anti-gay policies and unwittingly played midwife at the birth of militant gay activism. Kameny and I talked regularly discussing new strategies. As admirers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we spoke often of King's inspiring activism. I became Kameny's cohort and figuratively, if not literally, the organization's second charter member when he announced on November 15, 1961, the formation of The Mattachine Society of Washington."

From 1963, Jack's vigorous insistence that Mattachine work to rescind the APA's definition of homosexuality as a disease led to a 10 year campaign that had exactly that result. Dr. Kameny recalls that

"Along with me, the late Jack Nichols, among others, was particularly rabid about this." Jack recalled that, "In 1963, as recorded by historian John D'Emilio, I made an unprecedented written request circulated among my gay movement peers: that we movement folk take a public stand against the "sickness" dogma of the psychiatric establishment."

in 1965, Jack turned his attention to building discussion with clergy on the subject of homosexuality, work that led to the Washington Area Council on Religion and the Homosexual later that year. In April of that year, Jack's anger at Cuban treatment of homosexuals led directly to the first gay picketing of a major government site: the White House. Nearly 40 years later he recalled

"We'd hoped for more publicity than we got. Only The Afro-American carried a small item about what we'd done. But we'd done it, and that was what mattered. We'd stood up against the power structure, putting our bodies on the line. Nothing had happened except that we'd been galvanized, and, to a certain extent, immunized against fear."

He also appeared on several early television programs discussing homosexuality and spoke at the 1965 Eastern Conference of Homophile Organizations convention in New York City. 

Jack met his lover, Lige Clarke, at the Hideaway on 9th St. NW in DC and built a partnership that led them to New York City in 1968 where they published Gay, the first weekly national gay newspaper in the early 70s. Jack and Lige published two of the earliest books portraying happy same sex relationships, I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody (1972) and Roommates Can't Always Be Lovers: An Intimate Guide to Male-Male Relationships (1974). Late in the 70s, Jack became an outspoken advocate of men's liberation, wrote a basic text on the subject, Men's Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity (1975) that was used for many years in courses on the topic.

Jack's career in journalism continued following his move to Florida, as he continued providing columns and articles for the gay press. In 1996 his riposte to the right wing, The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists was published. Until his death in 2005, he edited and wrote for the online magazine, Gay Today, and for the www.365Gay.com website.