Welcome to Fire Island  Visions of Cherry Grove and the Pines by Jack Nichols.

 

 

"Welcome to Fire Island..." 1976

Jack Nichols was Gay activist who spent his entire adult life working for gay liberation. Nichols began his activism by co-founding the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society in 1961 with Frank Kameny.  “He infused the gay liberation movement with the spirit of the 1960s—pure freedom and no prejudices,” said Charles Kaiser, author of “The Gay Metropolis.” With Kameny and nine others, Nichols organized the first pro-gay picket at the White House in 1965, a protest against the Cuban government’s placement of gay people in concentration camps—an episode chronicled in the film “Gay Pioneers.” Later that year, he was one of the organizers of the “Annual Reminder” demonstrations at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4 that continued until just after the Stonewall Riots in 1969, when the movement took a more militant turn. Nichols was a prolific writer, including a 1972 book he wrote with Lige Clarke (above right), his partner from 1964 though 1975, “I Have More Fun with You than Anybody” celebrating gay love. They co-edited GAY, the country’s first weekly gay newspaper from 1969 to 1973 and also wrote an advice book called “Roommates Can’t Always Be Lovers” in 1974.  Long concerned with freeing men from the strictures of traditional notions of what it means to be a man, he wrote “Men’s Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity” in 1975. The next year, he came out with “Welcome to Fire Island: Visions of Cherry Grove and the Pines.” 


The book gives a unique picture of a simpler time when both communities were finding their identities. Starting regular visits to Fire Island in 1969 he recognized the changes that were happening around him and wrote about it. Spending most of his time in Cherry Grove while visiting the Pines he wrote about the differences. Published in 1976 it was still a closeted time for most gays so to write about gay life and be published was a big deal.

Prior to the book and with Lige Clarke, Nichols co-edited America’s first gay weekly newspaper, GAY (published in Manhattan, 1969-1973). Also with Clarke, he co-wrote the very first non-fiction memoir by a male couple: I Have More Fun with You Than Anybody, St. Martin’s Press, 1972.

In 1967, Nichols and Clarke moved to New York, where Nichols became sales manager for Underground Uplift Unlimited, which manufactured buttons bearing slogans like “Make Love, Not War” and “More Deviation, Less Population.”

 

After founding GAY magazine, Lige and Nichols collaborated on another book of advice on male relationships, “Roommates Can’t Always Be Lovers” (1974). The books represented an important perspective on gay relationships, treating them as just as healthy and fulfilling (or not) as heterosexual ones. In 1975.

Already familiar with gay beach culture – in 1976 he produced “Welcome to Fire Island” – Nichols moved to Florida in the early 1980s, where he contributed weekly columns to gay papers in Miami and Atlanta. He became an early AIDS protester, and then dropped out of journalism for several years.

Nichols was a human bridge across gay activist generations, from Boys in the Band to the Village People to Ru Paul, from homosexual to gay to queer. Like his generosity of spirit, Jack’s mind and interest roamed with the times—and often presaged them.                                   

 

Jack and Lige challenged the sexism and homophobia embedded in gay thinking of the era in deed as well as word. In fact, Lige’s influence prompted Jack to transform himself from a macho warrior jealousy guarding his lover into a man embracing his femininity and recognizing love secured is love set free. Jack expanded on the “destruction of outworn “masculisum” in his intellectual landmark 1975 book, Men’s Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity, but it was the couple’s Roommates Can’t Always be Lovers: An Intimate Guide to Male-Male Relationships, published a year earlier, that won the hearts of gay youth.

 

Jack and Lige (a Kentucky native with hazel eyes, blonde hair, and an Adonis-build), roamed up and down the East Coast in their crusade. In Miami, they worked with Richard Inman, Florida’s first gay activist and founder of the homosexual Atheneum Society. In Philadelphia and Washington they helped lead public protests in front of the White House and Independence Hall. They also co-founded a confederation of gay groups, The East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) and the duo edited the East Coast newspaper, The Homosexual Citizen.  And, in 1967, Jack spoke openly about his homosexuality to homophobe Mike Wallace on national television  in “CBS Reports: The Homosexuals.”

Unlike many gay activists, Nichols moved with the gay times—often impacting them. As the 1960s evolved, so did Jack’s thinking (and his deepening relationship with Lige). In 1968, they co-wrote the first syndicated column, “Homosexual Citizen” for the newly launched Screw magazine.

Jack embraced the sex in sexuality, understanding its spiritual, physical, and political importance. His retrospective autobiography, The Tomcat Chronicles: Erotic Adventures of a Gay Liberation Pioneer (2004), is one of the best examples of a pro-sexual argument in what has become an increasingly conservative and sex-negative 21st century gay “rights” movement.

In 1997 Jack went digital, becoming the editor of GayToday, an on-line publication funded by a Florida-based Internet sex entrepreneur. Jack rustled up a sundry set of old gay activist friends and new talent to create a must-read newsmagazine during the seven years of his editorship. He wrote every day and was on the telephone constantly, sharing strategies with activists, chiding cowardly journalists, and lending a supportive ear or kind word.  

On a trip to Mexico in 1976 Lige Clarke was gunned down and murdered.

                                                        

 

                                              Jack Nichols was a man ahead of his time. He fought for the many things that today young people just take for granted. He died in 2005 from cancer. His remembrances from Fire Island live on and his love for Lige in his visions of a long ago Cherry Grove and the Pines in Welcome to Fire Island.

     His obituary appeared in the New York Times below.

 

 

 

Jack Nichols, Gay Rights Pioneer, Dies at 67

Jack Nichols, a writer and early gay activist who campaigned publicly for gay rights nearly a decade before the Stonewall riots of 1969, died on Monday in Cocoa Beach, Fla., where he lived. He was 67.

The cause was complications of cancer, from which Mr. Nichols had suffered intermittently for more than 20 years, said Steve Yates, a longtime friend.

With Frank Kameny, Mr. Nichols founded the Mattachine Society, an early gay advocacy group, in Washington in 1961. (They adopted the name of an older gay organization, founded in 1950 by Harry Hay in Los Angeles, that had officially disbanded several months earlier.)

Mr. Nichols, who helped organize some of the country’s first civil rights demonstrations on behalf of gay men and lesbians, was a founder of Gay, the first gay weekly newspaper in the United States.

He also successfully lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to rescind its definition of homosexuality as a form of mental illness. Until shortly before his death, Mr. Nichols edited the online publication GayToday.com.

When Mr. Nichols and Mr. Kameny started the Washington Mattachine Society in 1961, identifying oneself in public as gay posed serious risks. Homosexual acts were against the law in every state, and gay men and lesbians who came out risked being jailed or institutionalized.

“In those days,” Mr. Kameny said yesterday in a telephone interview, “the entire approach to everything connected with us was negative, whether we were sinners, according to the clergy and the theologians; or criminals, according to the lawyers and the legislatures; or sick, according to the psychiatrists. We had all of these forces coming at us from every direction, which we proceeded to fight.”

John Richard Nichols was born in Washington on March 16, 1938. He came out as gay to his parents as a teenager.

In 1967, Mr. Nichols became one of the first Americans to talk openly about his homosexuality on national television when he appeared in “The Homosexuals,” a CBS documentary. (Though he allowed himself to be interviewed on camera, Mr. Nichols used a pseudonym in the broadcast at the request of his father, an F.B.I. agent.)

Mr. Nichols, who also helped establish a chapter of the Mattachine Society in Florida, led the first gay rights march on the White House, in April 1965. The same year, he helped organize a July 4 demonstration at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

In 1969, after moving to New York, Mr. Nichols founded Gay with his companion, Lige Clarke. Mr. Nichols and his colleagues campaigned for years to have the American Psychiatric Association remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders; the association did so in 1973.

Among Mr. Nichols’s books are “Men’s Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity” (Penguin, 1975); “The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists” (Prometheus, 1996); and “The Tomcat Chronicles: Erotic Adventures of a Gay Liberation Pioneer” (Harrington Park Press, 2004).

Mr. Nichols is survived by his mother, Mary F. Lund, of Cocoa Beach. Mr. Clarke died in 1975.