Harold L. Call was born in Trenton, Missouri, on
September 20, 1917, and earned a degree in journalism from the University of
Missouri. Upon graduation he took a job with the Kansas City
. While on a business trip to
Chicago, Call was arrested on a morals charge and, like many men of his
generation, found his life changed, even though the case was ultimately
Call moved to San Francisco in 1952 and shortly thereafter became one of
the most important and controversial figures in the homophile movement.
Call participated in the so-called conservative takeover of the Mattachine
Foundation and subsequent formation of the Mattachine Society in 1953. Although there
were other political and ideological elements to the change, Call thought new
leadership was necessary because of the reluctance of the founders to present
themselves and their agenda publicly. Upon assuming a leadership role in 1953,
Call became one of the first American homosexuals to proclaim his sexuality
publicly while fighting for homosexual civil rights.
With the emergence of the Mattachine Society, Call immediately began pressing
his agenda, which included establishing a publications chapter in San Francisco.
From this base of operations, society members led by Call and Donald S. Lucas
started publishing the Mattachine Review in February 1955. Its
circulation reached a peak of 3,000 copies around 1960. Politically the
Review advanced homosexual rights arguing against the formation of a
minority homosexual culture advocated by editors of the rival magazine
In 1954, Call and Lucas pioneered the practice of combining activism with
commerce when they founded Pan-Graphic Press to print the Review and
what they thought were quality works of fiction and nonfiction that presented
homosexuality in an enlightened, objective and nonsensationalistic manner. Over
the next twelve years, Pan-Graphic Press also published the Dorian Book
Review Quarterly (a combination anticensorship journal and mail-order
catalog) and Town Talk (one of the first gay publications to contain
advertising and to be distributed free in gay bars).
Call and other leaders also spent a good deal of time working with
professionals who were sympathetic to the cause of homosexual civil rights. To
that end, Call built productive relationships with sexologist Alfred Kinsey
(helping him to find homosexual subjects for his research) and psychologist
Evelyn Hooker as well as with assorted lawyers, clergy, politicians,
journalists, medical doctors, sociologists, business owners, and law enforcement
personnel. Call provided financial support and printing services to Jose
Sarria's campaign for San Francisco city supervisor in 1961--the first openly
gay men to run for public office in the U.S. These relationships in turn helped
make the society a recognized authority on homosexuality as well as other
variant gender and sexual behaviors.
In 1962-63, Call became acquainted with the Rev. Ted McIlvenna of the Glide
Urban Project who was doing outreach on the streets of the Tenderloin District
of San Francisco. Call introduced McIlvenna to other gay and lesbian activists
and helped inform him about the issues faced by homosexual persons. McIlvenna
invited Call to participate in the historic consultation between religious
leaders and gay/lesbian activists from May 31 to June 2, 1964, at a retreat
center in Mill Valley, California. Call became one of the leaders of the
Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) that was created out of this
consultation. In this capacity, Call was one of the prime organizers of the
Mardi Gras Ball on January 1, 1965, that turned the tide against police
harrassment in San Francisco. Call also assisted CRH with printing and
Call's writings published in The Mattachine Review in the mid-1960s
reveal that, although he experienced his greatest successes with the society at
that time, he also was beginning to see that organization fall apart. Call and
the society were featured in a Life magazine spread and a CBS documentary
The Homosexual hosted by Mike Wallace in 1964. Such extensive media
coverage brought worldwide recognition but also countless requests for
information and help. Simultaneously, new and more specialized organizations
formed in San Francisco and started to take over some of the functions of the
society as well as draw away monetary and volunteer resources. By the end
of 1967, the society had moved from the offices it had occupied since 1954 into
a space that was less of an office and counseling center and more of a sex shop
and bookstore, and Donald Lucas, Call's business partner, moved on to other
professional activities. It was around this time that the society really ceased
to function as an activist, social service, and publishing organization.
The end of the society, however, did not mark the end of Call's career.
In 1967, he founded the Adonis Bookstore in San Francisco, which preceded the
opening of the Oscar Wilde Bookstore in New York City amd thus was probably the
nation's first gay bookstore. In the late 1960s, Call and his associates began
presenting pornographic films privately to audiences and soon thereafter opened
a public pornographic theater, the Circle J.
Call died on December 18, 2000, at the age of 83.
(This biographical statement taken largely from an article by Martin Meeker
in the Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History in
America; New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004--with additional information from historian James
Biography Date: September, 2005
Council on Religion and the Homosexual | Gay Liberation Movement | New Year's Ball (San Francisco) | California | San Francisco
“I met Hal in the mid-1980s at his club (The Circle J) when it was located on Ellis Street. I was in my 20's, and he appreciated my youth and other attributes I possessed. Hal was a very brusque man, but once he got to know you, he could be very kind and generous. He enjoyed travel, but preferred not to travel alone. He offered me a chance to join him on trips to San Diego, Yellowknife (Northwest Territories of Canada,) Vancouver, Australia and New Zealand. We enjoyed a good friendship until his death. I'm very grateful that I was able to count Hal as one of my friends.
– as remembered by William Pierson on July 10, 2018
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