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This Day in Queer History: One, Inc. v. Olessen

We celebrate a landmark case in the struggle for U.S. LGBTQ rights

By Lawrence Everett Forbes, 1:45PM, Sun. Jan. 12

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision to put same-sex marriages on hold in Utah, it's easy to feel skeptical about the progress we've made. But on January 13, 1958, the Court made its first landmark ruling for LGBTQ rights.


by ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives

The case in question, ONE, Inc. v. Olessen, was the first ruling on free press rights with regard to homosexuality.

ONE, Inc. was a gay collective created by members of the Mattachine Society in 1952. The group published ONE Magazine, a groundbreaking publication that featured articles about the social, political, and cultural realities of gay life, predating magazines like The Advocate by nearly 15 years. Its queer content caught the wary eye of the FBI and U.S. Post Office, which viewed its promotion of the gay lifestyle as a menace. In 1954, the latter agency blocked mail distribution of the magazine's October issue on the grounds of obscenity.

The Los Angeles-based publisher sued, losing the case and appeal before being heard by the Supreme Court. Citing its then-recent landmark ruling Roth v. United States, the Court sided with ONE, Inc, deciding that its gay-themed content was not enough to render the magazine obscene. The resulting verdict marked the Court's first foray into gay issues and paved the way for Gay Rights Movement.

What a verdict of that magnitude must have felt like seems fairly unfathomable here in 2014. We live in a world that allows us fairly unrestricted access to LGBTQ news around the globe – where It's Okay to Be Takei; a world where same-sex marriage is legal in 18 states. And counting.

So when you feel like the wheels of justice are moving too slowly, take a minute to appreciate how far we've come in the 56 years since our first Supreme Court victory. And if you need a visual reminder, take a look at our queer history via the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.

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