An earlier version of this article appeared in “Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context,” edited by Vern L. Bullough, Harrington Park, 2002.
The State of Florida has had its share of outstanding LGBT leaders; people who worked against enormous odds to make life better for our community during the last half century. To a great degree, they were following in the footsteps of Richard A. Inman.
The Sunshine State’s first queer activist, Inman dared to be openly and actively gay at a time when that was a dangerous thing to be. By challenging both a firmly antigay political establishment and a closeted gay community, Inman is rightly considered to be the Father of Florida’s LGBT Community.
Who was Richard Inman? Since he dropped out of sight after 1969, Inman became largely unknown to a generation of activists who took up where he left off. Though I grew up in Miami, I was not aware of Inman or his achievements until I became an activist myself.
Only recently did Inman begin to receive the recognition that he so richly deserved. James T. Sears, whose book “Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life,” 1948-1968 contributes so much to our knowledge of Inman, called him “a soldier of fortune turned taxi driver challenging the homophobia and ignorance of heterosexuals as well as apathy and timidity among homosexuals.”
Others agree: Inman was “a voice in the wilderness in Miami” (John Loughery) and “a virtual one-man band for gay rights” (Eugene Patron). Foster Gunnison, Jr., who worked with Inman, called him “an unsung hero of the movement,” while Jack Nichols, who knew Inman as well as anyone, dubbed him “The South’s Pioneer.” “Inman was the first Southerner to challenge anti-gay laws in the courts, to write in mass circulation publications about gay men and lesbians and to appear on local television and radio programs,” Nichols said.
Florida in the 1960’s was “the Mississippi of the homosexual;” and it took a lot of chutzpah to challenge the Sunshine State’s ingrained homophobia. Born in Tampa in 1926, Inman arrived in Miami in the 1940s. Like many others in his time and place, Inman was arrested at least twice, for “simply being in a gay bar” during a raid. Undaunted, Inman founded (1963) the Atheneum Society, which according to Sears, was “the first state-chartered, explicitly homosexual organization in the South.” Created “to combat ... gross injustices affecting homosexual citizens which are perpetuated by certain heterosexuals who masquerade behind the guise of justice and decency,” the Society was basically a one-man operation. Even so, Inman benefitted from the secret but substantial financial assistance of an elderly, closeted millionaire who gave him much-needed pocket cash.
With his Atheneum Society in tow, Inman soon became, in Sears’s words, “the lightning rod for Florida’s nonexistent homophile movement.” Claiming to represent “200,000” Florida homosexuals, Inman “privately engaged in correspondence and conversations with political leaders and kingmakers. He also engaged in a long-term battle with two powerful politicians: [State Senator] Charley Johns and [Dade County State Attorney] Richard Gerstein.”
Inman soon caught the attention of activist Jack Nichols who, with Franklin Kameny, founded the Mattachine Society of Washington in 1961. Nichols and his partner Lige Clarke visited Inman in Miami and persuaded him to change the Atheneum’s name to the Mattachine Society of Florida. Inman became President, Nichols Vice President, and Clarke editor of the group’s news letter. As head of the Mattachine Society of Florida, Inman adopted, in John D’Emilio’s words, “a Kameny-like tone in his dealings with public officials.”
On April 19, 1966 Inman appeared on a television documentary “The Homosexual.” Hosted by WTVJ’s Ralph Renick, “The Homosexual” was dominated by antigay zealots like Detective John Sorenson of the Dade County Sheriff’s Department of Morals and Juvenile Squad. Inman’s appearance was a disaster. Loughery wrote that Inman’s “performance ... suggested gay men and lesbians would be better served by silence.”
Uncomfortable on camera and looking as if he had suddenly realized that acknowledging his sexuality was tantamount to admitting a crime for which he might be arrested, Inman squirmed before his interviewer’s questions, ending with the claim that he had given up homosexuality four years earlier – “it’s not my cup of tea” - though he believed that gays deserved fair treatment.
He giggled at the suggestion of gay marriage or gay adoption. “You weren’t exactly inspired to run out and join his organization,” a Fort Lauderdale gay man, then in his twenties, noted. “Actually, he scared me more than the cop they had telling the eighth-graders that any one of them could become a deviant if they weren’t careful.”
Inman was burned out. In March 1967 he abolished Florida Mattachine. In October the Miami Vice Squad raided Inman’s new business, the Atheneum Book Shop, charging Inman with possession of pornography (he was acquitted on a technicality).
By August 1969, the Miami Herald could claim that “The Miami [gay] subculture shows few signs of the minority group syndrome. Since the demise of the Mattachine Society of Florida ... Miami has had neither homosexual organizations nor militants. A politically docile, socially invisible subculture, it attracts little attention, and less support.” It remained for a new generation of activists to take up where Inman left off.
What happened to Richard Inman? According to Jack Nichols, “in 1970, Inman visited me in my New York offices at GAY [newspaper]. After that he disappeared.”
In Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones (2001), Sears finally revealed what happened to the Father of Florida’s LGBT Community: “Richard Inman never returned to the activist role that he once had in Florida. He settled in a working-class area in the outskirts of Long Beach - not far from the interstate highway - where he lived in a Spanish-style duplex on the corner of Golden Avenue and Hill Street until his death on 3 February 1985.”