AMERICAN HOMOSEXUALS' FIGHT for equal constitutional rights began not on New York City's Christopher Street or San Francisco's Castro Street but at "232 South Hill Street, Los Angeles 12, California." From that seedy, garment district address, an almost penniless publication demanded the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court. Against all odds, it won not only the court's attention but also an unprecedented legal victory that allowed the gay press to blossom.
By the fall of 1954, nearly 15 years before the Stonewall Rebellion that is marked as the start of the modern-day gay-rights movement, those few homosexuals bold enough to subscribe to the nation's first homosexual publication knew 232 South Hill as a return address. Most of the monthly magazine's 1,650 subscribers prudently paid extra—one dollar a year—for the supposed protection of receiving it in a sealed, first-class envelope bearing that nameless return address as its only identifying mark. The Los Angeles postal officials policing the mails for obscenity were equally familiar with that seemingly unremarkable return address.
232 South Hill was a run-down three-story office building with a Goodwill Store at street level. Upstairs, most of the offices housed a perpetually changing cast of fly-by-night sweatshops, the type that churned out women's clothes until the workers tried to get paid and the boss vanished. In the dingy third-floor hallway, the dull whir of sewing machines was jarringly punctuated by a soprano singing teacher, whose voice wan