Gay rights pioneer Dick Leitsch, who orchestrated 'Sip-In,' dead at 83

Gay matchers in parades are common now. In 1966, Dick Leitsch helped break ground for gays by staging a "Sip-In" at a Manhattan bar.
Caption
Gay matchers in parades are common now. In 1966, Dick Leitsch helped break ground for gays by staging a "Sip-In" at a Manhattan bar.

Credit: Michele Tantussi

Credit: Michele Tantussi

Dick Leitsch, whose milestone "Sip-In" in 1966 ensured the right of gay patrons to be served in a licensed bar, died Friday, The New York Times reported. He was 83.

Explore>> Read more trending news

The cause of death was liver cancer, according to Paul Havern, a friend. That was confirmed by Leitsch's niece, Cheryl Williams, The Washington Post reported.

On April 21, 1966, Leitsch and three friends -- Craig Rodwell, John Timmons and Randy Wicker, along with a Times reporter and Village Voice photographer Fred W. McDarrah -- staged the “sip-in” at Julius’, a bar in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan. The “sip-in” was a variation of the nonviolent civil disobedience practiced by civil rights activists.

When Leitsch announced he and his friends were homosexuals, the bartender covered his glass and refused to serve the group. McDarrah snapped a photograph, and the Times published a story the next day, titled "3 Deviates Invite Exclusion By Bars."

The Mattachine Society, a gay group that counted Leitsch among its leaders, threatened to sue the New York State Liquor Authority to overturn the policy that prohibited bars from knowingly serving alcoholic drinks to gays, the Times reported.

The lawsuit was never filed. Leitsch, in an interview with the Times in March, said “The whole thing was bizarre.”

“We didn’t need to prove that the bars refused to serve us, or that the liquor authority revoked licenses for serving gays,” Leitsch told the newspaper. “They denied ever doing it.”

The publicity led to a Mattachine lawsuit in New Jersey, the Post reported. In 1967, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that "well-behaved homosexuals" could not be barred from a drink, the Post reported.

“In our culture, homosexuals are indeed unfortunates,” the New Jersey ruling said. But “their status does not make them criminals or outlaws.”

Richard Joseph Leitsch was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 11, 1935. Survivors include a brother and sister. His partner of 17 years, Timothy Scoffield, was diagnosed with AIDS and died in 1989, the Post reported.