But even there, safety wasn’t guaranteed.
One night in the tiny, cramped bar near Barracks Row, the lights flashed on. Police officers barged through the door. “Don’t worry, this happens all the time,” Freund recalled a friend telling her.
Police walked up to each table to ask for identification. When an officer reached Freund, all of 5 feet and just out of college, she simply said, “No, thank you,” pointing out that there was no law requiring her to provide her ID.
“The policeman who was at our table huffed and puffed and continued on,” Freund said. “I was the only person my friends had ever seen push back.”
A few years later, a larger group would push back after police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York. That event, which happened 50 years ago Friday, would spark the modern gay rights movement. But that earlier skirmish at the D.C. bar had already spurred Freund to action.
Freund became one of the first women to join the District’s first gay advocacy group — the Mattachine Society of Washington. Now, at 81, she is one of the few surviving early members. And as the Stonewall anniversary approached, she looked back on how far the movement for equal rights has come and the challenges that remain.
Playing by the men's rules
Outside the bright and spacious apartment she shares with her wife, Elke Martin, in Springfield, a flier with a rainbow flag invites members of their Greenspring retirement community to join an upcoming meeting for lesbians. In the entrance, there is a framed quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and on a shelf, there are Freund’s honors for her activism over the years — a Capital Pride hero award in 2006, a Harvey Milk award from Bet Mishpachah, a congregation for LGBTQ Jews. The display of the glass figurines provides a stark contrast to how she lived her early years.
Freund grew up in a conservative Jewish family in New York and New Jersey, a “household where politics was never discussed,” she wrote years ago in an essay, part of papers she provided to the Rainbow History Project, which collects and preserves the history of the District’s LGBTQ community.
She did not begin identifying as a lesbian until after college in the early 1960s, when she moved to the District. While Freund’s parents met several of her female partners and roommates over the years, she never discussed her sexuality with them before they died, in 1994 and 2002. “It was don’t ask, don’t tell,” Freund said. “We just didn’t talk about it.”
It was shortly after moving to the District that a neighbor who knew she was gay told her about the D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society, recently co-founded by Frank Kameny, an Army veteran who had been fired from his federal government job for being gay and who would become one of the leading figures of the “homophile movement,” as it was called at the time.
The Mattachine Society began in Los Angeles in 1950, reportedly named after a French medieval group that would perform masked. The society took its name because of the “masked” nature of gay people in those years. The D.C. chapter, founded about a decade later, consisted of about 20 people by the time Freund joined, including Paul Kuntzler and Lilli Vincenz, one of only a handful of women who were members.
Many of the men wanted to focus on pushing back against police entrapment of gay men in public places, but Freund wanted to think beyond that, she said. “I was there for the focus of changing rules,” of propelling legislation.
She soon realized that there was just as much sexism in the Mattachine Society as there was elsewhere. Kameny wanted the group to appear as professional and mainstream as possible, and insisted the women wear dresses, heels and makeup while picketing at the White House and the Pentagon.
“The men in Mattachine thought the women were just there to take care of them,” Freund said. “Men kept patting me on the head and saying, ‘No, you can’t do it,’ or, ‘No, you won’t understand.’ ”
But she learned how to play by the men’s rules. She became fluent in Robert’s Rules of Order, which Kameny followed for all of his meetings. She also never hesitated to share her ideas — even if they were a bit radical for the group.
“I did not act in a meek and subservient fashion, which was what I was expected to do,” Freund said.
Freund was inspired by the Black Panthers and the publications they distributed on the streets to start conversations in the community. She suggested the Mattachine Society launch its own newsletter with tips such as “10 steps to take if the police pick you up on the street.” Freund began co-editing the Insider and helping distribute the papers in gay bars across town.
Freund recalled how a staff member at one bar refused to let her and a fellow Mattachine member pass out their publication, not wanting to attract any more attention than they already had. “It was dangerous to even have this piece of paper in your possession,” she said.
So Freund and the other member sneaked the papers back into the bar and hid them in the bathrooms.
“We figured they’d get found eventually,” Freund said. “Perhaps it was our attempts to keep pushing this that helped people rethink what they were doing on a personal level.”
Refocusing her rage
By the early 1970s, Freund was tired of women’s rights coming second to gay rights in the Mattachine Society. She recalled her therapist telling her, “Eva, your anger needs to be properly focused.”
So she joined the National Organization for Women’s D.C. chapter and became its first member who openly identified as lesbian.
In the years that followed, Freund would straddle the crusades for both gay rights and women’s rights — two umbrella movements that still
face challenges trying to unite intersecting groups.
Freund urged the D.C. chapter to let her co-chair a Sexuality Task Force, which worked in tandem with the newly formed Gay Activists Alliance to push for protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. In 1973, the D.C. Council passed Title 34, a human rights law that included prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation, among other protected classes.
But it would take years — long after Stonewall, after Title 34, after the AIDS epidemic — for Freund to feel comfortable speaking openly about her sexuality in the workplace. In 1992, she met and began dating Martin, a German native who moved to the District to work for Greenpeace. The couple got matching bands with rose gold triangles — a symbol for the LGBTQ community once used by the Nazis in concentration camps and now worn by some as a form of protest and pride.
In the mid- to late 1990s, Freund placed a photograph of Martin on her desk at her job as a consultant contracting for the FBI. It showed Martin posing next to the car she loved, a 1950 Dodge. Freund recalled a male colleague passing by her desk and saying, “Wow, cool car. Who’s the woman?”
“That’s Elke, my partner,” Freund responded.
“Oh, the partner in your company?” the man said.
“No, she’s my life partner,” Freund said. He “had to really step back and think about that.”
Now, a photo book rests on the couple’s bookshelf documenting Martin and Freund’s civil wedding ceremony on Sept. 22, 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court declared part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
During their religious wedding celebration the following year, the couple intentionally spilled a few drops of wine, not wanting to enjoy a full cup “until the union of all lovers is celebrated with all legal, social and religious privileges,” they wrote in the photo book.
In several states, LGBTQ people can still lose their jobs and can still have bank loans and health care denied on the basis of their sexuality or gender.
That is why their wedding ceremony also included an extra blessing: “May the time come soon when the voices of all lovers, the music of all friendships, will rise up to be heard and celebrated the world over. May the time come soon when we can drink a full cup of joy.”