Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2005

Jack Nicholls (1938 – 2005)

by Vern Bullough

Jack Nichols was no hide-in-the-closet gay. He said he made known to his mother and father in his teens that he was gay.

An avid reader, he was mostly self-educated. He seemed to go everywhere and do everything. At 23, he did a gay version of Jack Kerouac’s beat classic tour recounted in On the Road. With a variety of companions, and with little money in his pocket, he drove, hitchhiked, rode buses and even walked for a couple of long stretches from Florida to Washington, DC, to New York, and through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, having erotic (his term) encounters with a large variety of men who put him up, bought him meals and had sex with him in automobiles, bedrooms, buses and the great outdoors. The title of the book he wrote about it, The Tomcat Chronicles, is fully descriptive.

Yet he was far more than a gay man on the make. He was a gay pioneer who argued that homosexuality was not a disease, who with Frank Kameny formed the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, who picketed the White House, who contributed an early column on homosexuality to SCREW, who co-edited the pioneering weekly Gay from 1969 to 1973, and who with Lige Clark wrote a number of path-breaking books on homosexuality.

His early contacts with clergy in Washington during the 1960s gave rise to the Washington Area Council on Religion and the Homosexual at American University. He early appeared on television, was interviewed by Mike Wallace and appeared in several early documentaries on gay life. During the last years of his life he was editor of Gay Today, an online magazine, which he founded in 1997 and which closed in 2004. He also used the Internet to broadcast his voice around the world. He was not only a founder of the gay and lesbian liberation movement but also of a movement for male liberation.

His polemic The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists was published by Prometheus books, the humanist publisher. He also wrote Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity and Welcome to Fire Island: Visions of Cherry Grove & the Pines, and was co-author with Lige Clark of I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody, and Roommates Can’t Always Be Lovers: An Intimate Guide to Male/Male Relationships.

He and Lige Clark were for a time the most celebrated and recognisable gay couple in the United States. Some have said he was always pushed to the front because he looked like the all-American boy.

Jack was full of zest for life, and had appreciation of its finer values. He was kind, generous, was eager to learn new things and break new paths, was an intelligent conversationalist, a loyal friend, and supportive of others, such as myself. His contributions were recognised not only by his fellow gays but by organisations such as the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex. He called himself at various times an agnostic, a non-believer, a heretic, and infidel, and a “proud humanist”.

Jack Nichols died on 2 May at Cape Canaveral Hospital of complications from cancer, a disease he had been fighting for twenty years. He was survived by his mother, Mary F. Lund, of Cocoa Beach, Florida. He will be missed.

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Created : Sunday, 2005-08-14 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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