This weekend marks the beginning of LGBT History Month, a celebration of the achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. One such achievement in Philadelphia was Drum, a radical monthly magazine that risked its readers' lives and livelihoods.
During the 1960s, being gay was considered valid grounds for getting fired, and laws against "deviant sexual behavior" made homosexuality illegal. For psychiatrists, it was a psychosis to be "treated."
Onto this scene of secrecy and trepidation splashed Drum, a glossy digest-size magazine that made no bones about its editorial ambitions:
"Drum stands against the common belief that sexual drives may be dismissed like a stray dog - with a shout and a kick. Or that they can be sermonized away or replaced by a veil of beauty. Or that if one does enough gymnastics or knitting, there won't be enough time to think about sex. Drum stands for a realistic approach to sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular."
Published out of a South 17th Street office beginning in 1964, the magazine originated as the newsletter of the Janus Society, an early gay-rights organization. Similar groups and publications existed in a handful of other cities, but Drum stood apart by its unrestrained, uncompromising stance. The magazine's inaugural cover depicted the back-end of a swimsuit-clad man.
As historian John Loughery observed, "Drum's philosophy was plain enough: It was time to raise a little hell."
Drum, which hit a monthly circulation of 10,000, blended satire, advocacy, and erotica. Editorials discussed Philadelphia's Annual Reminder pickets - the first recurring gay-rights demonstrations in the country - and the sit-in at Dewey's Famous, the first successful LGBT protest of its kind.
The magazine's content and outlook reflected its outspoken editor, Clark Polak, who also served as president of the Janus Society. In a conversation about who would become the "Martin Luther King of the gay movement," Polak added: "I just want to be Hugh Hefner."
However, by 1970, he had silenced Drum and left Philadelphia to escape a grand jury indictment for distributing obscene materials. Polak continued his activism in California until taking his own life in 1980.
Subtitled "Sex in Perspective," Drum drew its name from Walden, Henry David Thoreau's 1854 transcendentalist text: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
On Oct. 20, the Historical Society
of Pennsylvania will host "Breaking the Code of Omertà," a program exploring sexual identity in literature and media. It is free and open to
the public. Visit hsp.org/Calendar