“The Temperamentals” highlights a historical gay movement

When people think of the first LGBT activism, they think of Stonewall. Stonewall was a series of spontaneous protests by members of the gay community in response to a police raid. 

Stonewall, however, wasn’t the first. That distinction goes to the Mattachine Society, an early national gay rights organization. Minnesota State’s theater department is showcasing the Mattachine Society’s history by staging a production of “The Temperamentals,” which started yesterday and will run until Saturday. 

“The Temperamentals” tells the tale of two men who fell in love and founded the first gay rights organization in the U.S. in the 1950s in Los Angeles. Director Eric Parrish, an MSU grad student, is doing this show for his thesis project. He also said that he is openly gay and strongly believes in representation in theater. 

“I found this piece important because I had never heard of these people. It’s a docu-drama, so that seemed imperative to me,” said Parrish. “It’s very important to learn about something that’s a part of our history and that we don’t learn about at school or in textbooks or history books.” 

Landon Hudson plays Harry Hay, one of the founders of the Mattachine Society. Hay was an American gay rights activist and a labor advocate in the 1950s. 

Hudson knew nothing about the show before auditioning and said there was a lot of information to learn for the show. He also said he liked how bold the character Hay is. 

“I liked that he wanted to make that difference and was OK with possibly being laughed at or judged to make change. He was OK to take that first step that nobody else was taking,” said Hudson. “It still feels so real today because the issues that we’re talking about in the show, sadly, are still being talked about today.” 

One of the other characters, Rudi Gerneich, is the other founder. Gerneich, a fashion designer, used clothing to liberate women from the confines of high fashion and make a societal statement about sexual liberation. His outfits mirrored the female body’s natural shape. 

“He is most known for the invention of the topless bathing suit. That was kind of like his thing. In the play, he’s mentioned as a fashion activist, and how he gets there is kind of unraveled in the show,” said Jacob Haen, who plays Gerneich in the show. 

Haen said this show, while being set in the 1950s, is relevant today. 

“I think it’s really prominent, especially now when trans rights are under attack in the United States,” said Haen. “And although this play does not have trans characters in it, a lot of the same messages are discussed in the show, and I think that’s really powerful.” 

Hudson encourages students to go see it to educate themselves on this important moment in history. 

“Everyone knows people in their lives that are (queer) and so I think that it’s super important that we recognize this as a part of our history because it’s not talked about at all,” said Hudson. 

For more information on how to get tickets, go to the theater arts page on the MSU website. The show will be performed in the Andreas Theatre. 

Write to Lauren Viska at lauren.viska@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: In the early 1950s, “Temperamental” was code for “homosexual,” part of a language of secret words gay men used to communicate. The Temperamentals tells the story of two men in love who built the first gay rights organization in the United States. (Courtesy of the Department of Theatre & Dance)

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