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Overview

Protesting entrapment at the Boston Public Library in 1978Responding to citizen complaints about men soliciting sex in the Boston Public Library bathroom, Boston police in early 1978 stepped up their surveillance. They began aggressively targeting gay patrons, assigning plainclothes police officers to the detail to entice men to break the law.

In other words: entrapment.

In two weeks that March, police arrested 103 men on charges ranging from indecent exposure to “open and gross lewdness” — a felony. But, despite police accounts, it wasn’t clear that any of the men arrested had actually broken the law. Ultimately, only one of the 103 defendants was found guilty, and even that conviction was later overturned.

Outraged by this and other anti-gay measures at home and throughout the country, Boston’s gay community came out, came together, and organized with new strength and purpose. And in the midst of this, a young attorney named John Ward saw a new possibility for justice.

Ward founded GLAD—Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders—in 1978. He filed GLAD’s first case, Doe v. McNiff, one year later, charging Boston PublicGLAD founder John WardLibrary and police officials with violating the civil rights of a man arrested at the library, but later found not guilty. The case took nearly a decade to resolve, and finally ended in settlement.

Additional Links

John Gerasi’s The Boys of Boise, from which gay rights group The Boston/Boise Committee took its name

Special thanks to The History Project for use of archival material

Additional Resources

1978 BPL Protest Flyer

Gay Community News (GCN) 1979: Man Sues Boston

1984 Letter to GCN from DA Harshbarger Regarding Handling of Public Sex Arrests