I first met Jack Nichols (1938-2005) in 1978, around the time that he moved to Florida's space coast after living for decades in Washington, D.C. and New York City. We were in a bar in Hollywood, Florida when we were introduced by our mutual friend Mark Silber. The first thing I noticed about Nichols was that he was very tall (compared to me) and very friendly. We exchanged a few words and then moved on.
Little did I know that it was to be the start of a friendship that lasted until death took him away from us.
At the time we met, Jack Nichols did not know who I was. On the other hand, I certainly knew who he was. In fact, Jack was one of my personal idols, a gay pioneer who paved the way and who inspired me when I came out in 1973. I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody, which Jack wrote with his first long-term partner Lige Clarke (1972), was one of the books that informed my coming out process.
By 1978, Nichols was already a legend: co-founder with Franklin Kameny of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. (1961) and co-founder with Richard Inman of the Mattachine Society of Florida (1963). In 1965, Nichols, along with Dr. Kameny and Barbara Gittings, organized the first "homophile" demonstrations in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. During Jack's last weekend on earth, Philadelphia's Equality Forum held the National Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the first LGBT civil rights demonstration. Though Nichols was obviously unable to attend, he was on the minds of all who were there.
During the years that followed our first meeting, Jack and I established a rapport assisted by the fact that both of us contributed to South Florida's great gay community newspaper, The Weekly News, aka TWN (1977-2006). He often invited me to visit him at his condo in Cocoa Beach, which I finally did in 1984. Jack was the perfect host, even though at the time he was often distracted by the presence of a young man whom he was obviously fond of.
Jack helped me to his collection of movement memorabilia, his extensive library, his Prairie Home Companion tapes and his stack of Utne magazines, which at the time I had never heard of. When we had the time Jack and I talked about every subject under the sun. I was impressed by Jack's encyclopedic knowledge and his capacity to extensively quote poets and philosophers. (Jack himself was a poet and a philosopher.)
Since then I made a point to visit Jack in Cocoa Beach once every few years, often accompanied by my life partner, Michael Greenspan. The last time Michael and I visited Jack was a few months before Jack's death, and though Jack was obviously sick at the time he kept us entertained with his wit and wisdom.
Jack Nichols's career in journalism is as notable as his achievements as an activist. In the late sixties, Jack and Lige wrote a "Homosexual Citizen" column for Al Goldstein's notorious sex magazine SCREW. From 1969 to 1973 the partners also edited GAY, America's first gay weekly newspaper. (The Advocate was never more than a biweekly.)
In 1997 Jack became Senior Editor for GayToday.com, an online magazine published by Badpuppy. Always loyal to his friends, Jack invited me to contribute to GayToday. This soon became a pleasurable task, mainly because it gave me a reason to communicate with Jack, by phone or by e-mail, on a regular basis. I also got to be on the same Web page as Paul Cain, Bob Kunst, James Sears, Rodger Streitmatter, George Weinberg and Randy Wicker, among others. We were a disparate group of individuals, who had nothing in common with one another but our writing ability, our commitment to the cause, and our love for Jack Nichols.
Through it all, Jack Nichols continued to write. His two books with Lige Clarke - I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody and Roommates Can't Always Be Lovers (1974) - are sadly out of print; though dog-eared copies of his Men's Liberation (1975) and Welcome To Fire Island (1976) may still be found in used bookstores. During the decades of our friendship Jack wrote The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists (1996) and The Tomcat Chronicles: Erotic Adventures of a Gay Liberation Pioneer (2004), the latter based on a column that he wrote for twn's randy younger brother, Contax. In an age of assimilation and same-sex marriage Jack continued to celebrate his adventurous youth and the pleasures of unbridled sex.
But he was always ahead of his time.
To know Jack Nichols, as the song goes, was to love him. Those of us who were blessed with his friendship will remember his kindness, his loyalty, his bright wit, and his commitment to the cause of freedom for all humanity.
In his lifetime, Jack enjoyed two great partnerships: with Lige Clarke and with the entertainer Logan Carter (best remembered as the drag queen Roxanne Russell). Lige was murdered in Mexico in 1975 and Logan died of AIDS-complications in the late eighties. For the rest of his life, Jack kept their memory alive. Now he has joined them.
It is up to us who remain behind to preserve Jack's contributions and continue his cause.
Photos of Jack Nichols via the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and the Rainbow History Project.