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Robert Amsel (born August 16, 1946 in Albany, New York) is mainly known for his work in the Mattachine Society, a gay civil rights organization, prominent in New York City throughout the 1960s.
While attending Syracuse University between 1964 and 1968 (from which he obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree), he came out into gay life. During the summer of 1967, while staying with his sister in New York, he volunteered at the Mattachine Society. As a result, he met Dick Leitsch, then president of the group. The two soon became partners.
Madolin Cervantes, a heterosexual woman who devoted her life to homosexual equality and was an officer of the society, had a large, rent-controlled apartment on West End Avenue, where the couple lived for another year, upon Amsel’s graduation from Syracuse University. (During Amsel’s senior year, Leitsch had shared an apartment with Amsel in Syracuse but traveled back and forth between Syracuse and New York.)
According to Amsel, “Our phones in Madolin’s pension, as we called it, were tapped, presumably by the F.B.I., who regarded folks seeking gay equality as a subversive group. In those days, tapping was primitive and reel-to-reel tape recorders were used to record private conversations. Frequently, the tape would run out and one could actually hear the spinning of the tape reels. When you know you’re being taped, you might as well have fun with it. For this reason, I would have outrageous conversations in which I provided blow-by-blow descriptions of wild sexual escapades with prominent political foes of the era. If possible, we never said anything over the phone lines that was true.”
At the time of the Stonewall riots, Dick Leitsch had been upgraded to executive director of Mattachine and Amsel was its president. Amsel would later write a cover article for the September 15, 1987, edition of The Advocate. The article, cumbersomely titled by the magazine as "Back to Our Future? A Walk on the Wild Side of Stonewall", was written by Amsel to “set the record straight – or gaily forward.” Over the 18 years since the riots had occurred, they had evolved more into myth than fact and all the previous work of fighting for gay equality had been forgotten. Additionally, Amsel strove to unite gay people in their then current fight against a callous Administration in Washington regarding the AIDS epidemic. During this period, Amsel volunteered as a “buddy” to AIDS victims.
In the early 1970s, both Amsel and Leitsch, now living on West 72nd Street, had both dropped out of Mattachine, which, as a group, was on its last gasp. Other newer gay groups supplanted it. During this period, the two lovers were the subject of a documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on “happy homosexuals,” a term considered an oxymoron by many in the psychiatric community.
Although Amsel played second-fiddle to his older lover, several of his own contributions to the gay movement included setting up a Mattachine Society branch in Syracuse, New York, which ultimately died out but was supplanted by newer organizations. He also was one of a group of four Mattachine workers who started the now-common practice of surveying political candidates for office on gay rights issues.
In 1978, the faltering relationship of Amsel and Leitsch ended when Amsel moved to London for several years. Amsel returned to New York in the summer of 1981 but ultimately moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he purchased a house, which he renovated. Continuing his education, he also received his Masters Degree in American Studies from Penn State - Harrisburg.
In recent years, he has authored two supernatural novels, Manhattan Pharaoh (2004) and Devil Goddess (2006). Although not gay novels per se, both books have prominent homosexual characters, as might be expected.
On a personal level, he continues to fight against homophobic bigotry currently found in politics and religion.
- Amsel, Robert. "Back to Our Future? A Walk on the Wild Side of Stonewall", The Advocate, 15 September, 1987.