AN exclusive formal ball will mark Halloween in San Francisco this week. In couturier gowns and elaborately confected masquerades, the couples will whisk around the floor until 2 a.m., while judges award prizes for the best costumes and the participants elect an "Empress." By then the swirling belles will sound more and more deep-voiced, and in the early morning hours dark stubble will sprout irrepressibly through their Pan-Cake Make-Up. The celebrators are all homosexuals, and each year since 1962 the crowd at the annual "Beaux Arts Ball" has grown larger. Halloween is traditionally boys' night out, and similar events will take place in Los Angeles, New York, Houston and St. Louis.
Though they still seem fairly bizarre to most Americans, homosexuals have never been so visible, vocal or closely scrutinized by research. They throw public parties, frequent exclusively "gay" bars (70 in San Francisco alone), and figure sympathetically as the subjects of books, plays and films. Encouraged by the national climate of openness about sex of all kinds and the spirit of protest, male and female inverts have been organizing to claim civil rights for themselves as an aggrieved minority.
Their new militancy makes other citizens edgy, and it can be shrill. Hurling rocks and bottles and wielding a parking meter that had been wrenched out of the sidewalk, homosexuals rioted last summer in New York's Greenwich Village after police closed one of the city's 50 all-gay bars and clubs on an alleged liquor-law violation. Pressure from militant self-styled "homophiles" has forced political candidates' views about homosexuality into recent election campaigns in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Homosexuals have picketed businesses, the White House and the Pentagon, demanding an end to job discrimination and the right to serve in the Army without a dishonorable discharge if their background is discovered.
Some 50 homophile organizations have announced their existence in cities across the country and on at least eight campuses. Best known are the Mattachine societies (named for 16th century Spanish masked court jesters), and the Daughters of Bilitis (after French Poet Pierre Louys' The Songs of Bilitis, a 19th century series of lyrics glorifying lesbian love). W. Dorr Legg, educational director at Los Angeles' 17-year-old ONE, Inc., claims, "I won't be happy until all churches give homosexual dances and parents are sitting in the balcony saying 'Don't John and Henry look cute dancing together?' " Radical groups such as the Gay Liberation Front chant "Gay power" and "Gay is good" and turgidly call for "the Revolution of Free and Frequent Polysexuality."