Richard Schlegel is widely considered the first gay activist in Central Pennsylvania for establishing the Harrisburg chapter of the Janus Society, the first LGBT+ organization in the region. However, his involvement in the Janus Society is just one of his many accomplishments that contribute to the history of early queer activism in Central PA.
Richard Schlegel was born in Berrysburg, PA (Dauphin County) in 1927. He attended Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) during and immediately after World War II. In 1958, Schlegel went to work for the United States Army in Honolulu, HI, as a civilian employee. After three years, the Army fired Schlegel for his “immoral and indecent conduct,” or more plainly, on the suspicion that Schlegel was homosexual. Schlegel sued the Army and in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled against him in Schlegel v. U.S. (1969). For more information go to https://www.centralpalgbthistory.org/blacklisted.html to learn more about Schlegel v. U.S. and the fight in Central PA against employment discrimination of LGBTQ+ people.
In 1963, Schlegel found a job with the PA Department of Highways, but his ongoing court case kept him connected to the homophile movement and other activists. Schlegel became acquainted with Clark Pollack, President of the Philadelphia chapter of the Janus Society. In 1965, Pollack asked Schlegel to allow Janus Society mail to be sent to Schlegel’s P.O. box in Harrisburg and thus the Harrisburg chapter of the Janus Society was born.
The Janus Society of Philadelphia published two publications: Janus and Drum. In 1965, Schlegel responded to a letter in Janus using his real name.
He signed his name because, in his own words, “I thought I was brazen enough to just stand up and face whatever there was without hiding behind something.” (Oral Interview, 1997)
Although only 25 copies of Janus were distributed in Harrisburg, a post office worker spoke to the Department of Highways about Schlegel’s name in Janus. Schlegel was asked to resign and he did so “voluntarily.”
Drum Magazine was the successor to Janus magazine, and was edited by Clark Polack. Drum was different in its mission than the “militant respectability” of the Janus Society. It drew its name from the Henry David Thoreau quote from Walden, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears the beat of a different drummer.” Schlegel wrote for Drum until its shut down in mid-1969, just before Stonewall.
First of all, why could anyone take exception with the content, the columns and the humor of Drum? It was a very funny magazine. And secondly, he made the decision--it turned out to be a very right decision in terms of commercial and profit making--to put the nudes in. Nobody else had done that.” (Oral Interview with Richard Schlegel, 1993)