Gay rights activist Richard Leitsch dies in New York hospice aged 83

Richard Leitsch was the president of gay rights group the Mattachine Society, led the 'Sip-In' protest at New York's Julius' Bar and was the first journalist to interview Bette Midler.


Gay rights activist Richard 'Dick' Leitsch died in a hospice this week. 

The 83-year-old's family confirmed that he had died from liver cancer on Friday (June 22) in Manhattan after his diagnosis earlier this year.

Leitsch famously led the 'Sip-in' protests at bars across New York in 1966 and ended a policy of discrimination against gay people during a time when venues could have their licenses revoked if they were discovered serving "disorderly" gay people.

The most famous protest was held at Julius' Bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, which has now become a registered American monument by the National Park Service. 

Richard 'Dick' Leitsch with Alan Cumming at Julius' Bar in 2016

On April 21, 1966, Leitsch and three friends, accompanied by a Times reporter and a Village Voice photographer, staged the 'sip-in' at Julius'. The four men stood at the bar and Leitsch reportedly announced that he was a homosexual to the bartender, who had already placed a glass in front of him. 

As the bartender's hand rushed to cover the glass, a photo was taken and used for an article in The New York Times the next day. 

Leitsch was also the first gay journalist to report on the Stonewall Riots and, when he worked for the magazine Gay, Leitsch was the first journalist to interview Bette Midler back when she was unknown. The interview, titled 'The Whole World's A Bath!' was published on October 26, 1970. 

The Louisville, Kentucky, native was also the president of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest LGBT rights groups in America during the 1960s. 

Following his liver cancer diagnosis, Leitsch donated his personal papers and many of the Mattachine papers to the New York Public Library.