Craig L. Rodwell (October 31, 1940 – June 18, 1993) was an American gay rights activist known for founding the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on November 24, 1967, the first bookstore devoted to gay and lesbian authors and as the prime mover for the creation of the New York City pride demonstration. Rodwell is considered by some to be quite possibly the leading gay rights activist in the early homophile movement of the 1960s.
Rodwell was born in Chicago, IL. His parents separated prior to his first birthday and for the next few years he was boarded out for day care where he was required to do kitchen labor and laundry to supplement his board and care. When he was 6 years old, Rodwell's mother, Marion Kastman, fearing that the child care set up could cause her to lose custody of her son, arranged for his admission to the Christian Scientist affiliated Chicago Junior School (later called the Fox River Country day School) for "problem" boys, in Elgin, IL. Conditions and treatment at the school were described as "Dickensian" and Rodwell got a reputation for being a rebellious child, as well as a "sissy," during his seven years there. It was at Chicago Junior School that Rodwell first experienced same-sex relationships and also came to internalize the Christian Scientist notion that "truth is power and that truth is the greatest good."
After graduating from the Chicago Junior School, Rodwell attended Sullivan High School in Chicago, IL. Rodwell continued his studies in Christian Science by enrolling in Sunday school at the 16th Church of Christ, Scientist. He later studied ballet in Boston before finally moving to New York City in 1958. It was in New York that he first volunteered for a gay rights organization, The Mattachine Society of New York
In 1962, Rodwell had an affair with Harvey Milk, who went on later to become one of the first openly gay politicians elected to high office. It was Rodwell's first serious relationship. Rodwell's relationship with Milk ended in part due to Milk's conflicted reaction to Rodwell's early activism and his introduction to Milk of "strange new ideas that tied homosexuality to politics, ideas that both repelled and attracted the thirty-two-year-old Milk." Milk believed that Rodwell had been responsible for Milk contracting an STD. After Rodwell's arrest and incarceration when picked up cruising in Washington Square Park, Milk ended their romantic involvement. Shortly after, Rodwell attempted suicide.
When Rodwell opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967, Milk dropped by frequently, and after moving to San Francisco Milk expressed his intention to Rodwell of opening a similar store "as a way of getting involved in community work." Milk eventually opened a camera store that also functioned as a community center, much like Rodwell's bookshop had as a community gathering place.
Also in 1967, Rodwell began the group Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods (HYMN) and began to publish its periodical, HYMNAL. Rodwell conceived of the first yearly gay rights protest, the Annual Reminder picketing of Independence Hall held from 1965–1969; Homophile Youth Movement rallies in 1967, and was present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. He was active in the Mattachine Society until April 1966 and in several other early homophile rights organizations. At the Mattachine Society, where most members chose pseudonyms to protect themselves from law enforcement surveillance, Rodwell did not.
In early 1964 Rodwell, a Mattachine Society of New York volunteer and vice president, organized Mattachine Young Adults and was also an early member of East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) and the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO).
On September 19, 1964, Rodwell, along with Randy Wicker, Jefferson Poland, Renee Cafiero, and several others picketed New York's Whitehall to protest the military's practice of excluding gays from serving and, when discovered serving, dishonorably discharging them.
On April 18, 1965, Rodwell led picketing at the United Nations Plaza in New York to protest Cuban detention and placement into workcamps of gays, along with Wicker, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and about 25 others.
On April 21, 1966, Rodwell, along with Mattachine President Dick Leitsch and John Timmons engaged in a demonstration then called a "Sip-In" at Julius, a bar in Greenwich Village, to protest the (NY) State Liquor Authority rule against the congregation of gays in establishments that served alcohol. Rodwell had at an earlier date been thrown out of Julius for wearing an "Equality for Homosexuals" button. Rodwell and the others argued that the rule furthered bribery and corruption of the police. The resultant publicly led eventually to the end of the SLA rule.
In November 1969, Rodwell proposed the first gay pride parade to be held in New York City by way of a resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations meeting in Philadelphia, along with his partner Fred Sargeant (HYMN vice chairman), Ellen Broidy and Linda Rhodes. The first march was organized from Rodwell's apartment on Bleecker Street.
"That the Annual Reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged-that of our fundamental human rights-be moved both in time and location.
We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY. No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration.
Rodwell is believed to have created the term heterosexism in January 1971 when he wrote:"After a few years of this kind of 'liberated' existence such people become oblivious and completely unseeing of straight predjudice and - to coin a phrase - the 'hetero-sexism' surrounding them virtually 24 hours a day."
In 1978 Rodwell was one of the creators and organizers of Gay People in Christian Science (GPICS). Rodwell credits Kay Tobin with suggesting the idea for the group. One reason for the creation of the group was that three of its members had been recently excommunicated from the local branch church. In 1980 the group began to demonstrate by leafletting at the church's Annual Meeting in Boston and by 1999, six years after Rodwell's death, the Christian Scientist church no longer barred openly gay or lesbian people from membership.
Rodwell was the recipient of the 1992 Lambda Literary Award for Publisher's Service.
In March 1993, Rodwell sold his bookshop to Bill Offenbaker. Rodwell died on June 18, 1993 of stomach cancer.