Renee Paechter Cafiero was a gay rights pioneer

Renee Paechter Cafiero was a gay rights pioneer

Returning now to the Emil Paechter line of the Meyer Paechter branch, I’ll introduce you to our living third cousin once removed, Renee Vera Paechter Cafiero.

She is the half-Jewish daughter of emigre historian Henry Paechter and his wife Hedwig Rössler, born in 1943 during the Pachters early years in New York. That makes her 80 years old today, but she is still going strong in community politics and now also in genealogy.

Her recent contributions of Paechter family information on Ancestry is what got me started on my renewed Paechter investigations. I have briefly been in touch with her by email and hope to be again soon. Among other things, I’d like to learn about the progress of the Stolpersteine project for her aunt Hilde Paechter Blank.

I’ll cover Hilde and also Renee’s mother Hedwig in upcoming posts.

Renee herself has had a fascinating life and career. She is most known as an organizer of the first known American gay-rights public demonstration when she represented the Mattachine League in at protest at the U.S. Army induction center in Manhattan on September 19, 1964, cited as one of the precedents for the Stonewall Uprising in 1969.

In 1972, as an alternate delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention, she was an author of the first-ever proposed gay-rights plank in the Democratic Party platform. She served for many years as a Democratic Party committeeman from Brooklyn.

In June 2018, she sat for an interview with the Stonewall Oral History Project. It is available to view on YouTube, and from it we learn many biographical details. She speaks of her childhood on the Upper West Side in an intellectual household, a bit about her parents and their history, and her father's early American career in PR, journalism and higher education. 

Mostly, it is about her own personal and political development as an early leader in the gay rights movement in New York. We also learn about her career as a children's book editor at Harper Row, and her work as a UAW organizer of editorial workers. 

Renee identifies herself as bisexual in the interview and speaks at length of Miriam Frank as the great love of her life. She hardly mentions Arthur Cafiero, to whom she was married for a few years in the early 1960s, yet she continued to use his Italian surname after their divorce. 

I salute Renee for putting her unique stamp on her family's progressive political tradition.