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Gay History – September 12, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Protests The Village Voice Over Homophobic Advertising Policy

Even though the Village Voice was the only news outlet in New York City which did extensive coverage of the Stonewall Riots. (The July 3rd. edition featured two front page stories about the riot: “Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square” by Lucian Truscott IV, and Howard Smith’s experience of that night strapped in the Stonewall Inn with the NYPD “From the Inside: Full Moon Over The Stonewall.”) The Voice’s reporting wasn’t above the kind of mocking tone and prejudicial stereotypes that were typical at that time. Truscott wrote of “the forces of faggotry,” the “blatant queens” with “limped wrists and primed hair” battling police, which he described as “the city’s finest.” Also in the July 10 issue of the Voice writer Walter Troy Spencer called the riot “the Great Faggot Rebellion.”

A little over two months after the riot the newly formed Gay Liberation Front tried to place two small ads in  Voice. One ad in the free Bulletin Board section on page two was to publicize the GLF’s community dances, and the other one, a paid ad for the classified section, was to announced the forthcoming publication of the GLF’s new newspaper, Come Out! The second ad was supposed to have the headline “Gay Power to Gay People,” but Voice staff deleted the lead-in without notifying the GLF.  They also changed the Bulletin Board ad to read “Homophile Dance” instead of Gay Community Dance.”

As you can imagine this did not sit well with the GLF. But they decided to give it another try and placed another ad to advertise the Gay Community Dance planned for September 5th. The ad was accepted, but the person who placed the ad received a phone call from someone at the Voice the next day to say that it was Voice policy to refuse to print obscene words in classified ads and that the using the the word “gay”was obscene — even though the Voice routinely accepted, without question, ads for apartments from landlords specifying “no gays.” 

The Gay Liberation Front struck back with a protest at the Village Voice on Friday, September 12th. demanding a meeting with publisher Ed Fancher. The protest went on all day as Fancher stubbornly refused to meet with the group. Later that afternoon, a protester tried to place a classified ad reading, “The Gay Liberation Front sends love to all Gay men and women in the homosexual community.” That ad was rejected. But soon after, Fancher agreed to meet three of the protesters’ representatives.

This is how the premiere issue of GLF’s Come Out! described the meeting:

Once inside and upstairs, the representatives encountered a cry of outrage that GLF has chosen the Village Voice as a target (sooo liberal we are). The suggestion was made that we negotiate the three points in dispute I )changing classified ads without knowledge or consent of purchaser, 2) use of the words “Gay” and “homosexual” in classifieds, and 3) the contemptuous attitude of the Village Voice toward the Gay Community. GLF explained that the two issues involving classified ad policy were not negotiable and that the substance of the paper should be of legitimate concern to a responsible publisher. Ed Fancher replied that the Village Voice exercised no censorship of its articles, and that if a writer wanted to say derogatory things about faggots, he could not in good conscience stop him. Fancher also said that we had no right to tamper with “freedom of the press.”

The GLF accepted with the absolute understanding that Gay Power has the right to return and oppose anything the Village Voice staff chooses to include in the paper. On the Classified Ads policy he conceded completely. He said that not only would the Voice not alter Ads after payment, but that in Classified Ads the words “Gay” and “homosexual” per se were no longer issues. One of the GLF representatives in the upstairs office stepped to the window facing Seventh Avenue and flashed the V for Victory sign to the waiting crowd below. WE HAD WON!

Surprisingly (NOT!) the next edition of the Village Voice did not report on the protest at its front door, but the Gay Liberation Front’s small ad did appear in that issue’s Bulletin Board unedited.

A protester outside the Village Voice, 1969
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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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