Gay History – July 24, 1969: The Gay Liberation Front Is Founded
DO YOU THINK HOMOSEXUALS ARE REVOLTING?
YOU BET YOUR SWEET ASS WE ARE!
We’re going to make a place for ourselves in the revolutionary movement. We challenge the myths that are screwing up this society. MEETING: Thursday, July 24th, 6:30 PM at Alternate U, 69 West 14th Street at Sixth Avenue.
*Printed on the first leaflet of the Gay Liberation Front.
In 1969 the leading gay political organization in operation was the Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY), that utilized very buttoned down, straight laced legal techniques to try to advance equality. But right after the Stonewall Riots a group of gay men and lesbians fed up with being abused and the slowness and exclusion of the Mattachine Society’s techniques formed the Gay Liberation Front.
One of the GLF’s first acts was to organize a march in response to Stonewall and to demand an end to the persecution of homosexuals. This was the first gay pride parade in New York in June 1970 . As the flier shows below, this inaugural gathering was called Liberation Day and featured a “Gay-In” in Central Park, consciousness-raising groups, dances, and women-only potluck dinners making the first pride not only a protest but also a community event.
The GLF had a broad political platform, denouncing racism and declaring support for various Third World struggles and the Black Panther Party. They took an anti-capitalist stance and attacked the nuclear family and traditional gender roles but first and foremost their fight was focused on gay rights.
The Gay Liberation Front sought to avoid many of the pitfalls they saw in the political tactics of groups like Mattachine. Where Mattachine activists had sought to project an image of respectability, the new gay liberationists would fight against mainstream attitudes and values. They would “start demanding, not politely requesting, our rights.”
GLF members openly claimed the word “Gay,” which had been avoided by the previous generation of gay and lesbian activists in favor of cryptic, inoffensive names: Mattachine, Bilitis, Janus. They demanded liberation in the spirit of the national-liberation
GLF’s did not hide or feel ashamed of their sexuality. They claimed it publicly, and they urged others to do the same long before Harvey Milk stated the same request in San Francisco. The GLF, called for LGBT people to come “out of the closet and into the streets,” and also believed that patriarchy and sexism were the root cause of the disenfranchisement of people and that assimilation wasn’t the answer and that in order to gain rights. (Tell that to the HRC.)
In 1970, two drag queens who joined the GLF after it was formed Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, started the group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which focused on serving queer youth and street people, especially queens and trans women of color
GLF meetings were run by consensus. While this was not the most efficient method of decision-making, it created an opportunity for dialogue that transformed its members. The core activists of GLF — who included Michael Brown, Martha Shelley, Lois Hart, Bob Martin, Marty Robinson, Karla Jay, and Bob Kohler among many others — organized marches on Time magazine and The Village Voice, fund-raising dances, consciousness-raising groups, and radical study groups, and published their own newspaper, Come Out!, out of the Alternate U. on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street. GLF eventually became a network of semi-autonomous cells. Groups such as the Red Butterfly Cell, the 28th of June Cell, the Planned Non-Parenthood Cell, the Gay Commandoes, and the Aquarius Cell each pursued a specialized agenda, free from the demands of establishing an overall GLF consensus. GLF quickly became the incubator of the new gay and lesbian mass political movement. Although many activists moved on to create more focused gay and lesbian organizations, GLF transformed the consciousness of everyone it touched.
The Gay Liberation Front aimed to create a society free not only from sexism and homophobia but also from sexual labels (and intersectionality).