Tag Archives: Gay Activist Alliance

Gay History – August 5, 1970: NYC Drops Charges Against The Gay Activists Alliance “Rockefeller Five”.

One of our earliest activists groups the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) which was founded in New York City on December 21, 1969, just 5 months after the Stonewall riots by dissident members of the Gay Liberation Front( GLF).  Instead of working on multiple issues the GAA wanted to concentrate on a “single issue” the goal being to “secure basic human rights, dignity and freedom for all gay people.”

The Gay Activists Alliance was most active from 1970 to 1974  and performed what they called zaps, (protests conceived by Marty Robinson) which were public peaceful confrontations with officials to draw media attention. Some of their more visible actions included protests against an anti-gay episode on the popular TV series Marcus Welby, M.D., a zap of Mayor John Lindsay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and later at Radio City Music Hall, But the most well known was a sit in at the offices of then Governor Rockefeller as part of a push for a Gay Civil Rights Bill to become state law

As told by GAA member Paul Martin:

“At the New York State Republican Headquarters in Manhattan on June 25, 1970 a number of G.A.A. members walked into the tenth floor offices of the New York State Republican Headquarters and demanded to see Governor Nelson Rockefeller about the issue of gay civil rights in New York State. They were informed that the governor wasn’t in the office at that moment and, strangely, didn’t seem interested in coming over to talk with them. And so the upstairs action began. When asked to leave the demonstrators refused and held a sit in.
 
Downstairs we were marching around chanting as loudly as we could; loud was a G.A.A. trademark. There were never more than ten of us downstairs. Upstairs the Republicans had decided that they’d ignore the people who were sitting in, demanding to see Governor Rockefeller. About two hours into the action Arthur Bell came down and told us that they could hear us over the general noise of the city up in the Republican Headquarters office! He told us that we sounded like there were fifty people or more down in the street demonstrating. A large crowd had gathered around to see what we were doing, and when the Republicans looked out the window they couldn’t tell that the demonstration consisted of only the small number of people in the middle of that large crowd. I don’t think there was ever more than a few continuous seconds of silence on that picket line. Did I mention we were loud?
 
Upstairs there were negotiations, there were demands, and there were requests to leave. The demonstration lasted for hours and hours. Finally, after the Republicans couldn’t stand it anymore, they had five of the sit in demonstrators arrested for criminal trespass. We cheered them as they were led away in handcuffs, and at long last we could stop yelling. My voice never actually recovered from that day.
 
At a meeting of the G.A.A. Political Action Committee (it had nothing to do with campaign contributions) some time later we were all wondering what to call the people who had been arrested. Suggestions were tossed around. I suggested “The Rockefeller Five,” which was met with silence. Shortly, Arthur Evans, one of the arrestees, said, “How about ‘The Rockefeller Five?’” and there was suddenly great jubilation in the room. That was the name that stuck. And I learned a lesson about groups’ expectations and how it shapes the way they listen to you or not.
 
The Rockefeller Five went through court appearance after court appearance, and months after the action the charges were simply dropped. The Rockefeller Five action was one of those ongoing activities that G.A.A. could sustain that were to prove crucial to pushing gay liberation forward in the seventies.”

The charges against the activist were dismissed

The GAA’s  theory stated that consciousness would be raised through activism rather than through introspection.  Its deliberate goal was to effect the lives of as many people as possible by raising consciousness through activism rather than through introspection to effect the lives of as many people as possible.

Here are some of the actions that GAA did in the early seventies.  Many of which are slowly being forgotten. And all of which are worthy of note and remembrance.

  • Occupied St. Patrick’s Cathedral after yet another defeat of a bill by the City Council. This occurred on a weekday afternoon. Pete Fisher sang his gay freedom songs sitting on the steps of the main altar. A meeting with a representative from the archdiocese was demanded and held — obviously Church policy hasn’t moved.
  • Invaded the New York City Taxi Commission to protest its requirement that gays have psychiatric examinations before they could be licensed. The requirement was dropped.
  • Invaded the office of the New York City Clerk after he refused to issue a marriage license to two men wishing to be married by the Church of the Holy Disciple.
  • Zapped and lobbied the American Psychiatric Association in a successful effort to force it to remove the diagnosis of homosexuality from its listing of psychiatric disorders. Ron Gold, chairperson of GAA’s media committee, has long been denied the credit he deserves for directing the campaign that resulted in this most important achievement.
  • Took over the editorial offices of the New York Daily News in response to a viscous anti-gay editorial. The News never did another editorial like that one.
  • Sat in at the offices of Gertrude Unser, President of the New York City Board of Education to protest biased hiring and firing practices. Those biases were soon lifted from official Board of Education policies.
  • Zapped police and occupied the District Attorney’s offices in Hauppauge, Long Island and Bridgeport, Connecticut to protest Police harassment and the brutal beatings of several GAA members.
  • In conjunction with STAR, Street Transvestite Activist Revolution, picketed and held a demonstration at Rikers Island Mental Hospital to protest its treatment of transvestites. One result was Marsha Johnson’s escape to New York.
  • Demonstrated at Times Square to protest police harassment of hustlers and transvestites.
  • Established New York’s first Lesbian and Gay Community Center at the GAA Firehouse. Vito Russo held the first lesbian and gay film festival there.
  • Zapped CBS and ABC News to protest anti-gay tone of its reporting. They shaped up. Dick Cavett, whose relentless anti-gay spiels had become unbearable, was forced to give time to GAA spokespeople on his national TV show after one Zap and the threat of others

Now almost 50 years later we are still fighting the battle that the GAA began. The battle  “to demand our Liberation from repression and for our rights to be written into the documents that protect the rights of all people, for without that writing there can be no guarantees of protection from the larger society.”

We must remember the GAA and all the other early LGBT activists and  groups that started our fight for equality. It is imperative to our community that we not only remember but learn from them but to finish the fight and to use their history and teachings to our advantage.

The Rockefller Five Gay History

Gay History Month – October 27: Sigmund Freud On Homosexuality, The GAA Invades Harper’s Magazine and the Tragic Murder of Gay Sailor Allen Schindler

Gay/LGBT History Month: October 27th: Sigmund Freud, Vito Russo, and the Tragic Murder of Gay Sailor Allen Schindler

October 27th.

1903:I am of the firm conviction,’ Sigmund Freud famously wrote to the newspaper Die Zeit in 1905, `that homosexuals must not be treated as sick people.”’

In 1935, Freud wrote to a mother who had asked him to treat her son’s homosexuality, a letter that would later become famous:

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it

Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime –and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

By asking me if I can help [your son], you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual; in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains homosexual or gets changed.

1951: The French Postal Service issued stamps with the pictures of those famous crazy co-dependent gay poet lovers Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. on them. Viva La France!

1964: 18-year-old Cheryl Sarkisian (aka “Cher”) wears bell bottoms at her wedding to Sonny Bono and the rest is Cherstory!

1970Forty members of the Gay Activist Alliance including Vito Russo, Morty Manford, Jim Owles, Arnie Kantrowitz, Arthur Evans, and Peter Fischer invade the offices of Harper’s Magazine with a news crew from WOR-TV New York to protest the article  “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity in which the magazine presented homosexuality as a mental illness.

Written by Joesphn Epstein:

“They are different from the rest of us. Homosexuals are different, moreover, in a way that cuts deeper than other kinds of human differences — religious, class, racial — in a way that is, somehow, more fundamental. Cursed without clear cause, afflicted without apparent cure, they are an affront to our rationality, living evidence of our despair of ever finding a sensible, an explainable, design to the world. One can tolerate homosexuality, a small enough price to be asked to pay for someone else’s pain, but accepting it, really accepting it, is another thing altogether. I find I can accept it least of all when I look at my children. There is much my four sons can do in their lives that might cause me anguish, that might outrage me, that might make me ashamed of them and of myself as their father. But nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual. For then I should know them condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men, their lives, whatever adjustment they might make to their condition, to be lived out as part of the pain of the earth.

 “If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of this earth.  I would do so because I think it brings infinitely more pain than pleasure to those who are forced to live with it; because I think there is no resolution for this pain in our lifetime, only, for the majority of homosexuals, more pain and various degrees of exacerbating adjustment; and because, wholly selfishly, I find myself completely incapable of coming to terms with it.” 

GAA president Arthur Evans verbally attacked editor Midge Decter for publishing an article which would add to the suffering of homosexuals. Dector denied that the article reinforced anti-gay prejudice. A decade later, she would write her own virulent anti-gay screed, “The Boys on the Beach,” for Commentary, Norman Podhoretz’s magazine (who also just happened to be her husband). The only regret that she expressed about her encounter over Epstein’s “elegant and thoughtful essay” was that the protesters lacked the “dash and high taste” she had come to expect from summers she spent earlier that decade in the the Fire Island Pines.

Although the Harper’s article was one of the most insulting to appear in the media, it galvanized gays and lesbians in the community who had never become involved in gay liberation at a public level

The protest led to a three part television news series on gay liberation presented by WOR.

1990: The United States Congress repeals a law barring homosexuals from being admitted to the United States on grounds of mental illness.

1992: The Federal Court of Canada ordered the military to lift the ban on gay and lesbian service personnel. The Defense Department declined to appeal the decision.

1993:  Allen Schindler, a gay American sailor, was brutally beaten to death by his shipmates.

Two months before his 23rd birthday, on Oct. 27, 1992, while on shore leave in Sasebo, Japan, Allen Schindler was followed into a park bathroom shortly before midnight by two drunken shipmates, one of whom, Airman Charles Vins, watched and occasionally joined in while the other, Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey, kneed Schindler in the groin, struck him in the face and then, cradling his head in the crook of his arm, punched him repeatedly while lowering him to the floor. There, Helvey began stamping on him with the heel of his foot, striking blows from head to crotch that resulted, according to the pathologist who performed the autopsy, in abrasions, contusions and lacerations of the forehead, eyes, nose, lips, chin, neck, Adam’s apple, trachea, lungs, liver — which was pulped “like a smushed tomato” — and penis. The pathologist compared the damage to that of a “high-speed auto accident or a low-speed aircraft accident” and said it was the most severe trauma he’d ever witnessed — even worse than a case he’d seen of a man trampled to death by a horse.

A sailor who happened upon the scene but could only make out shadows through a window in the bathroom door described Helvey’s footwork another way: “It seemed like he was dancing.”

Terry Helvey was convicted of murder and Douglas J. Bradt, the captain who kept the incident quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida. Helvey is now serving a life sentence in the military prison at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, although by statute, he is granted a clemency hearing every year. Helvey’s accomplice, Charles Vins, was allowed to plea bargain as guilty to three lesser offenses, including failure to report a serious crime and to testify truthfully against Terry Helvey, and served a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy.

 

WHEN WE RISE – The Unsung Heroes Of Gay History: Peter Fischer of the Gay Activists Alliance

 

Peter Fisher was an American author and one of our movements original gay rights activist.

Fischer an alumnus of Amherst College and Columbia University, served in the US Air Force prior to becoming an early member of the Gay Activists Alliance, a protest group that split off from the Gay Liberation Front after the Stonewall riots with the goal of “writing the revolution into law.”  Fisher led a number of the zaps“, or protests that targeted at anti-gay public figures and businesses that were organized by the GAA, as well as serving as an unofficial historian for the group. 

Do you know how it tastes to be alive for the first time? Oppression in any form requires the complicity of the oppressed. To come out is to refuse to oppress oneself, refuse to play the game.” – Peter Fischer

Describing his intense joy marching in the Christopher Street Liberation Day march in 1970 that commemorated the first anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, Fisher wrote, “There’s no going back after that. You can’t feel those things and take them back to the closet and nurse them. When you know what it really means to be free, you know that freedom is life. Do you know how it tastes to be alive for the first time? Oppression in any form requires the complicity of the oppressed. To come out is to refuse to oppress oneself, refuse to play the game.”

When City Councilman Saul Sharison refused to allow the New York gay rights bill to be heard in committee in 1971, Fisher was among those who led more than a thousand people from a dance at the GAA Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street to Sharison’s high rise at 70 East Tenth Street and got clubbed by the police. “It was the most nightmarish scene I had ever witnessed: long, brutal clubs smashing left and right, landing on people’s heads, the crowd panicking, pushing first to the barricades and then falling back,” he wrote.  He and his lover Marc Rubin were arrested, but five days later the hearing was scheduled on the bill that GAA put forward as the first in the country to propose protections on the basis of “sexual orientation.”

Veteran gay and AIDS activist Bill Bahlman, 60, who worked in GAA with Fisher, said, “Whenever he spoke at a GAA meeting, everybody listened. He could turn the debate on an issue around. And at demonstrations, he was larger than life.”

Peter Fischer HarpersFischer chaired The Harpers Action Committee, which staged a take-over of Harper’s Magazine’s offices after they ran a viciously anti-gay article. Peter also chaired the GAA’s National Gay Movement Committee which sent out field workers across America to organize gay groups in cities lacking them.

Fisher received the Stonewall Book Award in 1972 for The Gay Mystique: The Myth and Reality of Male Homosexuality, later described as “one of the first books to look at the subject from the inside rather than from a heterosexual’s viewpoint.  

The Gay Mystique is and still should be one of the “canon” books every gay man should read.

Peter Fischer’s and Marc Rubin’s loving relationship endured 37 years until Marc’s death in 2007

On July 10, 2012, Peter Fischer committed suicide by suffocation.  

He was 68.