On August 2, 1969, just a little over one month after the Stonewall Riots the newly formed Gay Liberation Front took to the streets of Midtown Manhattan and participated in a rally and march to demand the release of political prisoners and members of the Armed Forces who were being held in military stockades. The focus was on Fort Dix 38 who were 38 prisoners made up of AWOLs, Vietnam war resisters, and conscientious objectors who rose against deplorable and inhumane conditions at the Army Base stockade in New Jersey.
There were three short films that NYPD detectives shot. We have seen these loops and they are silent and last just over nine minutes altogether. The films were digitized by the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, which manages the Municipal Archives. They were posted on YouTube for some time but have been removed.
While the detectives did not name GLF in their report the font on the banners, including the interlocked female/ female and male/ male graphics that were GLF’s symbol, are readily recognizable.
Allen Young, who was working for the Liberation News Service in August 1969, recognized Dan Smith and Ralph Hall, two GLF members, in the film.
NYC’s Department of Records and Information Services, which manages the Municipal Archives shared the films with Gay City News, archivists said they knew only that the film was shot on August 2, 1969.
While we still have the still shot posted above that shows the GLF symbol on the protest sign we are attempting to locate the videos once again and when they are found they will be reposted for their historical significance.
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), which 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.
GLFs 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 to gain rights. (Tell that to the HRC.)
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 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).
In the 1940’s a handwritten, misspelled sign that said “Fagots Stay Out,” made history at West Hollywood eatery and watering hole Barney’s Beanery.
Put up by original owner John “Barney” Anthony, the message so offended the locals so much t that Life magazine did an article on opposition to the sign in 1964, which included a photograph of the owner steadfastly holding on to it. The owner died in 1968, but the new owner Irwin Held, kept the sign up despite pressure and efforts continued to have the sign removed. The Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church, said he was shocked when he first heard about the sign. He confronted Held, who said the sign “didn’t mean anything” and refused to take it down.
Activists put pressure on Held not only through protests and actions designed primarily to make them a nuisance to the business. “Sip-ins” involved settling into booths for hours while ordering nothing but coffee. In “change-ins,” people queued up in long lines just to ask the staff to make change.
The Gay Liberation Front organized a zap (protest) of the restaurant on February 7, 1970 to push for its removal. The sign disappeared that day — but then it went back up along with several more signs.