Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 09 June, 1997

MARTY ROBINSON---MR. ZAP !

Kay Tobin's Magnificent Portrait


Introduction:

"Truly Macho On the Surface, Deeply Caring Within"


 

In the following portrait from Kay Tobin's out-of-print classic, THE GAY CRUSADERS, a true hero emerges who, because of revisionist history, is little-known except in archives, academia or among those brave pioneers, still living, who labored hard in the original Gay Activists Alliance.

The GAA was the extraordinary organization that first embodied--on the spot-- the constructive spirit of Stonewall and, through its wise direction of revolutionary passion, kept it alive, strategic and successful. We today are the inheritors of that spirit. Since this is the month--June-- that the entire globe now celebrates 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, you are invited to enjoy Kay Tobin's splendid dipiction of a pioneer who not only was there at the Inn, but who made it truly count immediately afterwards.

To show just how much he made it count, it is only necessary to know that in the heady days immediately before the world's first Gay Pride parade in 1970, Marty Robinson's photograph--along with his lover Tom Doerr--appeared on the cover of America's first gay weekly newspaper.

Doerr, a graphic artist, had designed a symbol--the Lambda--to represent the new movement. "It represents energy too," he explained. Doerr's lover, Marty, was clearly a young man with energy, a winning kind of vitality, truly macho on the surface, but deeply caring within. Without him, the Stonewall era would have been poorer indeed. New York's gay activists-- especially in those years after the Stonewall uprising--pointed to the handsome journeyman carpenter with pride. They knew he was one gay man who wasn't afraid to be, and that he spoke truth with passion. With the Gay Activists Alliance President, Jim Owles (See last week's People feature in GayToday's archives) he walked without worry into the thick of battle, struggling hand to hand, even, with oppressive police.

During the inception of the movement, there were only few who caught this editor's attention as did Marty Robinson. His brusque macho intensity could turn, in a split second, into tenderness. The privilege of having met him more than once as he walked proudly along Manhattan's streets, hand in hand with his handsome friend, Tom, now evokes treasured memories of a great legend in motion.

Marty Robinson's true dream was the same as that of our nation's poet, Walt Whitman. Like Whitman, Robinson refused to rest until he saw that it would be commonplace for men to walk hand in hand through America just as he and his beloved Tom did so often in New York, champions both who greatly helped birth the sweet dawning of one of Love's boldest moments.

Jack Nichols,

GayToday

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MARTY ROBINSON
By Kay Tobin

 

Sassy! That's how Marty Robinson sees the gay liberation movement. "It's sassy, arrogant, determined, head strong, gonna win! There are lots of gays who think that way now. We're growing!"

Marty is well known as a supermilitant who has given hard zaps to Mayor Lindsay, Governor Rockefeller, and others. He sees himself as a political theoretician as well. Catch him bounding down Bleecker Street toward his tub-in-the-kitchen apartment, and chances are he's in work clothes and coming either from his job or from the Gay Activists Alliance Center.

"I love my work," be says. "I work in the construction trade. I'm a hard-hat, a journeyman carpenter." Marty's kind of skill is so much in demand in the New York area that he can work when he wants to and take time off when there's movement work to be done. Consequently, he's usually in the thick of any GAA zap action. Over Italian coffee he talks about the sassier side of gay liberation.

"Old-line gay groups react in dismay to the new recklessness, the militancy, the honest forceful demand for total liberation. It's a joyous demand, and more than that, it contains the potential for great political power. By claiming that the rights of gays are too hot to handle, politicians have reinforced society's conception of homosexuality as a joke or as something to be feared, and they have further contributed to gay oppression by allowing injustices to go unchallenged.

"But gays comprise one of the largest minorities in America. They are capable of getting the representation they need, but can only do so, it seems, by public confrontations that make politicians face and respond to issues they otherwise avoid. Right now, that part of the gay movement that's forcing the system to respond is fighting its way up the liberals." Activists like Marty are putting the squeeze first on liberals to make them recognize that homosexuals' rights are a political issue. "Nothing happens until you make it happen," he asserts.

Marty learned to revel in the zap while active in New York's early Gay Liberation Front. In the fall of 1969, he and a dozen other GLFers went to a mayoralty candidates' night sponsored by the League of Women Voters and held in the large auditorium of Temple Torah in Queens. Candidates Procaccino and Marchi were picked as targets, and Marty was picked to hurl the challenge. "It's 1776, Mr. Procaccino! The homosexual revolution has begunl" Marty shouted. Then he asked Procaccino what he would do for the gay community if elected mayor.

"We created so much pandemonium we closed the candidates' night down," Marty recalls. "All the young people and the progressive people rose to their feet in our defense, calling out, 'Let them speak!' The establishment people were freaked out. It was one big stage, one big theater. Finally the police threw us out.

"We let Lindsay off without questioning him because it was a close mayoralty race and we didn't want to jeopardize his chances. There was no direct payoff from the zap except that it established gays on the political scene. Later, of course, after he'd been re-elected, we felt there was something to be gained by zapping Lindsay."

Later turned out to be after Gay Activists Alliance was formed, with Marty as one of the twelve founders.

He was GAA's first delegate-at-large and afterwards chairman of the political action committee. From the start he was a pacesetter, showing an audacity that inspired others to uncork in the heat of a confrontation.

One of his first zaps after GAA's formation was a lone action, following an extraordinary police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar in which 167 persons were arrested and one man nearly lost his life trying to escape. Gays had put together a huge protest demonstration within hours after the raid but had no immediate plans beyond this. So Marty took matters into his own hands. The next night, at a meeting of the Village Independent Democrats (VID), an influential political club, Marty delivered an impassioned attack on society's treatment of gays generally, and demanded that the club assist gays in halting police harassment. Result: a call for a moratorium on all such raids, directed at Mayor Lindsay by the VID.

"I'd never heard a homosexual stand up and talk that way to straight people before," said Tom Doerr at the time. "It really took my breath away!" Marty and Tom had just recently become lovers.

At GAA's first confrontation with Lindsay, Marty's derring-do carried him beyond the group's formal plan for the zap. The mayor was about to give a speech to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Museurn of Art. The first hundred members of the public to get in the reception line were to be allowed to shake the mayor's hand afterwards. Fifteen of that hundred were gays.

Suddenly Marty bolted from the reception line and leaped up the steps of the museum to Lindsay's side at the portable podium. "Mr. Mayor, I'm a member of Gay Activists Alliance and I want to know when you intend to speak out on ____"

Marty learned the hard way not to use long introductory phrases in a zap. Before he could add "___ fair employment legislation for gays in New York City," he was hauled off to the sidelines by police.

In the reception line afterwards, Marty and each of the other gays in turn held on to the mayor's hand and asked whether he would support a City Council bill for job protection for gays. The mayor kept smiling and kept silent. Bodyguards intervened. "It took three of them to separate one gay from the mayor's hand," Marty recalls.

A similar "politician's response" was given by Governor Rockefeller when he gave ~ speech in New York City in September 1970. Marty and a dozen other GAA members shook the governor's hand on the way out and asked what he would do to repeal the state laws against sodomy and to probe syndicate control of gay burs. Rockefeller played dumb and skirted the issues. A picture of the zap in GAY for October 26 showed Marty almost nose-to-nose with the governor, under the headline "Rockefeller Ignorant of Sodomy; Says Gay Bars Not Mob Owned."

Mayor Lindsay was besieged several more times, once in a most unlikely setting--opening night at the Metropolitan Opera. It was a rare occasion, for Marty along with GAA cohorts got suitably dressed to blend in with the crowd before sending up chants of "End police harassment!" and "Gay power!" But again Lindsay remained impassive as police escorted the group out.

The zaps ultimately paid off. Many months after a fair employment bill for gay people was launched in City Council, the mayor finally broke his silence on gay issues and gave a nod to the bill

"The fact that Lindsay responded to pressure tactics from gays," says Marty, "is exciting and frightening. It signals the political potential of our movement. Gays are now wielding political power and eventually they will wield much more power. And that's scary -- to be a part of bigtime power politics!" But it's essential for the gay movement, in Marty's view. For example, while he admires the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Marty maintains that the black leader "depended too much on moral righteousness and not enough on his political muscle.

"Our approach to government is really very grassroots Americana yet very avant-garde. If we proselytize the fact that the function of government is to enforce and secure the rights of the people, and to serve the people, it brings out a whole new attitude. It puts government in its place, and puts it to work for us instead o£ against us."

He refers again to the job protection bill. "If that legislation passes, it will mean the granting of minority-group status to homosexuals in New York City which is hardly liberation, but certainly a step forward. Gay people shouldn't be forced to come out of the closet, but it should be made possible for them.

"The establishment isn't even aware it's having a strong influence on gays, keeping them in the closet and preventing them from organizing. Society has given us all a place as outcasts, and demanded, under threats of reprisal, a uniform hiding, a public self-denial unto death."

Though Marty himself was never in the closet, he did have a brush with private self-denial. "At one time, before I got into gay liberation, I was working on emotional problems that I should have seen as political problems. For example, for a while I thought it might be better to go straight, that life would be easier. But an older gay told me that if I did that, I would be giving up the essence of myself." Today Marty views the lure of comfort in conformism as part of the oppression of homosexuals.

That essence of himself, he became aware of rather late. Marty was twenty when he "matured into homosexuality," as he puts it.

Born in Brooklyn on November 25, 1942, Marty Robinson went to both public and private schools in the area. "I was a lousy student. I never studied. I got two years' worth of credits in three years at Brooklyn College, where I majored in biology. I wanted to be a doctor because my father is a doctor. I'm a Jewish soul."

He dated and had sex with women until he was twenty, and with one young woman he had a relationship for over two years. Then one day when he was walking down a street in Brooklyn, a young man caught his eye. A casual pickup provided Marty with his first homosexual experience. "It was sudden and it was nice," he says. "And I just didn't care from the day I became gay if anyone found out.

"My parents tried to bribe me off with a trip to Europe if I'd give up being gay! But they have to change their attitudes. The more realism, the more truth I've injected into my relationship with my parents, the more I can approach them as an adult and show them what I have to teach them as a homosexual. I have to bring them up to an understanding of the movement." How do they react to his working for gay liberation? "They'd rather I be a doctor."

Marty took up carpentry while living with his first lover. "We decided we didn't like office work. So we bought a table saw and put an ad in The Village Voice that said, 'Expert carpenters and cabinetmakers. Custom work done.' We had no experience at all. We just started doing the work and learning as we went.

"When we broke up, I went to an agency and said I had seven years' experience, and they sent me out on a job. I'd run up to the third floor to see how the carpenters there were doing things, then I'd run down and do my work on the second floor! I kept doing this until I learned."

Does he actually wear a hard hat on the job? "Yes, sometimes. A blue one." And do his co-workers know he's gay? "If the subject comes up, I tell them I'm gay. I don't make any pretense."

Marty was one of the members picked to represent GAA on the Dick Cavett Show. (The producers had agreed to have gay guests under threat of a zap for Cavett's anti-gay jokes.) Appearing-in blue jeans and a GAA shirt, Marty told late night viewers that what homosexuals want is "to be open in the society, to live a life without fear of reprisal from anybody, to live a life of respect."

"Good morning, celebrity!" his boss said the next day. Marty recalls, "We all rapped at lunch and exchanged ideas on organizing. They're very right-wing and thought I should have worn a suit and tie."

As a controversial figure in the gay movement, he is an inspiration to some and an irritant to others. "I'm not always able to convey the warmth I feel," Marty says.

I have an aggressive way of dealing with people and talking with people. I have great self-confidence and I come on strong, stronger than I have to on occasion. But you have to understand what it's like to be a tradesman. At work I can call someone a motherfucker and give him an order. This kind of aggressiveness has affected my career in the movement."

His natural aggressiveness has also been misread. "Just a month or two before the Stonewall riots, I was ap- proached by someone in the New Left to start a Pink Panthers, to create a new butch image for male homosexuals. The whole idea was a big turn-off to me. There's nothing worse than to try to be a l950's butchl"

Shortly after he came out at twenty, Marty recalls, he went through an "ultra-butch" phase, then swung to the other extreme and tried "a little screaming and camping. I thought this was what was expected, this was the way to be gay. I got over that."

Though Marty wasn't willing to be a Pink Panther, he was ready for gay liberation. He was present at the Stonewall uprising and witnessed gay people for the first time retaliating against police with both angry physical resistance and proud ingenuity.

`'It was beautiful!" he exclaims. "As the TPF riot squad were coming down the street, about twenty-five gays broke into a chorus line. It was defiant camping!" Marty contends that in this instant, gays discovered their homosexuality to be something precious, something worth fighting for.

"After the Stonewall, I lay awake in bed and couldn't sleep for about six hours. I was thinking about the responsibility of being in the movement and the importance of doing things that are good for people." From this night on, he was firmly committed to the movement. Still he had lots of room for another kind of commitment. In fall 1969, Marty met his lover, Tom, through a mutual friend. "Today I have a beautiful relationship with a beautiful person. I fell in love fast. A couple of days after I met him I found myself on my way to his apartment on Bleecker Street, carrying champagne and flowers. I was hooked!"

Marty soon moved in with Tom, who's a talented graphics artist. Together they manned GAA's mimeo machine in their apartment and turned out dozens of colorful leaflets and fliers. "Dance your ass off!" with a unisex ass drawn by Tom was one of their sassier productions.

As assertive at the conference table as he is in public zaps, Marty once laid it on the line to then Police Com- -missioner Howard Leary in a meeting with several GAA representatives in July 1970: "We're here about a social condition-- syndicate control of gay bars and payoffs to police. The bars are run shabbily and are a bad influence on young kids just coming out who patronize these places, and who already don't know what to make of themselves because of the way society receives them. Such gay bars shouldn't be tolerated in these years. We can't live with it. We want to see legitimate bars where there's no guy at the door with a cigar in his face saying to kids, "Welcome to your life --this is it, your subculture, your subterranean existence.'

"Commissioner, our desire now is what anyone who's honest can get into business and stay in without a shakedown, and can get police protection." Leary gave assurances this would be the case, but shortly thereafter he resigned from office.

Things went on as usual until gays took matters into their own hands and now New York has viable alterna- tives to gay bars and "the guy at the door with the cigar in his face." GAA and Daughters of Bilitis did it: DOB by renovating a loft into its Lesbian Center, GAA by converting a former firehouse. Both the Lesbian Center and the GAA Center (also called simply the Firehouse) parallel gay-owned-and-run centers in other major cities, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Like other gay crusaders, Marty doesn't put down the gay bar culture completely. He sees it as an interim step: "Bars have been a primitive but important means for gays to get together, to mass. But the fact is, almost all bars and gathering places in New York and many other cities are under the domination or outright ownership of the mob. This doesn't help create a free society with cultural alternatives for gays, beyond what the syndicate deems profitable. But now we are capable of establishing a secure gay environment within the larger society. Now at last we have the chance to step outside a life designed for us by a tradition of oppression."

Marty put his skills to work for the GAA Center and was at the heart of the renovating effort. "The first two weeks were murder. Most days I worked twelve hours a day. I felt like a gay caterer, getting the place ready for that first dance. And it was a horrible feeling. I thought, this isn't what a revolution's about! It takes more than a roof and music to produce a cultural revolution. We're going to have to work to make this place more relevant to the gay movement When we had that first dance, we had one of the best gay bars in town. But we wanted a lot more than that-"

Soon the "more" was available. Outside The Firehouse every weekend were long lines of gays waiting for space inside. While some came to dance on the main floor or to relax in the coffee bar on the second, many headed for the top floor to watch videotaped shows of gay movement activities. The multiple facets of gay liberation were also brought together in a 40-foot-long mural that Marty helped put up on the main floor in July 1971. This "agitprop art," as he calls it, is a photo collage of events and persons on the gay movement scene.

"If we had the bread to go into it," says Marty, we'd be ready for Madison Square Garden. But for now we have the center, and it's a dream. It's three scoops of ice cream, heavy on the syrup, with lots of whipped cream--and all for thirty-five cents. There's no place like it m town. It's honest. It's good. And it's going to take one helluva fight with the syndicate to keep it open. But we can win that fight!"

This kind of no-mission-impossible talk is Marty's trademark. There are some missions, however, that he flatly refuses to undertake. In his ideological orbit, "militant gays spend no time arguing with traditional critics.

They know that a successful challenge to centuries of oppression can only be accomplished with political power. Scorning the debate some gays carry on with those traditional critics called psychiatrists, Marty says that gay people look at their own lives and they know that psychiatric allegations of sickness are lies. "You don't talk to an absurdity!" he exclaims.

"Instead of relating to any crackpot who comes along," he wants gays to deal with people who hold power. "Instead of talking at a level which is insulting to us--are all gays child molesters? we're talking about the oppression of gays and putting the debate on the level at which it belongs is that of civil rights." The shift of framework will, he maintains, prove the most efficient way to change straight peoples negative attitudes about homosexuality.

He will have no part of efforts to directly educate straights. "Fuck trying to change attitudes! There's only one way gays will get ahead, and that's with power. Only with political power can we make a massive cultural change happen, enabling gays to be openly gay. I want to walk hand in hand with my lover through Main Street U.S.A. and have nobody bat an eye. "Gay liberation has come as a great shock to many people. Our coming out helps to remove old myths, and will eventually bring those presently overcome by shock to calm down and move on to more rational consideration "Someday I hope our efforts will leave people with one less hate they can easily rationalize"

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Kay Tobin, author of this portrait-interview describing Marty Robinson, is herself a legendary portrait-making strategist who, at strategic moments was at the right place and knew exactly what to do about it. Among many of her little-known accomplishments, Kay Tobin was the first photographer to place true-life lesbians' faces on the nation's first lesbian journal, THE LADDER. Her long-time, ever-constant companion is a woman she greatly treasures, as all do who know that woman, Barbara Gittings, 1997's New York City Gay Pride Co-Grand Marshal, an honor Barbara Gittings deserves, and more. Barbara was the truly militant editor of THE LADDER, responsible in the early Sixties for its then-daring subtitle, "A Lesbian Review" She is, in the mind of GayToday's editor, the Grand Mother of Modern Gay and Lesbian Liberation.

Here's a secret about the book from which this essay about Marty Robinson was excerpted, THE GAY CRUSADERS. Kay Tobin and "Gay Crusader" Randy Wicker (the first openly gay man using his legal name--to go on radio and TV as such) supposedly co-wrote this book, THE GAY CRUSADERS, together. But no! Randy did not co-write THE GAY CRUSADERS. The publishers required, using commercial reasoning, the addition of a man's name in the byline. Randy Wicker, as far as I know, has been the only man ever to have appeared in a cover-ad for THE LADDER itself, so Kay Tobin faced this ultimatum, it seems, with Randy as a logical choice.

Kay Tobin wrote THE GAY CRUSADERS alone, as Randy Wicker quickly admits. It was published in 1972 and is described on the cover as: "In depth interviews with 15 homosexuals--men and women who are shaping America's newest sexual revolution." New York: PaperBack Library, 238 pp. 1972. also--in hardback-- reprinted in New York: Arno Press: Series on Homosexuality: Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History and Literature in (1975). This book is, without doubt, a primary text currently out of print.

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