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GAA Must Be Restored to History

By Marc Rubin

gaa1.jpg - 28.17 K Christopher Street Liberation Day, 1970
Photo: The GAA Reunion, Newsletter #6

During the legendary Stonewall era Marc Rubin stood—in New York-- at ground zero in the gay and lesbian movement. He helped make and execute liberation strategy. Photos of him in the gay press of that time attest to his courageous involvement. Always at his side has been the companion who stood by him in that time too, Peter Fisher, author of The Gay Mystique, a book celebrated by Jesse Monteagudo as an early classic.

After attending a 30-Year Manhattan celebration of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, Marc Rubin penned the following essay. It will be the first in a new on-going GayToday series—The History Project.

Jack Nichols, Senior Editor, GayToday

historyproject.gif - 3.81 K Saint John the Divine, the World's largest gothic cathedral, its altar softly glowing in rainbow colors, was celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Ms. Coco Peru, a lovely drag queen in a shimmering blue dress, stood in the pulpit reading a timeline covering Queer History from 1969 to 1976.

How did that singular event in June 1969 become the fountainhead for so many of the changes that have made the world so different for queers thirty years later? The answer is simple yet strangely unheard. It spawned the Gay Liberation Movement.

First there was The Gay Liberation Front proclaiming loudly, clearly, and brilliantly, the truth that gay is good, that queers had embodied within them all of the genius of Humanity, and owned all privileges of that status. GLF's story, like Stonewall's, has been told often.

The Gay Activists Alliance, the organization that moved GLF's message into a broad political and social reality, achieving concrete changes in governmental response and in the entire social fabric, was not part of anybody's timeline that day in the Cathedral. It was unrecognized in the special Pride articles appearing in the Gay press. It is being written out of history.

gaa2.jpg - 9.83 K NYC Gay Activists Alliance Founders, 1969 (Left to right): Fred Orlansky, Arthur Bell, Arthur Evans, Marty Robinson, Tom Doerr, Peter Marleau, Kay Tobin Lahusen, and Fred Cabellero.
Photo: The GAA Reunion, Newsletter #6
We know this can be done. Queer historians are, after all, just now going through the laborious process of discovering a History that the larger heterosexual society has suppressed and denied. To distort history is to redefine reality, to bend it towards serving selective and exclusionary agendas. It happens all the time. Just ask Black historians, Feminist historians, Native American historians, Queer historians, and anyone else who is trying to uncover the Truth in the history of groups that the larger society suppresses.

What is sad about this particular historical erasure is that it is being done by queers, people whose version of history can not comfortably contain the vibrancy, creativity, and impact of The Gay Activists Alliance. This rewriting of the story of the Gay Liberation Movement would be analogous to talking about the fight against AIDS without mentioning ACT UP.

GLF, the Gay Liberation Front, was conceived as being part of the entire Liberation movement, one segment of a worldwide struggle against oppression. It was anarchic and strongly allied to, albeit rather unwelcome in, all leftist movements.

The Gay Activists Alliance stood for writing the revolution into law. Although individual members would ally themselves to causes not directly related to the oppression of homosexuals, the organization's single issue focus enabled it direct all of its energies toward working intensively in, on, with, and against "The Establishment" on issues effecting lesbians and gay men.

It said, " We demand our Liberation from repression and to the point where repressive laws are removed from the books and our rights are 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."

The means to achieving these ends included, street actions famously defined as "zaps", marches, picket lines, political lobbying, education, active promotion of the need for lesbians and gay men to come out of their closets, and a constant in-your-face presentation of the fact that gay is good. Its goals were revolutionary in that it sought, through these means, to restructure society.

GAA theory stated that consciousness would be raised through activism rather than through introspection. Political and social change would be accomplished through activism. Its deliberate goal was to effect the lives of as many people as possible. In this context, the struggle for a Gay Rights bill in New York City was viewed as much as a means of raising the consciousness of gay people as it was a drive for the passage of a law.

Related Articles from the GayToday Archive:
Review: The Gay Militants

Review: Stonewall

Review: The Gay Metropolis

Related Sites:
Lesbian & Gay History Month
GayToday does not endorse related sites.

Here's one example or how it worked. Saul Sharison, the chairman of the General Welfare Committee in the City Council had refused to hold the hearings on Intro 475, the Gay Civil Rights Bill. No hearings meant no vote in the Council.

On a Saturday night, sometime around midnight, the hundreds of dancers boogying in the GAA firehouse left it to march noisily through the East Village to the luxury apartment house where Sharison lived. The Tactical Police Force was there in full battle drag to back up at least fifty regular cops. Police barriers were set up.

The demonstrators were loud, boisterous, and determined. Eventually five people were arrested for invading the building's lobby. The demonstration was ended and the following week hearings were scheduled. No one who took part in that zap was left unchanged. Media accounts spread the message throughout the City. Gays were demanding their rights and would not be ignored. This was not business as usual.

The explosive energy of Stonewall was channeled into direct, well-planned, and effective political action. Every time GAA zapped an oppressor, and every time lesbians and gay men read about it in the papers or and saw it on TV, the message of Gay Power, Gay Rights, and positive self-affirming Gay identity was spread to the masses. And every time action resulted in a victory, it was shared by every lesbian and gay man who knew of it. In this way Gay Pride eventually became a reality for millions. gaa4.jpg - 9.38 K Christopher Street Liberation Day--1970: Members of GAA's Lesbian Liberation Committee
Photo: The GAA Reunion, Newsletter #6

By the time the Bill passed in 1986, GAA had ceased to exist. The Gay Movement had become the Gay and Lesbian Movement and the world had been reconfigured to acknowledge its existence, its challenges, and its accomplishments. It would be a case of chronic acute hubris to claim all of the credit for GAA, but its contribution was indisputably enormous.

History must be served with data. Here are some of the actions that GAA took in the early seventies. Some, like the efforts to pass a non-discriminatory law in New York State, remain part of a work-in-progress. All are worthy of note and remembrance.

  • 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.

    gaa5.jpg - 17.08 K The Rockefeller 5: T-Shirted (l. to r.) Marty Robinson, Tom Doerr, Phil Ria, Jim Owles, & Arthur Evans
    Photo: The GAA Reunion, Newsletter #6

  • 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 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 Governor Rockefeller as part of a push for a State law. The photograph of Marty Robinson and his beautiful lover, Tom Doerr, taken in that office has become one of the icons of the Movement.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • gaa3.jpg - 16.75 K GAA Sit-In at Harper's Magazine showing (foreground) Peter Fisher with GAA President, Jim Owles.
    Photo: Gay

  • Sent groups of organizers throughout the country to help local Lesbians and Gays organize.

    Like all organizations, GAA made mistakes and had shortcomings. Historians can and should debate them, but that debate must not be the sole arena for its review.

    The modern Gay Liberation Movement on the East Coast began because GLF was formed out of the Stonewall riots. The Movement became the World changing process that it is because GAA and other activist groups made it possible for the message to become a concrete reality for millions of people.

    Things keep changing, no revolution remains what its originators had planned, and for many, nothing that they could or would have imagined. GLFers found that out when GAA was born and prospered. GAAers have discovered the same reality in the years that have followed its glory days. It is all part of history. None of it must be denied.

    Our vitality as a people, our very survival as a unique socio/political entity in a world that includes the concept of "post gay" makes it imperative that our history be inclusive. GAA must be restored to its position of huge importance in the history of the Gay Liberation Movement.

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