imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
Features
latest news
best of news
syndication
commentary


KILLRADIO

VozMob

ABCF LA

A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List

LAAMN List




IMC Network:

Original Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

Queer Liberation Started in San Francisco, Not Stonewall

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at 10:43 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P. O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

The legend says America's — and the world's — Queer liberation movement began with the riot at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City in June 1969. But three months before, militant Queer activists in San Francisco had launched the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (CHF) and mounted the first-ever picket against a private employer for discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Leo Laurence and Pat Brown, two veterans of that movement, brought their story to Activist San Diego June 16.

Queer Liberation Sta...
brown___laurence.a.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x450

It Didn’t All Start at Stonewall!

Activists Hear from Pioneers of San Francisco’s Queer Rights Movement

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO: L to R: Pat Brown and Leo Laurence

“In the mid-1960’s I led a double life,” pioneering Queer activist and Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence told members and supporters of Activist San Diego (ASD) at the Pleasures & Treasures adult store in North Park January 16. “By day I was a reporter for KGO-TV” — the San Francisco affiliate of ABC — “and by night I was a writer for the Berkeley Barb,” the Bay Area’s pioneering “underground” paper. Laurence also led a double life of another sort — as a closeted Gay man in an era when almost nobody was “out” in the modern sense — until March 1969, when the firing of a friend with whom he’d appeared in a provocative Barb photo led him to found the Committee on Homosexual Freedom (CHF) and lead the first protests in U.S. history against a private employer for firing a Queer employee.

In the late 1960’s Laurence was volunteer editor for Vector, a monthly magazine published by a conservative Queer organization called the Society for Individual Rights (SIR). Laurence had met a young man named Gale Whittington and asked him to do a photo shoot for Vector; he also invited Whittington to write a monthly column on Gay fashion for Vector.

“He and I arranged a photo shoot in his bedroom,” Laurence recalled, “and for some reason I invited Ron Hoffman, a photographer for the Barb, to be at the shoot. After I got the photos I wanted for Vector, I turned to Ron and said, ‘You know, I’d like a shot with Gale.’ He said, ‘What do you want?’ I just went up to Gale, who didn’t have a shirt on, put my arms around him and said, ‘How about this?’” Hoffman’s photo was published in the Barb, illustrating an article by Laurence called “Don’t Hide It,” and the Barb editor cropped the photo to make it look like Whittington was naked.

In March 1969, a few days after the Barb came out with the photo — and three months before the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that are commonly considered the birth of the Queer rights movement — Whittington called Laurence at 11 p.m. and said he’d been fired from his job in the mailroom at the States Steamship Line after someone at work had seen the picture. Tearing up at the memory, Laurence recalled to ASD, “I told him, ‘We have to do something big.’ I was using the word ‘big’ in a sense that the Gay community never knew before. We weren’t planning on launching a worldwide movement, but that’s basically what happened.”

What they did was mount a picket outside the States Steamship headquarters from noon to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Laurence recalled that his group started with 13 “core” members and ultimately grew to about 25, plus other people on a contact list they could bring out for the States pickets and other demonstrations. Brown recalled that he was made picket captain “because I already had experience leading demonstrations with the anti-Viet Nam War movement.” He sought out training from the American Friends’ Service Committee (AFSC) on how to do nonviolent protesting, but that group — which, Brown recalled, had “organized in the South and risked their lives for Black civil rights” — refused to help a Queer group mount a protest. So Brown bought a dozen copies of the AFSC’s instruction manual on nonviolent civil disobedience and the group’s members taught themselves.

The nascent Queer rights picket also needed an organizational name, and Laurence recalled brainstorming one on his own, writing on a napkin at a coffeehouse at midnight. His first thought was to call it the “Homosexual Freedom Committee” — at the time the few Queer activists there were called themselves either “homosexual” or “homophile” for public consumption, and the word “Gay” was private community slang almost never used in the outside world — but then he realized the initials “HFC” were already being used by the Household Finance Corporation, a local Bay Area savings-and-loan. So he changed the order of the words and called the group CHF, for “Committee on Homosexual Freedom.”

“The first meeting was held in Leo’s house,” Brown recalled. “People had seen it announced in the Barb. [Barb publisher] Max Scherr had been a labor lawyer, and the Barb was distributed on the East Coast. The protests had spread to Los Angeles, where Rev. Troy Perry [the founder of Metropolitan Community Church for Queer and Queer-friendly Christians] was leading pickets against the States Steamship offices in L.A. Before we started, the only [Queer-rights] picketing going on was one time a year outside the White House on the Fourth of July. We did the first long-term, consistent picketing because we realized we had to.”

According to Laurence and Brown, it was that organizational consistency that differentiated their activities from the Stonewall riots and marked their group as the real founders of the ongoing Queer liberation movement. “Stonewall was a clash between Puerto Rican drag queens and the police,” Laurence said. “What was happening in San Francisco was a carefully planned civil-rights action.” Indeed, Laurence said that the first he heard of the Stonewall riots was from a friend in New York, accountant John Marks, who lived across the street from the Stonewall Inn and, while the riots were going on, called Laurence “and said, ‘We like what you’re doing, and we’re doing it in New York.’ So it’s safe to say the inspiration for Stonewall was what happened in San Francisco.”

“Stonewall was the spark that set the fire, but we were the bricks and mortar,” said Brown. We picketed every workday from noon to 2 p.m. to get the lunchtime crowd. We were there from late March until mid-July 1969, two weeks after Stonewall. I knew we had to maintain order on the picket line, and it was always present in my mind that [the police] could just come in and wipe us out.”

Why didn’t they? “The police had quite a few people on the other side of the street from us,” Laurence recalled. “I walked up to the police sergeant — which I could do since I had a media pass from ABC — and asked him, ‘Why are you on the other side of the street? If this were the Black Panthers, you’d be right on top of them.’ He said, ‘We can’t touch them. If we do, we’ll become them.’”

Whittington never got his job back at States — and neither did Laurence when he was fired from KGO-TV in 1971 — but according to Brown, they did win back the job of a Gay employee at Tower Records (then the largest music retailer in the Bay Area) who, ironically, probably didn’t deserve it. “We opened another front and picketed at Tower, and in two weeks they buckled and took him back,” Brown recalled.

Seeking — and Finding — Allies

Like more recent Queer activists, Laurence, Brown and the other CHF founders realized they needed allies — and they looked for them in the same places modern Queer activists often do: the militant organizations of people of color. In 1969 that meant the Black Panther Party and the United Farm Workers (UFW). Laurence and Brown recalled how CHF joined the UFW’s pickets outside Safeway supermarkets to get people to stop buying grapes. In addition to signs with the UFW’s slogans, they also carried signs reading “Gay Is Good” and other messages from the new Queer movement.

Not everyone on the UFW picket lines liked the idea of marching with a group carrying “Gay Is Good” messages. So, Laurence said, they went right to the top. “We called [UFW president] César Chávez, and he said, ‘Let them picket.’”

Later Laurence got a call from the Black Panthers, who essentially wanted him as a human shield to forestall a police raid on their headquarters they’d been tipped was about to happen. “They wanted some white people there,” he recalled. “I went down and it was obvious that I was Gay. The Panthers were impressed, and they taught us. For example, one lesson we learned from them was that when you do a street march, do it completely legally. Don’t even jaywalk.”

Laurence said their training and relationship with the Panthers stood them in good stead when they started targeting Right-wingers and businesspeople within the Queer community. “The closeted ‘homophile’ community opposed us,” he said. “There was one very elegant Gay bar in San Francisco where one of our members was refused service, and we decided to stage an action there. When the Black Panthers wanted to intimidate people, they would stand with arms locked across their chests and not look around. We went in that bar and stood there in the Panther pose, and the bartender threatened to call the police. We emptied that bar in three to four minutes. People did not want an action in a bar, and before the police arrived, we were gone.”

The next day Laurence heard through the grapevine a wildly exaggerated account of the action in which the members of their group had supposedly entered the bar carrying guns. “We would never think of using guns, but the Panthers would,” he recalled. “They gave us a phone number and told us to use it. I always knew that if this got heavy and one of us feared for their safety, they would be there. The Panthers told us we were more revolutionary than they were, because they couldn’t change the color of their skin — but we didn’t have to come out.”

The Forgotten History

Not surprisingly, both Laurence and Brown are at least somewhat bitter that the pioneering efforts of the CHF have been relegated to footnotes — or ignored completely — in the depoliticized, New York-centric orthodox view of how the U.S. Queer movement got started. They’re also appalled at the changes in how the community named itself. While they applauded the abandonment of the words “homosexual” and “homophile” and their replacement with the term “Gay” in the early 1970’s, they haven’t supported the addition of the word “Lesbian” and are even less enamored of the initials “LGBT” — for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender” — that has become the standard term now.

“I remember when the Daughters of Bilitis [the pioneering group founded by Lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco in the 1950’s] went through the name change, and a number of older Gay women said, ‘Aren’t we Gay anymore?’,” Brown recalled. “This was concocted at a Socialist Workers’ Party convention in New York, and I think it deprived Gay women of a common same-sex humanity.”

“One of the most difficult days of the year for me is the annual Gay Pride Parade here, now,” Laurence said. “To the local [LGBT] Center, Pat and I are invisible. The Center’s director won’t even speak to me. There are some books which refer to us in two to three paragraphs. One problem with Gay historians is they prefer to print the myth, and they continue to refer to Gale and I as lovers — which we were not. I lost my job at ABC and went through a lot of emotional hell, and it’s difficult when Gay Pride rolls around and people won’t even acknowledge that things happened in San Francisco before Stonewall.”

“They did eclipse everything we did, but New York City is the center of the news and entertainment industry,” Brown ruefully added. “To call the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade ‘Stonewall West’ is a grave miscarriage of nomenclature. It’s just outrageous. We didn’t try to make any mileage or get ourselves set in stone as the ‘founders’ 43 years ago. In fact, we were relieved when Stonewall happened, fired the public imagination and spread the movement.”

Brown said that “we really haven’t protested” the enshrinement of Stonewall as the official “founding” of the Queer rights movement. “I have friends who were at Stonewall, including Jimmy Fouratt, whom I just saw for the first time in 30 years. Stonewall had its role, but the history should show that we were the brick and mortar, and we were completely nonviolent. It’s easy to throw rocks and bottles at the cops, but what really works is peaceful, consistent, continuous activity.”

Report this post as:

Local News

More Pix: "Families Belong Together," Pasadena J02 12:16PM

"Families Belong Together" March, Pasadena J02 12:08PM

Short Report on the Families Belong Together Protest in Los Angeles J30 4:26PM

Summer 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! J10 11:58PM

Watch the Debate: Excluded Candidates for Governor of California M30 10:20PM

Change Links June 2018 posted M28 12:41AM

The Montrose Peace Vigil at 12 Years M22 1:01PM

Unity Archive Project M21 2:42AM

Dianne Feinstein's Promotion of War, Secret Animal Abuse, Military Profiteering, Censorshi M17 3:22PM

CA Senate Bill 1303 would require an independent coroner rather than being part of police M10 2:08PM

Three years after OC snitch scandal, no charges filed against sheriffs deputies M10 1:57PM

California police agencies violate Brown Act (open meetings) M02 1:31PM

Insane Company Wants To Send Nuke Plant Waste To New Mexico A29 4:47PM

Change Links May 2018 A27 1:40AM

Worker-Owned Car Wash on Vermont Closed A26 10:37PM

GUIDE TO REBEL CITY LOS ANGELES AVAILABLE A12 5:39PM

lausd whistle blower A10 11:58PM

Website Upgrade A10 3:02AM

Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images A04 1:02PM

UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light A02 11:58AM

Change Links April 2018 A01 11:27AM

Nuclear Shutdown News March 2018 M31 6:57PM

Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018! M29 7:00PM

Spring 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! M19 2:02PM

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Shows Shocking Eviction Trends in L.A. M16 5:40PM

Steve Mnuchin video at UCLA released M15 12:34AM

Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Clean Ups M06 12:10PM

After Being Told He's 'Full of Sh*t' at School Event, Mnuchin Demands UCLA Suppress Video M02 11:44AM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

“Animaniacs in Concert!” Starring Voice Legend Rob Paulsen J18 2:41PM

Nation's Largest Voting Machine Co., ESS, Admits Lying Re Having Installed Remote Control J18 11:55AM

Du pain et des jeux J18 9:53AM

Fbi joins with Facebook to remove this report J18 7:08AM

Paraphysique de martyrologie J17 8:00AM

Asian Countries:Cambodia, Vietnam, N. Korea do not permit unlawful immigration J16 8:06PM

Children Incorporated Earns 4-Star Rating on Charity Navigator J16 11:24AM

Democratic Socialists of America J14 4:57PM

Leonard Peltier Non Violent Native American Political Prisoner since 1970's J14 4:18PM

Paraphysique miscellanées de l'aggiornamento J14 12:54AM

Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Cleanup J13 4:14PM

FBI Investigated LA County Sheriff Baca,Why Not Hank Skinner's Persecution? J13 3:52PM

Updated Partial List Of Famous Vegetarians, Vegans, & Fruitarians J13 2:59PM

The Shortwave Report 07136/18 Listen Globally! J12 4:36PM

Social Policy as Social Infrastructure J12 3:38AM

Vol I: 84 Varieties Of GOP Election Fraud J12 1:50AM

Texas Can Call it An Execution,But It is A State Sponsored Murder of Hank Skinner.. J11 6:48PM

June 2018 Honduras coup update J11 3:35PM

Maria Estrada doubles down on racist support J11 1:40PM

New York Women in Film & Television Announces 2018 NYWIFT Ha Phuong Scholarship Recipients J11 10:14AM

Trapps de la domination, trapps de l'aliénation J11 1:31AM

Please Work For The Defeat Of Brett Kavanaugh And Why J09 8:54PM

Change Links 2018 July posted J09 1:27PM

Transinhumanisme ( transe inhumanisme ) J09 12:44PM

Google, World's Biggest Censor, Was Founded By The CIA J09 10:25AM

For a World Free of Nuclear Risks J09 8:29AM

Corrupt CDC Ignores Meat Fish Recalls J09 4:55AM

The (Temporary) End of Globalization J09 3:03AM

More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy