Gay Liberation Front Is Formed Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Harnessing the political energy that came out of the Stonewall Rebellion of June, 1969, the founding of the Gay Liberation Front heralded a new era not only of mainstream liberal but also radical GLBT activism across the United States and the world.

Summary of Event

In the days after the 1969 rebellion Stonewall Rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, a GLBT bar in New York City, tensions ran high among those inspired by this confrontation. While homophile organizations had worked to change social, legal, and political norms for decades, their efforts tended toward an assimilationist Assimilation;and early gay rights movement[gay rights movement] approach, emphasizing mere acceptance of lesbians and gays. The idea of assimilation conflicted with the goals of a new generation of lesbians and gays who were trained to be more radical by being part of the Civil Rights movement, namely the Black Panthers, the antiwar movement, and other causes. The radical wing of the lesbian and gay movement advocated linking sexual expression and the struggle for gay and lesbian rights with the struggles and politics of the radical, inclusive New Left movement of the 1960’s. [kw]Gay Liberation Front Is Formed (July 31, 1969) [kw]Liberation Front Is Formed, Gay (July 31, 1969) Gay Liberation Front Radicalism;Gay Liberation Front [c]Civil rights;July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed[0740] [c]Marches, protests, and riots;July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed[0740] [c]Organizations and institutions;July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed[0740] Fouratt, Jim Leitsch, Dick Owles, Jim Robinson, Marty Shelley, Martha

A Gay Liberation Front decal from 1970.

(William J. Canfield Papers, Northeastern University Library)

These tensions surfaced repeatedly during July of 1969, when groups met to formulate a new response to GLBT oppression. While the Mattachine Society, led by Dick Leitsch, organized the early gatherings, those who flocked to the meetings were angered by the old vanguards’ temperate (and sexist) approach to politics (including the guideline that women wear skirts to protests). Following a legendary confrontation between Leitsch and Jim Fouratt (a leader from the Yippie movement, later called the Youth International Party, and colleague of radical 1960’s activist Abbie Hoffman), dozens of participants walked out of a meeting and recongregated at what was called Alternative U, Alternative U, and radical politics or Alt U (alternative university), home to the city’s radical political and cultural groups.

Martha Shelley took the lead in organizing a rally in Washington Square Park in late July, which drew between five hundred and two thousand participants (reports vary). While both the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis cosponsored the rally, this was to be their last formal association with the redefined movement. Amid the rally activities, flyers were circulated carrying the slogan Do You Think Homosexuals Are Revolting? You Bet Your Sweet Ass We Are! They advertised a meeting to take place four days later, July 31, 1969, at Alt U.

Fifty people attended the meeting, almost none representing the established homophile movement. The name Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was agreed upon, and a new organization was born—one in which members would apply the political analysis and energies they had devoted to other causes to their own oppression as gay and lesbian people.

GLF’s New Left roots were reflected in its organizational structures. Meetings were nonhierarchical, operated by consensus, and they devoted significant time to consciousness-raising and to coming-out stories. The meetings also became a place for the critique of the politics, participants, and strategies of the homophile movement. Discussion and debate included topics on social issues and concerns ranging from closing the Pentagon to legalizing abortion to ending poverty, and all were linked with gay and lesbian rights. As such, meetings were often highly emotional, conflicted, and chaotic.

By 1970, GLF was publishing theoretical pamphlets and a gay and lesbian newspaper called Come Out!; Come Out! (periodical)[Come Out] sponsoring demonstrations, protests, and dances; organizing parades and conferences; and establishing a community center. Its activities were often characterized as exuberant and sometimes campy, as they creatively confronted politicians, the media, and dominant social structures through “gay-ins,” “kiss-ins,” dancing, and guerrilla theater.

In the year after GLF began in New York, GLF chapters were formed across the United States in Berkeley, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Detroit, Madison, and San Francisco. Within a few years, GLF was active in thirty-five states and appeared also outside major metropolitan areas. GLF organizations also arose in Vancouver and Sydney, as well as London, Paris, Berlin, and other European cities. Meanwhile, the older homophile organizations folded: Daughters of Bilitis dissolved in 1970, and the Mattachine Society disbanded in 1971.

The initial entity that was GLF survived until 1972 and fractured many times during its short existence. Within its first six months, GLF members Jim Fouratt, Jim Owles, Marty Robinson, and others broke with GLF to create the Gay Activists Alliance Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a more tempered and formal organization focused on the concerns of gays and lesbians exclusively. Tensions within GLF and GAA, both of which were made up mostly by white, middle-class gay men, also led to the creation of organizations focused on lesbians, people of color, transsexuals, and transgender people. These new groups included Gay Liberation Front Women, Lavender Menace/Radicalesbians, Lesbian Feminist Liberation, Third World Gay Revolution, and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

Significance

The Gay Liberation Front was at the center of a new radical visibility and energy devoted to the rights of LGBT people. Less polite, less interested in acceptance and understanding, and less isolationist in approach, GLF worked toward social transformation, not assimilation.

GLF also fostered a new level of self-definition within the LGBT community by being the first group to use the word “gay” in its name instead of the word “homosexual.” The mainstream media was so resistant to this change that even the progressive periodical The Village Voice refused to use “gay” in advertising Advertising;and mainstream media[mainstream media] copy submitted by GLF to publicize its meetings. By protesting at the offices of The Village Voice and other media outlets, the community increasingly demanded and won the right to self-definition and encouraged the use of the term “gay” by the media. This legacy of self-definition was furthered in later years when protests at American Psychiatric Association meetings successfully challenged the practice of listing “homosexuality” as a psychiatric disorder.

Finally, the nonhierarchical, “power to the people” approach of GLF allowed for thoughts and ideas, experiences, and identities in a manner that was unprecedented in the old homophile movement. Although GLF splintered, it created the forums through which participants articulated their racial, political, and gendered experiences, and it invented the new alliances, caucuses, and organizations that carried forward the movement’s work. Gay Liberation Front Radicalism;Gay Liberation Front

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clendinene, Dudley, and Adam Nagourney. Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Duberman, Martin B. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kissack, Terence. “Freaking Fag Revolutionaries: New York’s Gay Liberation Front, 1969-1971.” Radical History Review 62 (Spring, 1995): 104-134.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McGarry, Molly, and Fred Wasserman. Becoming Visible. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcus, Eric. Making Gay History: The Half Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rimmerman, Craig A. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Mark, ed. Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

1950: Mattachine Society Is Founded

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

1955: Daughters of Bilitis Founded as First National Lesbian Group in United States

May 27-30, 1960: First National Lesbian Conference Convenes

February 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes

April 19, 1967: First Student Homophile League Is Formed

August 11-18, 1968: NACHO Formally Becomes the First Gay Political Coalition

June 28, 1970: First Lesbian and Gay Pride March in the United States

November 28, 1970: Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement

1973: National Gay Task Force Is Formed

October 18, 1973: Lambda Legal Authorized to Practice Law

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

April 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded

March, 1987: Radical AIDS Activist Group ACT UP Is Founded

March 20, 1990: Queer Nation Is Founded

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