Tag Archives: Stonewall

Gay History: From Stonewall To The White Horse: The Bay Area’s Part In Uprisings That Changed The World

Flyer for Gay Liberation Front protest at the Examiner Building October 31, 1969, Courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society
Flyer for Gay Liberation Front protest at the Examiner Building October 31, 1969, Courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society

“San Francisco is a refugee camp for homosexuals. We have fled here from every part of the nation, and like refugees elsewhere, we came not because it is so great here, but because it was so bad there. By the tens of thousands, we fled small towns where tobe ourselves would endanger our jobs and any hope of a decent life….”

Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto — Carl Wittman, December, 1969

Cover of Gay Sunshine, October 1970

By the time of the first night of protests at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, San Francisco had experienced months of demonstrations related to gay rights that would continue for the next few years. 

Unlike Stonewall, the disturbances in San Francisco started over job rights, and a bar was not involved. But because the disturbances spread and issues multiplied, they would eventually include at least three bars, including Oakland’s White Horse.

The people who lit the fuse were recent arrivals. Gale Chester Whittington came from Denver in 1968 and Leo Laurence from Indianapolis in 1966. 

Whittington got a job as an accounting clerk at the States Steamship Company (320 California). 

Laurence was a journalist for the underground newspaper Berkeley Barb and the editor of the Society for Individual Rights magazine Vector.They met when Whittington volunteered to write for Vector.

A Vector photographer shared a photo from a shoot of Laurence and Whittington with The Barb. It was paired with an article from March 23, 1969, titled “Homo Revolt: Don’t Hide it.” 

The article covered Laurence’s editorial call for gay revolution in Vector. Since the Barb had sex ads, it was read by several of Whittington’s straight colleagues at the shipping company. The day it was published, Whittington was fired. Because of the editorial Laurence was removed as editor of Vector.

Homo Revolt, Dont Hide It, Berkeley Barb, March 28, 1969

Whittington and Laurence then formed the Committee for Homosexual Freedom. Max Scheer, editor of The Barb, promised to cover their actions. On April 9, 1969 the picketing of the steamship company began with signs saying, “Let Gays Live,” “Free The Queers” and “Freedom for Homos Now.” 

The protests continued for months. In May, The Advocate picked up coverage of the protests and by June the Rev. Troy Perry had begun a sympathy strike at the company’s Los Angeles offices. 

Ultimately the protests didn’t succeed in getting Whittington’s job back, but because the San Francisco Chronicle, The Advocate and The Barb covered the protest (on an almost weekly basis) it spread the word nationally and CHF grew. 

In Whittington’s autobiographical work, Beyond Normal: The Birth of Gay Pride, he mentions that Hibiscus and Lendon Sadler (of the Cockettes) and Carl Wittman (author of Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto) all took part in early CHF protests. Wittman read early drafts of his manifesto to the group.

By May protests spread to a second site: Tower Records. Employee Frank Denaro was fired after a security guard reported to management that he had returned the wink of a male customer. Unlike the steamship company, however, the record store was swayed by public opinion and by June the management offered Denaro his job back.

States Steamship Protest, Berkeley Barb, April 25 – May 1, 1969

Purple rain
News about what was happening in San Francisco continued to spread. Berkeley Tribeprinted a letter saying Laurence’s articles, reprinted in a Minneapolis campus newspaper, had inspired a class in Homosexual Revolution from their Free University. In Beyond Normal, Whittington relates he received a telegram from New Yorkers who were at Stonewall and had been inspired by articles in The Barb. In October, both Laurence and Whittington were interviewed in the L.A. magazine Tangents.

By October 1969, Gay Liberation Front chapters opened in Berkeley and San Francisco. Two protests on Halloween show both coordination and fragmentation between new and old organizations. 

At the first, called “Friday of the Purple Hand,” the Society for Individual Rights worked with CHF and both GLF groups to protest the editorial policies of the San Francisco Examiner. Earlier that week, Robert Patterson of the Examiner had written “The Dreary Revels of S.F. ‘Gay’ Clubs” which referred to gays as “semi-males” and lesbians as “women who aren’t exactly women” as well as referring to both as deviates.

Around 100 protesters picketed the Examiner building, and then had printers ink dumped on them from an upper floor by Examiner employees. The protesters used the ink to make purple hand prints all over the building (which gave the protest its name). The protesters were then attacked by the police Tactical Squad. Twelve people were injured and fifteen were arrested.

Friday of the Purple Hand coverage, San Francisco Free Press

The second event that day was a protest of the Beaux Arts Ball in the Merchandise Mart by Gay Guerrilla Theater and the Gay Liberation Coalition. Laurence reported in the Berkeley Tribe that the protest was focused on the acceptance of laws that only allowed drag on Halloween and New Year’s. He reported:

“I don’t dig drag myself (can’t imagine being a bearded lady)…but by God, I do feel the drags should have the right to do their thing; not just twice a year, but every day; not just at a drag ball, but at work, school, church and on the streets.”

This was among the first confrontations between older gay organizations and newer, more radical groups. Others included a protest of a S.I.R. dinner in February 1972 where Willie Brown was speaking on reforming sex laws (protested because of the cover charge of $12) and a takeover of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO) by the Gay Liberation Front in August 1970. GLF demanded that NACHO affirm its support of the Black Panther Party and Women’s Liberation and organize a national gay strike.

Clearly there was a generational difference between members of homophile organizations and the gay liberationists. Many of the younger generation had ties to the New Left and anti-war movements. 

Laurence had been in Chicago for the ’68 Democratic convention and Wittman had written for the SDS before, for example. GLF members formed a gay contingent for the Nov. 15, 1969 Moratorium March Against the War. And by and large they read the underground press, not the gay press.

Demands for White Horse Protest, Gay Sunshine, October 1970

Horse sense
The most dramatic confrontation between gay liberationists and gay bars came at the White Horse Bar in Oakland. Konstantin Berlandt, a long-time gay activist in Berkeley, was thrown out of the bar for selling Gay Sunshine by the owner Joe Johansen. The Gay Sunshine collective worked with the Berkeley GLF and picketed the bar. A list of demands included one that patrons be allowed to touch one another and slow dance. Within a week the bar capitulated to the protesters.

The White Horse wasn’t the only bar to raise the ire of liberationists.

Leonarda’s also refused to sell Gay Sunshineand a boycott was suggested (it’s hard to know how serious to take this, as the underground press kept reporting the bar’s name as “Leonardo’s”). The Stud also upset writers at the Berkeley Tribe by checking IDs at the door. They may, however, have just been opposed to bars as institutions. The article in the Tribesuggested:

“The bars can’t be liberated, they must be destroyed. They rip off our money, keep us in ghettos playing the same old weary games thinking that we are satisfied, and maintain all the divisions in Amerika — women and men, gay women and gay men, black and white, young and old. The Stud mentality in our heads has to be rooted out and killed too.”

Ultimately it was not the bars but the gay liberationists that disappeared as the 1970s progressed. I asked Gary Alinder, who was a member of Berkeley’s GLF, about burnout and the disappearance of Gay Lib in the ’70s.

“It evolved,” he said. “Gay liberation was a sudden uprising. Most of us were anti-organization. It was not meant to stay around for a long time. It was a burst of energy — an explosion. A second generation would come along that was more organized. But the message — to make people happy in themselves and come out — was valid.”

That burst of energy had a massive effect — it spread through LGBT organizations with programs like gay rap sessions to campuses across the country and created an explosion of new publications. Those publications and organizations did reach people. As a teen who picked up the Detroit Gay Liberator in the early ’70s, and who attended a gay rap meeting on my college campus, I can testify that those of us who followed were grateful for the work of the Stonewall generation.

Reference

Gay History: After Stonewall Clones, Closets and Codes

A work by Bill Costa, from the Leslie-Lohman collection. Registrar Branden Wallace traces the images of purity (white linen, smooth body) to the advent of AIDS and HIV. (Photo courtesy of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art)

Late June’s (2019) 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is making this Pride month a particularly reflective one.

But like a newly minted AARP member flipping through their high school yearbook, the modern gay rights movement’s “Big five-oh” moment brings, with its flood of memories, certain hard questions—not the least of which is: What possessed you to wear that?

“I have, fortunately, no photos publicly available of me during my ’70s platform shoes and glitter rock period,” says Joseph Hawkins, director of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Library and Archives at the USC Libraries, who spoke with the Blade about how the things we put in our literal closet can liberate us from the figurative one (or keep us there).

“When I look at pictures of people back in the [pre-Stonewall] 1960s,” says the USC Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, “there was an assimilationist viewpoint, where you wanted to look like a good citizen. I think of people marching in front of the White House, where they’re dressed in their Sunday best.”

“When the consequences of being an out homosexual were damaging to one’s life and career, there had to be codes to letting people know who you were,” observes registrar Branden Wallace, of NYC’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

Fashion, Wallace notes, “is a way to express one’s identity, specifically, for the time after Stonewall, when you had this bursting, where queer culture could actually be visible. They took their cues from things that were going on socially, and the trends in fashion, and also developed their own.”

Registrar Branden Wallace, of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. (Photo by Gonzalo Casals)

By the late ’60s, Hawkins recalls, “there was a lot of crossover [between the counterculture and gays]—ripped Hawaiian shirts, and ripped jeans. But later, that gave way that whole ‘clone’ thing, which came as a response to the term ‘sissy.’ Even within the gay community, a sissy would be ‘too’ effeminate. In the clone movement, the gay men were going to out-butch straight men.”

There was very little “humor, in these bastions of gay masculinity… seriousness and masculinity were the same thing. That opaque perspective on masculinity was also a mockery of drag queens and effeminate men. They weren’t really men,” recalled Gerald Busby, in a recent Blade article (“Of cowboy drag, cruising, and cocaine”) about the “cowboy” look he donned to make it past the doors of NYC’s Spike and Eagle’s Nest, during the early 1970s.

“It denoted seriousness of commitment to being gay and being masculine, as well as being decisive about what kind of sex you were after,” Busby noted, of the “alignment of costume and behavior… unmistakable symbols of sexual preference, such as blue or red handkerchiefs in left or right rear pockets of jeans, to indicate top or bottom.”

This exaggerated working class “clone” look, whether denim, lumberjack, or leather, Hawkins observes, was, in its own way, a “liberation ideology. Part of what allowed the sexual revolution to occur was this idea that masculinity could be a gay phenomenon. That’s what fed the ‘clone’ thing. It was a response to the idea that gay men couldn’t be masculine.”

Of his above-mentioned platform shoes ’70s look, Hawkins notes he paired it with skin-tight jeans, shoulder-length hair, and “an old saddle bag I carried. I don’t remember being ‘coded,’ though.” Working in an Office of Economic Opportunity program at the time, Hawkins recalls going on a field trip to Washington, D.C., when “a guy in my group turned to me and said, ‘Oh, girl, if you’re gonna sell that merchandize, you have to advertise.’ There were certain things you wanted to do to look gay, for people to know you were gay. You could walk down the street and catch someone’s glance. That was a different kind of coding.”

In the decades after Stonewall, Wallace notes, cloning reared a new head, and coding morphed with the mainstream, to the point of merger.

Sporting a well-groomed, muscled, manicured look and clingy shirts meant to showcase a sculpted gym body, the “Chelsea Boy” aesthetic ruled the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I called it the ‘A-Gays,’ a standard that is unobtainable” yet desirable and pursued, Wallace recalls, also noting the Chelsea Boy look shared its time in the sun with “grunge and goth, the alternative kids who, no matter how hard they tried, could not fit in. So it’s amazing that in gay culture [of that time], you have the perfectly coiffed, and this side that just didn’t care, and was for all genders.”

There was also in this era, Wallace notes, “a drastic change in the photographic artwork. With the advent of AIDS and HIV, the art tends to go toward a smooth body, clean appearances. There’s usually white linen and water around. So artists like Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber are using these models for their purity; a perfect-looking body that is not possible.”

Nowadays, “anything goes,” Wallace says. “Beards, which you never saw in a Chelsea Boy in the 1990s, bow ties and sweater vests, and everything… I’m probably raw denim, wearing a T-shirt, got a big keychain in my pocket and a hanky and a Mohawk. That’s usually paired with a suit jacket or a jacket of some sort. You really can do anything now.”

“I don’t know why these things happen,” Hawkins admits, of trends and styles and looks that sometimes seem to defy explanation (he’s still wrapping his head around flip-flops). “Sometimes, in the middle of them, they make no sense. On the other hand, you look back and there are all these political and cultural cues. Maybe there’s an economic downturn or a wave of conservatism based on some sort of military action”—or, an event like Stonewall, which steps over lines in the sand while drawing new ones of its own. “Those things,” Hawkins says, “begin to infiltrate the way people think about fashion, and what they are going to do.”

Gerald Busby in cowboy drag, ready to cruise at the Spike and the Eagle’s Nest. (Photo by Joanna Ney)

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