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Blowing the Lid
Gay Liberation, Sexual Revolution and Radical Queens
By Stuart Feather
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Stuart Feather
All rights reserved.
Revolutions should educate as well as entertain.
Abbie Hoffman – The Yippies.
On the 14 October 1970, Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter, both in their early twenties, founded the Gay Liberation Front in a classroom on the upper floors of the Old Building at the London School of Economics (LSE), where Bob Mellors was a sociology student.
Three years had passed since legislation ended our criminal status. The more liberal sixties had enabled us to push the vicious law to the back of our minds; made it a badge of honour even as we got on with our lives, but the change of law had not brought acceptance, and the tolerance bestowed remained conditional on staying hidden and conforming to the perversity society continued to impose on us. In short, nothing had changed.
On the 8 October in a run-up to the inaugural meeting, Mellors and Walter organized a group of students at the LSE and held a demonstration against the University of London Union, (ULU) and the offices of the student newspaper The Sennet in the name of Women's Liberation and Gay Liberation.
This was in response to an article which contained the myth that women attended college just for the purpose of fucking as many men as possible. There were also a number of slurs on gay people, referring to them as queers, and saying that first-year College of Education students became either 'missionaries, misogynists or queers.' The author of one of the articles claimed, that 'a friend was thinking of turning queer in desperation,' thus adding to the guilt feelings that society imposes on gay people.
This group of gay freedom fighters marched to ULU with cans of gold and black spray-paint and began to decorate the inside of the building with the symbol for Venus signifying female, with a clenched fist painted inside the circle, and the symbol for Mars representing male, with a butterfly and clenched fist drawn within its circle. Another sign was of a prick crossed out to signify the end of prick power. Graffiti flowed over the walls on all six floors – 'Women's Lib & Gay Lib Unite and Fight Sexism' – 'Smash Prick Power', and, 'Ho-Ho-Ho Homosexual – The Ruling Class is Ineffectual'. A spokesman for the group said:
We warn all those papers including IT, OZ, and Friends, and all student papers that sell on a basis of sex, tits and ass, that in future the struggle against sexism will be at a higher level and no-one will be immune from attack. We are not queer, but people who groove on loving someone of the same sex.
Among these campus activists were Aubrey Walter's lover David Fernbach, and their friends who were also students at the LSE, Bill Halstead and Richard Dipple, a member of the Albany Trust. The one woman among them, Bev Jackson, later ran for LSE college office with the slogan, 'Bev the Lez for Prez'. All were present six days later along with a dozen other men at the first meeting of GLF. The following week more women turned up as well as men, and a leafleting campaign was organized. I joined a week later.
Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter first met at the 'Revolutionary Peoples' Constitutional Conference' in Philadelphia in September. Both travelled to the USA that summer intrigued by the odd rumours and press reports from there about a new gay movement. Mellors became involved with New York GLF, while Walter visited a number of cities including San Francisco. The conference at which they met was called for and sponsored by the Black Panther Party. That August, Huey Newton, joint founder and Supreme Commander of the Black Panthers, made a remarkable and brave statement, given the confusion of fears and stereotypes existing between black men, gays, and women, in which he welcomed the women's and gay movements into the revolutionary ranks. Huey Newton's soul-searching embrace of revolutionary solidarity aroused considerable hostility and agitation among the Black Panthers, in fact his statement began the break with the violent, misogynist, needless to say, anti-gay Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Minister for Information, that led to accusations, counter- charges and attempts to purge each other the following year.
Seeking to come to terms with the position of women and gays, Huey Newton addressed the Black Panthers:
Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups) we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion. I say 'whatever your insecurities are' because as we very well know sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we're afraid we might be homosexual; and we want to hit the woman or shut her up because we're afraid that she might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start with. Referring again to homosexuality ... there's nothing to say that a homosexual cannot be a revolutionary. And maybe I'm now injecting some of my prejudices by saying that 'even a homosexual can be revolutionary.' Quite on the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary.
Earlier in the year the London underground newspaper IT (International Times) announced the passing away of the old homosexual stereotype and the birth of a guilt free homoerotic masculinity in harmony with the new Age of Aquarius:
So long Fag Hags. Sexual liberation means the merging of several sexual life-styles, and homosexuality will soon be a word without any particular significance. Instead of being the ultimate social scare word, it will simply mean the capacity to love somebody of your own sex. There are no homosexuals in the Underground, but there are a lot of guys who suck cock. It's not so much a question of who you make love to but how. It's time to be proud of making it with other guys, time to get out of the guilt ridden ghettos of the gay world. Until we do it in the road and get our fucks just like everybody else, we are all closet queens. Kiss goodbye to all those old classifications and fetishes. So long Bette, and Judy, and Marilyn, and Barbra. Girls are girls not mother symbols. So long Boys in the Band, you're stranded in the sixties. So long dinge queens, toe queens, leather queens, size queens, cottage queens, hair faeries, fag hags and chubby chasers. There is no need any longer to shriek and camp about like hysterical birds of prey, no need for that bitchy defiance. You can relax. The bum trip is over. Join the GLF. Carry a lavender banner, let it all hang out. Take it like a man. Suck and fuck for peace. The world in the seventies will be one vast erogenous zone with that most natural and persistent of sexual variations, homosexuality, an integral and vital part of the kaleidoscopic world of human sexuality.
Jim Anderson was a gay journalist and editor of the underground magazine Oz. Here he shows off a hippy lawyer's rose-tinted idealism for what was happening in America, while satirising the price paid by an earlier generation of gay men, whose behaviour had been affected and distorted by the status quo they achieved with straight society in the fifties and sixties.
There were letters too from readers already living the alternative lifestyle.
To All 'Gay Heads' Everywhere. We are a minority within a minority subculture and it's time for us to get an alternative thing to the straight gay scene – Earls Court is a far cry from Phun City. [Phun City was the first truly free Music Festival, with free food and free drugs, held that summer in Worthing, of all places.] We have read all the articles about Gayness and how there are no homosexuals in the Underground, well this means fuck all to us as we still have to use the straight gay scene for our basic needs.
We don't accept the straight gay scene because it's just a fool copy of the straight system. It's a drag having to categorize but for a while it is necessary so that we can get together as brothers and sisters and work out an alternative. If you are a bi/gay head please write to me and send your ideas, scenes, and if the response is big enough then we can work toward something real. Peace and Love, Dave.
Two friends of mine out shopping on Oxford Street were handed one of those leaflets produced at the second meeting and suggested to my boyfriend Roger Rousell that we go along and see what it was all about. On the following Wednesday night we found our way down to the basement of the LSE and entered a classroom filling up with lesbians and the kind of gay men I'd never seen before. By their clothes I could see they didn't go to any gay bar or club that I knew. Some of the men were our age, late twenties to early thirties, but most were ten years younger; students mainly, poorly dressed beauties with long hair, and some with beards. Others were hippies wearing afghan coats, beads, bracelets and even longer hair. Among the twenty or so gay women were a few teenagers, others in their early-twenties, but the majority were in their thirties, most with shorter hair styles and smarter trousers. There must have been fifty of us altogether, and the great thing was that everyone was warm and open, there was none of that uptight judgemental feeling you found in bars and clubs. Facing us behind a desk was Mellors and Walter, and as the evening progressed it was clear that everyone was extremely intelligent, politically educated and earnest. Politics for me was no more than Conservative, Liberal and Labour. My parents voted Conservative and I'd followed suit, but what I heard that night was something new and entirely different. What most impressed me was being asked to think about how our sexuality had affected our behaviour in the way we conducted ourselves at work. It touched the nub of my facade. That appeal and the general view that we were a minority group alongside women, children and black people, discriminated against by a white heterosexual world full of prejudice drew me in. That it was not us that was sick, but society with its hatreds and fears, opened my eyes to an entirely new way of thinking. I quickly learned Marx's rule that the categories of labour or class, bourgeoisie and proletariat, or wage labour, has equivalence with gender in a divided society (and race in Imperialist cultures), so bourgeois equals, Male, Heterosexual or White and Proletarian equals Female, Child, Homosexual or Black. We were encouraged to buy the GLF badge (badges were the cool fashion accessory of the time) and urged to 'Come Out' and show pride in being gay by wearing one. Someone said that despite the fact that there must be one gay person in every family, heterosexuals feared lesbians and gays because our invisibility had led them to believe that they didn't know any. By coming out, by being visible in the family and community, a lot of that fear and prejudice would be allayed. The heterosexual would see we were as human as everybody else, and that we counted and had to be reckoned with. I was fascinated, and ready to learn more. My friends, however, didn't want to know, and as it turned out, didn't want to know me anymore either. Roger and I, though still living together, grew apart as I engaged with these new ideas and became involved in rounds of evening meetings. Within a few months we separated.
Coming out is an experience unique to gay men and women. Coming out made Gay Liberation the only political movement to demand a process that only artists are generally caught up in, that of self-revelation. Perhaps that is why some claim it is liberating in and of itself. It is a surmounting of all the fears and inhibitions a dominating society had implanted in us, and it can truly be said to be an apocalyptic act and a major turning point in the discovery of ourselves as people. Those who cannot Come Out because of the life choices and benefits they are organised around are the closet queens, who mirroring the heterophobes are revolted by any sign of femininity in men, variants of those who cannot accept their gay sexuality, loathe themselves and their desires along with the heterosexual closet queens who repress their femininity and become prey to homosexual dreams and fantasies; men who are insecure about their sexuality and fear they might be gay. In drag or out of drag, as a queen I've never had any problems with 'straight men' – heterosexuals who are comfortable and confident in their sexuality. Which is not to say that straight men and out gays are not misogynist, but if the ultimate aim of the revolutionary struggle of gay men and women is the liberation of the homoerotic desire in every human being, then we must discover where heterophobia resides.
The next week I went to the general meeting by myself feeling free to talk to whoever looked friendly, and that was nearly everyone. After the meeting when people were milling around talking about the evening's debates I was invited to the pub to carry on the discussion. The pub was the place where new people in the intimacy of small groups could venture to ask questions, or even suggest things they were too intimidated to speak about at the general meeting. And after closing time if you were lucky, came an invitation to go back to someone's place for more discussions on how the world was opening out in new and unexpected ways, now that our opinions of ourselves and our position was changing.
At one of those early General Meetings a list of things we were aiming for were read out and we then had to vote on them. These had been drawn up by David Fernbach, Aubrey Walter's lover. Called 'The Demands', they were then made into a leaflet which read:
THE GAY LIBERATION FRONT DEMANDS ...
- that all discrimination against gay people, male and female, by the law, by employers, and by society at large, should end
- that all people who feel attracted to a member of their own sex be taught that such feelings are perfectly normal
- that sex education in schools stop being exclusively heterosexual
- that psychiatrists stop treating homosexuality as though it were a problem or a sickness, thereby giving gay people senseless guilt complexes
- that gay people be as legally free to contact other gay people through newspaper ads, on the streets and by any other means they may want, as are heterosexuals, and that police harassment should cease right now
- that employers should no longer be allowed to discriminate against anyone on account of their sexual preferences
- that the age of consent for gay males be reduced to the same as for straights
- that gay people be free to hold hands and kiss in public, as are heterosexuals
GAY IS GOOD! ALL POWER TO OPPRESSED PEOPLE! COME OUT – JOIN GAY LIBERATION FRONT!
With this leaflet we went to Earls Court the following weekend and handed them to the guys outside the Coleherne and The Boltons. We met with a mixture of polite interest, outright hostility, and physical violence in one case, but the results were a definite increase in gay men coming to the next Wednesday's meeting. A couple of months later another version of the Demands was made up by John Chesterman.
That apathy and fear are the
Barriers that imprison people
From an incalculable landscape
Of self awareness
That they are the elements of
That every person has the right
To develop and extend their
Character and explore their
Sexuality through relationships
With any other human being,
Without moral, social or political
That no relationship formed
By such pressure, or not freely
Entered into, can be valid,
Creative or rewarding.
To you, the others, we say
We are not against you, but
The prejudice that warps your
Life, and ours
It is not love that distorts,
On your behalf, and ours,
The same right to public
Expressions of love and
Affection as society grants
To expressions of hate and scorn.
The right to believe, without
Harm to others, in public and
Private, in any way we choose,
In any manner or style, with
Any words and gestures, to wear
Whatever clothes we like or to
Go naked, to draw or write or
Read or publish any material or
Information we wish, at any
Time and in any place.
An end to the sexual propaganda
That disturbs the innocence of
Children, conditions their image
Of human relationships and implants
Guilt and nurturers shame for any
Sexual feelings outside an
An end to the centuries of
Oppression and prejudice that have
Driven homosexuals from their
Homes, families and employment, have
forced them to cynicism,
Subterfuge and self-hatred and
have led them, so often, to
Imprisonment or to death.
In the name of the tens of
Thousands who wore the badge of
Homosexuality in the gas chambers
And concentration camps, who
Have no children to remember, and
Whom your histories forget.
We DEMAND honour, identity and
Excerpted from Blowing the Lid by Stuart Feather. Copyright © 2014 Stuart Feather. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Coming Out 46
Chapter 2 Have a Gay Day 80
Chapter 3 Gay is Good 116
Chapter 4 Northern Exposure 134
Chapter 5 The Permissive Society and its Enemies 158
Chapter 6 Revolution in the head … and/or in the World 176
Chapter 7 Freaking Out the Fundamentalists 196
Chapter 8 Ideologies Clash 225
Chapter 9 A British Army Hero 285
Chapter 10 Court Circular 292
Chapter 11 Trials and Tribulations 305
Chapter 12 Transvestites and Transsexuals 319
Chapter 13 Party Games and a Serious Proposal 337
Chapter 14 The Parting of the Ways 345
Chapter 15 Knitting for Victory 374
Chapter 16 Gay News 385
Chapter 17 Gay Pride and Gay Prejudice 416
Chapter 18 Radical Drag Queens at Home 456
Chapter 19 Radical Drag Queens in the Community 495
Chapter 20 Bethnal Rouge ? Curtains - The GLF Legacy 529
Index of Names 571