ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Kennedy was a leading gay activist and gay journalist in New York
City in the 1970s. He wrote for several gay publications including the Advocate. He was a member of the Gay Activists Alliance
(GAA) of New York for virtually the entire decade, serving on its Executive Committee during parts of 1972, 1973-74 and 1977.
the early ’70s, he was active on (and briefly chaired, followed by longtime Chairperson Brenda Howard) GAA’s influential
radical-leaning Agitprop Committee/Speakers Bureau. Agitprop made scores of groundbreaking “Gay is great, be proud if
you’re gay, don’t mess with us if you’re not” addresses to high school and college students around
the city and suburbs; at military installations including Ft. Dix, NJ, and Ft. Hamilton, Brooklyn; in houses of worship of
many faiths and races; at neighborhood and civic group meetings, and elsewhere.
In 1973-74, Kennedy was Secretary of
GAA, the organization’s No. 3 position, under President Morty Manford and Vice President Tom Raleigh. At the same time
Kennedy hosted and anchored GAA’s popular weekly Manhattan cable TV gay news program (with his lover Paul Burt as producer
and director); among its scoops was a celebrated interview with former NYC Hospitals Commissioner Dr. Howard Brown, the first
person whose “coming out” made the top of page one of The New York Times.
Also in 1973, Kennedy and Claude
Wynn (a young African-American who headed GAA’s Third World Committee) co-chaired a militant direct-action group which
stormed WBAI radio and seized the airwaves in a successful effort to get additional gay programming on the station.
and GAA Vice President Ginny Vida were the two designated questioners when GAA’s packed Firehouse building hosted the
first-ever gay and lesbian voters forum for NYC mayoral and other citywide candidates in 1973. Kennedy and Maurice Rosen co-chaired
the GAA committee that organized the seminal 1974 demonstration to “Open the CBS Eye to Gay Liberation,” which
drew 400 protesters to West 57th Street and prompted a noticeable improvement in the network’s attitude.
June to November 1977, Kennedy chaired GAA’s Political Action Committee (following David Wynyard and preceding Seth
Lawrence in that position). For several months Kennedy also chaired GAA’s Executive Committee, where his indispensable
Vice Chair and able successor was David Pike. As GAA’s elected spokesperson, Kennedy was named personally, along with
the organization, as a defendant in politician Adam Walinsky’s $2,100,000 civil lawsuit after the gay and lesbian “zap”
on Walinsky’s Scarsdale home in August 1977.
Through the decade, Kennedy was active in a number of other groups
- from the Gay Anarchists early in the ’70s, to the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, of which he was a co-founding
member in 1974. In 1973, he was a campaign volunteer for Jim Owles, the first openly gay candidate for public office in New
From 1972 to 1976, Kennedy wrote the “politics/activism” column for a widely-circulated NYC
gay bar guide magazine and reported for several other publications.
In 1979, he played an active role in what the New
York Post called the “Gay Riots” against the filming of the anti-gay movie “Cruising” in the West
In 1980, after a decade near the forefront of New York gay activism, Joe Kennedy retired from the public arena
at age 33. He explained that he had done all he felt capable of doing and thought it was time to move aside for fresh young
blood. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he occasionally participated in Queer Nation and ACT UP demonstrations. On June
23, 1992, he was one of about a dozen surviving stalwarts of early GAA honored by Mayor David Dinkins and the City Human Rights
Commission at a special Award Ceremony in New York City Hall.
A 1977 page-one newspaper picture of activist/journalist Joe Kennedy.
This book is dedicated
to the memory of the Founding President of the Gay Activists Alliance of New York, JIM OWLES, who died of AIDS in 1993 at
age 46. Jim Owles’s strong, charismatic leadership from 1969 onward inspired and motivated a whole generation of gay
and lesbian activists, including this author. He was the pioneer, an articulate and fearless foe of bigotry and self-loathing
when there were no models for the role - truly the George Washington of our liberation movement, a prophet of historic stature.
All of us who had the privilege of knowing him then will always remember him with great fondness and admiration as “our
President.” May his fighting, freedom-loving spirit live on among gay and lesbian people today and forever as we hold
high the torch first lit at Stonewall.
history of the gay and lesbian liberation movement in the years immediately following the June 1969 Stonewall riots where
it began was dominated by the legendary Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) of New York. GAA was founded in December 1969 after the
first post-Stonewall group, the trail-blazing but short-lived Gay Liberation Front (GLF), floundered due to internal disorganization.
GAA’s Founding President was a charismatic young natural leader named Jim Owles.
GAA played a central pioneering
role in charting everything from the movement’s basic ideology to its militant tactics. GAA’s trumpet call of
openly, proudly, defiantly gay and lesbian people banding together to be free and strong energized New York City in the decade
after Stonewall and inspired similar revolts in other major cities across North America and much of Europe and beyond.
too young to remember Stonewall would be shocked to learn just how utterly all-pervasive (and virtually unchallenged) discrimination
against gays and lesbians was in every aspect of life, and how much GAA did in a few intense years to change things forever.
1970 through 1974, GAA was at its pinnacle of influence and creativity in every field, from politics to the arts, from self-defense
to the professions. Its incessant “zaps” (direct actions confronting oppressors) forced gay and lesbian concerns
onto the public agenda for the first time. Among its countless early achievements was stopping the routine police raids on
gay bars and having the first gay rights bill in the world introduced into New York City’s Council.
halcyon half-decade of GAA’s heyday, its famous four-floor headquarters building, the Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street
in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, hosted thousands of gay men and lesbians every week for a dynamic line-up of social,
political and cultural events. It was in effect the first gay and lesbian community center. There was an aura of tremendous
excitement palpable in the air - the giddy, intoxicating joy of first-time pride and empowerment.
In 1974, the Firehouse
was destroyed by arsonists (apparently a disgruntled clique in GAA’s own ranks, though no one was ever arrested). GAA
survived but was an organization in decline in the latter half of the 1970s. Even in this twilight period, however, GAA managed
some significant accomplishments. High among these is the summer of 1977 when a temporarily re-invigorated GAA - confronting
Anita Bryant and local foes - staged a sweeping series of spectacular “super-zaps” (direct actions of unprecedented
militancy) across the metropolis just when the movement most needed such successes. This is the true story of that last hurrah
of the Gay Activists Alliance of New York.
DADE COUNTY BUMMER
As the summer of 1977 dawned,
there was little doubt it would be one of the most difficult and daunting seasons yet in the 8-year history of the modern
gay and lesbian liberation movement.
The first era of militant activism in movement history was petering out. The Stonewall-era
radical youths who had sparked its inception and supplied its strength were burning out or splintering off into other related
areas of interest.
But an ominous new anti-gay backlash had emerged with full fury - a dangerous national movement
led by a celebrity, the former “beauty queen” Anita Bryant of Florida. The backlash threatened to reverse many
of the advances the fledgling gay movement had made. Bryant’s goal was to consign “gay lib” to history’s
dustbin as just a passing fad of the tumultuous 1960s.
Early in the ’70s, the budding gay activist movement and
its exemplars like U.S. Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich had been featured on TV network news, the front pages of newspapers
and covers of national newsmagazines. But now, in 1977, it was Bryant and her strident message of homo-hatred that dominated
America’s media and the national agenda.
On June 7th, Byrant scored a staggering victory for discrimination when
voters in Dade County (Miami and vicinity), Florida repealed the local gay rights law in a 2-to-1 landslide. While New York
and other cities continued to debate gay rights legislation, Dade County had been among the first to enact it. Bryant’s
drive to repeal the law by voter referendum was the first such challenge ever, and the overwhelming win for shameless anti-gay
bigotry set a chilling precedent. Buoyed by Dade County, Byrant stepped up her well-financed crusade all across the South
and began moving aggressively into other regions of the country as well.
At the Gay Activists Alliance of New York
in early June 1977, there was an urgent determination to fight back against the lethal danger posed by Bryant’s right-wing
onslaught. But it would not be easy. After years of tireless effort, the best and brightest of GAA’s early leaders had
moved on. The organization’s once-brimming treasury was now empty; GAA was renting meeting space on West 14th Street
from a gay and lesbian organization called the West Side Discussion Group - and GAA was in arrears on its rent there. Even
with a recent upsurge in response to the Bryant threat, GAA’s hard-core membership now stood at only 75 people, down
from a high of 550 at its zenith some five or six years before and 300 as recently as three years before. Well-intentioned
tinkering with the organization’s internal structure and constitution in 1976 (including abolition of the GAA Presidency
and watering down the sharp one-issue focus on gay and lesbian issues) had only weakened it further. Even some of its staunchest
longtime supporters sadly feared that the remnants of GAA might be moribund at this critical juncture of history.
it was also evident to GAA’s members that GAA had to rise above its own problems and act forcefully to confront the
backlash crisis. GAA was still the only streetwise direct-action game in town - and no matter how many worthwhile new gay
and lesbian political and professional organizations were coming into existence to lobby and work “inside the system,”
militant confrontational direct action remained an absolutely indispensable weapon for the survival of gay and lesbian liberation.
GAA’s historic vanguard role demanded that it now provide the firepower to quell the nationwide firestorm Byrant had
unleashed against the gay and lesbian community.
Now more than ever, the fiery take-no-guff attitude that inspired
the Stonewall rioters, GLF and the early GAA had to manifest itself again boldly in the gay and lesbian movement. Somehow,
against all odds, this weakened shell of an organization would have to do it. And so in early June 1977, many in GAA swore
a solemn oath to each other: to fight back against the encroaching oppression more ferociously than ever before - and not
NIGHT THEY RAIDED WALINSKY’S
In mid-June 1977, a tremendous new challenge hit like a bombshell - a threat
that forced GAA into dramatic action, perhaps the most extreme zap in its illustrious history.
The tabloid New York
Daily News (then the largest-circulation metropolitan daily newspaper in the country) published a long, vile guest column
denouncing gays and the proposed New York City gay rights bill in the most rabid, offensive terms. This hateful homophobic
diatribe was authored not by Bryant or one of her fundamentalist Christian ilk but by a prominent respected liberal Democratic
Party politician in New York.
This liberal began by asserting he was not an “extremist” like Bryant. He
then immediately went on to condemn the gay liberation movement and slander gays every bit as viciously as Bryant did. He
said gay propagandists had no right to brainwash his children in public schools by saying homosexuality is a “valid
lifestyle” (his obnoxious words) deserving of tolerance or respect. He called upon his fellow progressives to cease
being cowed by the gay movement. He urged them to stand with him in declaring what they really think: that gays are sick,
beyond the pale, and that gay rights is certainly not a legitimate civil rights issue nor a part of the mainstream liberal
agenda in New York City or the nation.
He told New York City politicians to defeat the gay rights bill in the City
Council. Menacingly, he seemed to proclaim the formation of a “Liberals Against Gay Rights” movement which would
open a second powerful front against gays and lesbians right here in New York City - even as we already had our hands full
battling Bryant’s escalating crusade of clever disinformation and naked intolerance.
guest column in the Daily News seemed to imply that he intended as leader of “Liberals Against Gay Rights” to
whip up a full-fledged political and media blitz against gays and lesbians. As GAA saw it, he wanted to deny us our basic
human right to exist, to be who we are without facing violence and discrimination.
The column was written by Adam Walinsky.
While not a household name on the pop-celebrity magnitude of Anita Bryant, Adam Walinsky was indeed a very prominent liberal
Democratic Party politician and lawyer who had real clout. In the 1960s, Walinsky had received considerable national recognition
as an outspoken leader of the massive Anti-Vietnam War Movement. He was famed in political circles as the “wunderkind”
top aide to the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Democrat of New York) in RFK’s increasingly radical years before
his tragic 1968 assassination on the brink of the American Presidency. Walinsky himself then became a candidate for statewide
office in 1970 as the Democratic Party’s nominee for New York Attorney General. As a gubernatorial appointee, Walinsky
headed the New York State Investigations Commission for several years. Now, in 1977, it seemed he had decided to betray his
progressive past and devote his life to an all-out dirty war against gays and lesbians. It was shocking and alarming.
days after Walinsky’s guest column appeared in the Daily News, reprints began turning up in publications near and far,
including the Staten Island Advance daily paper in New York City. The malignancy was spreading fast. And the Daily News told
GAA flatly it would print no pro-gay response to Walinsky’s comments.
Meanwhile, political insiders including
the main lobbyist for the New York City gay rights bill alerted GAA that Walinsky was already working behind the scenes against
gay and lesbian rights. GAA heard through the City Hall grapevine that Walinsky had submitted his anti-gay tirade to the Daily
News for publication under his own name only after New York City mayoral candidate Mario Cuomo courageously rejected Walinsky’s
back-room blandishments to oppose gay rights and use Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” text as a
Cuomo campaign speech. Even though he’d failed to enlist Cuomo as a mouthpiece, the confirmation that politician Walinsky
was using his insider access to top Democrats to try to kill the gay rights bill underscored the imminent deadly danger he
posed. Rumors abounded that Walinsky with his media savvy and governmental connections was hoping for a lucrative new career
as an anti-gay demagogue and movement leader.
At GAA a hard-line consensus emerged: Walinsky’s “Liberals
Against Gay Rights” second front simply had to be nipped in the bud, destroyed on the launching pad right now. Period.
If this evil genie were to get out of its bottle, the gay and lesbian movement would be fighting a defensive, reactive war
on all fronts for years to come. Progress would be impossible. GAA decided it had to seize the initiative now.
led to another consensus on the tactics to be used: GAA was not interested in a merely symbolic or token protest. A traditional
picket line outside Walinsky’s Manhattan law office would only increase his stature as a rising anti-gay leader; it
was probably just what he hoped for. No way GAA was going to fall into that counterproductive trap. GAA was determined to
do something that would really cause him to shut up (and prevent the emergence of any Walinsky clones). Creative, audacious
new tactics would be needed.
The reasoning behind GAA’s consensus to take decisive action went like this:
knew there were individuals, including some self-described “liberals,” who secretly harbored racist, sexist or
anti-Semitic sentiments. But these bigots knew enough to keep their prejudices to themselves. They knew that you simply couldn’t
say such ugly things out loud in civilized society. No progressive person would dare attack any other minority group publicly
the way Walinsky had attacked gays. Why? In part perhaps because they knew they would be ostracized from respectable society
if they did - and, to be sure, with the cooperation of other gay and lesbian groups, GAA vowed to spare no effort to make
Walinsky a pariah in opinion-making circles.
But - and this is the crux of the matter - the real reason no one would
attack any other minority group is fear of retaliation - meaningful retaliation that hurts - from the insulted group. Bigots
simply knew they could not get away with it: the Jewish Defense League, the Black Panther Party, the Latino Young Lords, or
whoever, would make damn sure of that! How, GAA speculated, would these organizations have responded had Walinsky’s
slimy slurs and dehumanizing smears been directed against them?
GAA concluded that unfortunately history and current
events prove this is a brutal, predatory world where those minorities who naively or weakly depend on nothing more than the
“basic tolerance and goodwill” of their fellow humans for their safety and freedom often suffer and perish.
GAA realized that Walinsky felt safe attacking gays because he believed his own bigoted stereotypes: he knew that those sissyfags,
those weaklings could do nothing that would punish him, make him pay for encouraging their extermination. GAA recognized that
our perceived lack of forcefulness made us easy prey, the “perfect victims” for hate-mongers. Walinsky’s
attitude resembled that of cowardly bully-boys who feel they can assault gays and lesbians with impunity. Every minority group,
GAA understood, has suffered from particular stereotypes and myths held by its detractors; in the case of gays, the notion
that we could not defend ourselves made us uniquely vulnerable to those without conscience who respected only power and force.
was determined, once and for all, here and now, to smash the myth of gays and lesbians as helpless victims. GAA would slay
“Liberals Against Gay Rights” and would make a striking example of Walinsky. GAA would send an unmistakable, loud
and clear message to all of them - “respectable” adult bigots and bully-boys alike - that they mess with us at
their own grave peril.
To implement this consensus for militant, envelope-pushing direct action, GAA resolved unanimously
to counterattack Walinsky where he lives.
Despite Walinsky’s unlisted phone, a GAA investigation (the old-fashioned,
pre-computer-age way, with legwork and detective sleuthing) found out his home address. GAA discovered to its outrage that
Walinsky did not even live in the city whose laws and public policies he was trying so very hard to influence to our detriment:
his residence was located outside New York City, on a large tract in the super-wealthy suburb of Scardsdale in Westchester
GAA’s membership voted to hold a surprise midnight zap there on the night of Thursday, August 4th.
GAA would provide transportation to the site (a bus and a number of private cars, traveling in convoy) and would carry on
an extremely loud hour-long picket line on the street in front of Walinsky’s house. For self-protection, some of the
pickets would be armed with baseball bats and other weapons.
To avoid leaks to Walinsky or the police, the zap would
be organized quietly. GAA’s membership authorized the Political Action Committee and Executive Committee to handle the
specific logistics involved.
Then, outside of GAA, a remarkable chain of events began unfolding. Perhaps it began with
an activist’s seemingly casual question to a friend in a local gay hang-out: “Why not take advantage of GAA’s
scheduled zap to do a zinger of our own and really make it a superzap?” In any case, the idea of an independent ad hoc
group committed to more militant action than GAA’s took on a life of its own.
Citing anonymous sources, an article
by premier gay journalist Randy Shilts in the Village Voice later reported that an anonymous and non-GAA-connected group of
gay and lesbian militants formed during the summer and decided to conduct a more forceful protest of their own against Walinsky.
A wag is said to have nicknamed them “the renegades.” The renegades’ action would reportedly occur moments
before the GAA pickets arrived at Walinsky’s. Then, somehow, the renegades would vanish into the suburban night instantly
without a trace. According to the anonymous sources, this renegade group would not consider itself bound by legal restraints
on its conduct as GAA obviously was. The renegades pledged their allegiance to a higher law: the moral imperative of self-defense
and survival of their species.
According to the anonymous sources, the renegades, as highly moral people, emphatically
ruled out crossing over the line to terrorism - but they would nonetheless give Walinsky the scare of a lifetime.
planning and precise coordination would be required for this mission. It would be a real-life military operation, an act of
guerrilla warfare by a liberation platoon. The Village Voice, quoting its anonymous sources, later reported that a number
of gay Vietnam War veterans were among those who planned and executed the daring commando raid.
The prime obsession
of the renegades was reportedly to ensure that all the participants escaped completely unscathed: there must be no arrests,
no injuries to the raiders. The renegades were going to Walinsky’s not to be martyrs but as gay and lesbian warriors
determined to win a battle for freedom and human dignity. To this end, there was reportedly extensive training and rehearsing
- and doubtless a sleepless night or two wondering: Is everything fail-safe? Is there a contingency plan for every possibility?
Are we prepared if there’s a leak about GAA’s planned zap and hostile forces (police, gay-bashers, maybe Walinsky
himself with a weapon) are waiting for the protesters’ midnight arrival at Walinsky’s? The Village Voice later
reported that numerous renegades’ scouting parties, using different cars to avoid arousing suspicion, had been to Walinsky’s
neighborhood by day and by night in the weeks before the superzap to reconnoiter and set the stage.
“BRAZEN GANG OF THUGS” STRIKES
At last, it was Thursday evening, August 4th, 1977. GAA’s
membership received a final briefing from its elected Chain-of-Command at the West Side Discussion Group meeting space. Watches
For its 11 p.m. report, WNBC-TV/Channel 4 News taped footage of the rally-like atmosphere as the
GAA convoy prepared to depart the West Village shortly after 10 p.m. As a precautionary measure, the convoy’s destination
was kept secret from the mass media and no cameras or recording devices were allowed in the convoy. On its 11 p.m. newscast,
Channel 4 reported without elaboration that GAA was holding a demonstration on behalf of the New York City gay rights bill.
about 11:35 p.m., “PERSONS UNKNOWN,” as the official Scarsdale Police Department Crime Report would later put
it, cautiously crept into Walinsky’s property. Apparently they were persons with Telephone Company tools and know-how:
the Scardsdale Police Report says the first thing they did was cut the telephone wires to Walinsky’s house. Walinsky
had two phone lines; both were cut, said the Scarsdale Police Crime Report. (Note to younger readers: there were no cellular
phones in 1977; when Walinsky’s lines were severed, his household was isolated.)
Suddenly, Walinsky and his wife
Jane, who had just gotten into bed, were jolted by volley upon volley of powerful firecrackers exploding right outside their
windows. Dozens of eggs pelted their house on all sides. Fierce, furious voices amplified by bullhorns began bellowing over
and over again: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your house on fire! Gay power rules!” Minute after brutal
minute, the relentless barrage continued: At the windows the powerful firecrackers exploding, so loud and jolting, like gunfire;
the eggs, by the hundreds now, pelting the house from every direction, damaging its paint; and incessantly, the frenetic full-throated
bellowing: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your house on fire! Gay power rules! WALINSKY, YOU LIAR, WE’LL
SET YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE! GAY POWER RULES!”
According to the Walinskys’ later sworn testimony to the New
York State Supreme (superior) Court, the fright that gripped Mrs. Walinsky as this commotion erupted around the house turned
in one panic-stricken flash to sheer literally heart-stopping terror when the Walinskys grabbed desperately for their phones
to summon police help - and found both phone lines DEAD! The Walinskys and their doctor swore that the terror Mrs. Walinsky
suffered in that one moment was so unbearably acute that she could have died on the spot of shock and she would never be the
same again for the rest of her days.
The Scardsdale Police Crime Report says Walinsky’s property was defaced
with graffiti including “GO GAY!” spray painted in thick letters five feet tall on his driveway facing the street,
and there were other acts of general vandalism.
Simultaneously, the Scarsdale Police Crime Report says, thousands of
fliers were posted and scattered around Walinsky’s property and the whole neighborhood. The fliers explained why the
protest was taking place, making these points:
Walinsky had uttered fighting words and committed a blood libel against
gays and lesbians.
Walinsky had declared war on gays and lesbians.
Walinsky opposed civil rights legislation that would
end existing discrimination and give gays and lesbians equal opportunity and equal protection under the law in the basic necessities
of life - housing, employment, public accommodations - in our hometown of New York City.
Tonight, gays and lesbians were
doing the only self-defensive thing we could do to survive: counter-attacking, bringing the war home to him.
will gays and lesbians tolerate insults and discrimination that no other citizens would put up with, and we will be no less
forceful than any other aggrieved minority in fighting back against our bigoted oppressors.
Ending gay-bashing is literally
a life and death issue for us; henceforth we will make it one for our violence-inciting enemies as well.
No more can hate-mongers
like Walinsky slander us and deny us our human rights by day in our hometown, our own ghetto, and then at night retreat to
their safe suburban homes and leave all that controversy behind them.
The negative consequences of the bigots’ actions
hurt the gay and lesbian community 24 hours a day; from now on the bigots will suffer likewise until they stop their evil-doing.
Walinsky is really dumb enough to pursue his war to the death against our community, (the fliers thundered in conclusion)
then we have no choice but to affirm that WE WILL SURVIVE and prosper, while he will PERISH LIKE A COCKROACH.
four long minutes that surely seemed like an eternity to the Walinsky household, the firecracker and egg bombardment, spray-painting
and leaflet-plastering, etc., finally ceased. The gay and lesbian renegade raiders who had perpetrated this wild vandalistic
orgy made good their escape from Walinsky’s badly damaged property. They disappeared as abruptly and mysteriously as
they had arrived.
Momentarily, 50 GAA pickets (accompanied by two civil liberties lawyers and a handful of gay media
reporters) appeared in the distance, marching single-file briskly up the street toward Walinsky’s. No means of transportation
was visible: As a precaution, the bus and cars in the GAA convoy had been parked in a deserted area of a posh country club
more than half a mile away, and the GAA demonstrators had speed-marched silently to Walinsky’s over hilly terrain.
after the GAA protesters set up a picket line on the street (there was no sidewalk) in front of Walinsky’s did they
suddenly and dramatically unleash their deafening cacophony: noisemakers galore - bells, whistles, drums, horns, tambourines
- and a non-stop repertoire of bullhorn-led chanting.
They shouted: “BIGOT WALINSKY, you better start shakin’,
today’s pig is tomorrow’s bacon!” They yelled: “2, 4, 6, 8, Gay is good, gay is great! Gay power now!”
They howled: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your ass on fire! Gay rights now!”
In spite of Walinsky’s
heated - hysterical might be a better word - demands, the Scarsdale Police who finally showed up at the scene declined to
arrest any of the GAA pickets. After conferring with GAA’s spokesperson and the two legal observers, the Scarsdale Police
official in charge explained to Walinsky that the only thing police could see was a more-or-less legal, albeit very noisy,
picket line of baseball-bat-wielding protesters in progress on a public street - and, purely coincidentally, evidence that
telephone wire-cutting and numerous other felonies had recently occurred nearby on Walinsky’s property. The police official
told Walinsky that GAA and the legal observers with it categorically denied that GAA’s pickets had trespassed or committed
vandalism on his property; that GAA in fact insisted its pickets had an ironclad alibi (they were always together) and couldn’t
possibly have done it; that no one including Walinsky could produce any proof to the contrary; and that therefore the badly-outnumbered
police had no basis to detain or arrest anyone.
(Likewise, the Westchester County District Attorney, Republican Carl
Vergari, days later rebuffed Walinsky’s demand that criminal indictments be brought against GAA and its elected leaders.
The District Attorney found there was “insufficient evidence” to link the GAA pickets to the serious crimes on
Walinsky’s property that precursed their arrival. GAA’s assertion that it had no knowledge of or connection to
the renegade raiders was upheld for lack of a shred of contradictory evidence.)
During the nearly hour-long GAA picket
line on the street in front of Walinsky’s, a dozen or more neighbors, some in bathrobes, emerged from their homes and
came within viewing distance to find out what was causing the raucous din that was keeping them awake. They were alarmed to
see 50 tough-looking pickets, many with baseball bats.
Just after half past midnight, GAA’s monitoring of police
radio detected a call from the Scarsdale Police for emergency out-of-town reinforcements. On a cue from the elected Chain-of-Command,
the GAA pickets immediately fell silent and dashed swiftly down the street away from Walinsky’s and into the suburban
night. The Scarsdale Police, obviously relieved to see them leave, made no attempt to stop them.
GAA remained on guard
as its convoy raced out of Scarsdale. There was still the danger that police in a more conservative neighboring Westchester
County municipality - now that they had heard about the disturbance on their radios - might foolishly be looking for trouble.
But there was none.
When the GAA convoy speeding down Interstate 95 crossed back into New York City, those aboard finally
felt safe enough to end their adrenaline-pumping state of red alert and proclaim MISSION ACCOMPLISHED with a surge of exuberant
high-fives and emotional hugs. Upon return to the West Village, GAA’s Social Affairs Committee hosted a special gala
Victory Party. According to a contemporary wag, many denizens of the gay West Village, exclaiming “Hail the conquering
heroes!” joined the fun at the GAA Victory Party, and - quoth the wag - “the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll
were never better!”
Indeed, for GAA the Walinsky zap was a tremendous success. The organization’s goal
of a noisy legal picket line had been achieved. The complicated logistics had been carried out. The Village Voice quoted former
GAA President David Thorstad as declaring it had been an “UNUSUALLY UPLIFTING” evening for the gay and lesbian
The non-GAA-connected renegade raiders also had to be pleased. They had arrived at Walinsky’s five
minutes before the GAA pickets. They had trespassed, they had cut phone wires, they had vandalized with vengeance, they had
taunted and tormented without mercy. Then, a minute before the GAA pickets showed up, they had vanished. Nobody saw them.
Nobody knew how they did it or who they were. The police were baffled, clueless: “persons unknown” was all they
could say. Free-spirited gays and lesbians fighting for their mutual survival had voluntarily enlisted and forged themselves
into a tight commando unit - ninjas in the night - and executed a challenging task with great precision. Yes, the renegade
raiders had reason to exult, to feel the great pride, the “not quite arrogance” in their own kind that Jim Owles
first preached years before.
The demonstration at Walinsky’s received considerable coverage from
the mainstream media. “FORMER CANDIDATE IRED AT PROTEST” was the front-page headline in the Gannett Westchester
Newspapers (circulation nearly 200,000). Walinsky was quoted in The New York Times, TIME magazine, the Village Voice, and
on National Public Radio (NPR), among other places, as describing the “50 avowed homosexuals” (his words) he saw
picketing at the zap as “a brazen gang of thugs…storm troopers…brown shirts.” He accused GAA of using
life-threatening terrorism. He even whined plaintively to the mass media that he couldn’t understand why those who sought
civil rights for themselves would deny him his, a belated but nonetheless welcome concession that gay and lesbian rights are
a legitimate civil rights issue after all.
Pressed hard by the media to comment on the renegade raid, GAA - on a legal
and public relations tightrope - replied tersely: “We neither condemn it nor condone it. We understand the anger that
Mass media coverage of the Walinsky superzap would have been even much greater than it was, however,
were it not for a damnable twist of fate: Son of Sam, a het who killed other hets as they “made out” in their
cars, saw fit to claim another victim just as GAA was leaving Walinsky’s. With their lame-brained, low-brow heterosexist
mentality, the daily tabloids and TV news had made Sam the “Story of the Decade” and followed a simple rule: whenever
Sam struck, that was the only news that could be covered for the next day. A disappointed New York Post reporter told GAA
how her dynamite sensationalist story (“RADICAL GAYS RAID SCARSDALE”) was yanked from Friday morning’s final
edition just before deadline in order to clear the paper for Sam.
In the gay media, New York City’s weekly newspaper
Gaysweek, published by Alan Bell (who years later became publisher of BLK and other magazines), provided good first-hand coverage
of the zap by a team of several reporters, as did WBAI radio’s gay news show. To GAA’s disappointment, the normally-accurate
Gay Community News of Boston carried only a brief, belated second-hand item describing a poorly planned action that embarrassed
the movement as protesters ran amok.
It was soon evident that GAA had accomplished its prime objective: Amid the furor,
the central fact was that Walinsky never again opened his mouth publicly against equal rights for gays and lesbians or against
the gay “lifestyle.” The superzap permanently silenced his gays-are-sick comments and ended his “Liberals
Against Gay Rights” blitz. GAA’s shock therapy had cured Walinsky of his avowed homophobia. His only public comments
thereafter were to describe and deplore the militancy of the raiders’ tactics. Walinsky was thus doing exactly what
GAA wanted in spreading the message that, contrary to stereotypical myth, gays and lesbians do indeed fight back.
comments such as the melodramatic “BATS AND BULLHORNS” in The New York Times (which declared itself appalled
at the protesters’ out-of-bounds tactics) communicated the urgent warning to all bigots that there is no safe haven
from angry gays and lesbians.
While the leaders of gay and lesbian lobbying organizations could not say so publicly,
in private the Walinsky superzap brought smiles to their faces. They confided to GAA that it helped in their dealings with
reluctant politicians and power brokers to have the veiled threat hanging overhead: Deal in good faith with us, or who knows
what those militant street activists will do to you.
GAA’s zap had changed the subject in a profound way. No
longer were gays and lesbians forced to engage in the inherently demeaning debate with Walinsky over whether we have a right
to exist in the way that is natural to us, over whether we can “justify” who we are to the het majority. Walinsky
no longer dared dispute that we are first-class people, entitled to the same civil rights protections every other citizen
takes for granted. That argument was settled, on our terms. The new topic of discussion - our use of ultra-militant tactics,
pro or con - was one we could only win: Every time Walinsky repeated to another audience or media outlet his new mantra that
gay militants are ruthless rough tough bad-asses who whip their opponents from pillar to post (and slyly get away with it
to boot), he was doing our work, a more convincing publicist for our don’t-mess-with-gays-and-lesbians message than
we could be ourselves.
Fearing a repeat visit, Walinsky got a Constitutionally-questionable court order prohibiting
demonstrations of any kind by anybody near his Scarsdale property and forbidding any other “harassment” by GAA.
the damage to his property was quite costly. And Walinsky spent many thousands of dollars more in a rush to install a sophisticated
new home security system.
Frustrated that GAA had emerged triumphant with none of its pickets arrested while his expenses
resulting from the zap mounted, Walinsky filed a $2,100,000 civil lawsuit against GAA and two named individuals: GAA’s
elected spokesperson at the time of the zap, whom he denounced as “the brazen leader of the gang of thugs”; and
a well-known civil liberties attorney, Lynne F. Stewart, a non-participant who had done nothing more than observe the legal
picketing. The judge presiding over the lawsuit soon agreed with Stewart and GAA that she was not involved and should be dropped
as a defendant, another rebuke for Walinsky.
Walinsky’s lawsuit, making no distinction between GAA and renegades,
simply assumed GAA should be held responsible for everything that happened on August 4th and 5th. His lawsuit alleged that
because of the extreme panic and fright caused by the raid, his wife was suffering severe “RECURRING NIGHTMARES”
and health problems, could no longer eat or sleep properly, was losing weight and verging on a nervous breakdown, etc. The
two Walinsky kids were away at summer camp on August 4th and missed the excitement. Walinsky’s lawsuit specified, however,
that the children had heard all about what happened and that consequently they, like Mrs. Walinsky, now lived in nightly fear
of gay militants lurking outside their house.
In protracted legal maneuvering, Walinsky’s lawyers tried mightily
but unsuccessfully to compel GAA and its spokesperson to reveal the names of all 50 GAA pickets (presumably so each of them
could be sued individually too and otherwise pestered).
In June 1978, on the first anniversary of the
publication of Walinsky’s guest column in the Daily News, his law office’s telephone lines were tied up all day
by what Walinsky told the Court were “cursing, threatening, gruff-voiced” callers who he swore just about reduced
his female secretary to tears and halted all work in the office. (Some lesbians and others in GAA noted wryly that the chauvinistic
Walinsky always hid behind women - claiming it was his wife or his secretary who were upset by the zaps, never himself. But
he did all the complaining).
The phone zap’s demand was “Drop the Lawsuit.” Some gay and lesbian
activists thought that with the battle to terminate Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” movement having
been long since won, the anniversary phone zap was a bit of overkill. But many others thought he could use another stake through
Walinsky’s lawyers moved to have GAA held in contempt of court, alleging that the anniversary phone
zap of his office violated the anti-harassment order. Walinsky hoped to have GAA’s elected leaders locked up in jail
and the organization itself fined into bankruptcy for the alleged contempt of court. Correspondents from The New York Times
(whose news reports now referred to the original incident as a “raucous late-night demonstration”), the Gannett
Westchester Newspapers and several major radio stations were among the crowd on hand in State Supreme Court in White Plains,
NY, for the high-stakes showdown. In the courtroom, GAA’s gay attorney Bill Thom (who years later became the first openly
gay judge on New York City’s Criminal Court bench) called Walinsky’s motion for a contempt citation baseless and
mocked it with withering sarcasm. Walinsky, said Thom, had failed to give the Court one iota of evidence linking GAA in any
way to the phone calls; it could have been anybody calling. The judge agreed: Walinsky’s request that GAA and its leaders
be found in contempt was summarily thrown out right then and there. Gay power had foiled Walinsky again.
In June 1978,
there was also evidence - in the Daily News, no less - of the favorable fallout resulting from the show of strength at the
Walinsky superzap the previous summer. The Daily News was notorious for ignoring news of interest to gay and lesbian readers.
GAA told the paper’s editors this must change; amazingly, they now agreed. In 1978, for the first time, the annual Gay
Pride March was splashed across page one of the Daily News; the year before it had not even been mentioned in the paper. Why
the big shift? Consider this: Daily News bigwigs including editor-in-chief Michael J. O’Neill were Scarsdale residents,
keenly aware of what happened at Walinsky’s. Could it be that the het editors had been so blinded by prejudice that
they would not report fairly on gay and lesbian lives - until they were jolted to their senses by the specter of zappers in
the night raiding their homes?
More than two years after the August 1977 superzap, Walinsky reached
an out-of-court settlement with GAA and the named individual, ending Walinsky’s civil lawsuit. Instead of the $2,100,000
in damages Walinsky had sought, he got a paltry $100. Wags chortled that it had cost Walinsky more than that just have his
Sometimes history is a story not just of what happens but what is prevented from happening.
Stopping a great tragedy and outrage before it can occur, strangling a potential Hitler or Bryant in their infancy, is a historic
and heroic deed. The fact that Adam Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” campaign was crushed is an
enduring tribute to the success of what the Village Voice called “THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED WALISNKY’S.” The
tale of that midnight raid has earned its everlasting place in the folklore of our gay and lesbian heritage.
GAYS RAID GEORDIE’S STRAIGHT BAR
The Walinsky superzap was far from the only major GAA action of the busy
summer of 1977. The gay raid on Geordie’s, a popular het bar, which took place a week earlier, attracted a larger crowd
of protesters (135 in all) and garnered no less attention. Indeed, when New York magazine reported on GAA’s strong-arm
seizure of Geordie’s - under the headline “MILITANT GAYS AREN’T KIDDING AROUND ANYMORE” - Walinsky
submitted a copy of the clipping to the Court as evidence that the raid on his home was part of a “pattern” of
militant “terroristic” zaps.
GAA first received a complaint about Geordie’s from several gays who
lived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where Geordie’s was located (on Third Avenue below 82nd Street, next door
to a then-thriving gay bar called Harry’s Back East).
Hanging in the most central place behind Geordie’s
bar, where no customer could fail to see it, was a large ax with a 3-foot-long wooden handle to which a sign was fastened
that said in elaborate print: “FAIRY SWATTER.” Geordie’s bartender had refused requests from several customers
to take the sign down. Now the Upper East Side gays were asking GAA for a hand in getting it removed.
GAA sent a small
delegation to meet Geordie’s owner and make a formal demand that the ax/swatter sign display be removed at once. In
most cases GAA encountered, such a meeting would be all it took to resolve the problem.
As the meeting started, Geordie’s
owner volunteered that he’s no anti-gay bigot; he said some of his best friends are gay. The “Fairy Swatter”
sign attached to the ax, he stated with a straight face, had nothing to do with gays and shouldn’t bother us in the
least: It was an innocent traditional sign that had hung in the bar for generations without a complaint. It referred, he claimed,
to an ancient superstition about seeing “fairies” - leprechauns, imaginary little creatures - if one drank too
much. Under absolutely no circumstances, he concluded, would he ever consider removing the ax/swatter sign.
delegation replied that retaining the ax/swatter sign was unacceptable; it had to come down. GAA insisted that gays would
decide what was offensive to us - and, based on our own experience, what might trigger a drunken mob of hets to commit anti-gay
violence. The sign’s allegedly innocent background was irrelevant; in today’s world of Anita Bryant and the anti-gay
backlash, GAA said, people would interpret that sign only one way: it condoned and encouraged anti-gay attitudes.
owner reiterated that he would never remove that traditional centerpiece on which he felt the bar’s whole ambiance and
survival depended. GAA responded that he was not taking us seriously and would force us reluctantly to take sterner measures.
GAA guaranteed him that the ax/swatter sign would come down and urged him to do it the easy, amiable way now.
owner got belligerent and made the mistake of belittling GAA’s ability to deliver on the guarantee that the ax/swatter
sign would come down. “Go ahead, throw a picket line up in front if you want to! It won’t change anything,”
he taunted. He raised his voice: “You can picket till you’re blue in the face. The ax and sign stay up. Nothing
you do will make me take it down! It will never come down! Never!” With that, he walked away ending the discussion,
and the GAA delegation left Geordie’s.
When the GAA delegation reported back to the organization’s membership,
the reaction was summed up by a member who said: “If he thinks the worst gays and lesbians can do to him is march around
on a futile picket line in front of his bar, we’ll have to show him how wrong he is! We won’t be laughingstocks
Geordie’s owner had asserted that gays and lesbians were impotent to make him remove the insulting
display. Every customer, gay or het, who set foot in Geordie’s bar (that’s hundreds of people on a busy night)
would see that ax/swatter sign forevermore, Geordie’s owner had vowed. To GAA, that means that every one of them would
see explicit evidence of the weakness, the humiliating second-class status of gay people in het-dominated society. It was
all enshrined there on that “Fairy Swatter” sign with its fancy lettering: gays are nothing more than the butt
of jokes at best, the victims of violence at worst, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
GAA decided to
take decisive action to remove the ax/swatter sign.
Gaysweek newspaper focused the attention of gay and lesbian New
York on the looming showdown: photographer Peter Melillo’s picture of Geordie’s ax/swatter display appeared on
page one; a writer noted that the obstinacy and belligerence of Geordie’s owner had escalated a relatively minor controversy
into a cause celebre that would test whether the gay and lesbian community could do more than talk when its interests were
In numerous letters, phone calls and personal visits, gays and lesbians made last-ditch appeals to Geordie’s
to take down the ax/swatter sign - all to no avail.
The moment for action arrived. At 10:45 p.m. on Thursday, July
28, 1977, 65 fired-up GAA members massed outside Geordie’s on Third Avenue near 82nd Street. Upon a signal from GAA
spies inside that the moment was right for a takeover, they barged en masse into Geordie’s.
The raiders chanted:
“Take down the sign! Gay power now! Take down the sign! Gay power now!” They were pounding, banging , stomping
furiously, blowing whistles, breaking bottles, causing an uproar that actually shook the building. They were brandishing wooden
tomahawks, sticks and fly swatters - each clearly labeled “Bigot Swatter.”
Every raider knew what to do.
The mission of one group (called the first squad) was to neutralize Geordie’s employees by making them defend the ax/swatter
sign, thus leaving the 35 customers present to fend for themselves. The task of the remaining raiders was to drive those customers
out of Geordie’s.
GAA’s two-pronged strategy was successful.
In a dramatic face-off and altercation
with the first squad, Geordie’s owner, bartenders, bouncers, etc., all lined up behind the bar, snatching clubs, knives
an any other weapons they could grab to protect the ax/swatter sign at all cost - and leaving GAA in control of the rest of
place. The stand-off with the first squad delayed Geordie’s owner from calling 911 for police intervention. When he
did try to get near the phone, demonstrators reached over the bar and held him back, buying precious time.
the rest of the raiders were doing their crucial job - driving out all the customers - with gusto. Fliers were tossed around,
explaining the situation briefly and instructing Geordie’s patrons to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. After that, there was no time
for friendly persuasion. GAA demonstrators surrounded each customer, yelling, “Get out! Leave now!” in their ears,
kicking and rocking their tables or barstools, spilling their drinks, prodding them with “Bigot Swatters” and
generally creating an unbearable atmosphere.
Most of the customers, some literally shrieking in panic, fled Geordie’s
within 90 seconds after GAA stormed in. Next it was time to deal with the handful who hadn’t taken the hint. Some were
shoved and pushed, even physically picked up and handed off from one squad of GAA protesters to another all the way to the front door and out. When one party being forcibly escorted out shouted to their GAA handlers that they hadn’t paid their
big tab yet, GAA replied, “It’s on the house!” They flew out the door gasping a somewhat bewildered “Thank
you” to the GAAers.
One could tell from the shell-shocked, awe-struck looks on the faces of the customers as
they fled the tumultuous frenzy in Geordies’s that this was probably the most unbelievable moment of the lives. They
would be raving to everyone they knew for weeks to come about how these militant gays and lesbians were standing up for themselves.
Inevitably, there were one of two avowed “tough guy” het customers who wouldn’t go without a fight,
and there were some scuffles in the first few minutes of the bar seizure. One tall muscular GAA member was particularly impressive
in a brief flare-up of fisticuffs with the last customer left in Geordie’s, a big-mouthed cursing homo-hater. Bam! Boom!
Zap! Take that, shithead! A swift combo of hard-hitting gay punches left that het bashed good. Before he knew what had hit
him, he was tossed out the front door like a sack of garbage. He was so dazed and embarrassed to be beaten up by a faggot
that he staggered quickly away. GAA had emptied Geordie’s of its customers in almost no time flat.
time, Geordie’s owner finally got a phone call through to 911 and screamed desperately that everything but World War
III was breaking out in his bar. He wasn’t exaggerating when he called it a full-fledged riot.
in front of Geordie’s, there was more action: Moments after the GAA raiders stormed into the bar, 70 “reinforcements”
- other gays and lesbians - took their stand on the sidewalk and began loud picketing and informational leafleting. Some of
the reinforcements were members of the Gay and Lesbian Socialists organization and the Gay and Lesbian Academic Union, both
of which had held regularly-scheduled meetings of their own earlier in the evening; they welcomed the opportunity to take
part in this important and exciting zap.
Within minutes, at least seven New York City Police Department cars, sirens
wailing and lights flashing, screeched up in front of Geordie’s. More were arriving. The sound of sirens filled the
neighborhood. The police cars blocked most of Third Avenue. Traffic almost halted.
A fast-growing crowd of curious
onlookers gathered. They were buzzing, wanting to know what the big hub-bub was all about. The pickets had plenty of leaflets
to inform them. Sentiment among the onlookers seemed to agree: Geordie’s ax/swatter sign should come down.
civil liberties attorneys who were present at GAA’s behest assured the NYPD Police Captain in charge that there was
nothing but a peaceful sit-in protest occurring inside Geordie’s. Since all of Geordie’s customers were gone,
the raiders inside were told by their elected Chain-of-Command to calm down. When the Police Captain entered Geordie’s
to size up the situation, he saw nothing so untoward happening that it demanded immediate police intervention. The furious
demands by Geordie’s owner that police move in at once and arrest everyone in the bar for assaulting and driving out
his customers were brushed off.
The Police Captain wisely decided to take no action until higher-ups from borough headquarters
arrived on the scene.
The throng of curious eyewitnesses outside had swelled to many hundreds. The gay and lesbian
pickets chanted all the louder, and leafleters fanned out among the crowd to make sure the onlookers would spread the word
that Geordie’s was a controversial, even dangerous place - not the saloon you want to go to for a good time. The mainstream
news media was en route to the site.
Geordie’s owner could see that he had lost. He would not make another cent
that Thursday night. Far worse, he was getting a public relations black eye that would last a long time. Who would want to
come into his bar after this?
At 11:25 p.m., less than three-quarters of an hour after the gay and lesbian raid on the
het bar kicked off, GAA’s unconditional victory was ratified: GEORDIE’S SURRENDERED! Geordie’s visibly shaken
owner climbed up on a footstool, reached up to the central position of prominence on the bar and took down the “Fairy Swatter”
sign. He promised it would never go back up. It never did.
The GAA raiders erupted in a deafening din of celebration,
the joyous and heartfelt cheer of a lifetime.
The 65 triumphant GAA invaders left the bar and held an emotional victory
rally with the 70 gays and lesbians who had been picketing and leafleting outside, as dozens of cops and many hundreds of
other people looked on. Chanting, “If it goes up, we’ll be back!” as a parting shot, the jubilant gays and
lesbians then dispersed among whoops of victory and yelps of conquest. Their delirious hooting and hollering echoed up and
down the canyon of Third Avenue.
In its next issue, New York magazine’s report began: “In the old days,
police raided gay bars. Last week, it was a group of whistle-blowing, militant gay activists who raided a straight singles
bar… The protesters demanded that the bar’s owner remove a sign labeling a huge ax hanging over the bar a ‘fairy
swatter.’ About 100 demonstrators, mobilized by the Gay Activists Alliance, drove paying customers from the bar…
Carloads of police looked on. There were no arrests…”
In the end, Geordie’s owner proved prophetic
about one thing. He was wrong when he vowed that GAA could “Never!” make him take the ax/swatter sign down. But
he was right that Geordie’s could not survive its removal - although of course what proved fatal was the adverse publicity
he suffered as a result of the confrontation rather than the “loss of ambiance” from the sign’s removal
he had dreaded. Geordie’s was an institution on the Upper East Side, but after this incident, its customers went elsewhere.
Within months it was broke and closed down for good. A clash with gay and lesbian militants doomed Geordie’s, a run-in
its owner could easily have avoided. Businesses city-wide got the message: Homophobia doesn’t pay - and when gays and
lesbians ask you nicely to stop offending them, the sensible businessperson listens and complies.
For the gay and lesbian
liberation movement, the stunning takeover of Geordie’s, forcing removal of the notorious “Fairy Swatter”
ax, was an electrifying morale booster. One could feel the surge in gay and lesbian pride around New York City as the news
It was a conquest that only grew in stature as time went by. Some 13 years later, in August 1990, a Village
Voice cover story by Guy Trebay about the fabulous young new 1990s generation of gay and lesbian avengers noted their view
of the celebrated raid on Geordie’s as a defining moment in movement history. Trebay pointed out that the 1990s activists
were only young children when Geordie’s was zapped, but it had become a proud and inspiring part of their queer nation’s
culture, to be passed on from age to age.
In overcoming Geordie’s and all its burly bouncers (a feat that some
nay-sayers, even in the gay press, had deemed impossible), GAA and its supporters proved that gays and lesbians, mobilized
and acting in concert, can defeat any odds and smash any who dare to defy us. As one wag put it, “After Geordie’s,
we know we don’t have to take any crap from any hets any more!”
THE MAYOR AND OTHER ANTICS
At 11 p.m. on Thursday, August 18th, 1977, GAA held a major demonstration for the
third time in a month. About 200 gays and lesbians conducted a 90-minute candlelight picket line at Gracie Mansion, the official
residence of New York City’s Mayor.
Its purpose was to attract mainstream media attention and thereby inform
gays and lesbians who did not read the gay press that Mayor Abe Beame, seeking re-election, was the only one of the four candidates
in the upcoming Democratic Party mayoral primary who opposed the gay rights bill. GAA was confident that if the gay and lesbian
vote was united against Beame, he would be ousted from office.
The success of this demonstration depended upon attracting
a large enough crowd to make it newsworthy. So for weeks while GAA worked on the complex logistics involved in the Geordie’s
and Walinsky zaps, it also had to struggle full-tilt at drawing a good turnout to Gracie Mansion on August 18th. (Plans for
all three actions were approved by GAA’s Political Action Committee on July 14th. Just after the third action, to “Wake
Up Mayor Beame to Gay Rights,” gained committee approval, NYC’s great blackout of 1977 struck at 9:35 p.m., abruptly
ending the meeting in darkness. As they struggled in the weeks ahead to carry out all three actions, weary GAA wags expressed
thanks that the blackout had hit before anything more could be planned by the gung-ho members at that meeting!)
was pleased that several other lesbian and gay organizations accepted GAA’s invitation to co-sponsor the picket line
at Gracie Mansion. Without their enthusiastic support, it would not have been possible to achieve a respectable turnout.
York City Police Department brass (an Inspector, two Deputy Inspectors and a Captain) had taken the unusual step of contacting
GAA and urging GAA not to hold this action. They implied that they feared violence against the demonstrators by cops if it
took place; they warned that a standing Court Order sharply restricting night-time demonstrations near Gracie Mansion would
be strictly enforced and anyone using a whistle or bullhorn would be arrested.
GAA discussed this threat candidly beforehand.
The membership decided that the zap must go on, lest Beame get a free ride for another term, but that the pickets would show
supreme self-disciple and not be provoked into a violent battle with superior forces. The watchword for the night from GAA’s
elected Chain-of-Command was: “We spill breeders’ blood, not ours; don’t give the bigot pigs the satisfaction
of beating us!”
This plan was excruciatingly difficult to stick to when 300 cops with full riot gear - and an
openly pugnacious homo-hating attitude - faced off against the gay and lesbian pickets. Boston’s Gay Community News
described the atmosphere at Gracie Mansion throughout the protest as “very tense,” on the brink of a police riot.
Any flashpoint could have set it off.
But GAA held to its policy of non-violence - even though it meant the pickets
had to endure constant insults and threats from the surrounding cops, and even when the police dragged away a whistle-blowing
picket and threw him in a paddy wagon.
In the end, only the heroic restraint and organizational discipline of GAA prevented
the bloodbath that the cops were clearly longing for.
The demonstration’s goal of winning mass media coverage for the
anti-Beame message was achieved. Two major news outlets - WCBS-TV/Channel 2 and the New York Post - gave prominent coverage
to the candle-lit picket line at Gracie Mansion, making the point to hundreds of thousands of voters that Beame is the only
candidate who opposes gay and lesbian rights. (WBAI radio’s extensive coverage also exposed the unprofessional police
behavior and speculated whether Beame himself tacitly encouraged it.)
In the primary election a few weeks later, Beame
was turned out of office (he finished third, failing to make the run-off). Political insiders told GAA that the solid gay
and lesbian vote against him, which GAA helped bring about, apparently provided the narrow margin of his defeat.
Beame’s ouster, GAA had done it again - another key objective accomplished. But the organization could not rest on its
laurels. Among the other fish it had to fry in the summer of 1977:
NBC’s “Today” show
did the dirty deed and invited Anita Bryant to New York City. A coalition of gay and lesbian groups picketed outside Rockefeller
Center that morning. More than 400 demonstrators marched in the two-hour protest. Bryant never dared set foot on the streets
of New York; she was whisked into the NBC studio by underground passageway.
GAA participated in the picket line with
relish and added some spice of its own by bringing along an effigy of Bryant to hang and burn. GAA hung “Bryant”
with a noose around the neck. The moment GAA set the effigy ablaze, cops swarmed in, grabbed it, threw it on the street and
stomped on it to extinguish the “illegal” flames. The sight of New York’s “finest” stomping
a smoldering Bryant dummy into the pavement made a nice picture for TV and newspaper photographers.
the direction of the Roman Catholic Church’s benighted hierarchy, the regional superior of the Jesuits place a gag order
on a popular local pro-gay priest, Rev. John McNeill, forbidding him from speaking or writing about homosexuality. The intolerant
spirit of the Inquisition lives on in the Church of Rome. GAA decided to go to the Jesuit superior’s official residence,
a mansion in the Bronx adjacent to the Fordham University campus, to affirm that gays and lesbians will not be muzzled by
Two dozen people joined GAA’s Saturday afternoon picket line on Fordham Road. The local Police Precinct
Commander attended in person; there was no trouble. GAA noticed small groups of Fordham students peeking at the pickets from
behind bushes on the nearby campus; some of them seemed to wink and smile at the pickets. GAA concluded they were part of
Fordham’s gay underground scene, glad to see the activists but afraid to join in. GAA waved to them and kept pounding
the pavement, hopeful that its action would inspire greater courage in the gay brothers and sisters in the bushes. (In 1990,
with a brave new generation of students who wouldn’t hide and wouldn’t take No for an answer, Fordham became one
of the first Catholic institutions in the country officially to recognize an organization of gay and lesbian students).
spray painting patrols roamed Manhattan through the summer. Whenever they spotted or heard about anti-gay graffiti, they replaced
it with the opposite. In dozens of locations, hoodlums who painted crude remarks about “fags” or “queers”
or “dykes” soon found a bigger, bolder message in its place denouncing “bigots.”
the 1970s a popular sunbathing spot for gays was a grassy plateau in Central Park known to those who frequented it as “the
Gay Meadow” (old-timers whispered that in pre-Stonewall times it had been known more discreetly as “the fruited
plain”). GAA demanded that the NYC Parks Department erect “Gay Meadow” signs to identify the site. The Beame
Administration refused. So GAA took matters into is own hands. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, GAA put up three professional-quality
signs, identical in style to those used by the Parks Department, on three lampposts around the GAY MEADOW. Hundreds of sunbathers
cheered lustily as the “Gay Meadow” signs went up; a Gaysweek photographer captured the moment. GAA made sure
the signs were fastened securely. They remained in place - the talk of the town in many gay circles - for over a month. Summer
had turned to fall before Parks Department employees finally tore them down.
As summer neared its end,
it was time to gear up again for the struggle over the gay rights bill in the City Council. As long as the reactionary boss
Tom Cuite controlled the Council with an iron fist, there was no chance the bill could pass (It was enacted into law in 1986,
after he exited). Nevertheless, the bill provided a forum for denouncing discrimination and combating gay and lesbian invisibility.
GAA had taken the lead several years before in co-founding the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, an umbrella group to
rally support for the bill.
In early September 1977, the Coalition organized a march by 500 people across midtown Manhattan
to the United Nations. Outside the U.N., gay and lesbian speakers addressed the crowd with fiery oratory. GAA’s spokesperson
won a rousing ovation by proclaiming that what happened in the Geordie’s and Walinsky superzaps would happen one day
to all who made themselves our enemies. GAA’s speaker declared that we, as citizens entitled to justice and fair play,
demand passage of the bill and an end to discrimination now - but added that we, as powerful people determined to control
our own destiny, don’t want (and aren’t waiting for) politicians or any other damned hets to give us their seal
of approval: We ourselves will make gay and lesbian liberation a reality in our lives and our city today!
MOTEL ON THE MOUNTAIN
At an end-of-summer party after Labor Day, GAA members and friends clinked their
glasses in tribute to the organization’s “Big 3” zaps of the season - Geordie’s (“The ‘Fairy
Swatter’ sign is down!”), Walinsky’s (“‘Liberals Against Gay Rights’ is no more!”),
and Gracie Mansion (“Beame is out!”) - and a plethora of smaller but not insignificant actions. All in all, said
one wag in a toast, “Not half-bad for an organization that was considered half-dead” when the summer started.
before the calendar would officially turn the page on the end of summer in late September, GAA would face one more unexpected
challenge. This time, GAA would have to respond within days and under adverse conditions to a gauntlet tossed down by a fundamentalist
preacher from the outer suburbs.
Advertisements in gay bar guide publications announced that the famed Motel on the
Mountain in the outer suburbs was going to become a gay nightclub; its “gay grand opening” was set for late September.
The Motel on the Mountain, a het motel on a spectacular mountain-top location, was a landmark for over a generation - seen
by millions of motorists over the years on the heavily-traveled New York State Thruway (Interstate 87) an hour’s drive
northwest of New York City.
Shortly before the Motel’s scheduled gay grand opening, the mainstream media found
out about it and considered it newsworthy. Some het editors were doubtless shocked by the concept that that there might be
large numbers of gays and lesbians living outside Manhattan's gay ghettos.
An obscure preacher at a fundamentalist
Protestant church located near the Motel on the Mountain saw the media reports. The Sunday before the scheduled grand opening,
he invoked Bryant’s name from his pulpit and called for protests at the Motel’s opening night to show gays they’re
unwelcome in his locality.
The news media, in their inscrutable way and with their pack mentality, decided this was
a very big story: All of New York City’s major newspapers, TV and radio stations would be on hand at the Motel’s
gay opening to cover the preacher’s protest - and the media didn’t seem to care whether or not there was any gay
and lesbian input in the coverage.
GAA knew that if the preacher had the arena to himself, coverage would be one-sided,
biased and a disaster for gays and lesbians. In conversations with GAA, the media made clear they were not interested in statements
issued by activists in Manhattan about the controversy. If there was going to be representation from “our side”
in this story, GAA would have to be at the Motel to duel with the preacher face-to-face in front of their cameras and microphones.
resolved to go to the Motel’s gay grand opening to counter-bash the preacher and his anti-gay protesters. GAA announced
its plans to the media, warning them not to ignore the pro-gay side of this story as they seemed to be doing in the build-up.
But after GAA’s charmed summer of superzaps and successes, it seemed this time the organization’s grasp
might exceed its reach. The Motel’s opening was just days away. Attracting a decent-size crowd on such short notice
seemed impossible, and many GAA stalwarts were unable to attend. Arranging transportation was another obstacle: the Motel
was unreachable by public transit, and it was too late to charter a bus.
On the night of the grand opening, the situation
was still touch-and-go. In sharp contrast to GAA’s well-planned “Big 3” actions of the summer, this “Big
4th” found a chaotic ragtag band of 30 activists overcrowding into a handful of cars in the West Village for the trip
to the Motel on the Mountain. They had no idea what might await them: Would the preacher have hundreds of people supporting
him? Would mobs attack GAA and blockade the Motel’s entrance? It was a tense, edgy ride.
But GAA need not have
Upon arrival at the Motel, GAA discovered to its pleasant surprise (and enormous relief) that the preacher’s
much-hyped protest consisted of 20 members of his small congregation, 5 of them young children who obviously had no idea what
was going on.
The 200 local residents who had gathered to watch the biggest news that ever happened in their semi-rural
community seemed to be in a festive mood - excited and curious, not hostile to gays and lesbians.
The State Police
were there in great force and greeted GAA courteously. The Troopers had set up hundreds of flares along the highway and around
the Motel’s entranceway, creating an almost surreal carnival-like aura. Someone said it looked like a movie set.
far as the eye could see in both directions on the two-lane highway, cars full of gays and lesbians were lined up bumper-to-bumper
approaching the Motel’s driveway. Over a thousand people packed the Motel that night - more than anyone had anticipated
- providing proof that even in the outer suburbs there is a sizable gay and lesbian population.
GAA set up a spunky
picket line on the side of the entrance driveway that leads up the Mountain to the Motel. A bond of kinship, camaraderie and
shared strength quickly developed between the GAA pickets and the gays and lesbians driving into the Motel. The people in
the cars waved, honked horns, flashed lights, blew kisses and shouted encouragement to the pickets; a few raised clenched
fists of solidarity out of their car windows. GAA’s elated pickets were invigorated and grew more spirited. The media
pack swarmed all over GAA.
Across the entranceway from GAA, the little circle of preacher’s pickets seemed listless
and forlorn. Their pathetic turnout on their home turf made them look like fools. Their picket signs were virtually illegible.
Their chanting was non-existent; their attempt to sing a hymn was pitiful. And, GAA later learned, they were woefully inarticulate
in media interviews. Less than an hour after GAA arrived, the preacher’s pickets unceremoniously departed.
because of the fundamentalist preacher, this unlikely site was now the focus of attention for the largest Media Market in
America - and GAA was seizing the moment.
“Gays Are Here to Stay” proclaimed GAA’s signs. Fists raised
overhead, the GAA pickets made up impromptu chants: “Hey, hey, gay is great! And here we’re gonna congregate!”
In interview after interview, GAA stated that tonight proved that gays and lesbians are everywhere and will not be intimidated;
that openly gay and lesbian people, like any other citizens, have the absolute right to assemble peaceably where we please;
and that the gay and lesbian community is determined to confront and rout anyone who tries to interfere with us, as we have
so convincingly done here tonight.
The gay and lesbian victory over the fundamentalist preacher at the Motel on the
Mountain was Topic A in the Big Apple’s media, with GAA’s message getting a lion’s share of the coverage
- prominently featured in The Times and the tabloids, on the TV news at 6 and 11, and every hour for the next day on Manhattan’s
newsradio stations. But this was more than a local story; the wire services made it national news. One GAA picket was awakened
early the next morning by a phone call from a relative in D.C.: “Your picture is on the front page of The Washington
Post today!” It was the first of many congratulatory calls GAA received from around the country.
Gays and lesbians
had won an important showdown against a Bryant disciple. Some said that in national media exposure and public impact, the
events at the Motel were the biggest setback suffered by Bryant’s anti-gay backlash since her bandwagon started rolling
on June 7th in Dade County. Perhaps this marked the turning of the tide in our favor.
And so on a hopeful note, GAA’s
summer of 1977 came to a close. It had been a season of progress despite adversity - and a fitting last hurrah for the Gay
Activists Alliance of New York, the legendary pioneering organization which had been spawned by Stonewall in 1969 and which,
in a few years thereafter, changed the world forever.