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GAA Banner

Paul R. Martin, Steve Krotz, Arnie Kantrowitz, and others march with the GAA banner at a candlelight demonstration at City Hall. June 24, 1971. Photograph by Richard C. Wandel. Courtesy of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center National History Archive.

This section focuses on the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a militant, non-violent civil rights group organized by Jim Owles, Marty Robinson, Arthur Evans, Arthur Bell, and eight others in December of 1969. The Gay Activists Alliance was the longest-lasting group formed in the gay liberation era, and helped to give rise to the confrontational yet reform-oriented movement that is still prevalent today.

Structure

Many of the founders of the Gay Activists Alliance had participated in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), and GAA was formed largely out of their dissatisfaction with the structure, goals, and political philosophy of GLF. They worked hard to develop a group that would avoid the flaws they had seen in GLF.

Unlike the Gay Liberation Front, which instituted no formal structure and operated by consensus, the Gay Activists Alliance ran by parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order. The group developed a constitution—approved on December 21st, 1969—that gave it “a continuity of values and ideals” that no one member could change.[1] GAA also instituted membership requirements and elected officers, whose duties were clearly laid out in the constitution.[2]

Like GLFers, the founders of GAA were interested in ensuring that all members had a voice in the organization. In fact, their structure was intended to achieve just that. In a pamphlet, the organization explained that its structure would provide “a greater deal of freedom than no structure at all. Personal fights or ideological diatribes are less likely to develop. Everyone has his or her say—not merely the loudest or most charismatic members.”[3] What’s more, parliamentary procedure ensured that any decisions made by the entire membership were binding on the organization, preventing the endless debates and disruptions that had characterized GLF.[4] The structure was also expedient, ensuring “...thatpolicy decisions are mutually consistent, arrived at democratically, and carried out efficiently.”[5]

GAA developed a range of committees to execute much of the actual work of the organization. The committees—which eventually focused on issues as wide-ranging as finance, social activities, legal strategy, agit/prop, and the arts—allowed members to pursue their own interests.[6] At the same time, committees reported to the general membership and could not act without the approval of the entire group, preventing them from becoming “independent entities” like GLF’s cells.[7]

GAA Constitution Preamble

The Preamble to GAA's Constitution. Courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Political Philosophy

In order to attract people of all backgrounds and political persuasions while avoiding the kinds of debates that had crippled GLF, the Gay Activists Alliance was a single-issue organization.[8] Individual members could—and often did—participate in actions for other groups, but the organization as a whole focused on “mak[ing] noticeable changes in their lives as gays.”[9]

Rich Wandel, who later became president of GAA, talks about the group's one-issue focus

The Gay Activists Alliance was also reform-oriented. The founders of GAA agreed with the Gay Liberation Front that their oppression was the result of “economic, political, and social” structures.[10]But where GLF had focused on bringing about a new society, GAA looked to change the system as it stood. Although conceding that “the political system is corrupt and inefficient,” the group also recognized that “it remain[ed]vulnerable to militant confrontation tactics.” As a matter of pragmatism, GAA “…would be foolish not to exploit it.”[11]

The group promised to confront the system—militantly but non-violently—to bring about “an immediate end to all oppression of homosexuals.”[12]