Page Two

First GLF Banner

The GLF Banner makes its first appearance at an action in Sheridan Square. December 1969. Copyright Ellen Shumsky. Courtesy of the photographer.

(Structureless) Structure

As much as its theories, the Gay Liberation Front’s structure distinguished it from previous gay political groups. GLF considered itself “… a movement, not a static organization.”[11] As such, the group eschewed hierarchical structures, preferring an unstructured form of organization. One member explained that the weekly meetings were “…open forums, there are no dues, no donations, no membership fees. GLF has no President, no Officers, no Leaders. GLF is You...”[12]

Taking its lead from the women’s liberation movement, GLFers attempted to develop organizational forms that would allow them—in the words of historian Toby Marotta—“to embody the principles of participatory democracy and humane community which they advocated.”[13] The group operated on consensus to ensure that everyone’s opinion counted and rotated meeting chairs so that more privileged, articulate, or experienced individuals wouldn’t dominate the group

The Gay Liberation Front also utilized a cellular form, which allowed individual members to come together in small groups around their own interests and ideologies, and which gave voice to the “many mentalities, dispositions, and persuasions” the existed in GLF.[14] Cells operated independently from the rest of the group, and allowed for a wide range of activities. Among others, the 28th of June Cell published the newspaper Come Out!; the Aquarius Cell raised funds for a community center by organizing dances and other cultural activities; and the Red Butterfly Cell operated a Marxist study group.

GLFers also organized small Consciousness-Raising groups, which gave members the opportunity to share their personal experiences as a means of understanding the ways they were oppressed and exploring how they perpetuated the oppression of others.

A number of GLFers remember the group’s structure as chaotic, and at times infuriating. Anyone who came to a Sunday night meeting was considered a "member in good standing", making it easy for the same debates to drag on for weeks and months at a time. But for many, the process was exhilarating. GLFers were breaking new ground, pioneering not only new political theories but also new organizational forms that were just as important to their quest for liberation.[15]

GLFers Karla Jay and Jerry Hoose remember the GLF meetings

GLF Dance

A flier for a GLF dance. Courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Dancing their way to Liberation: GLF Dances

As GLFers fought to overthrow repressive social institutions, they also sought to develop a new gay culture. They published a newspaper, Come Out!; hosted communal dinners to nurture familial ties among members; and raised funds for a community center that would provide a space for gays and lesbians to gather and hold their own meetings and events.[16]

Weekly dances were one of GLF’s most important culture-building—and fundraising—activities. The dances provided gays and lesbians with their own social space away from the oppressive atmosphere of the mafia-run bars. Bar owners often hiked up the price of (usually watered-down) drinks, which they intimidated customers into buying. The spaces were gender-segregated and populated by gays and lesbians who took on butch/femme roles or who seemed to sexually objectify each other—practices that GLFers wanted to move away from. Dancing between same-sex couples was not always allowed, and the fear of a police raid was ever present.[17]

By contrast, GLF dances were open to men and women, and encouraged dancing in singles, groups, or pairs. The suggested entrance fee was $2.50, but everyone was welcomed regardless of their ability to pay. Beer and soda were only 25 cents. The dances were far from mellow. They often featured strobe lights, go-go dancers, “frantic rock and acid rock,” though lounges were available for those who needed a break. “At a dance,” one reveler explained, “the vibrations are certainly a lot better than at a bar.”[18]

[These aspects of the dances, as well as the fact that they were overwhelmingly male, led lesbians to push for their own dances in the spring of 1970. Eventually many of them would also form their own group, Radicalesbians.]

Organizing the dances wasn’t always easy. When the group submitted an ad for its first dance to the Village Voice, the paper refused to print the heading “Gay Community Dance,” arguing that the word ‘gay’ was obscene. (The paper also objected to the heading “Gay Power to Gay People” in a call for submissions to Come Out!) The paper’s decision prompted GLF’s first action—a picket of the Voice—and the group’s first victory.[19]

Jerry Hoose, a member of the Aquarius Cell, talks about picketing the Village Voice