Colin MacQueen, Los Angeles, October 26, 1976
Introduction: Colin MacQueen was a Los Angeles-based activist in the early to mid-1970s, heavily involved with the Gay Community Services Center. His interview describes the deep internal conflicts that surfaced in the Center, around gender, class, and a more professionalized management approach versus a more grassroots radical community vision.
Started working at Gay Community Services Center in July 1972 as a volunteer counselor in self-development program. Program had weekly meetings—totally democratic—whole staff.
Center as a whole: general Staff Meeting, every couple weeks—supposedly major decisions made there. But quickly got the impression that real decisions made at core staff meeting—program directors. No paid staff but some full-time were getting small living stipends. $150-200 per month—also food stamps, welfare, unemployment compensation.
Located at 1614 Wilshire; had also just started renting 1628 as a women’s residence. Never really co-ed—always mostly male; women always very dissatisfied about women’s role—talented women would come and go.
Core staff = real power. Essentially ran center. Dick Nash—director of self-development.
Morris Kight, Betty Taylor, Roz Taylor, Don Kilhefner (executive director).
Articulated Philosophy: worker-centered, democratic decision-making, equality for men and women.
Public funding: lots of talk about it for a long time, at least as far back as fall 1973—Kilhefner main force behind it. Had expertise in writing proposals etc. Not an issue until spring 1974:
should center accept public funding—some argued it would prostitute the center.
Alcoholism Program for Women—first grant likely. Women wanted program at another site – residential treatment. Terrific battle: Kilhefner, Bartley, and Kight strongly against administrative office at 1614; Kight wanted whole thing there.
Great deal of criticism of women for being separatists, for wanting to take programs away from the center. Kilhefner also wanted part of salaries given back to center—women against it. Kilhefner threatens to sabotage funding proposal – plans to tell board of directors that center not prepared to handle funds; will resign if it goes through.
Women call meeting of staff who support them—decide center can handle funds. Plan on going to board meeting—MacQueen one of two spokespersons. Board won’t let them in—call it executive session. Sit-in occurs. Board gives in—lets them in.
MacQueen says funding can be handled, staff wants funding, tired of poverty, program needs full-time people. Accept Kilhefner’s resignation if he offers it. Staff had decided they would strike, though don’t say it because Board astonished by their presentation—no awareness how committed staff was, how much they wanted funds. Board votes to accept funds. Also voted to reevaluate communications with staff. Funds for Alcoholism Program come through about a month later.
Women get separate building—have no trust in Bartley and Kilhefner. Bartley always attacking their management. Bartley was administrative director / chief fiscal officer – in charge of the purse. Dispenses all funds. Women must go to him for release of money, payment of bills.
By late 1974 funding coming through for several programs. Funding leads to changes in structure and personnel.
After Board meeting above, a rush of Board resignations—Terry O’Brien (felt he was misled), Pat Rocco, Newt Dieter. Center now run by management team of 5, appointed by Board; c. fall 1974; Bartley, Kilhefner, Sally Stewart, Daphne Hatfield. (MacQueen by this time a full-time Community Outreach worker in VD clinic; core staff of counseling program)
Women on Boardnot the ones suggested by women staff – chosen by Bartley and Kilhefner, rubber stamp. Team not elected – chosen by Board. To fill funded positions, a lot of people brought in from outside center who didn’t understand what center was about – 9 to 5ers; never in center before; professional types.
“What the Center was about”: social service for people with real needs, with no alternatives; by gays for gays; commitment to male-female equality; a community center and a community – building community among gays in LA - not just social service. Anyone who gets services encouraged to give service. Also a political place—“at least anti-capitalist.” But now many came in who didn’t share any of this perspective.
Center fostered gay separatism—for Kilhefner, almost a theory—more important to work for and among gays rather than demonstrate against straight institutions.
Backdrop for the strike: Women virtually in a state of rebellion—their funds almost denied, their nominees for team rejected.
VD clinic funding includes provision for a study comparing effectiveness of Center v County Health: to be done by transferring half of staff back and forth. Causes an uproar: how can you have non-gays in clinic. Betrayal. But Kilhefner doesn’t tell staff that it’s a binding part of contract. Staff finds out later—all hell breaks loose. Can’t trust Kilhefner—he’s got to go. (circa January 1975)
Dissident staff forms a friendship with woman working under Bartley, who keeps the books, knows finances—tells them that Center in money crisis, money being spent on ridiculous things, money being taken from Projects for non-Project funds. Encourage her to see management team; does it, but shut up by Don and Ken. (circa February 1975.)
At this point dissident staff starts holding its own meetings—don’t go to regular meeting—which are totally monopolized by Kight.
Board had told staff that management team was an experiment—at end of June would be a vote on the concept and elections for membership. Staff decides that Kilhefner must go. Begin publishing an in-house newsletter. Also decide that Kight has to go—Betty Taylor locking him out of his office every day with new locks, etc. Alicia goes back to management team, gets nowhere. Women propose two nominees for the Board of Directors—one radical, Judy Freespirit; one moderate, Johnnie Sue Hyde. Sally Stewart and MacQueen present names to Board—get very hostile reaction.
At this point Board had decided on Highland Building. Alicia says will raise expenses. Alicia goes to Board same night as above—ignored—shut up by Ken. (circa March 1975).
Alicia, Sally, and Colin discuss among themselves. Advised by a lawyer that she should resign and put in writing the reasons—funds misused. She does.
Late April 1975. Staff calls for Executive Board meeting. [Ken had offered resignation; Emergency Board meeting called.] Demands are resignation of Bartley, Kilhefner, and all Board members except Jeanne Cordova.
Meanwhile, Board and management team has rounded up lots of staff (about 35—conservatives), i.e., packed the meeting, outsmarted the dissidents.
Present their demands—Board says they should be debated one-by-one. All hell breaks loose. Dissidents decide not to continue—walk out—decide to report to funding agencies about misuse of funds.
May 1—all project directors receive telegrams firing them. Expected by the project directors who had already set up a strike coordinating committee. 11 fired; then a few more, 4 to 7.
Demands of strikers: (1) immediate re-instatement, (2) terminate Ken Bartley, (3) Board must act upon demands. Strike goes on for several months – lost: 1) lack of discipline (especially on picket line), 2) lack of clarity about goals, 3) failure to mobilize gay men’s community. Much original support alienated by behavior on picket line. Also a general lack of working-class consciousness.
Also, Board extremely successful in manipulating media. Close ties to NewsWest. The Advocate blacked it out. Result—Center swings to the right; lined up now with MCC where the money is.
Center puts out “Blue Paper,” defending its position—claiming the dissidents are radicals, communists.