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GLFers at the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March. June 28, 1970. Copyright Ellen Shumsky. Courtesy of the Photographer.

This section focuses on the Gay Liberation Front, a group of radical and revolutionary gays and lesbians that was formed in July of 1969. The first group to be organized after Stonewall, the Gay Liberation Front sparked a radical and confrontational movement that soon spread around the city and across the nation.

Origins of a Movement

Within a month after the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, gays and lesbians organized a new group: the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). GLF tapped into the radical sentiments brewing among young, countercultural, and political gays and lesbians in New York City—and mobilized the energy and eagerness for political action that many felt in the days following Stonewall.

Radical gays and lesbians had little affinity to the Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY), the civil rights group that had dominated the gay political scene before Stonewall. After the rebellion, MSNY seemed even more out of touch as it urged gays and lesbians to temper their demands, avoid more uprisings, and continue working within the system to achieve reform.

Although some budding gay liberationists attempted to work within Mattachine through its recently formed Action Committee, they found themselves increasingly at odds with the organization’s reformist priorities. When MSNY President Dick Lietsch objected to the group’s public support of a Black Panther rally at the Women’s House of Detention, Committee members decided to rename themselves. Soon, they separated completely from Mattachine to form an entirely new group: the Gay Liberation Front.[1]

GLFer Jerry Hoose talks about the group's first meeting


GLFers and other gay liberationists targeted psychiatry as a primary site of their oppression. Their efforts helped to push the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. Gay Flames Pamphlet, no. 6. Courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Developing New Political Theories and Tactics

The Gay Liberation Front sought to avoid many of the pitfalls they saw in the political tactics of homophile groups like Mattachine. Where MSNY had attempted to integrate gays and lesbians into existing structures, GLFers would work to bring about the development of an entirely new society; and where homophile activists had sought to project an image of respectability, the new gay liberationists would fight against mainstream attitudes and values. They would “start demanding, not politely requesting, our rights."[2]

But GLF was interested in much more than rights, advocating direct action against the system to tear down restrictive sex roles and bring about the liberation of all oppressed people. As GLFers set about achieving their freedom, almost nothing seemed out of reach. They attacked not only the “rotten, dirty, vile, fucked-up capitalist conspiracy” responsible for their own and others' oppression, but also a range of social and political institutions, such as the educational system, organized religion, the nuclear family, psychiatry, business, the media, and the mafia-run bars.[3]

Just as important, gay liberationists were interested in transforming sexuality as they knew it. As the name of the group’s newspaper—Come Out!—suggests, GLFers did not hide or feel ashamed of their sexuality. They claimed it publicly, and they urged others to do the same. What’s more, they argued that sexuality was more fluid than the current system allowed.[4] GLF aimed to create a society free not only from sexism and homophobia but also from sexual labels themselves.[5] GLFer Jim Fouratt, for example called on others to " the word homosexual!" asserting that such "...artificial categories defining human sexuality" served "to protect and perpetuate the institutions and systems in power whose end result is only to dehumanize life."[6]

GLFers were interested in more than just changing social institutions and norms, though; they wanted to revolutionize their own sexual interactions and relationships. They objected to the “lookism,” role-playing, and objectification they saw in the traditional gay subculture—sometimes “liberating” gay bars by dancing in multi-gendered groups rather that same-sex pairs.[7] They attempted to develop new forms of sexuality that were “sensual,” “egalitarian and mutual,” and nonmonogamous.[8] And they saw gays and lesbians, who had already broken with conventional gender roles, as uniquely poised to develop these types of relationships.[9]

Through small Consciousness-Raising groups, communes, and living collectives, GLFers confronted their own “hang ups” and sexist attitudes while developing new models for creating families and interacting with each other.[10]