Queer Hippie Syncretism
At this point, some of the intersecting connections in this story start to resolve. One of those connections is this poster which the Free Print Shop printed for the Committee for Homosexual Freedom early on for the picket line at the States Steamship company. This poster is so interesting to me because it represents a crossover between the queer and hippie cultures. The homoerotic imagery combined with the psychedelic lettering and design is emblematic of the mix between these two subcultures in San Francisco. At the Cockettes 50th anniversary celebration, John Waters talked about the first time he attended one of the Cockettes shows at the Palace Theater. Waters said, “I was so amazed at the audience which was as shocking as the show. Hippie gay guys, finally! It was so great to see them, you know. And drag queens with beards reading Lenin.”
Can people read the psychedelic lettering? “Homosexual Freedom / Gay Strike / Picket Mon Thru Fri / 12 till 1 / 320 California Street / Committee for Homosexual Freedom / Come With Us.” I have always wondered what the connection was between the Sutter Street commune, the Free Print Shop, and the Committee for Homosexual Freedom. The artist signed their work, so someone brought the design to the commune to print.
In preparing this talk, I discovered that Gale Whittington published a memoir in 2010. It contains a day-by-day account of his firing and subsequent actions. After he was fired from his job when his shirtless photo appeared in the Berkeley Barb, Gale and Leo Laurence went to complain to Max Scherr, the publisher of the Barb. Scherr had used the photo without Gale’s or Leo’s permission. Instead of apologizing, Scherr roused the two to action, suggesting they protest the firing. That’s when Leo and Gale decide to form the Committee for Homosexual Freedom. At their first organizing meeting, seven people showed up besides the two founders. One of these new members was Hibiscus who was still living in the Sutter Street Commune. Gale describes Hibiscus as “a devout believer in the insightful power of LSD.” According to Whittington, Hibiscus was a regular participant in the committee’s protests, at one point defusing a group of teenagers bent on attacking the group by tearing off the placard of his protest sign and leaving just the wooden picket to defend himself. The teens got back in their cars and sped off.
Was Hibiscus the connection between the Committee for Homosexual Freedom and the Free Print Shop’s printing of the crossover queer hippie poster? We can only speculate. No one from the commune that I have asked remembers this poster. But that’s not unusual given the amount of printing that was happening and the weekly schedule for publishing Kaliflower.