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17 In October 1969, a group called Gay Liberation Theater staged a street performance entitled “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me a Queer.” These activists brought their claims to two distinct audiences: fellow students at the University of California, Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza and fellow gay men at a meeting of the San Francisco–based Society for Individual Rights (SIR). The student audience was anti-war but largely straight, while SIR backed gay inclusion in the military and exemplified the moderate center of the “homophile” movement—homophile being the name for an existing and older network of gay and lesbian activism. Gay Liberation Theater adapted Muhammad Ali’s statement when refusing the draft that “no Viet Cong ever called me nigger,” and, through this, indicted a society that demanded men kill rather than desire one another. They opposed the Vietnam War and spoke to the self-interest of gay men by declaring: “We’re not going to fight in an army that discriminates against us. . . . Nor are we going to fight for a country that will not hire us and fires us. . . . We are going to fight for ourselves and our lovers in places like Berkeley where the Berkeley police last April murdered homosexual brother Frank Bartley (never heard of him?) while cruising in Aquatic Park.” Frank Bartley was a thirty-three-year-old white man who had recently been killed by a plainclothes officer who claimed that Bartley “resisted arrest” and “reached for his groin.”1 In highlighting Bartley’s case, Gay Liberation Theater pushed back against the demands of assimilation and respectability and linked opposition to the Vietnam War with chapter 1 Beyond the Gay Ghetto Founding Debates in Gay Liberation 18 | Beyond the Gay Ghetto support for sexual expression. The group termed it “queer, unnatural and perverse” to “send men half way around the world to kill their brothers while we torment, rape, jail and murder men for loving their brothers here.”2 “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Queer” encapsulated three founding elements of gay liberation: a break with existing homophile groups, a demand for sexual freedom, and a claim that such freedom would be won only through radical alliance against militarism, racism, and police violence. This chapter details how these tenets structured Bay Area gay liberation and laid the groundwork for the gay left. It contextualizes this history by tracking the shifting meanings of the “gay ghetto” in the homophile movement and gay liberation. In the mid-1960s, homophiles used the concept of the gay ghetto to describe the urban geography of antigay oppression and to theorize sexuality as analogous to race. By 1969, gay liberationists altered the meanings of the gay ghetto by using the concept to criticize homophile activism, to defend everyday gender and sexual transgression, and to link sexual liberation to the anti-war movement and black liberation. When self-declared “gay nationalists” schemed to take over California’s rural Alpine County, more radical gay men rejected that project on the grounds that it would replicate the exclusions of the gay ghetto. They used that break to align themselves instead with a more multiracial and socialist agenda. Through these responses, gay leftists began to theorize radical solidarity as central to sexual liberation and to organize accordingly. • • • Gay liberation emerged both against and in debt to the homophile movement , which stretched from 1950 through 1970 and worked to normalize the status of homosexuality in psychiatry and medicine and to curtail legal and police persecution. Homophile activists formed local and national organizations (the two best-known being the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis, though these were joined by many others) and circulated national and international publications. Harry Hay, until that point a member of the Communist Party in Los Angeles, founded the Mattachine Society in 1950, and while Mattachine soon turned away from Hay’s leadership, members around the country remained bold and militant against state persecution.3 Homophile groups and publications varied in their politics and approaches, and historian Marc Stein questions a “canonization of homophile sexual respectability” that emphasizes the influence of the publications Mattachine Review, The Ladder, Beyond the Gay Ghetto | 19 and One over the more openly erotic and widely circulated Drum.4 But divisions did appear between many homophile groups and the workingclass , gender-transgressive, and racially diverse queer life of gay bars, house parties, and cruising grounds. Nan Alamilla Boyd has found these divisions to be significant in San Francisco, and other scholars have made similar...


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