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"That's My Place!":
Negotiating Racial, Sexual, and Gender Politics in San Francisco's Gay Latino Alliance, 1975-1983
Horacio N. Roque Ramírez
University Of California, Santa Barbara
I didn't finish [school]. What happened is I came out of the closet and all hell broke. And I felt I had to leave [home]. In that time that I was in San Jose, I saw an article on gay Raza organizing in San Francisco. So that's how I ended up here. And I said, "There I could be free [laughter]. That's the free city, let me go do that." And I could still meet other Raza. And it was nice because I had always thought there was only mexicanos, and Chicanos and Chicanas, and I got to meet Puerto Ricans and everything else. 1
IN 1975, AT AGE TWENTY-TWO and deeply involved in the Chicano politics of the period, butch Chicana lesbian Diane Felix left her native Stockton, California, home for San Francisco. Though not pushed out by her blood kin, she could not imagine staying permanently in agrarian Stockton, with its few opportunities for financial and social well-being. Just ninety miles away from Stockton beckoned the "free city" of San Francisco, where the social movements and visions of the counterculture of [End Page 224] the late 1960s still generated excitement. To attend school and be closer to San Francisco, Diane moved first to San Jose, but soon a small ad in a popular gay newspaper of the day, the Bay Area Reporter, called her to San Francisco proper. The ad revealed that other gay Raza—Chicanos and Chicanas and Latinos generally—were organizing. Her trip to San Francisco to attend the second meeting of what was to become the Gay Latino Alliance resulted in a permanent move, one that was both personal and political. She decided to help build a collective vision.
Despite the hostility of a few gay Latino men, Diane eventually made her way into the center of the Gay Latino Alliance (GALA). She became a major player in the only organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that was then making political space and demands specifically for lesbian Latinas and gay male Latinos. GALA proved to be the foundation for a local social movement that integrated racial, gender, and sexual politics. Like Diane, hundreds of other women and men who made their way through the sexual and political worlds of GALA between 1975 and 1983 arrived in San Francisco as part of national and even international migrations. Many of these migrants were what Manuel Guzmán refers to as "sexiles," individuals "who have had to leave their nations of origin on account of their sexual orientation." 2 But I believe it is important to expand the idea of the sexile to refer not only to those who left their nation but also to those who left their home state, region, or family base for another place in their own country. Just as crossing national boundaries can expand one's sexual horizon and provide radically new opportunities for queer collective belonging, so too can regional moves (from Los Angeles to San Francisco, for example).
Sexiles landing in the Bay Area met thousands of individuals who by birth or life experience had always considered the region and, in particular, San Francisco's Latino Mission District as their home. These queer "homegrown," as Cathy Arellano explains, never left their turf. 3 Whether homegrown or sexiled, these 1970s gay Latino activists were less interested in "transcending" differences than in incorporating the multiple dimensions of their social experience. They sought to address race, sexuality, class, and gender simultaneously and were often quite conscious of the interplay among them. 4 It was a difficult balancing act [End Page 225] personally and politically, but in the late 1970s GALA succeeded in becoming a visible, powerful organization.
This essay considers the...