SUMMER OF '77:

Last Hurrah of the Gay
Activists Alliance

By JOE KENNEDY

Copyright © 1994 by Joseph J. Kennedy
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 94-66114
ISBN 1-884544-002

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This is the important, exciting true story of unsung gay and lesbian heroes and the ideology that inspired them at a pivotal crossroads of history. Sharing in these memorable adventures is an experience no proud gay or lesbian should be denied. Recommend for anyone interested in our struggle for liberation since Stonewall.

Eight years after Stonewall, the first era of militant gay and lesbian activism was petering out. But the anti-gay backlash fueled by Anita Bryant was getting ever stronger. Its goal: to eradicate the fledgling gay movement.

Confronting this threat, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) of New York, although past its famous heyday of the early 1970s, was determined to FIGHT BACK more fiercely than ever before and save the day. They succeeded - with spectacular “superzaps” (direct actions unprecedented in their militancy) across the metropolis that spurred on the cause of gay and lesbian power and pride locally and nationally.

Their bigoted targets called them a “brazen gang of thugs,” even “homosexual storm troopers.” Among their feats, accomplished without arrest or injury to the activists:

They FORCED a prominent Upper East Side straight bar to remove a huge ax labeled “Fairy Swatter” (after the bar had belligerently vowed it would “Never!” come down) with a stunning strong-arm takeover that led New York magazine to headline: “Militant Gays Aren’t Kidding Around Anymore.” (After that, the straight bar’s frightened customers never returned and it went broke. Businesses got the message: homophobia doesn’t pay.)

They SILENCED a dangerous politician and ENDED his “Liberals Against Gay Rights” blitz with a daring commando-style attack at midnight in the posh suburb of Scarsdale, NY. The raid thoroughly terrified his household, trashed his property (even his phone lines were cut), appalled the editorial writers of The New York Times with its ferocity, and sent a widely-reported warning to those who would promote prejudice against gays and lesbians that they do so at their own peril.

In these and other actions, GAA’s summer of 1977 was a season of progress despite adversity in the history of gay and lesbian people - and a fitting LAST HURRAH for the legendary pioneering organization which had been spawned by Stonewall in 1969 and which, in a few years thereafter, changed the world forever.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Joe Kennedy was a leading gay activist and gay journalist in New York City in the 1970s. He wrote for several gay publications including the Advocate. He was a member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) of New York for virtually the entire decade, serving on its Executive Committee during parts of 1972, 1973-74 and 1977.

In the early ’70s, he was active on (and briefly chaired, followed by longtime Chairperson Brenda Howard) GAA’s influential radical-leaning Agitprop Committee/Speakers Bureau. Agitprop made scores of groundbreaking “Gay is great, be proud if you’re gay, don’t mess with us if you’re not” addresses to high school and college students around the city and suburbs; at military installations including Ft. Dix, NJ, and Ft. Hamilton, Brooklyn; in houses of worship of many faiths and races; at neighborhood and civic group meetings, and elsewhere.

In 1973-74, Kennedy was Secretary of GAA, the organization’s No. 3 position, under President Morty Manford and Vice President Tom Raleigh. At the same time Kennedy hosted and anchored GAA’s popular weekly Manhattan cable TV gay news program (with his lover Paul Burt as producer and director); among its scoops was a celebrated interview with former NYC Hospitals Commissioner Dr. Howard Brown, the first person whose “coming out” made the top of page one of The New York Times.

Also in 1973, Kennedy and Claude Wynn (a young African-American who headed GAA’s Third World Committee) co-chaired a militant direct-action group which stormed WBAI radio and seized the airwaves in a successful effort to get additional gay programming on the station.

Kennedy and GAA Vice President Ginny Vida were the two designated questioners when GAA’s packed Firehouse building hosted the first-ever gay and lesbian voters forum for NYC mayoral and other citywide candidates in 1973. Kennedy and Maurice Rosen co-chaired the GAA committee that organized the seminal 1974 demonstration to “Open the CBS Eye to Gay Liberation,” which drew 400 protesters to West 57th Street and prompted a noticeable improvement in the network’s attitude.

From June to November 1977, Kennedy chaired GAA’s Political Action Committee (following David Wynyard and preceding Seth Lawrence in that position). For several months Kennedy also chaired GAA’s Executive Committee, where his indispensable Vice Chair and able successor was David Pike. As GAA’s elected spokesperson, Kennedy was named personally, along with the organization, as a defendant in politician Adam Walinsky’s $2,100,000 civil lawsuit after the gay and lesbian “zap” on Walinsky’s Scarsdale home in August 1977.

Through the decade, Kennedy was active in a number of other groups - from the Gay Anarchists early in the ’70s, to the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, of which he was a co-founding member in 1974. In 1973, he was a campaign volunteer for Jim Owles, the first openly gay candidate for public office in New York City.

From 1972 to 1976, Kennedy wrote the “politics/activism” column for a widely-circulated NYC gay bar guide magazine and reported for several other publications.

In 1979, he played an active role in what the New York Post called the “Gay Riots” against the filming of the anti-gay movie “Cruising” in the West Village.

In 1980, after a decade near the forefront of New York gay activism, Joe Kennedy retired from the public arena at age 33. He explained that he had done all he felt capable of doing and thought it was time to move aside for fresh young blood. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he occasionally participated in Queer Nation and ACT UP demonstrations. On June 23, 1992, he was one of about a dozen surviving stalwarts of early GAA honored by Mayor David Dinkins and the City Human Rights Commission at a special Award Ceremony in New York City Hall.



A 1977 page-one newspaper picture of activist/journalist Joe Kennedy.

DEDICATION


This book is dedicated to the memory of the Founding President of the Gay Activists Alliance of New York, JIM OWLES, who died of AIDS in 1993 at age 46. Jim Owles’s strong, charismatic leadership from 1969 onward inspired and motivated a whole generation of gay and lesbian activists, including this author. He was the pioneer, an articulate and fearless foe of bigotry and self-loathing when there were no models for the role - truly the George Washington of our liberation movement, a prophet of historic stature. All of us who had the privilege of knowing him then will always remember him with great fondness and admiration as “our President.” May his fighting, freedom-loving spirit live on among gay and lesbian people today and forever as we hold high the torch first lit at Stonewall.


INTRODUCTION


The history of the gay and lesbian liberation movement in the years immediately following the June 1969 Stonewall riots where it began was dominated by the legendary Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) of New York. GAA was founded in December 1969 after the first post-Stonewall group, the trail-blazing but short-lived Gay Liberation Front (GLF), floundered due to internal disorganization. GAA’s Founding President was a charismatic young natural leader named Jim Owles.

GAA played a central pioneering role in charting everything from the movement’s basic ideology to its militant tactics. GAA’s trumpet call of openly, proudly, defiantly gay and lesbian people banding together to be free and strong energized New York City in the decade after Stonewall and inspired similar revolts in other major cities across North America and much of Europe and beyond.

Anyone too young to remember Stonewall would be shocked to learn just how utterly all-pervasive (and virtually unchallenged) discrimination against gays and lesbians was in every aspect of life, and how much GAA did in a few intense years to change things forever.

From 1970 through 1974, GAA was at its pinnacle of influence and creativity in every field, from politics to the arts, from self-defense to the professions. Its incessant “zaps” (direct actions confronting oppressors) forced gay and lesbian concerns onto the public agenda for the first time. Among its countless early achievements was stopping the routine police raids on gay bars and having the first gay rights bill in the world introduced into New York City’s Council.

During that halcyon half-decade of GAA’s heyday, its famous four-floor headquarters building, the Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, hosted thousands of gay men and lesbians every week for a dynamic line-up of social, political and cultural events. It was in effect the first gay and lesbian community center. There was an aura of tremendous excitement palpable in the air - the giddy, intoxicating joy of first-time pride and empowerment.

In 1974, the Firehouse was destroyed by arsonists (apparently a disgruntled clique in GAA’s own ranks, though no one was ever arrested). GAA survived but was an organization in decline in the latter half of the 1970s. Even in this twilight period, however, GAA managed some significant accomplishments. High among these is the summer of 1977 when a temporarily re-invigorated GAA - confronting Anita Bryant and local foes - staged a sweeping series of spectacular “super-zaps” (direct actions of unprecedented militancy) across the metropolis just when the movement most needed such successes. This is the true story of that last hurrah of the Gay Activists Alliance of New York.


CHAPTER 1.
DADE COUNTY BUMMER


As the summer of 1977 dawned, there was little doubt it would be one of the most difficult and daunting seasons yet in the 8-year history of the modern gay and lesbian liberation movement.

The first era of militant activism in movement history was petering out. The Stonewall-era radical youths who had sparked its inception and supplied its strength were burning out or splintering off into other related areas of interest.

But an ominous new anti-gay backlash had emerged with full fury - a dangerous national movement led by a celebrity, the former “beauty queen” Anita Bryant of Florida. The backlash threatened to reverse many of the advances the fledgling gay movement had made. Bryant’s goal was to consign “gay lib” to history’s dustbin as just a passing fad of the tumultuous 1960s.

Early in the ’70s, the budding gay activist movement and its exemplars like U.S. Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich had been featured on TV network news, the front pages of newspapers and covers of national newsmagazines. But now, in 1977, it was Bryant and her strident message of homo-hatred that dominated America’s media and the national agenda.

On June 7th, Byrant scored a staggering victory for discrimination when voters in Dade County (Miami and vicinity), Florida repealed the local gay rights law in a 2-to-1 landslide. While New York and other cities continued to debate gay rights legislation, Dade County had been among the first to enact it. Bryant’s drive to repeal the law by voter referendum was the first such challenge ever, and the overwhelming win for shameless anti-gay bigotry set a chilling precedent. Buoyed by Dade County, Byrant stepped up her well-financed crusade all across the South and began moving aggressively into other regions of the country as well.

At the Gay Activists Alliance of New York in early June 1977, there was an urgent determination to fight back against the lethal danger posed by Bryant’s right-wing onslaught. But it would not be easy. After years of tireless effort, the best and brightest of GAA’s early leaders had moved on. The organization’s once-brimming treasury was now empty; GAA was renting meeting space on West 14th Street from a gay and lesbian organization called the West Side Discussion Group - and GAA was in arrears on its rent there. Even with a recent upsurge in response to the Bryant threat, GAA’s hard-core membership now stood at only 75 people, down from a high of 550 at its zenith some five or six years before and 300 as recently as three years before. Well-intentioned tinkering with the organization’s internal structure and constitution in 1976 (including abolition of the GAA Presidency and watering down the sharp one-issue focus on gay and lesbian issues) had only weakened it further. Even some of its staunchest longtime supporters sadly feared that the remnants of GAA might be moribund at this critical juncture of history.

Yet it was also evident to GAA’s members that GAA had to rise above its own problems and act forcefully to confront the backlash crisis. GAA was still the only streetwise direct-action game in town - and no matter how many worthwhile new gay and lesbian political and professional organizations were coming into existence to lobby and work “inside the system,” militant confrontational direct action remained an absolutely indispensable weapon for the survival of gay and lesbian liberation. GAA’s historic vanguard role demanded that it now provide the firepower to quell the nationwide firestorm Byrant had unleashed against the gay and lesbian community.

Now more than ever, the fiery take-no-guff attitude that inspired the Stonewall rioters, GLF and the early GAA had to manifest itself again boldly in the gay and lesbian movement. Somehow, against all odds, this weakened shell of an organization would have to do it. And so in early June 1977, many in GAA swore a solemn oath to each other: to fight back against the encroaching oppression more ferociously than ever before - and not to lose.


CHAPTER 2.
THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED WALINSKY’S


In mid-June 1977, a tremendous new challenge hit like a bombshell - a threat that forced GAA into dramatic action, perhaps the most extreme zap in its illustrious history.

The tabloid New York Daily News (then the largest-circulation metropolitan daily newspaper in the country) published a long, vile guest column denouncing gays and the proposed New York City gay rights bill in the most rabid, offensive terms. This hateful homophobic diatribe was authored not by Bryant or one of her fundamentalist Christian ilk but by a prominent respected liberal Democratic Party politician in New York.

This liberal began by asserting he was not an “extremist” like Bryant. He then immediately went on to condemn the gay liberation movement and slander gays every bit as viciously as Bryant did. He said gay propagandists had no right to brainwash his children in public schools by saying homosexuality is a “valid lifestyle” (his obnoxious words) deserving of tolerance or respect. He called upon his fellow progressives to cease being cowed by the gay movement. He urged them to stand with him in declaring what they really think: that gays are sick, beyond the pale, and that gay rights is certainly not a legitimate civil rights issue nor a part of the mainstream liberal agenda in New York City or the nation.

He told New York City politicians to defeat the gay rights bill in the City Council. Menacingly, he seemed to proclaim the formation of a “Liberals Against Gay Rights” movement which would open a second powerful front against gays and lesbians right here in New York City - even as we already had our hands full battling Bryant’s escalating crusade of clever disinformation and naked intolerance.

This politician’s guest column in the Daily News seemed to imply that he intended as leader of “Liberals Against Gay Rights” to whip up a full-fledged political and media blitz against gays and lesbians. As GAA saw it, he wanted to deny us our basic human right to exist, to be who we are without facing violence and discrimination.

The column was written by Adam Walinsky. While not a household name on the pop-celebrity magnitude of Anita Bryant, Adam Walinsky was indeed a very prominent liberal Democratic Party politician and lawyer who had real clout. In the 1960s, Walinsky had received considerable national recognition as an outspoken leader of the massive Anti-Vietnam War Movement. He was famed in political circles as the “wunderkind” top aide to the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Democrat of New York) in RFK’s increasingly radical years before his tragic 1968 assassination on the brink of the American Presidency. Walinsky himself then became a candidate for statewide office in 1970 as the Democratic Party’s nominee for New York Attorney General. As a gubernatorial appointee, Walinsky headed the New York State Investigations Commission for several years. Now, in 1977, it seemed he had decided to betray his progressive past and devote his life to an all-out dirty war against gays and lesbians. It was shocking and alarming.

Just days after Walinsky’s guest column appeared in the Daily News, reprints began turning up in publications near and far, including the Staten Island Advance daily paper in New York City. The malignancy was spreading fast. And the Daily News told GAA flatly it would print no pro-gay response to Walinsky’s comments.

Meanwhile, political insiders including the main lobbyist for the New York City gay rights bill alerted GAA that Walinsky was already working behind the scenes against gay and lesbian rights. GAA heard through the City Hall grapevine that Walinsky had submitted his anti-gay tirade to the Daily News for publication under his own name only after New York City mayoral candidate Mario Cuomo courageously rejected Walinsky’s back-room blandishments to oppose gay rights and use Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” text as a Cuomo campaign speech. Even though he’d failed to enlist Cuomo as a mouthpiece, the confirmation that politician Walinsky was using his insider access to top Democrats to try to kill the gay rights bill underscored the imminent deadly danger he posed. Rumors abounded that Walinsky with his media savvy and governmental connections was hoping for a lucrative new career as an anti-gay demagogue and movement leader.

At GAA a hard-line consensus emerged: Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” second front simply had to be nipped in the bud, destroyed on the launching pad right now. Period. If this evil genie were to get out of its bottle, the gay and lesbian movement would be fighting a defensive, reactive war on all fronts for years to come. Progress would be impossible. GAA decided it had to seize the initiative now.

This led to another consensus on the tactics to be used: GAA was not interested in a merely symbolic or token protest. A traditional picket line outside Walinsky’s Manhattan law office would only increase his stature as a rising anti-gay leader; it was probably just what he hoped for. No way GAA was going to fall into that counterproductive trap. GAA was determined to do something that would really cause him to shut up (and prevent the emergence of any Walinsky clones). Creative, audacious new tactics would be needed.

The reasoning behind GAA’s consensus to take decisive action went like this:

GAA knew there were individuals, including some self-described “liberals,” who secretly harbored racist, sexist or anti-Semitic sentiments. But these bigots knew enough to keep their prejudices to themselves. They knew that you simply couldn’t say such ugly things out loud in civilized society. No progressive person would dare attack any other minority group publicly the way Walinsky had attacked gays. Why? In part perhaps because they knew they would be ostracized from respectable society if they did - and, to be sure, with the cooperation of other gay and lesbian groups, GAA vowed to spare no effort to make Walinsky a pariah in opinion-making circles.

But - and this is the crux of the matter - the real reason no one would attack any other minority group is fear of retaliation - meaningful retaliation that hurts - from the insulted group. Bigots simply knew they could not get away with it: the Jewish Defense League, the Black Panther Party, the Latino Young Lords, or whoever, would make damn sure of that! How, GAA speculated, would these organizations have responded had Walinsky’s slimy slurs and dehumanizing smears been directed against them?

GAA concluded that unfortunately history and current events prove this is a brutal, predatory world where those minorities who naively or weakly depend on nothing more than the “basic tolerance and goodwill” of their fellow humans for their safety and freedom often suffer and perish.

Moreover, GAA realized that Walinsky felt safe attacking gays because he believed his own bigoted stereotypes: he knew that those sissyfags, those weaklings could do nothing that would punish him, make him pay for encouraging their extermination. GAA recognized that our perceived lack of forcefulness made us easy prey, the “perfect victims” for hate-mongers. Walinsky’s attitude resembled that of cowardly bully-boys who feel they can assault gays and lesbians with impunity. Every minority group, GAA understood, has suffered from particular stereotypes and myths held by its detractors; in the case of gays, the notion that we could not defend ourselves made us uniquely vulnerable to those without conscience who respected only power and force.

GAA was determined, once and for all, here and now, to smash the myth of gays and lesbians as helpless victims. GAA would slay “Liberals Against Gay Rights” and would make a striking example of Walinsky. GAA would send an unmistakable, loud and clear message to all of them - “respectable” adult bigots and bully-boys alike - that they mess with us at their own grave peril.

To implement this consensus for militant, envelope-pushing direct action, GAA resolved unanimously to counterattack Walinsky where he lives.

Despite Walinsky’s unlisted phone, a GAA investigation (the old-fashioned, pre-computer-age way, with legwork and detective sleuthing) found out his home address. GAA discovered to its outrage that Walinsky did not even live in the city whose laws and public policies he was trying so very hard to influence to our detriment: his residence was located outside New York City, on a large tract in the super-wealthy suburb of Scardsdale in Westchester County, NY.

GAA’s membership voted to hold a surprise midnight zap there on the night of Thursday, August 4th. GAA would provide transportation to the site (a bus and a number of private cars, traveling in convoy) and would carry on an extremely loud hour-long picket line on the street in front of Walinsky’s house. For self-protection, some of the pickets would be armed with baseball bats and other weapons.

To avoid leaks to Walinsky or the police, the zap would be organized quietly. GAA’s membership authorized the Political Action Committee and Executive Committee to handle the specific logistics involved.

Then, outside of GAA, a remarkable chain of events began unfolding. Perhaps it began with an activist’s seemingly casual question to a friend in a local gay hang-out: “Why not take advantage of GAA’s scheduled zap to do a zinger of our own and really make it a superzap?” In any case, the idea of an independent ad hoc group committed to more militant action than GAA’s took on a life of its own.

Citing anonymous sources, an article by premier gay journalist Randy Shilts in the Village Voice later reported that an anonymous and non-GAA-connected group of gay and lesbian militants formed during the summer and decided to conduct a more forceful protest of their own against Walinsky. A wag is said to have nicknamed them “the renegades.” The renegades’ action would reportedly occur moments before the GAA pickets arrived at Walinsky’s. Then, somehow, the renegades would vanish into the suburban night instantly without a trace. According to the anonymous sources, this renegade group would not consider itself bound by legal restraints on its conduct as GAA obviously was. The renegades pledged their allegiance to a higher law: the moral imperative of self-defense and survival of their species.

According to the anonymous sources, the renegades, as highly moral people, emphatically ruled out crossing over the line to terrorism - but they would nonetheless give Walinsky the scare of a lifetime.

Detailed planning and precise coordination would be required for this mission. It would be a real-life military operation, an act of guerrilla warfare by a liberation platoon. The Village Voice, quoting its anonymous sources, later reported that a number of gay Vietnam War veterans were among those who planned and executed the daring commando raid.

The prime obsession of the renegades was reportedly to ensure that all the participants escaped completely unscathed: there must be no arrests, no injuries to the raiders. The renegades were going to Walinsky’s not to be martyrs but as gay and lesbian warriors determined to win a battle for freedom and human dignity. To this end, there was reportedly extensive training and rehearsing - and doubtless a sleepless night or two wondering: Is everything fail-safe? Is there a contingency plan for every possibility? Are we prepared if there’s a leak about GAA’s planned zap and hostile forces (police, gay-bashers, maybe Walinsky himself with a weapon) are waiting for the protesters’ midnight arrival at Walinsky’s? The Village Voice later reported that numerous renegades’ scouting parties, using different cars to avoid arousing suspicion, had been to Walinsky’s neighborhood by day and by night in the weeks before the superzap to reconnoiter and set the stage.


CHAPTER 3.
THE “BRAZEN GANG OF THUGS” STRIKES


At last, it was Thursday evening, August 4th, 1977. GAA’s membership received a final briefing from its elected Chain-of-Command at the West Side Discussion Group meeting space. Watches were synchronized.

For its 11 p.m. report, WNBC-TV/Channel 4 News taped footage of the rally-like atmosphere as the GAA convoy prepared to depart the West Village shortly after 10 p.m. As a precautionary measure, the convoy’s destination was kept secret from the mass media and no cameras or recording devices were allowed in the convoy. On its 11 p.m. newscast, Channel 4 reported without elaboration that GAA was holding a demonstration on behalf of the New York City gay rights bill.

At about 11:35 p.m., “PERSONS UNKNOWN,” as the official Scarsdale Police Department Crime Report would later put it, cautiously crept into Walinsky’s property. Apparently they were persons with Telephone Company tools and know-how: the Scardsdale Police Report says the first thing they did was cut the telephone wires to Walinsky’s house. Walinsky had two phone lines; both were cut, said the Scarsdale Police Crime Report. (Note to younger readers: there were no cellular phones in 1977; when Walinsky’s lines were severed, his household was isolated.)

Suddenly, Walinsky and his wife Jane, who had just gotten into bed, were jolted by volley upon volley of powerful firecrackers exploding right outside their windows. Dozens of eggs pelted their house on all sides. Fierce, furious voices amplified by bullhorns began bellowing over and over again: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your house on fire! Gay power rules!” Minute after brutal minute, the relentless barrage continued: At the windows the powerful firecrackers exploding, so loud and jolting, like gunfire; the eggs, by the hundreds now, pelting the house from every direction, damaging its paint; and incessantly, the frenetic full-throated bellowing: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your house on fire! Gay power rules! WALINSKY, YOU LIAR, WE’LL SET YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE! GAY POWER RULES!”

According to the Walinskys’ later sworn testimony to the New York State Supreme (superior) Court, the fright that gripped Mrs. Walinsky as this commotion erupted around the house turned in one panic-stricken flash to sheer literally heart-stopping terror when the Walinskys grabbed desperately for their phones to summon police help - and found both phone lines DEAD! The Walinskys and their doctor swore that the terror Mrs. Walinsky suffered in that one moment was so unbearably acute that she could have died on the spot of shock and she would never be the same again for the rest of her days.

The Scardsdale Police Crime Report says Walinsky’s property was defaced with graffiti including “GO GAY!” spray painted in thick letters five feet tall on his driveway facing the street, and there were other acts of general vandalism.

Simultaneously, the Scarsdale Police Crime Report says, thousands of fliers were posted and scattered around Walinsky’s property and the whole neighborhood. The fliers explained why the protest was taking place, making these points:

Walinsky had uttered fighting words and committed a blood libel against gays and lesbians.
Walinsky had declared war on gays and lesbians.
Walinsky opposed civil rights legislation that would end existing discrimination and give gays and lesbians equal opportunity and equal protection under the law in the basic necessities of life - housing, employment, public accommodations - in our hometown of New York City.
Tonight, gays and lesbians were doing the only self-defensive thing we could do to survive: counter-attacking, bringing the war home to him.
No longer will gays and lesbians tolerate insults and discrimination that no other citizens would put up with, and we will be no less forceful than any other aggrieved minority in fighting back against our bigoted oppressors.
Ending gay-bashing is literally a life and death issue for us; henceforth we will make it one for our violence-inciting enemies as well.
No more can hate-mongers like Walinsky slander us and deny us our human rights by day in our hometown, our own ghetto, and then at night retreat to their safe suburban homes and leave all that controversy behind them.
The negative consequences of the bigots’ actions hurt the gay and lesbian community 24 hours a day; from now on the bigots will suffer likewise until they stop their evil-doing.
If Walinsky is really dumb enough to pursue his war to the death against our community, (the fliers thundered in conclusion) then we have no choice but to affirm that WE WILL SURVIVE and prosper, while he will PERISH LIKE A COCKROACH.

After four long minutes that surely seemed like an eternity to the Walinsky household, the firecracker and egg bombardment, spray-painting and leaflet-plastering, etc., finally ceased. The gay and lesbian renegade raiders who had perpetrated this wild vandalistic orgy made good their escape from Walinsky’s badly damaged property. They disappeared as abruptly and mysteriously as they had arrived.

Momentarily, 50 GAA pickets (accompanied by two civil liberties lawyers and a handful of gay media reporters) appeared in the distance, marching single-file briskly up the street toward Walinsky’s. No means of transportation was visible: As a precaution, the bus and cars in the GAA convoy had been parked in a deserted area of a posh country club more than half a mile away, and the GAA demonstrators had speed-marched silently to Walinsky’s over hilly terrain.

Only after the GAA protesters set up a picket line on the street (there was no sidewalk) in front of Walinsky’s did they suddenly and dramatically unleash their deafening cacophony: noisemakers galore - bells, whistles, drums, horns, tambourines - and a non-stop repertoire of bullhorn-led chanting.

They shouted: “BIGOT WALINSKY, you better start shakin’, today’s pig is tomorrow’s bacon!” They yelled: “2, 4, 6, 8, Gay is good, gay is great! Gay power now!” They howled: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your ass on fire! Gay rights now!”

In spite of Walinsky’s heated - hysterical might be a better word - demands, the Scarsdale Police who finally showed up at the scene declined to arrest any of the GAA pickets. After conferring with GAA’s spokesperson and the two legal observers, the Scarsdale Police official in charge explained to Walinsky that the only thing police could see was a more-or-less legal, albeit very noisy, picket line of baseball-bat-wielding protesters in progress on a public street - and, purely coincidentally, evidence that telephone wire-cutting and numerous other felonies had recently occurred nearby on Walinsky’s property. The police official told Walinsky that GAA and the legal observers with it categorically denied that GAA’s pickets had trespassed or committed vandalism on his property; that GAA in fact insisted its pickets had an ironclad alibi (they were always together) and couldn’t possibly have done it; that no one including Walinsky could produce any proof to the contrary; and that therefore the badly-outnumbered police had no basis to detain or arrest anyone.

(Likewise, the Westchester County District Attorney, Republican Carl Vergari, days later rebuffed Walinsky’s demand that criminal indictments be brought against GAA and its elected leaders. The District Attorney found there was “insufficient evidence” to link the GAA pickets to the serious crimes on Walinsky’s property that precursed their arrival. GAA’s assertion that it had no knowledge of or connection to the renegade raiders was upheld for lack of a shred of contradictory evidence.)

During the nearly hour-long GAA picket line on the street in front of Walinsky’s, a dozen or more neighbors, some in bathrobes, emerged from their homes and came within viewing distance to find out what was causing the raucous din that was keeping them awake. They were alarmed to see 50 tough-looking pickets, many with baseball bats.

Just after half past midnight, GAA’s monitoring of police radio detected a call from the Scarsdale Police for emergency out-of-town reinforcements. On a cue from the elected Chain-of-Command, the GAA pickets immediately fell silent and dashed swiftly down the street away from Walinsky’s and into the suburban night. The Scarsdale Police, obviously relieved to see them leave, made no attempt to stop them.

GAA remained on guard as its convoy raced out of Scarsdale. There was still the danger that police in a more conservative neighboring Westchester County municipality - now that they had heard about the disturbance on their radios - might foolishly be looking for trouble. But there was none.

When the GAA convoy speeding down Interstate 95 crossed back into New York City, those aboard finally felt safe enough to end their adrenaline-pumping state of red alert and proclaim MISSION ACCOMPLISHED with a surge of exuberant high-fives and emotional hugs. Upon return to the West Village, GAA’s Social Affairs Committee hosted a special gala Victory Party. According to a contemporary wag, many denizens of the gay West Village, exclaiming “Hail the conquering heroes!” joined the fun at the GAA Victory Party, and - quoth the wag - “the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll were never better!”

Indeed, for GAA the Walinsky zap was a tremendous success. The organization’s goal of a noisy legal picket line had been achieved. The complicated logistics had been carried out. The Village Voice quoted former GAA President David Thorstad as declaring it had been an “UNUSUALLY UPLIFTING” evening for the gay and lesbian activists.

The non-GAA-connected renegade raiders also had to be pleased. They had arrived at Walinsky’s five minutes before the GAA pickets. They had trespassed, they had cut phone wires, they had vandalized with vengeance, they had taunted and tormented without mercy. Then, a minute before the GAA pickets showed up, they had vanished. Nobody saw them. Nobody knew how they did it or who they were. The police were baffled, clueless: “persons unknown” was all they could say. Free-spirited gays and lesbians fighting for their mutual survival had voluntarily enlisted and forged themselves into a tight commando unit - ninjas in the night - and executed a challenging task with great precision. Yes, the renegade raiders had reason to exult, to feel the great pride, the “not quite arrogance” in their own kind that Jim Owles first preached years before.

***


The demonstration at Walinsky’s received considerable coverage from the mainstream media. “FORMER CANDIDATE IRED AT PROTEST” was the front-page headline in the Gannett Westchester Newspapers (circulation nearly 200,000). Walinsky was quoted in The New York Times, TIME magazine, the Village Voice, and on National Public Radio (NPR), among other places, as describing the “50 avowed homosexuals” (his words) he saw picketing at the zap as “a brazen gang of thugs…storm troopers…brown shirts.” He accused GAA of using life-threatening terrorism. He even whined plaintively to the mass media that he couldn’t understand why those who sought civil rights for themselves would deny him his, a belated but nonetheless welcome concession that gay and lesbian rights are a legitimate civil rights issue after all.

Pressed hard by the media to comment on the renegade raid, GAA - on a legal and public relations tightrope - replied tersely: “We neither condemn it nor condone it. We understand the anger that motivated it.”

Mass media coverage of the Walinsky superzap would have been even much greater than it was, however, were it not for a damnable twist of fate: Son of Sam, a het who killed other hets as they “made out” in their cars, saw fit to claim another victim just as GAA was leaving Walinsky’s. With their lame-brained, low-brow heterosexist mentality, the daily tabloids and TV news had made Sam the “Story of the Decade” and followed a simple rule: whenever Sam struck, that was the only news that could be covered for the next day. A disappointed New York Post reporter told GAA how her dynamite sensationalist story (“RADICAL GAYS RAID SCARSDALE”) was yanked from Friday morning’s final edition just before deadline in order to clear the paper for Sam.

In the gay media, New York City’s weekly newspaper Gaysweek, published by Alan Bell (who years later became publisher of BLK and other magazines), provided good first-hand coverage of the zap by a team of several reporters, as did WBAI radio’s gay news show. To GAA’s disappointment, the normally-accurate Gay Community News of Boston carried only a brief, belated second-hand item describing a poorly planned action that embarrassed the movement as protesters ran amok.

It was soon evident that GAA had accomplished its prime objective: Amid the furor, the central fact was that Walinsky never again opened his mouth publicly against equal rights for gays and lesbians or against the gay “lifestyle.” The superzap permanently silenced his gays-are-sick comments and ended his “Liberals Against Gay Rights” blitz. GAA’s shock therapy had cured Walinsky of his avowed homophobia. His only public comments thereafter were to describe and deplore the militancy of the raiders’ tactics. Walinsky was thus doing exactly what GAA wanted in spreading the message that, contrary to stereotypical myth, gays and lesbians do indeed fight back.

Editorial comments such as the melodramatic “BATS AND BULLHORNS” in The New York Times (which declared itself appalled at the protesters’ out-of-bounds tactics) communicated the urgent warning to all bigots that there is no safe haven from angry gays and lesbians.

While the leaders of gay and lesbian lobbying organizations could not say so publicly, in private the Walinsky superzap brought smiles to their faces. They confided to GAA that it helped in their dealings with reluctant politicians and power brokers to have the veiled threat hanging overhead: Deal in good faith with us, or who knows what those militant street activists will do to you.

GAA’s zap had changed the subject in a profound way. No longer were gays and lesbians forced to engage in the inherently demeaning debate with Walinsky over whether we have a right to exist in the way that is natural to us, over whether we can “justify” who we are to the het majority. Walinsky no longer dared dispute that we are first-class people, entitled to the same civil rights protections every other citizen takes for granted. That argument was settled, on our terms. The new topic of discussion - our use of ultra-militant tactics, pro or con - was one we could only win: Every time Walinsky repeated to another audience or media outlet his new mantra that gay militants are ruthless rough tough bad-asses who whip their opponents from pillar to post (and slyly get away with it to boot), he was doing our work, a more convincing publicist for our don’t-mess-with-gays-and-lesbians message than we could be ourselves.

Fearing a repeat visit, Walinsky got a Constitutionally-questionable court order prohibiting demonstrations of any kind by anybody near his Scarsdale property and forbidding any other “harassment” by GAA.

Repairing the damage to his property was quite costly. And Walinsky spent many thousands of dollars more in a rush to install a sophisticated new home security system.

Frustrated that GAA had emerged triumphant with none of its pickets arrested while his expenses resulting from the zap mounted, Walinsky filed a $2,100,000 civil lawsuit against GAA and two named individuals: GAA’s elected spokesperson at the time of the zap, whom he denounced as “the brazen leader of the gang of thugs”; and a well-known civil liberties attorney, Lynne F. Stewart, a non-participant who had done nothing more than observe the legal picketing. The judge presiding over the lawsuit soon agreed with Stewart and GAA that she was not involved and should be dropped as a defendant, another rebuke for Walinsky.

Walinsky’s lawsuit, making no distinction between GAA and renegades, simply assumed GAA should be held responsible for everything that happened on August 4th and 5th. His lawsuit alleged that because of the extreme panic and fright caused by the raid, his wife was suffering severe “RECURRING NIGHTMARES” and health problems, could no longer eat or sleep properly, was losing weight and verging on a nervous breakdown, etc. The two Walinsky kids were away at summer camp on August 4th and missed the excitement. Walinsky’s lawsuit specified, however, that the children had heard all about what happened and that consequently they, like Mrs. Walinsky, now lived in nightly fear of gay militants lurking outside their house.

In protracted legal maneuvering, Walinsky’s lawyers tried mightily but unsuccessfully to compel GAA and its spokesperson to reveal the names of all 50 GAA pickets (presumably so each of them could be sued individually too and otherwise pestered).

***


In June 1978, on the first anniversary of the publication of Walinsky’s guest column in the Daily News, his law office’s telephone lines were tied up all day by what Walinsky told the Court were “cursing, threatening, gruff-voiced” callers who he swore just about reduced his female secretary to tears and halted all work in the office. (Some lesbians and others in GAA noted wryly that the chauvinistic Walinsky always hid behind women - claiming it was his wife or his secretary who were upset by the zaps, never himself. But he did all the complaining).

The phone zap’s demand was “Drop the Lawsuit.” Some gay and lesbian activists thought that with the battle to terminate Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” movement having been long since won, the anniversary phone zap was a bit of overkill. But many others thought he could use another stake through the heart.

Walinsky’s lawyers moved to have GAA held in contempt of court, alleging that the anniversary phone zap of his office violated the anti-harassment order. Walinsky hoped to have GAA’s elected leaders locked up in jail and the organization itself fined into bankruptcy for the alleged contempt of court. Correspondents from The New York Times (whose news reports now referred to the original incident as a “raucous late-night demonstration”), the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and several major radio stations were among the crowd on hand in State Supreme Court in White Plains, NY, for the high-stakes showdown. In the courtroom, GAA’s gay attorney Bill Thom (who years later became the first openly gay judge on New York City’s Criminal Court bench) called Walinsky’s motion for a contempt citation baseless and mocked it with withering sarcasm. Walinsky, said Thom, had failed to give the Court one iota of evidence linking GAA in any way to the phone calls; it could have been anybody calling. The judge agreed: Walinsky’s request that GAA and its leaders be found in contempt was summarily thrown out right then and there. Gay power had foiled Walinsky again.

In June 1978, there was also evidence - in the Daily News, no less - of the favorable fallout resulting from the show of strength at the Walinsky superzap the previous summer. The Daily News was notorious for ignoring news of interest to gay and lesbian readers. GAA told the paper’s editors this must change; amazingly, they now agreed. In 1978, for the first time, the annual Gay Pride March was splashed across page one of the Daily News; the year before it had not even been mentioned in the paper. Why the big shift? Consider this: Daily News bigwigs including editor-in-chief Michael J. O’Neill were Scarsdale residents, keenly aware of what happened at Walinsky’s. Could it be that the het editors had been so blinded by prejudice that they would not report fairly on gay and lesbian lives - until they were jolted to their senses by the specter of zappers in the night raiding their homes?

***


More than two years after the August 1977 superzap, Walinsky reached an out-of-court settlement with GAA and the named individual, ending Walinsky’s civil lawsuit. Instead of the $2,100,000 in damages Walinsky had sought, he got a paltry $100. Wags chortled that it had cost Walinsky more than that just have his telephones re-connected!

Sometimes history is a story not just of what happens but what is prevented from happening. Stopping a great tragedy and outrage before it can occur, strangling a potential Hitler or Bryant in their infancy, is a historic and heroic deed. The fact that Adam Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” campaign was crushed is an enduring tribute to the success of what the Village Voice called “THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED WALISNKY’S.” The tale of that midnight raid has earned its everlasting place in the folklore of our gay and lesbian heritage.


CHAPTER 4.
GAYS RAID GEORDIE’S STRAIGHT BAR


The Walinsky superzap was far from the only major GAA action of the busy summer of 1977. The gay raid on Geordie’s, a popular het bar, which took place a week earlier, attracted a larger crowd of protesters (135 in all) and garnered no less attention. Indeed, when New York magazine reported on GAA’s strong-arm seizure of Geordie’s - under the headline “MILITANT GAYS AREN’T KIDDING AROUND ANYMORE” - Walinsky submitted a copy of the clipping to the Court as evidence that the raid on his home was part of a “pattern” of militant “terroristic” zaps.

GAA first received a complaint about Geordie’s from several gays who lived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where Geordie’s was located (on Third Avenue below 82nd Street, next door to a then-thriving gay bar called Harry’s Back East).

Hanging in the most central place behind Geordie’s bar, where no customer could fail to see it, was a large ax with a 3-foot-long wooden handle to which a sign was fastened that said in elaborate print: “FAIRY SWATTER.” Geordie’s bartender had refused requests from several customers to take the sign down. Now the Upper East Side gays were asking GAA for a hand in getting it removed.

GAA sent a small delegation to meet Geordie’s owner and make a formal demand that the ax/swatter sign display be removed at once. In most cases GAA encountered, such a meeting would be all it took to resolve the problem.

As the meeting started, Geordie’s owner volunteered that he’s no anti-gay bigot; he said some of his best friends are gay. The “Fairy Swatter” sign attached to the ax, he stated with a straight face, had nothing to do with gays and shouldn’t bother us in the least: It was an innocent traditional sign that had hung in the bar for generations without a complaint. It referred, he claimed, to an ancient superstition about seeing “fairies” - leprechauns, imaginary little creatures - if one drank too much. Under absolutely no circumstances, he concluded, would he ever consider removing the ax/swatter sign.

The GAA delegation replied that retaining the ax/swatter sign was unacceptable; it had to come down. GAA insisted that gays would decide what was offensive to us - and, based on our own experience, what might trigger a drunken mob of hets to commit anti-gay violence. The sign’s allegedly innocent background was irrelevant; in today’s world of Anita Bryant and the anti-gay backlash, GAA said, people would interpret that sign only one way: it condoned and encouraged anti-gay attitudes.

Geordie’s owner reiterated that he would never remove that traditional centerpiece on which he felt the bar’s whole ambiance and survival depended. GAA responded that he was not taking us seriously and would force us reluctantly to take sterner measures. GAA guaranteed him that the ax/swatter sign would come down and urged him to do it the easy, amiable way now.

Geordie’s owner got belligerent and made the mistake of belittling GAA’s ability to deliver on the guarantee that the ax/swatter sign would come down. “Go ahead, throw a picket line up in front if you want to! It won’t change anything,” he taunted. He raised his voice: “You can picket till you’re blue in the face. The ax and sign stay up. Nothing you do will make me take it down! It will never come down! Never!” With that, he walked away ending the discussion, and the GAA delegation left Geordie’s.

When the GAA delegation reported back to the organization’s membership, the reaction was summed up by a member who said: “If he thinks the worst gays and lesbians can do to him is march around on a futile picket line in front of his bar, we’ll have to show him how wrong he is! We won’t be laughingstocks any more!”

Geordie’s owner had asserted that gays and lesbians were impotent to make him remove the insulting display. Every customer, gay or het, who set foot in Geordie’s bar (that’s hundreds of people on a busy night) would see that ax/swatter sign forevermore, Geordie’s owner had vowed. To GAA, that means that every one of them would see explicit evidence of the weakness, the humiliating second-class status of gay people in het-dominated society. It was all enshrined there on that “Fairy Swatter” sign with its fancy lettering: gays are nothing more than the butt of jokes at best, the victims of violence at worst, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

GAA decided to take decisive action to remove the ax/swatter sign.

Gaysweek newspaper focused the attention of gay and lesbian New York on the looming showdown: photographer Peter Melillo’s picture of Geordie’s ax/swatter display appeared on page one; a writer noted that the obstinacy and belligerence of Geordie’s owner had escalated a relatively minor controversy into a cause celebre that would test whether the gay and lesbian community could do more than talk when its interests were threatened.

In numerous letters, phone calls and personal visits, gays and lesbians made last-ditch appeals to Geordie’s to take down the ax/swatter sign - all to no avail.

The moment for action arrived. At 10:45 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, 1977, 65 fired-up GAA members massed outside Geordie’s on Third Avenue near 82nd Street. Upon a signal from GAA spies inside that the moment was right for a takeover, they barged en masse into Geordie’s.

The raiders chanted: “Take down the sign! Gay power now! Take down the sign! Gay power now!” They were pounding, banging , stomping furiously, blowing whistles, breaking bottles, causing an uproar that actually shook the building. They were brandishing wooden tomahawks, sticks and fly swatters - each clearly labeled “Bigot Swatter.”

Every raider knew what to do. The mission of one group (called the first squad) was to neutralize Geordie’s employees by making them defend the ax/swatter sign, thus leaving the 35 customers present to fend for themselves. The task of the remaining raiders was to drive those customers out of Geordie’s.

GAA’s two-pronged strategy was successful.

In a dramatic face-off and altercation with the first squad, Geordie’s owner, bartenders, bouncers, etc., all lined up behind the bar, snatching clubs, knives an any other weapons they could grab to protect the ax/swatter sign at all cost - and leaving GAA in control of the rest of place. The stand-off with the first squad delayed Geordie’s owner from calling 911 for police intervention. When he did try to get near the phone, demonstrators reached over the bar and held him back, buying precious time.

Simultaneously, the rest of the raiders were doing their crucial job - driving out all the customers - with gusto. Fliers were tossed around, explaining the situation briefly and instructing Geordie’s patrons to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. After that, there was no time for friendly persuasion. GAA demonstrators surrounded each customer, yelling, “Get out! Leave now!” in their ears, kicking and rocking their tables or barstools, spilling their drinks, prodding them with “Bigot Swatters” and generally creating an unbearable atmosphere.

Most of the customers, some literally shrieking in panic, fled Geordie’s within 90 seconds after GAA stormed in. Next it was time to deal with the handful who hadn’t taken the hint. Some were shoved and pushed, even physically picked up and handed off from one squad of GAA protesters to another all the way to the front door and out. When one party being forcibly escorted out shouted to their GAA handlers that they hadn’t paid their big tab yet, GAA replied, “It’s on the house!” They flew out the door gasping a somewhat bewildered “Thank you” to the GAAers.

One could tell from the shell-shocked, awe-struck looks on the faces of the customers as they fled the tumultuous frenzy in Geordies’s that this was probably the most unbelievable moment of the lives. They would be raving to everyone they knew for weeks to come about how these militant gays and lesbians were standing up for themselves.

Inevitably, there were one of two avowed “tough guy” het customers who wouldn’t go without a fight, and there were some scuffles in the first few minutes of the bar seizure. One tall muscular GAA member was particularly impressive in a brief flare-up of fisticuffs with the last customer left in Geordie’s, a big-mouthed cursing homo-hater. Bam! Boom! Zap! Take that, shithead! A swift combo of hard-hitting gay punches left that het bashed good. Before he knew what had hit him, he was tossed out the front door like a sack of garbage. He was so dazed and embarrassed to be beaten up by a faggot that he staggered quickly away. GAA had emptied Geordie’s of its customers in almost no time flat.

About that time, Geordie’s owner finally got a phone call through to 911 and screamed desperately that everything but World War III was breaking out in his bar. He wasn’t exaggerating when he called it a full-fledged riot.

Meanwhile, outside in front of Geordie’s, there was more action: Moments after the GAA raiders stormed into the bar, 70 “reinforcements” - other gays and lesbians - took their stand on the sidewalk and began loud picketing and informational leafleting. Some of the reinforcements were members of the Gay and Lesbian Socialists organization and the Gay and Lesbian Academic Union, both of which had held regularly-scheduled meetings of their own earlier in the evening; they welcomed the opportunity to take part in this important and exciting zap.

Within minutes, at least seven New York City Police Department cars, sirens wailing and lights flashing, screeched up in front of Geordie’s. More were arriving. The sound of sirens filled the neighborhood. The police cars blocked most of Third Avenue. Traffic almost halted.

A fast-growing crowd of curious onlookers gathered. They were buzzing, wanting to know what the big hub-bub was all about. The pickets had plenty of leaflets to inform them. Sentiment among the onlookers seemed to agree: Geordie’s ax/swatter sign should come down.

Several civil liberties attorneys who were present at GAA’s behest assured the NYPD Police Captain in charge that there was nothing but a peaceful sit-in protest occurring inside Geordie’s. Since all of Geordie’s customers were gone, the raiders inside were told by their elected Chain-of-Command to calm down. When the Police Captain entered Geordie’s to size up the situation, he saw nothing so untoward happening that it demanded immediate police intervention. The furious demands by Geordie’s owner that police move in at once and arrest everyone in the bar for assaulting and driving out his customers were brushed off.

The Police Captain wisely decided to take no action until higher-ups from borough headquarters arrived on the scene.

The throng of curious eyewitnesses outside had swelled to many hundreds. The gay and lesbian pickets chanted all the louder, and leafleters fanned out among the crowd to make sure the onlookers would spread the word that Geordie’s was a controversial, even dangerous place - not the saloon you want to go to for a good time. The mainstream news media was en route to the site.

Geordie’s owner could see that he had lost. He would not make another cent that Thursday night. Far worse, he was getting a public relations black eye that would last a long time. Who would want to come into his bar after this?

At 11:25 p.m., less than three-quarters of an hour after the gay and lesbian raid on the het bar kicked off, GAA’s unconditional victory was ratified: GEORDIE’S SURRENDERED! Geordie’s visibly shaken owner climbed up on a footstool, reached up to the central position of prominence on the bar and took down the “Fairy Swatter” sign. He promised it would never go back up. It never did.

The GAA raiders erupted in a deafening din of celebration, the joyous and heartfelt cheer of a lifetime.

The 65 triumphant GAA invaders left the bar and held an emotional victory rally with the 70 gays and lesbians who had been picketing and leafleting outside, as dozens of cops and many hundreds of other people looked on. Chanting, “If it goes up, we’ll be back!” as a parting shot, the jubilant gays and lesbians then dispersed among whoops of victory and yelps of conquest. Their delirious hooting and hollering echoed up and down the canyon of Third Avenue.

In its next issue, New York magazine’s report began: “In the old days, police raided gay bars. Last week, it was a group of whistle-blowing, militant gay activists who raided a straight singles bar… The protesters demanded that the bar’s owner remove a sign labeling a huge ax hanging over the bar a ‘fairy swatter.’ About 100 demonstrators, mobilized by the Gay Activists Alliance, drove paying customers from the bar… Carloads of police looked on. There were no arrests…”

In the end, Geordie’s owner proved prophetic about one thing. He was wrong when he vowed that GAA could “Never!” make him take the ax/swatter sign down. But he was right that Geordie’s could not survive its removal - although of course what proved fatal was the adverse publicity he suffered as a result of the confrontation rather than the “loss of ambiance” from the sign’s removal he had dreaded. Geordie’s was an institution on the Upper East Side, but after this incident, its customers went elsewhere. Within months it was broke and closed down for good. A clash with gay and lesbian militants doomed Geordie’s, a run-in its owner could easily have avoided. Businesses city-wide got the message: Homophobia doesn’t pay - and when gays and lesbians ask you nicely to stop offending them, the sensible businessperson listens and complies.

For the gay and lesbian liberation movement, the stunning takeover of Geordie’s, forcing removal of the notorious “Fairy Swatter” ax, was an electrifying morale booster. One could feel the surge in gay and lesbian pride around New York City as the news spread.

It was a conquest that only grew in stature as time went by. Some 13 years later, in August 1990, a Village Voice cover story by Guy Trebay about the fabulous young new 1990s generation of gay and lesbian avengers noted their view of the celebrated raid on Geordie’s as a defining moment in movement history. Trebay pointed out that the 1990s activists were only young children when Geordie’s was zapped, but it had become a proud and inspiring part of their queer nation’s culture, to be passed on from age to age.

In overcoming Geordie’s and all its burly bouncers (a feat that some nay-sayers, even in the gay press, had deemed impossible), GAA and its supporters proved that gays and lesbians, mobilized and acting in concert, can defeat any odds and smash any who dare to defy us. As one wag put it, “After Geordie’s, we know we don’t have to take any crap from any hets any more!”

CHAPTER 5.
WAKING THE MAYOR AND OTHER ANTICS


At 11 p.m. on Thursday, August 18th, 1977, GAA held a major demonstration for the third time in a month. About 200 gays and lesbians conducted a 90-minute candlelight picket line at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York City’s Mayor.

Its purpose was to attract mainstream media attention and thereby inform gays and lesbians who did not read the gay press that Mayor Abe Beame, seeking re-election, was the only one of the four candidates in the upcoming Democratic Party mayoral primary who opposed the gay rights bill. GAA was confident that if the gay and lesbian vote was united against Beame, he would be ousted from office.

The success of this demonstration depended upon attracting a large enough crowd to make it newsworthy. So for weeks while GAA worked on the complex logistics involved in the Geordie’s and Walinsky zaps, it also had to struggle full-tilt at drawing a good turnout to Gracie Mansion on August 18th. (Plans for all three actions were approved by GAA’s Political Action Committee on July 14th. Just after the third action, to “Wake Up Mayor Beame to Gay Rights,” gained committee approval, NYC’s great blackout of 1977 struck at 9:35 p.m., abruptly ending the meeting in darkness. As they struggled in the weeks ahead to carry out all three actions, weary GAA wags expressed thanks that the blackout had hit before anything more could be planned by the gung-ho members at that meeting!)

GAA was pleased that several other lesbian and gay organizations accepted GAA’s invitation to co-sponsor the picket line at Gracie Mansion. Without their enthusiastic support, it would not have been possible to achieve a respectable turnout.

New York City Police Department brass (an Inspector, two Deputy Inspectors and a Captain) had taken the unusual step of contacting GAA and urging GAA not to hold this action. They implied that they feared violence against the demonstrators by cops if it took place; they warned that a standing Court Order sharply restricting night-time demonstrations near Gracie Mansion would be strictly enforced and anyone using a whistle or bullhorn would be arrested.

GAA discussed this threat candidly beforehand. The membership decided that the zap must go on, lest Beame get a free ride for another term, but that the pickets would show supreme self-disciple and not be provoked into a violent battle with superior forces. The watchword for the night from GAA’s elected Chain-of-Command was: “We spill breeders’ blood, not ours; don’t give the bigot pigs the satisfaction of beating us!”

This plan was excruciatingly difficult to stick to when 300 cops with full riot gear - and an openly pugnacious homo-hating attitude - faced off against the gay and lesbian pickets. Boston’s Gay Community News described the atmosphere at Gracie Mansion throughout the protest as “very tense,” on the brink of a police riot. Any flashpoint could have set it off.

But GAA held to its policy of non-violence - even though it meant the pickets had to endure constant insults and threats from the surrounding cops, and even when the police dragged away a whistle-blowing picket and threw him in a paddy wagon.

In the end, only the heroic restraint and organizational discipline of GAA prevented the bloodbath that the cops were clearly longing for.

The demonstration’s goal of winning mass media coverage for the anti-Beame message was achieved. Two major news outlets - WCBS-TV/Channel 2 and the New York Post - gave prominent coverage to the candle-lit picket line at Gracie Mansion, making the point to hundreds of thousands of voters that Beame is the only candidate who opposes gay and lesbian rights. (WBAI radio’s extensive coverage also exposed the unprofessional police behavior and speculated whether Beame himself tacitly encouraged it.)

In the primary election a few weeks later, Beame was turned out of office (he finished third, failing to make the run-off). Political insiders told GAA that the solid gay and lesbian vote against him, which GAA helped bring about, apparently provided the narrow margin of his defeat.

With Beame’s ouster, GAA had done it again - another key objective accomplished. But the organization could not rest on its laurels. Among the other fish it had to fry in the summer of 1977:

***


NBC’s “Today” show did the dirty deed and invited Anita Bryant to New York City. A coalition of gay and lesbian groups picketed outside Rockefeller Center that morning. More than 400 demonstrators marched in the two-hour protest. Bryant never dared set foot on the streets of New York; she was whisked into the NBC studio by underground passageway.

GAA participated in the picket line with relish and added some spice of its own by bringing along an effigy of Bryant to hang and burn. GAA hung “Bryant” with a noose around the neck. The moment GAA set the effigy ablaze, cops swarmed in, grabbed it, threw it on the street and stomped on it to extinguish the “illegal” flames. The sight of New York’s “finest” stomping a smoldering Bryant dummy into the pavement made a nice picture for TV and newspaper photographers.

***


At the direction of the Roman Catholic Church’s benighted hierarchy, the regional superior of the Jesuits place a gag order on a popular local pro-gay priest, Rev. John McNeill, forbidding him from speaking or writing about homosexuality. The intolerant spirit of the Inquisition lives on in the Church of Rome. GAA decided to go to the Jesuit superior’s official residence, a mansion in the Bronx adjacent to the Fordham University campus, to affirm that gays and lesbians will not be muzzled by anyone.

Two dozen people joined GAA’s Saturday afternoon picket line on Fordham Road. The local Police Precinct Commander attended in person; there was no trouble. GAA noticed small groups of Fordham students peeking at the pickets from behind bushes on the nearby campus; some of them seemed to wink and smile at the pickets. GAA concluded they were part of Fordham’s gay underground scene, glad to see the activists but afraid to join in. GAA waved to them and kept pounding the pavement, hopeful that its action would inspire greater courage in the gay brothers and sisters in the bushes. (In 1990, with a brave new generation of students who wouldn’t hide and wouldn’t take No for an answer, Fordham became one of the first Catholic institutions in the country officially to recognize an organization of gay and lesbian students).

***


GAA’s spray painting patrols roamed Manhattan through the summer. Whenever they spotted or heard about anti-gay graffiti, they replaced it with the opposite. In dozens of locations, hoodlums who painted crude remarks about “fags” or “queers” or “dykes” soon found a bigger, bolder message in its place denouncing “bigots.”

***


During the 1970s a popular sunbathing spot for gays was a grassy plateau in Central Park known to those who frequented it as “the Gay Meadow” (old-timers whispered that in pre-Stonewall times it had been known more discreetly as “the fruited plain”). GAA demanded that the NYC Parks Department erect “Gay Meadow” signs to identify the site. The Beame Administration refused. So GAA took matters into is own hands. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, GAA put up three professional-quality signs, identical in style to those used by the Parks Department, on three lampposts around the GAY MEADOW. Hundreds of sunbathers cheered lustily as the “Gay Meadow” signs went up; a Gaysweek photographer captured the moment. GAA made sure the signs were fastened securely. They remained in place - the talk of the town in many gay circles - for over a month. Summer had turned to fall before Parks Department employees finally tore them down.

***


As summer neared its end, it was time to gear up again for the struggle over the gay rights bill in the City Council. As long as the reactionary boss Tom Cuite controlled the Council with an iron fist, there was no chance the bill could pass (It was enacted into law in 1986, after he exited). Nevertheless, the bill provided a forum for denouncing discrimination and combating gay and lesbian invisibility. GAA had taken the lead several years before in co-founding the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, an umbrella group to rally support for the bill.

In early September 1977, the Coalition organized a march by 500 people across midtown Manhattan to the United Nations. Outside the U.N., gay and lesbian speakers addressed the crowd with fiery oratory. GAA’s spokesperson won a rousing ovation by proclaiming that what happened in the Geordie’s and Walinsky superzaps would happen one day to all who made themselves our enemies. GAA’s speaker declared that we, as citizens entitled to justice and fair play, demand passage of the bill and an end to discrimination now - but added that we, as powerful people determined to control our own destiny, don’t want (and aren’t waiting for) politicians or any other damned hets to give us their seal of approval: We ourselves will make gay and lesbian liberation a reality in our lives and our city today!


CHAPTER 6.
OPENING NIGHT AT
MOTEL ON THE MOUNTAIN


At an end-of-summer party after Labor Day, GAA members and friends clinked their glasses in tribute to the organization’s “Big 3” zaps of the season - Geordie’s (“The ‘Fairy Swatter’ sign is down!”), Walinsky’s (“‘Liberals Against Gay Rights’ is no more!”), and Gracie Mansion (“Beame is out!”) - and a plethora of smaller but not insignificant actions. All in all, said one wag in a toast, “Not half-bad for an organization that was considered half-dead” when the summer started.

But before the calendar would officially turn the page on the end of summer in late September, GAA would face one more unexpected challenge. This time, GAA would have to respond within days and under adverse conditions to a gauntlet tossed down by a fundamentalist preacher from the outer suburbs.

Advertisements in gay bar guide publications announced that the famed Motel on the Mountain in the outer suburbs was going to become a gay nightclub; its “gay grand opening” was set for late September. The Motel on the Mountain, a het motel on a spectacular mountain-top location, was a landmark for over a generation - seen by millions of motorists over the years on the heavily-traveled New York State Thruway (Interstate 87) an hour’s drive northwest of New York City.

Shortly before the Motel’s scheduled gay grand opening, the mainstream media found out about it and considered it newsworthy. Some het editors were doubtless shocked by the concept that that there might be large numbers of gays and lesbians living outside Manhattan's gay ghettos.

An obscure preacher at a fundamentalist Protestant church located near the Motel on the Mountain saw the media reports. The Sunday before the scheduled grand opening, he invoked Bryant’s name from his pulpit and called for protests at the Motel’s opening night to show gays they’re unwelcome in his locality.

The news media, in their inscrutable way and with their pack mentality, decided this was a very big story: All of New York City’s major newspapers, TV and radio stations would be on hand at the Motel’s gay opening to cover the preacher’s protest - and the media didn’t seem to care whether or not there was any gay and lesbian input in the coverage.

GAA knew that if the preacher had the arena to himself, coverage would be one-sided, biased and a disaster for gays and lesbians. In conversations with GAA, the media made clear they were not interested in statements issued by activists in Manhattan about the controversy. If there was going to be representation from “our side” in this story, GAA would have to be at the Motel to duel with the preacher face-to-face in front of their cameras and microphones.

GAA resolved to go to the Motel’s gay grand opening to counter-bash the preacher and his anti-gay protesters. GAA announced its plans to the media, warning them not to ignore the pro-gay side of this story as they seemed to be doing in the build-up.

But after GAA’s charmed summer of superzaps and successes, it seemed this time the organization’s grasp might exceed its reach. The Motel’s opening was just days away. Attracting a decent-size crowd on such short notice seemed impossible, and many GAA stalwarts were unable to attend. Arranging transportation was another obstacle: the Motel was unreachable by public transit, and it was too late to charter a bus.

On the night of the grand opening, the situation was still touch-and-go. In sharp contrast to GAA’s well-planned “Big 3” actions of the summer, this “Big 4th” found a chaotic ragtag band of 30 activists overcrowding into a handful of cars in the West Village for the trip to the Motel on the Mountain. They had no idea what might await them: Would the preacher have hundreds of people supporting him? Would mobs attack GAA and blockade the Motel’s entrance? It was a tense, edgy ride.

But GAA need not have fretted.

Upon arrival at the Motel, GAA discovered to its pleasant surprise (and enormous relief) that the preacher’s much-hyped protest consisted of 20 members of his small congregation, 5 of them young children who obviously had no idea what was going on.

The 200 local residents who had gathered to watch the biggest news that ever happened in their semi-rural community seemed to be in a festive mood - excited and curious, not hostile to gays and lesbians.

The State Police were there in great force and greeted GAA courteously. The Troopers had set up hundreds of flares along the highway and around the Motel’s entranceway, creating an almost surreal carnival-like aura. Someone said it looked like a movie set.

As far as the eye could see in both directions on the two-lane highway, cars full of gays and lesbians were lined up bumper-to-bumper approaching the Motel’s driveway. Over a thousand people packed the Motel that night - more than anyone had anticipated - providing proof that even in the outer suburbs there is a sizable gay and lesbian population.

GAA set up a spunky picket line on the side of the entrance driveway that leads up the Mountain to the Motel. A bond of kinship, camaraderie and shared strength quickly developed between the GAA pickets and the gays and lesbians driving into the Motel. The people in the cars waved, honked horns, flashed lights, blew kisses and shouted encouragement to the pickets; a few raised clenched fists of solidarity out of their car windows. GAA’s elated pickets were invigorated and grew more spirited. The media pack swarmed all over GAA.

Across the entranceway from GAA, the little circle of preacher’s pickets seemed listless and forlorn. Their pathetic turnout on their home turf made them look like fools. Their picket signs were virtually illegible. Their chanting was non-existent; their attempt to sing a hymn was pitiful. And, GAA later learned, they were woefully inarticulate in media interviews. Less than an hour after GAA arrived, the preacher’s pickets unceremoniously departed.

But because of the fundamentalist preacher, this unlikely site was now the focus of attention for the largest Media Market in America - and GAA was seizing the moment.

“Gays Are Here to Stay” proclaimed GAA’s signs. Fists raised overhead, the GAA pickets made up impromptu chants: “Hey, hey, gay is great! And here we’re gonna congregate!” In interview after interview, GAA stated that tonight proved that gays and lesbians are everywhere and will not be intimidated; that openly gay and lesbian people, like any other citizens, have the absolute right to assemble peaceably where we please; and that the gay and lesbian community is determined to confront and rout anyone who tries to interfere with us, as we have so convincingly done here tonight.

The gay and lesbian victory over the fundamentalist preacher at the Motel on the Mountain was Topic A in the Big Apple’s media, with GAA’s message getting a lion’s share of the coverage - prominently featured in The Times and the tabloids, on the TV news at 6 and 11, and every hour for the next day on Manhattan’s newsradio stations. But this was more than a local story; the wire services made it national news. One GAA picket was awakened early the next morning by a phone call from a relative in D.C.: “Your picture is on the front page of The Washington Post today!” It was the first of many congratulatory calls GAA received from around the country.

Gays and lesbians had won an important showdown against a Bryant disciple. Some said that in national media exposure and public impact, the events at the Motel were the biggest setback suffered by Bryant’s anti-gay backlash since her bandwagon started rolling on June 7th in Dade County. Perhaps this marked the turning of the tide in our favor.

And so on a hopeful note, GAA’s summer of 1977 came to a close. It had been a season of progress despite adversity - and a fitting last hurrah for the Gay Activists Alliance of New York, the legendary pioneering organization which had been spawned by Stonewall in 1969 and which, in a few years thereafter, changed the world forever.



A 1977 page one newspaper picture of activist/journalist Joe Kennedy (from Gaysweek)

  Dioan and Dale

Reprinted from LAMBDA BOOK REPORT magazine, June-July 2004 issue.














Emailing Address:

joeyjken@gmail.com