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Gay Liberation Movement


 

During the Fall Quarter of 1969 two new student organizations were formed on the Berkeley campus: the Students for Gay Power and the Gay Liberation Front, among the first gay liberation groups in the country. The GLF was the more politically radical of the two. In a Fact Sheet distributed in January 1970, the group explained its mission:

“The Gay Liberation Front is a nationwide coalition of revolutionary homosexual organizations creating a radical Counter-Culture within the homosexual lifestyles. Politically, it’s part of the radical ‘Movement’ working to expose and eliminate discrimination and oppression against homosexuals in industry, the mass media, government, schools, and churches. GLF is organized in many major US cities from NY to SF and LA, in the midwest and south.”

The plaza in front of Harmon Gymnasium (now known as Spieker Plaza) was the site of the first gay liberation demonstration on the Berkeley campus. During the Fall Quarter of 1969 students picketed, calling for an end to the efforts of campus police to suppress homosexual activity within the environs of the gym.

Though Berkeley’s student body in general was still highly closeted, the two gay liberation organizations attempted to create a safe space where gay people could mingle openly. “The Berkeley GLF and the UC Students for Gay Power,” a leaflet announced, “meet to rap and dance in the ground-floor restaurant of the Student Union UC Berk. The Bear’s Lair is not a Gay coffee shop ordinarily so many straight students are surprised to find Gay’s [sic] out in public having so much fun. Come every Wednesday at 8 pm.”

Gay students also created a community center called Sherwood Forest, which met at the Wesley Center (2398 Bancroft Way). Sherwood Forest offered counseling, a social coffee club on Friday and Saturday nights, and two religious services on Sunday.

An article published in the San Francisco Chronicle described the new spirit among gay men and lesbians at Cal:

GAYS SEEKING A “COMMUNITY”

An intellectual and artistic movement for homosexuals is evolving in Berkeley.

And, if the predictions of its proponents materialize, it may even assume national scope....

“Normally homosexuals meet only on a social or sexual level in places like some darkly-lit gay bar,” Dunbar Aitken[s], chairman of the newly-formed Gay Liberation Front, explained yesterday at a West Coast all-gay symposium in Berkeley....

Aitken[s], a tall, bearded young man, stood near a starkly-lettered “GAY IS GOOD” sign yesterday as more than 150 people congregated in Berkeley’s Sherwood Forest Center for the third day of symposium.

Most of them were men — many of them intensely serious, self-professed homosexuals. They talked together informally throughout the afternoon, some of them holding hands, but all of them intent on forming a “working community”....

[Aikens] noted that heterosexual men usually establish intellectual and working contacts only with other men, and reserve their emotional and sexual contacts for women.

“Men have this ego hang-up,” Aitken[s] said. “Most of them wouldn’t think of having close intellectual relations with women. It’s sad and there’s no reason for such a superiority complex.”

Indeed, several avowed lesbians attending the symposium agreed. They said they were there to discuss the possibility of some sort of alliance with other gay groups.

“Traditionally, male and female homosexuals have had difficulty cooperating,” one of them admitted....

[Aitkens] gazed sadly at the crowd in the main meeting room.

“We had hope to have more people from the physical sciences and mathematics here,” he said. “But a lot of them wouldn’t show up because they have to worry about security clearances in their fields. People are still pretty up tight about all this.”

By Spring Quarter of 1970, the Students for Gay Power had changed their name to the Gay Students Union, and had begun to distance themselves from the Gay Liberation Front, pursuing a more moderate approach to social change.

Read More About It

  • Social Protest Collection, Container 8, Gay Movement (BANC MSS 86/157c), The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  • “Gays Seeking a ‘Community’,San Francisco Chronicle, 30 December 1969
 
 

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Copyright 2002 Regents of the University of California. Email: benemann@law.berkeley.edu.