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Gay Activists Alliance Zaps
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/15/11
Last updated on: 09/17/11
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The lambda was a symbol used by the GAA.

News of the death of Arthur Evans, one of the founders of Gay Activists Alliance, is a fitting occasion to recall the protests and sit-ins and "zaps" that earned GAA the respect of the New York political establishment in the early 1970s.

The achievement of GAA had less to do with the actual legislative goals they espoused (a gay rights ordinance in New York City was not passed until 1986, five years after GAA disbanded) than in making public officials and others aware that there might be a price to be paid if they too blatantly attacked glbtq citizens.

The Gay Activists Alliance bears a certain resemblance to today's GetEqual. Like GetEqual, the GAA was composed of (mainly) young people who were impatient with the pace of progress in achieving equal rights and were committed to using nonviolent direct action to bring attention to the urgency of the cause.

GAA and GetEqual also resemble each other in the creativity of their protests. GetEqual's protests have run the gamut from Lt. Dan Choi and others handcuffing themselves to the fence outside the White House to activists throwing glitter on Presidential candidates and others staging a flash mob demonstration in front of Marcus Bachmann's clinic. The GAA also staged a number of creative demonstrations that combined high energy and seriousness with a surprising playfulness.

One of GAA's zaps involved the takeover of the New York City Marriage Bureau. It has been posted on YouTube in three parts.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The zap was provoked by the City Clerk having threatened legal action against the minister of a local gay church, the Church of the Beloved Disciple, for performing "Services of Holy Union" for gay couples, which the City Clerk said were the equivalent of marriage. To protest this assault on religious freedom and gay rights, the GAA threw a party for two gay couples at the City Marriage Bureau. They descended on the Marriage Bureau armed with a large wedding cake topped by figures of two same-sex couples.

The YouTube clips show clearly both the activists' serious purpose as they invade the City Clerk's office and their sense of humor in inviting people in the building to a party.

In another famous zap, in 1970 members of the GAA took over the offices of Harper's Magazine after it had published a repulsive article by Joseph Epstein called "Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity."

Epstein, who perhaps unintentionally exposed his own sexual insecurities in the essay, declared, "If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth." He called homosexuals "cursed," and remarked that nothing his sons "could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual. For then I would know them condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men, their lives . . . to be lived out as part of the pain of the earth."

The GAA protested the publication of this homophobic tripe by throwing an unannounced party at the magazine's offices. At first all went well. The activists offered the employees coffee, doughnuts, and pamphlets, and sought to discuss the Epstein essay civilly. The congenial atmosphere was destroyed, however, when editor Midge Decter (a well-known homophobe) denied that the article "reinforce[d] anti-homosexual opinion," whereupon Evans angrily denounced her for running the bigoted and irresponsible article. He reportedly told her, "You knew that article would contribute to the suffering of homosexuals! You knew that! And if you didn't know that, you're inexcusably naive and should not be an editor . . . You are a bigot and you are to be held morally responsible for that moral and political act!"

Harper's never officially repudiated Epstein's ugly essay, and it remains a stain on the otherwise distinguished history of the magazine.

I admire the militancy of both the GAA and GetEqual and mourn the loss of Arthur Evans.

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