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Gay Activists Alliance  
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The Gay Activists Alliance was formed in 1969 with the goal of working through the political system to secure and defend the rights of gay men and lesbians.

The founders of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) were members of the Gay Liberation Front who had become dissatisfied with the direction that the organization had taken. The Gay Liberation Front had allied itself with the Black Panther Party and was active in the movement against the war in Vietnam. Its leaders preached a radical political agenda, including the overthrow of capitalism.

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Arthur Evans, Jim Owles, and Marty Robinson were among the first activists to consider a break with the Gay Liberation Front. In December 1969 they convened a group of approximately twenty people in the New York apartment of Evans's lover Arthur Bell and organized their new association. Other original members included Kay Tobin Lahusen, Vito Russo, and Morty Manford, whose parents, Jeanne and Jules Manford, founded P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

A central tenet of the GAA was that they would devote their activities solely and specifically to gay and lesbian rights. Furthermore, they would work within the political system, seeking to abolish discriminatory sex laws, promoting gay and lesbian civil rights, and challenging politicians and candidates to state their views on gay rights issues.

Owles was chosen to be the first president of the GAA.

The political tactics of the GAA included "zaps"--public confrontations with officials that sought to draw media attention. Among the early objects of the zaps was New York mayor John V. Lindsay, whom the GAA held accountable for police harassment at gay bars, including the Stonewall Inn.

The confrontations with Lindsay continued through 1972, when the mayor made a bid to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. The tactic eventually became controversial since others in the gay rights movement considered Lindsay relatively sympathetic and believed that harassing him could be counterproductive.

In addition to protesting against politicians who failed to take a pro-gay rights stance, the GAA worked enthusiastically for those who did. They were active supporters of Congresswoman Bella Abzug, whose campaign appearances included stops at GAA events and a bathhouse, and gay rights activist Franklin Kameny in his unsuccessful bid to become a Delegate from Washington, D. C. in the United States House of Representatives.

One of the GAA's principal goals in New York was passage of a bill to prohibit employment discrimination against gay men and lesbians. The GAA began campaigning for such a measure in early 1970.

The issue came to a head late the next year as GAA members not only continued to confront Lindsay but also challenged other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination to state their views on gay and lesbian rights.

At New York hearings on the employment bill--which was vigorously opposed by the police and fire departments, among others--the GAA conducted frequent and often raucous demonstrations. When the legislation came up for a vote in January 1972, it was defeated 7-5 in committee. Nevertheless, a week later Lindsay signed an executive order prohibiting city agencies from discriminating against job candidates based on the applicant's "private sexual orientation." (It would not be until 1986 that the New York City Council passed a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.)

While some criticized the GAA as being overzealous in going after Lindsay, there was no doubt that their demonstrations were often imaginative and attention-getting. In some cases the GAA informed the media of impending actions, which not only garnered publicity but also provided a certain measure of protection against harassment by the police.

To protest the remarks of a New York City clerk who had condemned same-sex marriage, the GAA arrived at his office with a wedding cake topped with figures of same-sex couples and then proceeded to hold a mock wedding for a gay couple.

When in the fall of 1970 Harper's magazine ran a scathing article in which the author, Joseph Epstein, declared, "If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth," GAA members turned up at the Harper's office "to show [them] what homosexuals are really like."

They offered the employees coffee, doughnuts, and pamphlets, and sought an opportunity to discuss the Epstein piece. The congenial atmosphere was destroyed, however, when editor Midge Decter denied that the article "reinforce[d] anti-homosexual opinion," whereupon Evans angrily denounced her for running the bigoted and irresponsible article.

In addition to its political activism, the GAA served a social function. Early in 1971 the group rented a Victorian firehouse in SoHo as its headquarters. They painted the façade bright red and set out the GAA flag. The banner featured the organization's logo, the lower-case Greek letter lambda, created by Tom Doerr, a graphic designer (and Robinson's lover). GAA literature explained that the lambda represented "a complete exchange of energy--that moment or span of time witness to absolute activity" in the notation of chemistry and physics.

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