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social sciences

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Gay Liberation Front  

On June 27, 1969, a routine police raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village ignited unprecedented rioting among its patrons. Throughout the weekend gay men and lesbians converged on the Stonewall Inn to protest the police and their abusive tactics.

Although homosexual rights activists had been organizing for two decades, the sudden explosion of the Stonewall riots ushered in a new gay militancy that soon became known as gay liberation.

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A few weeks after Stonewall, gay and lesbian activists organized the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Drawing on the principles and rhetoric of many other radical movements of the 1960s, GLF saw its mission as revolutionary and set its sights on a complete transformation of society. Not only did it hope to dismantle social institutions such as heterosexual marriage and the bourgeois family, but its leaders also forcefully opposed consumer culture, militarism, racism, and sexism.

Revolutionary Goals, Rapid Expansion, Quick Demise

GLF's statement of purpose clearly stated its revolutionary goals: "We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society's attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature."

GLF groups quickly spread to other cities in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Members of these groups did not limit their activism to gay causes. In the late 1960s and early 1970s many radical homosexuals joined protests with other radical groups, including the Black Panthers, women's liberationists, and anti-war activists.

Lesbians in GLF brought principles of radical feminism to bear on its emerging philosophy. GLF activists argued that the heterosexual family as an institution necessitated the oppression of homosexuals and defined gayness as a form of political resistance. GLF activist Martha Shelley wrote, "We are women and men who, from the time of our earliest memories, have been in revolt against the sex-role structure and nuclear family structure."

The radical organization Students for a Democratic Society also helped to shape GLF. Allen Young, a former SDS activist, was a key figure in framing GLF's principles. "Gay is good for all of us," he asserted. "The artificial categories 'heterosexual' and 'homosexual' have been laid on us by a sexist society . . . . As gays, we demand an end to the gender programming which starts when we are born . . . . The family . . . is the primary means by which this restricted sexuality is created and enforced. . . . Our understanding of sexism is premised on the idea that in a free society everyone will be gay."

As an organization GLF was short-lived. It effectively ceased to exist in 1972. Fraught with internal division, GLF was unable to negotiate successfully the differences among its members. Many GLF activists remained committed to working on a broad spectrum of political issues, while others wanted to prioritize issues directly related to homosexuality.

The Legacy of GLF

In spite of its short life, GLF's insistence on anti-assimilation politics offered gay men and lesbians, especially younger ones, an alternative to the quiet persistence of the groups, such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis, that had preceded it.

GLF also transformed the concept of coming out from a process that gay men and lesbians experienced privately and shared with only a small group of friends into a more strategic political tool. By encouraging gay men and lesbians to take pride in their homosexuality and to disclose it publicly, GLF helped craft an integral part of gay and lesbian politics that remains with us today. At the heart of the GLF philosophy was the idea that the personal is political.

For all its controversies and difficulties in creating a sustainable movement, GLF provided radical activists an important focal point for a few years. Even though many activists became disenchanted with the organization, their determination to carry forth the spirit of gay liberation through new groups such as the Gay Activists Alliance and the Radicalesbians proved invaluable in the continuing fight for glbtq rights.

GLF's legacy informed gay and lesbian activism throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s when groups such as ACT UP and Queer Nation formed to fight AIDS and . Many of the leaders of these two groups had been either active in or heavily influenced by the ideas first promoted by GLF.

Geoffrey W. Bateman

     

    
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social sciences >> Overview:  New York City

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social sciences >> ACT UP

Using bold images and confrontational tactics, ACT UP worked to promote awareness of AIDS and challenge the complacency of politicians and government officials in the early years of the epidemic.

social sciences >> Daughters of Bilitis

The first national lesbian political and social organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis was a significant part of the pre-Stonewall lesbian and gay rights movement.

social sciences >> Gay Activists Alliance

An important organization of the early post-Stonewall era, the Gay Activists Alliance, which flourished from 1969 to 1974, strove to give gay men and lesbians visibility in American politics.

social sciences >> Hay, Harry

Activist Harry Hay, an original member of both the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, is recognized as one of the principal founders of the gay liberation movement in the United States.

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Photographer Peter Hujar created stark, stunning, affecting , and sometimes disturbing images in black and white.

social sciences >> Kight, Morris

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social sciences >> Marcuse, Herbert

German-born philosopher Herbert Marcuse had an enormous influence on theories of sexual liberation, particularly in the early post-Stonewall gay movement and on the left.

social sciences >> Mattachine Society

One of the earliest American gay movement organizations, the Mattachine Society was dedicated to the cultural and political liberation of homosexuals; but in the face of McCarthyism, it adopted conservative policies of accommodationism.

social sciences >> Queer Nation

The short-lived militant group Queer Nation, which emerged in 1990, made a lasting impact on sexual identity politics in the United States.

social sciences >> Radicalesbians

A short-lived but important group, the Radicalesbians was instrumental in bringing visibility to lesbians in the American feminist movement of the early 1970s.

social sciences >> Rivera, Sylvia

A legendary veteran of the Stonewall Riots, Sylvia Rivera is notable for helping to spark the event that ushered in the modern-day Gay Rights Movement.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.

social sciences >> Winant, Fran

During the 1970s and early 1980s, poet, painter, and activist Fran Winant helped define the role and sensibility of lesbians in the contexts of gay liberation and radical feminism.


    Bibliography
   

D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

_____, and Estelle B. Freedman. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Kissack, Terence. "Freaking Fag Revolutionaries: New York's Gay Liberation Front, 1969-1971." Radical History Review 62 (Spring 1995): 104-35.

Rimmerman, Craig A. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States. Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 2002.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Bateman, Geoffrey W.  
    Entry Title: Gay Liberation Front  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated August 10, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/gay_liberation_front.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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