BAY AREA GAY LIBERATION (BAGL)
Charlie Hinton grew up in Joplin, Montana, and spent three years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia. He attended the founding meeting of Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL) in 1975, which was organized after the police arrested thirteen gay men for loitering on Castro Street in San Francisco. He worked at Inkworks Press, a collectively owned and managed printing company in Berkeley, California, for 19 years. Now, Charlie works with the Haiti Action Committee, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee to End Sleep Deprivation, and the Committee to Free DeWayne Ewing. He remains passionate about prison reform.
BAGL's publication Magnus (left) and an illustration by Tom Till, from Magnus #2 (right).
“From 1975 through 1979, BAGL was basically a gay solidarity organization. Back then, we had no center, which was a big mistake. Each of us members were in different factions, and we supported each other's factions. We participated in a lot of important events. We were involved with the Coors Boycott in San Francisco, helped get the San Francisco Labor Council to add anti-gay discrimination laws in their union contracts, boycotted bars that had discriminatory ID policies, and did a lot of other things. After our split, however, we were also somewhat in search of a mission.
I think the common overlap was certainly for advancing LGB rights—the T came later—and fighting social justice issues. The gay rights faction of the group was really focused on gay rights, and that was it, and the labor group was really focused on labor issues. But again, they brought gay people into the labor movement and offered them protection. The anti-imperialist faction saw a much broader picture. I was part of the Anti-Imperialist Caucus. We wanted social justice, not only for LGBT people but also for everybody, and saw a larger anti-imperialist struggle in which gay rights were one aspect of the greater struggle for social justice.
In 1976, a year after the Vietnam War ended, the gay rights faction came up with a proposal to put Leonard Matlovich in the Cow Palace arena. He was the first soldier to come out, and he was discharged for it. He said he wanted to be a public figure because he was proud of his role in Vietnam. He was also a republican. Of course, a huge number of people in BAGL had been in the streets for years opposing the Vietnam War. There was a strong anti-war movement for ending the draft.
In the meeting where the event featuring Leonard was proposed, the Third World Caucus got up, walked out of the meeting, and said, no, we're not supporting this man who wants to go back and kill more Vietnamese. We don't care whether he's gay or not. We're not going to support it. Then the people in the June 28th Union joined the walkout. The Anti-Imperialist Caucus, which I later joined, walked out. I didn't walk out of the meeting. When the Vietnam War exploded, I was in the peace corps in Bolivia, in the jungle, without electricity, without running water, and with a latrine. I missed the mass anti-war movements. I did not have the same political experience as the people who got up and walked out of the meeting, but I was radical. I wanted to end the idea of war and US Aggression.
My mentors quit the first week after the split which left nobody with any real organizing experience left. We didn't have any experience. This division lasted for about a year until there was a vote to see what caucus should continue as BAGL. The anti-imperialists got the most votes, the other sides left the meeting, and BAGL never recovered. That was it. We were down to about 50 people from our original 200, and at the end, we were down to about ten or 20 people.”