THE GAY LIBERATION FRONT
For over fifty years, John Knoebel has been fighting for gay rights. He started as a member of the pioneering gay activist group the Gay Liberation Front in New York City. He later was a member of the Gay Liberation Front’s 95th Street Gay Men's Living Collective and co-organized gay men's consciousness-raising groups.
Knoebel pushed that there is a close relationship between gay liberation and radical feminism. He subsequently co-founded the Effeminists, a group of gay men who opposed sexism. He co-authored the group's influential The Effeminist Manifesto, which, in part, stated, “Only that revolution which strikes at the root of all oppression can end any and all of its forms.” The group also published Double F: a Magazine of Effeminism from 1972 to 1976.
In 1979, he was hired as marketing director for The Advocate and stayed in publishing for the next 33 years, eventually becoming the President of The Advocate and OUT magazines.
"One of the most recent issues gay activists fought for was marriage equality. The current movement has become much more suit and tie and conservative. In a way, this present generation wants to become much more legitimate than the crazy radicals that started things with actions in the streets. I think there is a little bit of a disowning of that early history by people now who want to be integrated into national institutions. That’s the way many people feel that they can make progress. Books have been written by some of the early people, but you have to seek them out. No one learns about their history as children before they come out, and, once they come out, it's today that they're interested in and concerned about. It would be different if you grew up in a gay family like people grow up in a black family, and the mother and father and the uncle or the older sister tell you stories about your group. While it is definitely less so now, gay people grow up in isolation.
Looking back, I don't think anybody in recent history has created such enduring change in such a short period of time as us early activists. There was a large, core group of us that was very active in the Gay Liberation Front. There were those of us who were at the Black Panther’s Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and Washington and those of us who marched against the Vietnam War down Wall Street with a Gay Liberation Front banner and got clubbed by police on horseback. We had consciousness raising groups, sponsored gay dances out of the Alternate U, published Come Out magazine, organized the first Pride March. There was a tremendous outpouring and growth of a movement in a very short period of time.
One of the outcomes of the early activist years of the 70s was the creation of a gay and lesbian community. Beginning around 1970 to 1975, you would go to neighborhoods and cities across the nation where you'd never expect to find some gay presence, but you would, and there were gay gift shops, gay bookstores, gay bars, gay restaurants.
The notion that you had a community for once was a marvelous change. It took about ten years for that really to happen. Community for gay people is the realization that one is not alone—there's a place where you can go and be among your people to discover that you are a part of a people. One of the major contributions and achievements of the early gay activists was inspiring people to come out and organize. That's why our slogan was all about coming out. Coming out, going public, and organizing was so essential to our movement.
Unkowns with John Knoebel second to the left, 1972.