LIBERATION HOUSE, AUTHOR
One day, I got into an LGBTQ-community-center-research rabbit hole. I soon learned about Liberation House, a post-Stonewall services center for the LGBTQ community. It was operated by the Liberation House Gay Collective, described as a “work, education, and growth commune.” Co-founded by Lenny Ebreo and Alice Bloch, the facility was located at 247 West 11th Street in New York City. It hosted various groups, such as women's and men's groups, a coming out group, and an S&M group.
Given that Lenny was an early AIDS casualty, I researched Alice Bloch, who is now an author. After her time at Liberation House, Alice wrote for the Lesbian Tide, a lesbian-oriented periodical, and joined a lesbian history collective that co-produced The Lesbian History Exploration, a modest conference that took place in the Spring of 1975 at a Jewish camp in Malibu, California.
After Alice received my email, she quickly replied and agreed to an interview. She sent me a podcast titled Lenny, which is a reading of an essay she wrote that explored her relationship with two different Lennys, Leonard Bernstein and Lenny Ebreo. Alice discussed admiring Leonard Bernstein and seeing the play West Side Story with her family. She was unaware of his closeted homosexuality (due to the repressive times and personal choice). She proposes that Leonard Bernstein produced stronger material when he was closeted. Lenny Ebreo was her semi-closetted homosexual partner who became a prominent activist. She was not fully aware of his homosexuality during their relationship. My first question in my interview with her was, "Is your gaydar still off?" She said no. It must have been her work in the LGBTQ community that fine-tuned her receptors.
Liberation House’s legacy is enduring. In 1972, Lenny Ebreo, Marc Rabinowitz, along with Perry Brass, whom we have profiled extensively in The LGBTQ History Project, established the Gay Men’s Health Project in Liberation House. This initiative was notable for being the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast and one of the first groups of any kind to use the words “Gay Men'' in its name. Their clinic has since transitioned into Callen Lorde, one of the largest LGBTQ health networks of its kind.
—August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project
“Ohio was difficult to grow up in, but I had good friends and family. When we encountered anti-Semitism, my father always said, the best thing you can be is who you are. That really stood me in good stead when I came out as a lesbian. Living in a community that was hostile to Jewish families was good training.
Before I was an out lesbian and truly knew I was one, I almost married this man, Lenny, who was a homosexual. He desperately wanted a family. When I brought Lenny to meet my family after we were engaged for a few months, we talked, and he said, I want you to be happy. I want you to marry somebody who wants to be with you. I think he knew—he didn't say it directly, but I think he knew it wouldn't work out. He must have known the reason it wasn't going to work.
I was a little lost at the time. Part of what was going on with me then was that I had been indoctrinated into female socialization. I was very submissive, and whoever I was with, I sort of went along with whatever they were doing, but it wasn't that I came out because of him.
My grandparents gave me money for our wedding, which ultimately never happened. In 1971, I used their $1,000 gift and co-founded Liberation House with Lenny in the basement of a storefront in the West Village in New York City. We remained friends—he was always in and out of love with me. He never stopped wanting a family. I certainly wouldn't have started Liberation House without Lenny’s help. He would have done it without me. It really was his idea.
The walls at Liberation House were all crumbling. We had to repair the lath and plaster. It was not in good shape. I didn't know anything except that I knew I was excited about this new life I would have. There was so much excitement. The danger of being a lesbian in an unfamiliar place hardly occurred to me. I felt safe being in a gay neighborhood. It was a whirlwind. It seemed like everything was moving and changing so fast, and I was sort of stunned.
We advertised Liberation House in various publications like the Village Voice. We went to various gay liberation meetings, and Lenny would make an announcement. Everything eventually caught on. We were open, and people would just drop in. One day, a woman came running in. She was a lesbian who was earning a living doing sex work, and her pimp was being violent with her. She needed help. I've always worried about that particular woman being abused by her pimp. Seriously, I worried about her because she came in and then disappeared. I don’t know what happened to her. I wish I could have helped her more, but I was a good listener, which was helpful. Sometimes, all people need is a good listener.
We started a couple of consciousness raising groups. To put it in modern terms, consciousness raising groups are leaderless groups where you talk about your experiences and figure out what you can do to improve society by using your experiences as the launching pad. They are not only places to figure things out but also places to have support. It's a supportive atmosphere. They give you more courage to do the political work you want to do.
I met my first partner when she came to Liberation House. She lived in Los Angeles, where she was a graduate student in psychology. She was in New York visiting her parents in the Bronx. A couple of months later, she invited me to visit her in Santa Monica. Then, a couple of months later, I moved in with her. We were together for about 12 years. When I lived in the Los Angeles area, I learned about the gay community, joined a lesbian history collective and started writing. My time with Liberation House was fleeting and profound."