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“I grew up in Joplin, Missouri, spent three years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia after college at Southern Methodist University, and landed in San Francisco on March 9, 1971. In San Francisco, I 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 over Labor Day Weekend in 1974.

BAGL followed in the spirit of the Gay Liberation Front, founded in New York. We participated in a lot of important events, including supporting gay teachers in the San Francisco schools, supporting the Coors Beer Boycott, marching with the United Farm Workers, and helping to get the San Francisco Labor Council to add anti-gay discrimination laws in their union contracts. We organized boycotts of a bar and a bathhouse that had discriminatory ID policies, and we participated in the defense committee of the San Quentin 6, a case that grew out of the prison rebellion and murder of revolutionary prison writer George Jackson in 1971.

There were always two basic tendencies in BAGL. The founders, who came out of the Socialist Workers Party, focused on LGBT and labor rights. Another sizeable group came out of the anti-Viet Nam war movement and the organization that formed to oppose the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile that wanted a broader “liberation” focus.

The common overlap was certainly for advancing LGB rights—the T came later—and fighting for social justice. 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 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. BAGL 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. A small number of anti-imperialists formed a separate, closed grouping called the June 28 Union, which participated in BAGL meetings but operated independently.

In late 1976, a year after the Vietnam War ended, the founders of BAGL came up with a proposal to organize an event to support Leonard Matlovich, the first soldier to come out publicly (for which he was discharged) in San Francisco’s huge Cow Palace Arena. Matlovich said he wanted to continue in the service and was proud of his role in Vietnam. A significant number of people in BAGL had been in the streets for years opposing the Vietnam War, and there was a strong anti-war movement for ending the draft.

In the meeting, Third World Caucus members walked out of the meeting, saying, 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. A number of other people also walked out, including members of the June 28 Union, leading to a hard split into two factions from which the organization never recovered. 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 using a latrine. I missed the mass anti-war movements. I did not have the same political experience as the people who left the meeting, but I was radical. I wanted to end the idea of war and US imperialism, so I was more allied ideologically with the June 28 Union members.

Charlie Hinton
Charlie Hinton.

This division lasted for about a year until there was a vote to see which caucus should continue as BAGL. The anti-imperialists got the most votes, the other side left the meeting and formed Gay Action, and BAGL never recovered.

After our split, we became an organization in search of a mission. Members of the June 28 Union quit the organization the first week after the split, which left nobody with any real organizing experience to lead. We became more of a gay solidarity organization with a focus on organizing support and solidarity for a wide variety of issues, including the eviction of the elderly tenants of the International Hotel in SF’s Chinatown, but we did not have any specifically gay-oriented program or practice.

After our split, we were down to about 50 people from our original 200, and at the end, we were down to about 10 or 20 people, so we disbanded. Nevertheless, BAGL was a seminal organization that had a lasting effect on LGBT and San Francisco politics.”


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