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By way of Hope, Arkansas, we bring you Dennis Paddie, who, in 1970, co-founded Austin’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Remember, now is the time we present the scope and prowess of activists not based in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The United States is a “melting pot” in every regard. We must channel the strength behind our differences.

Dennis graduated from Hope High School in 1959 and pursued his academic interests at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1964. After his graduation, he joined the Peace Corps, an independent agency and program of the United States government that trains and deploys volunteers to supply international assistance. During his time in the Peace Corps, he was struck with “amnesia.” While amnesia is often seen as a brain-related problem, Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, saw it differently. He proposed that amnesia was not simply forgetting things due to a brain issue. Instead, he viewed it as a symptom of repression, a way the mind deals with difficult memories. Sometimes, hetero supremacy sneaks up on you!

Upon leaving the Peace Corps, he returned to the U.S. and went to Austin, Texas, where he resumed his studies in Art History at the University of Texas. While at the University of Texas, Paddie became involved in the burgeoning gay rights movement in Austin. Notably, in 1970, he played a pivotal role in organizing one of the first public meetings for lesbians and gays in the city's history, leading to the establishment of the Austin Gay Liberation Front. This initiative was spurred in part by an article titled “Pink Power!” published in The Rag, a political underground newspaper, which called for the liberation of homosexuals from societal oppression.

Despite resistance from university authorities, Dennis and his colleagues persevered, eventually achieving official recognition for the GLF from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974. His activism extended beyond organizing meetings; he contributed to organizing and cataloging the International Law Library at Townes Hall Law Library, UT, Austin, showcasing his dedication to scholarly pursuits alongside his advocacy work.

One of the crowning achievements of Dennis' involvement in the GLF was hosting the First Annual National Gay Conference in 1971. This event attracted over 200 participants from across the country. Their proposal was simple: a gay conference with a singular message: “Come to Austin for a convention, all you gay people.” However, challenges persisted, particularly regarding gender representation within the movement. Dennis and his colleagues faced criticism for supposedly holding traditional anti-feminist views, leading to the formation of the Gay Women's Liberation in 1971.

In the face of the complexities and challenges of the era, Dennis' commitment to social justice and equality remained steadfast. While he maintains that he left the movement when “drag became a pandemic,” he continues to contribute to the arts scene in Austin, writing plays that reflect on his experiences and the historical significance of the early gay rights movement.

— August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project

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Dennis Paddie, courtesy I'm From Driftwood.

“When I was growing up, the word 'gay' didn't really exist as a descriptor for homosexuals. Even though I knew I was different, there was no context to put my feelings in. I was one of the best-liked and best-loved kids in high school, and I didn't experience marginalization in the way many people did.

I joined the Peace Corps when I was in college and went to India. When I was in India, I had a crisis, and I realized I had to do something about my sexuality. I couldn’t feel my skin. I didn't know what was happening. I couldn't sleep.

I decided to fly to New Delhi to see a shrink. There were people in the same situation I was in, and they were even worse. People looked like zombies in the Peace Corps hospital. I had a condition called amnesia. It's in the Freudian lexicon. It had to do with my closeted sexuality. I was sexually frustrated and stunted.

I resigned from the Peace Corps, flew back to Washington D.C., and then to where I grew up in Arkansas. When I went back to Austin again in 1965, I became friends with radicals at the college, even though I wasn’t yet politically active myself.

Around this time, I became aware of a group called the Liberation News Service, which was a national group of journalists and newspaper editors. They published political news about the anti-war movement across the United States. Through the Liberation News Service and The Village Voice publication out of New York, I heard about Stonewall. I was in shock, and my life was forever changed. From 1969 on, I became a semi-public figure and was completely radicalized.

In the Summer of 1970, we learned about the first Pride March in New York City. Up until that point, homosexuals tried to stay out of the light, but now, finally, they were out in the streets. It was intersectionality before that word existed. We were involved in the civil rights and women's movements and started an Austin chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. Austin was a liberal pocket in the South, and we were semi-embraced.

We performed numerous actions to get our point across. One of the early ones was about sexual health. There was a massive outbreak of gonorrhea, and Austin and the Department of Public Health wouldn't treat gay people. We staged a protest at the local hospital because we wanted the same access to healthcare that heterosexuals were afforded. We also protested the housing organizations because they could deny rentals to homosexuals. Everything we did was under the umbrella term 'gay.'

In mid-1970, we prepared to host the first Gay Liberation Front conference in the upcoming spring of 1971. We wanted to bring members of the Gay Liberation Fronts across the country together. Austin was not well known in the country and radical circles then. To gather publicity, we published an advert in the periodical Gay Sunshine and sent a letter to all the gay liberation groups nationwide.

Our target audience was radicals who wanted to advance civil rights. The event was a success. Every morning, we served people breakfast. Across the town, there was advocacy and sympathy for our cause and movement.

We mainly did this to put ourselves on the radical and cultural map. There were about 250 people who attended our conference, and it was very well organized. We had meetings in the morning and in the afternoon. We discussed feminism, the anti-war movement, and how we could fight for civil rights. It was more than just our rights. We wanted to help Blacks, Hispanics, women, and every minority.”


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