TALLAHASSEE GAY LIBERATION FRONT
We did it, and it is great! We tracked someone down who was not in an urban Gay Liberation Front. Rural and small-town experiences contribute significantly to the LGBTQ+ journey because most people do not live in cities like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. These lesser-told stories provide a more inclusive portrayal of gay life, despite often being overshadowed by urban narratives. By preserving these histories, we ensure a more accurate and representative historical record for future generations who prefer small-town or rural living over the lure of the big city.
Meet Hiram Ruiz, a Cuban-American from Miami, Florida. Hiram grew up in Florida with little exposure to what gay (adjective, noun, and in practice) were. He knew his feelings for men set him apart, but he did not have the context to frame it in. Only during a 1970 trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras did he see the manifestation of what he felt. Men were holding hands and dancing! It is real; yes, it is real. You can act on your feelings!
In mid-1970, during a trip to Los Angeles to visit his grandfather, Hiram attended a Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front meeting. This pivotal event furthered his understanding of acting gay. When he returned to Florida State University, where he was a freshman, he helped co-found the Florida State University (Tallahassee) Gay Liberation Front.
You may now know Florida as a state on an aggressive hunt against threats to heteronormative ideologies. It was even worse then, and force after force worked against the fledgling GLF group. They persevered, and similar to his experience visiting the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front meeting, other future Gay Liberation Fronters who visited his group went on to start Gay Liberation Fronts all around the South.
While his time in the Gay Liberation Front was fleeting, he continued a career dedicated to helping the disenfranchised. After graduate school, he moved to London, where he worked as a social worker. After eight years in London, he spent the rest of his career working directly with refugees and working in refugee policy in Africa, Washington, D.C., and Florida.
Toward the end of our interview, reflecting on his time after the Gay Liberation Front, he chose his words carefully and delicately. During a Stonewall 50th Anniversary gathering in New York, he expressed regret for not staying in the gay liberation movement. We say, do not regret, Hiram. We bow in your honor and thank you for your timeless contribution as we continue to march forward to combat hetero-domination in Florida and beyond.
—August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project
“I grew up in Miami. I realized I was gay at 12 years old, but I had no context for it whatsoever. When I started at community college, there was a TV documentary about homosexual myths. It was all shaded black, and they showed a beach that homosexuals frequented. I finally found the place, but I didn't dare to go. In my first year of college, I took a sociology course with a professor who would talk a little bit about gay issues and gay bars.
When I was 19, I developed a political perspective and consciousness. I met people from college who seemed like they lived in a different world from what I had experienced, and I started being exposed to racial politics. I joined an encounter group, which was like group therapy for students. That began my coming out, and I started coming to terms with a lot of things about myself and understanding that I was gay and what that meant.
I wound up telling my two best friends that I was gay. One of them reacted negatively, and one positively. The negative one was a spur because It made me so angry. At this point, I felt that being gay was not a bad, negative thing. I just couldn’t grasp that I would be rejected for it.
Then, when I went to Florida State University, I met a friend I had known in school in Miami who was gay, and we started sort of hanging out together. I met another friend who turned out to be gay. I didn't realize it until I met him at a gay party. Before that party, it had never even occurred to me that two guys could dance together. In February of 1970, when I turned 20, I went to Mardi Gras. I went to my first gay bars in New Orleans. That trip was shocking; it forever changed my life. I saw men holding hands on the street and kissing, and I was like, wow, this is how it should be. Why wasn’t it? My consciousness about gay issues started to evolve.
Shortly after that, I visited my grandfather in Los Angeles during spring break. I don't remember how, but I heard about a meeting of the Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles and went to that. It just blew me away. The energy and excitement was indescribable.
I had some gay friends back in Tallahassee, and I knew that we needed to start a Gay Liberation Front right here, right now. A few of us went around campus and posted little notices about our first Gay Liberation Front meeting. Many of the posters got torn down, but we put up more. We expected there would be five or six of us. Something like 30 people showed up in my tiny apartment. That summer I went to New York City and met the Gay Liberation Front there. It was a real eye-opener. They were doing actions and protests that we could never pull off in our small, Southern town.
Wanting to be accepted and acknowledged, we demanded a place at the university. There was already the Black Liberation Front, and the Women's Liberation Front, both of which were very supportive of us. Why couldn’t there be a Gay Liberation Front? We wanted the right to meet on campus and be recognized by the student government and the university. That seemed like the road to belonging.
The student government was supportive and voted to recognize us. The student population was generally appalled, and the college faculty squashed us. They did not want to recognize us. We used to put ads in the university’s newspaper, and all of the local businesses that would buy adverts threatened to cease all advertising if the university continued. They did everything they could to stop us from having any place on campus.
I was in the college’s band but had to quit because I was an out homosexual, even though there were a lot of closeted gay people in the band. I started wearing buttons and acting very out. They completely ostracized me. The Gay Liberation Front went to one of the football games and sat behind the band. We held up a giant Gay Liberation Front banner behind them. All of the organizations on campus would have a bake sale at the student center to raise funds, and we had a table as the Gay Liberation Front. That got us in trouble as well. We did what we could to gain visibility and show that we are here, we’re gay, and you need to accept us. We weren't going anywhere then, and we aren't going anywhere now.”