THE GAY LIBERATION FRONT
I did not know who John Lauritsen was until he crashed a 50th-anniversary panel featuring members of the Gay Liberation Front in 2019. After the panel finished speaking and the floor opened up for audience questions, John stood up, slightly wobbled and hunched, and said, “I would like to say something. I am one of the oldest members of the Gay Liberation Front, and I would like to speak.” From an audience perspective, it was a right-on-man kind of moment. Out of nowhere, one of the youngest members of the Gay Liberation Front left his seat on the panel and started shoving John, saying, “John, no, no! Get out!” I have to admit, I yelled, “Let him speak!” The younger member won, and John sat down. This interaction was fleeting for most people, but it stuck with me. After the floor cleared, I walked up to John and introduced myself. He was visiting from Boston. We chatted, he gave me a copy of his “Queer Manifesto,” and I walked him to his subway stop. John and I ended up spending several hours together over the next couple of days. He was an interesting man, to say the least. He was really, really, really far out there—a typical case of an early pioneering figure who just went way too far out too fast, tarnished their legacy, and opened up a lot of people to hate and harm. We corresponded frequently via email, and I only found out recently that he had died over a year ago. —August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project
John Lauritsen (dec. 2022) was a well-known figure in the LGBTQ community, celebrated and not so much for his activism, writing, and controversial views on the AIDS epidemic. He was an early member of the Gay Liberation Front, the pioneering gay activist group founded in the aftermath of the June 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. In 1974, he co-wrote The Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935), a first-of-its-kind summation of a previously unknown and nearly forgotten history. He went on to extensively write about issues related to homosexuality, including same-sex relationships, the history of homosexuality, and the medical establishment's response to the AIDS epidemic. Lauritsen's beliefs regarding AIDS have often been deemed contentious, as he has been labeled an "AIDS denier." He argued that HIV does not cause AIDS and that the medical establishment's response to the epidemic is based on flawed science and is an attempt to control the sexual behavior of gay men. Despite facing criticism and censure from many in the scientific and LGBTQ communities, Lauritsen remained a significant figure for those who challenge the prevailing narrative of AIDS and seek to promote alternative viewpoints on the subject. The LGBTQ History Project believes it is important to remember that people like John’s contributions to advancing civil rights should not be discounted, even if their later views are not universally accepted or supported. Their activism and advocacy has played an essential role in shaping the current state of LGBTQ rights and culture. “I lived in Boston and went to school at Harvard. Boston was one of the hottest cities in the world. There were quite a few gay bars that were very, very, very intense and cruisy. I had sort of a hard time because I was only partly out. I took a leave of absence and ended up graduating in 1963. Then I moved to New York City because a roommate I had in college, who graduated a year ahead of me, had already moved there. He was gay and had enough room for both of us in his apartment. Before then, I was acquainted with the homophile movement. I had read several publications like One magazine. Prescott Townsend started the Boston Mattachine group, and I attended some of their meetings. I can remember one very clearly. It was at the Parker House Hotel in Boston, and a teacher at one of the local prep schools gave a talk on Walt Whitman. It was wonderful. He made it absolutely clear that Whitman, in no uncertain terms, did have sex with the young men that he was attracted to. I started in the anti-war movement and later joined the Socialist Workers' Party. I now regard it as a mistake, but on the other hand, I learned a lot—practical skills. Everything was very different then. This was the heart of the anti-war movement, and many people believed we really could change the environment. There's none of that now. All of the energy that would have gone into—back then, there were many different socialist groups with all types of tendencies. Now it's just what’s called the resistance—you know, attacking Trump. Some of it is for the right reasons, some for the wrong reasons. There’s no concept of really what socialism would and could be. I had a problem with drinking, which started when I was at Harvard, and it only got worse. In 1968, I hit a bottom. I was able to stop drinking and entered Alcoholics Anonymous. I wasn't drunk all the time by any means, but it made things hard. I was also working in a very demanding job in market research. In June of 1969, Stonewall happened. I lived about half a mile away on St. Mark's Place. My lover and I went over after the first night. The police wouldn't let us or anybody enter certain parts of Christopher Street. I saw a few people burning trash barrels and that type of thing. It was important, and I joined the Gay Liberation Front from practically its very first meeting. It was very clear that many of the early Gay Liberation Front people, the real people, came from the anti-war movement and other groups, as I did. In those days, we would organize a demonstration, and we'd be lucky if we got a dozen people standing on a street corner. Then, eventually, in New York, we got 100,000 people in Central Park. In 1973, I joined the Gay Activist Alliance. I have really done a lot and was heavily involved in the movement. I believe that both political struggle and scholarship are necessary.
I am not asked on panels about the Gay Liberation Front, like the one where I met you. I feel isolated and ostracized. There are a number of reasons. The most important reason probably is that I’m an AIDS dissident. I've taken tremendous abuse, as have an awful lot of people I know. It's not just me, it's thousands of people, but I know at least several dozen, and I've worked with them. They've all taken hard knocks. Another thing is that I am basically focused on males, and I have criticized certain aspects of feminism and transgenderism. That has antagonized at least a number of the women. In the gay movement, not talking about the current gay movement, but back then, you simply didn't dare to criticize the prevailing AIDS paradigm. I don't know why that was or what the psychological or political reasons for it were. Behind the scenes, there's so much money involved that, of course, whatever you would call it, the medical complex, industrial complex, AIDS complex, can do what it needs to do. What else could I say?"