GAY LIBERATION FRONT
On Saturday, September 9, 2023, I received an email from Llee Heflin. He wrote, “Well, if you are interested in ‘the lives and legacies of LGBTQ activists from the first wave of gay liberation,’ then you should be interested in hearing from me.” I had never heard of Llee before, but I was instantly intrigued. As it turns out, Llee was an early member of the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front, the pioneering activist group formed directly after the New York City Gay Liberation Front.
When I think of the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front, one of the first things that comes to mind is radical guerrilla theater. Not only did they accomplish resounding feats, like incorporating the first nonprofit LGBTQ center in America, but they also did brash takeovers like the horribly under-documented Biltmore Rebellion, which, besides being discussed on our site, is also captured in the 1970 documentary, Some of Your Best Friends Are. The Biltmore Rebellion occurred on October 17, 1970, when the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles hosted the Second Annual Behavioral Modification Conference. The Gay Liberation Front stormed the event and crashed Dr. M. Phillip Feldman’s presentation, which advocated electroshock therapy for the treatment of homosexuality. After they made their presence known, the Gay Liberation Front broke up the attendees into groups and forced group discussions on ethical psychological considerations. Dr. Feldman’s presentation was largely ineffective, and attendees left in disagreement.
Also, in 1970, there was “Stonewall Nation.” Albeit just for publicity purposes, Los Angeles Gay Liberation Fronters came together in an attempt to create a separatist community in Alpine County, California. They believed that due to the county's small population and election regulations, encouraging a modest number of gay individuals to relocate there could enable them to recall the existing county government and install an all-gay leadership. The press went bonkers, and the proposed takeover made waves.
To be frank, my interviews with untrained interviewees, those who seldom speak publicly and privately about their lives, are my favorite. They are not rehearsed, and the interviewees tell it like it is, in a matter-of-fact, ex-hippie way that leaves little room for refined storytelling. To me, Llee’s complete biography is what sets my thoughts on him apart.
At an early age, Lee immersed himself in the world of Crowleyan occultism and experienced a transformative encounter that set his life on an extraordinary trajectory. Awakened by a resolute outer voice (“as clear as speaking on the telephone”), he received a stark message: "You have been playing around with Magick long enough. It's time for you to start doing it." Filled with trepidation, Lee grappled with the reality of this supernatural dialogue, eventually affirming its authenticity. Guided by this voice, he embarked on a journey deep into the desert, leading to an otherworldly encounter with luminous spheres and celestial beings.
In the early 1970s, he became a prominent figure in Crowleyan literature and garnered recognition through his association with LEVEL PRESS, an early 1970s publishing house specializing in esoteric works. In 1973, he published The Island Dialogues, an exploration of Tantric Living/Loving, which he attributed to the collective energy of celestial consciousness. In the book's intro blurb, he wrote, "For you, both past and future, I offer this book, hoping you'll find it worth our Loving.”
1973 was a big year for Llee. The voice returned and said, "If you do not leave the USA immediately, you will surely die." Within three weeks, he was in Ibiza. The timing aligns with AIDS in the United States. Llee continued to travel Europe and made a few spiritual quests to India. In respect to Llee’s stance of not living in the past, we will pause his biography here. As he said in our interview, “I have solved the mind-brain problem. I have solved the problem of time. Science thinks they have, but that’s bullshit. I have proof. I have a very full day-to-day life.”
Today, Llee is a prep cook in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, an enclave celebrated for its LGBTQ+ inclusivity and sense of community in conservative "Trump country." This town exemplifies America's evolving social landscape, with a growing white, middle-class gay demographic that reflects the status quo. The town is increasingly catering to tourists, hosting events like a Corvette Festival, which dilutes its potential to expand on an isolated and unique example of an environment in which to develop gay consciousness further.
—August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project
“My gay history doesn’t start with Stonewall. I have a gay history from 1939 to 1957. I entered the University of Colorado Boulder in 1957 and discovered a gay world I had no idea existed. Like most gay people my age, I grew up from birth to late teens with absolutely no help or support whatsoever. We had to figure it all out on our own. There was no ground from the previous 100 years for us to stand on. We had to figure it out on our own.
After college, I traveled and eventually settled in San Francisco around 1966. Words to describe it: broke, hardcore, LSD, cocaine, drugs, hippie. From there, I moved to Los Angeles. I was the first gay dude to introduce LSD into the gay community there. I would go to the bars on a Friday night, take orders, return on Saturday, and deliver.
I worked at the UCLA library. It came to a point where I had to decide to either stop taking LSD or continue to work at the library. I was not going to stop taking LSD. Libraries are refuges for the misfits, and I met several people who would later serve a larger role in my life. The gay scene in Los Angeles exploded on acid. We were on the cutting edge.
In 1969, Stonewall happened. I heard about it because it was in the fucking news. With horror—these faggots were on top of this building, throwing shit at the police. We were like, 'Fuck yeah, man,' and just like that, the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front came into being. We were just queers drinking at bars who got inspired.
It was the beginning. We were on top of our game. The core group was all of these acid freaks. We were diverse. We needed diversity. For example, Don Kilhefner wasn't an acid freak. He brought organizational skills and was more corporate. He went on to co-found The LA LGBT Center. I can’t think of anything more boring, but if there was going to be a movement, that was needed. We all had our strengths.
Early on in our formation, there was a big anti-Vietnam War march in San Francisco. There were thousands of people there. It was exciting. When the actual rally happened at the end of the march, The LA GLF was the only group whose speaker was not permitted on the platform. ‘No, no, no, we're not having any fag cocksucker.’ So, Morris Kight was denied the opportunity. This made us even more determined. We were fighting the fight.
At that time, you would go to bars, but there was no dancing and no touching. One of our first operations was to break back that shit up. We organized a Saturday night at The Filling Station, a major bar in Los Angeles. There were 50 of us, and we all started hugging and touching each other. It was like, what the fuck are you going to do? Call the police? It shut them up, and so we liberated ourselves. From then on, there were no more no-touching rules.
Probably the biggest operation that we conducted was when we announced that we were going to take over Alpine County in Northern California. A bunch of us were at the house of some hardcore, political Gay Liberation Front members, and they had all these charts and maps about California and politics. Out of the blue, one of them said, 'There is this county in Northern California that only has 367 registered voters. All we would have to do is get 368 of our people up there, and we could take over.' The group just exploded.
I really thought about it more and more that night, and I finally said, 'Look: Practically speaking, I don't think this would work. But as a propaganda issue, if we announced that we're going to do it, it would throw this country wide open.' Well, that's all it took.
For the next ten days, we worked hard on our plan. Finally, one of us called the Los Angeles Times anonymously and said, 'This queer group is up to something. We’re not sure what, but you need to find out what is going on.' A few days after that, we called the Los Angeles Times and said, 'We are going to hold a press conference tomorrow at our office and announce a big operation.' At the press conference, we announced that we were planning this takeover of Alpine County, and it did exactly what we had hoped it would do. It exploded around the Western world. I made sure I dressed up, and a photo of me ended up in the paper. We caused quite an uproar! Evangelist Jerry Falwell said, ‘I'm going to organize, and we'll block them from coming.' I had friends in London calling asking, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Your picture’s in the London Times.’
The downside was a lot of gay people around the country took it seriously. People would call us and tell us that they were ready to move in. We had to say, look, it's a publicity stunt. That didn't go over that well, but it accomplished what we wanted it to accomplish. We made a splash and proved our mission: we're queer, we're here, get the fuck over it.”