CHICAGO GAY LIBERATION
In our quest to maximize the voices of OGLs (Original Gay Liberationists) who were active outside of New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, we are bringing you Murray Edelman, a Chicago-based activist who started our interview by saying, “I try to find situations where I have people that would be interested, and I try to make it really interesting.”
In 1965, when he was 21 years old, Murray had his first brush with the law. He was thrown into the back of a police wagon after a party that was raided because men were dancing with each other. During the societal upheavals of the 1960s, Murray placed advertisements in The University of Chicago's Independent Student Newspaper, The Maroon, advocating for a "Student Homophile League.” Simultaneously, Henry Wiemhoff placed an ad in a local underground paper seeking a gay roommate in October 1969. Murray was the only applicant, and he and Henry became roommates.
A then student at the University of Chicago, Murray, alongside compatriots Michal Brody and Henry Wiemhoff, co-founded Chicago Gay Liberation in Hyde Park in 1969. The group participated in numerous actions, such as picketing a screening of The Boys in the Band because of how it portrayed homosexuals and appearing on Studs Terkel's radio show to discuss homosexuality. The organization actively protested against misinformation found in David Reuben's book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask, going as far as finding as many copies of the book as possible in bookstores and affixing stickers to the title page that read "and vicious homophobic lies." Notably, on February 14, 1971, Murray zapped Reuben’s TV interview on Howard Miller’s Chicago.
Beyond their protests, Chicago Gay Liberation was pivotal in creating spaces for gay men and women to connect. This included organizing dances where individuals of the same sex could freely dance together. Among the memorable initiatives was the weekly coffeehouse held in the Blue Gargoyle at 5638 South Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago.
The trajectory of Chicago Gay Liberation mirrored that of the Gay Liberation Front in New York, leading to a splintering in 1970 and the subsequent formation of the Gay Alliance. Distinguished by greater diversity, Chicago Gay Liberation stood in contrast to the more white and conservative Gay Alliance, which sought stability through a community center and a more single-issue stance. Murray played an active role in both entities.
Relocating to San Francisco in 1973, Murray co-founded the first modern-day "Faerie Circle" with Arthur Evans. Murray spearheaded groundbreaking intimacy and sexuality weekends for gay men, including a workshop called "A Different Kind of Night at the Baths.” In 1979, Murray received an invitation from Harry Hay and Don Kilhefner to present his work at the inaugural Radical Faerie conference. The Radical Faeries has since evolved into a global network and countercultural movement, endeavoring to redefine queer consciousness through secular spirituality.
— August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project
“On June 27, 1970, Chicago Gay Liberation had its own Christopher Street Liberation Day March with 200 people who risked everything by marching. The riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the Vice Squad were still very much in people's minds. There were photographers all around. We didn't know what was going on and who to trust. For many people, this was their first demonstration. After our march, there was only one line about it in the Chicago Tribune. The press buried the story. They said it happened, we were there, and that was it. This was a common occurrence throughout Chicago Gay Liberation’s history.
In February of the following year, Chicago Gay Liberation learned that David Reuben, who had written Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask, was going to be in town for a TV interview on Howard Miller’s Chicago on February 14, 1971. The book painted homosexuals as horrendous and awful. We were angry. We decided we had to go. We would finally have our chance to call out David Reuben and ask him a question about homosexuality.
Before the interview started, we were told that Reuben was not going to take any questions about homosexuality. We asked them why, and they said it was because there has been a lot of media sensation around it, and the book is much more than that one chapter. They just didn’t want to deal with it.
We felt defeated, but shortly after that, they told us they would take short breaks. During one of the breaks, we went by the bathroom and talked as a group. I said, if they do not do it, why don't we all get up together? We'll just walk over and make our point in front of the audience. If they don't tape it, they don't tape it, but at least he’ll know, and people in the audience will know.
I looked around, and everybody agreed with me. At my sign, we would all get up, go toward David Reuben, and talk to him. When I decided it was time, I stood up and gave the sign. I noticed that only one other person stood up. It was the African American in Gay Liberation. Everyone from Gay Alliance stayed seated. Immediately, the ushers, who were fairly big, came after me and grabbed me. They were going to throw me out, but I got loose. I started running around the studio, shouting at Reuben and screaming about his lies until they got hold of me and threw me out of the studio. It was a typical cold February day outside the studio.
I was pissed off that I was abandoned. When everyone came outside, I asked them why they didn’t at least leave with me. They said we didn't think what you did was a good idea. We wanted to stay and see it through. I said you could have told me that when I asked you. They were all afraid.
I wasn’t done with this action, so I decided to call The Chicago Daily News the next day to see if they would write a sensational story. People would at least know something if they put a sentence or two in the paper. It turned out that I did not need to. When I bought a copy of the paper the next day, I was already on the front page. There were two TV frames of me charging up there. The article discussed how I had threatened David Reuben and how Howard Miller had protected him. They also mentioned gay rights! We made the paper!
The next thing I knew, I got calls from people saying, 'Turn on Channel Seven.' They were promoting their show the next night, and the promo, which ran every hour, featured me running around and shouting. Then they had the actual show. We finally got the masses' attention. Media coverage was not just a personal goal; it proved we existed."