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Everyone in this oral history was a member of the New York Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the pioneering gay activist group founded in the aftermath of the June 28, 1969, Stonewall Rebellion. The formation of the group kickstarted a mass movement, and Gay Liberation Fronts popped up all over the world.

When we talk about the Gay Liberation Front, we need to emphasize the word “liberation.” Liberation is about complete freedom. This was the first time that gay people fought back: there were marches, police billy clubs, blood. Out of the closet into the streets. It’s important to keep in mind that during this time, homosexuality was regarded as psychopathological and was illegal in most places. Same-sex dancing was cause for arrest. There was no such thing as Pride Month.

Perry Brass is an accomplished poet, author, editor, and activist who was a member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the health center Callen-Lorde. As a pioneering voice in the LGBTQ+ movement, he co-edited the Gay Liberation Front’s magazine Come Out! and has written extensively on the struggles and triumphs of the community, including his own experiences. Perry continues to inspire and advocate for true liberation and equality through his work.

Flavia Rando is an art historian who teaches Lesbian, Women’s, and Queer Studies. A longtime lesbian activist, she joined the Gay Liberation Front shortly after the group’s formation. She is deeply involved with The Lesbian Herstory Archives, an archive, community center, and museum dedicated to preserving lesbian history. The archive contain the world's largest collection of materials by and about lesbians. In 2019, she was happy to accept the OUT d’Or Award in Paris for the Gay Liberation Front. The OUT d’Or Award will become part of the Archives’ permanent collection. In 2011, Flavia inaugurated the Lesbian Studies Institute at the Archives, where she taught for nine years.

Michela Griffo is an artist, feminist, and activist crucial to several groundbreaking movements. As an early member of the National Organization for Women, the Gay Liberation Front, Radical Lesbians, and the Redstockings, she was a prominent figure in the fight for women's rights and LGBTQ+ liberation. Michela worked tirelessly to remove the mafia's control from gay bars, and her activism helped create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to her activism, Michela is an accomplished visual artist, using her talent to amplify the voices of marginalized communities.

August Bernadicou: Can you talk about how you joined GLF?

Perry Brass: First, I want to say I love talking about GLF. I was in GLF for almost three years, and they were the three most formative years of my life. I learned more in the Gay Liberation Front than I did getting a degree from NYU. I'd describe it as having a graduate course in politics, living, ethics, and so much more. I grew up in the South in the '50s and '60s in, as I like to describe it, four self-excluding groups. I grew up Southern, Jewish, gay, and poor. You can't get four groups that hate each other more than those four groups. I realized I was gay by the time I was about 12, and I had to hide it. I went through just hell being oppressed and bullied. When I was 11, my father died of cancer, throwing my family–my sister, mother, and me–into abject poverty. The worst aspect of my growing up was at the age of 15, like a lot of other gay teens, I tried to kill myself.

It was just a boiling point in my life of being persecuted at school and having problems with my mother at home. Emerging from that suicide attempt, I came up with a couple of epiphanous moments. One of them was that I realized what I was, but I had not come out, and I decided that I would be the person I was meant to be no matter what. The other thing was that if anyone stood in the way of me being the person I needed to be, I had no time for them.

The next year was my senior year in high school. I became one of my high school's most popular kids. I developed this total “fuck you” attitude and became extremely popular. It was wonderful. I'm not quite sure how I could go from that to joining the Gay Liberation Front, but I will say this: I came out very much. I graduated from high school at 16, and by the time I was 17, I was openly gay.

One of the great moments in my life was when I attended my first GLF meeting in November of 1969, less than two months after my 22nd birthday. Bob Kohler, the elder statesman of GLF, was 44. He was like the daddy to the street kids. At this first meeting, he got up in front of the group, which at that point was about a hundred people in a room in the church, and said, "Welcome, sisters and brothers." That's how we always spoke in GLF—sisters and brothers, women and men—because women are an oppressed class, and GLF was very into dealing with our own oppression. He said, "Welcome, sisters and brothers." I knew at that point that I had to be in GLF.

Michela Griffo: I had a roundabout way to the GLF. I was not gay as a young person. I didn't even know such a thing existed. I come from a violent, alcoholic home. I left home very young and came to New York. I was living with my fiance on Horatio Street when Stonewall happened.

Before that, though, in December of 1968, I was supposed to meet my fiance’s family—his Orthodox Jewish family. When we went out there for Hanukkah, I think it was, it became clear he had brought a shiksa into the house. That was the beginning of the end of our engagement.

I was a girl from a convent school. My introduction to radicalism came when I was 16 years old, and I went to Harlem with a friend of mine who had to get an illegal abortion. I was so horrified by what I saw that I came back into the city and joined the Redstockings. We were the first group that was going to change the abortion laws in New York.

I got used to being spat on and hit and arrested. By the time I joined GLF, I was like, "Oh, okay, I’ve been through this." Then, I joined the National Organization for Women later on. I used to go to the Redstockings meetings at the Washington Square Methodist Church. The group was a hotbed of radicals—the Panthers, the Young Lords, we all used to meet there. One day, a very attractive Swedish woman approached me and asked, "Would you like to go out for coffee?"

I thought she wanted to talk about the Redstockings. Long story short, she asked me if I wanted to go to Andy Warhol's party. I was a student then. Of course, I wanted to go to Andy Warhol's party. It was my introduction to a whole new way of life, including the fact that I had no idea for six months that I was dating this woman because the thought just never occurred to me until one night, she said, "Tonight you come and stay with me, yes?" I said, "Oh, yes, that would be fun." Then, she kissed me. From that moment on, I never even called myself bisexual.

Also, during that time, I was in a consciousness-raising group. The feminists had this consciousness-raising group, and in one meeting, I told them, "Now, I'm dating and in love with a woman." They were like, "Oh, you'll lose your apartment. You're going to be thrown out of your home." I'm like, "What in the world? I'm the same person I—"

Now, they're telling me that all Hell will break loose because I love a woman. This is unacceptable. That is what brought me to the Gay Liberation Front. The fact that what was happening in the women's movement—calling lesbians “Lavender Menace” and “Lavender Herrings”—was unacceptable.

I was the same person I was when I was living as a heterosexual, I am now a proud lesbian, and I'm not going to have anyone tell me that I'm going to lose my house, my job, and everything else. Much like Perry said, when I walked in, it was men in dresses and women in leather. It was like, "Wow, this is the future," which is great. That's my story.

August: Flavia, you grew up in Brooklyn. To most people, growing up in New York feels like you're the center of the world. Did you realize you were in an extremely diverse hub?

Flavia Rando: Oh, I knew that, but I didn't experience it in my life because I was first generation. I was the first generation of Sicilian immigrant parents. We referred to everyone who was not in our family-friendship group, who were all Sicilian immigrants, as the Americans. As is tradition in Sicily, I grew up in a very protective, enclosed household. I couldn't go back to school, for example, at 15 for an event, but that protected me against internalized homophobia, because when I fell in love with a woman, it was no problem. I just didn't know there was such a thing. It did protect me. Before that, I started going to the Village because I read Jack Kerouac and said, "Thank God, there are people like me in this world. Thank God."

I came out at 17, and my lover and I moved to the Lower East Side, an area now called the East Village. There, life was less than fun. We were stoned in the streets, harassed, and stopped in our tracks, and finally, our apartment was totally destroyed—taken off the hinges, and everything was in complete chaos. We moved to another apartment.

In 1962, I learned about the DOB, Daughters of Bilitis, after I was out for about one and a half, two years. I said, "I'm going to join! I want to work with people." Ironically, I went to a huge office building on Broadway and 9th Street, and the Daughters of Bilitis had a tiny room—maybe as big as the space we're in right now. The appointment was at night. The office building was closed down, and I went through the dark halls into their room.

They looked at me, and I looked at them. I don't know who was more scared. I was maybe 18 and a half and scared out of my wits. I'm not afraid of them, just scared. I didn't know that the first part of their rules was that everyone had to be over 21. They were terrified of being arrested for seducing a minor. There were two other lesbians there, not very old, probably around 30, and we spoke for an hour, but nobody had the nerve, the courage to say the word “lesbian.” That was my first experience with the movement, and I said, "There's got to be something better than this." I found a gay men's social club called the Corduroy Club. They were very accepting and very welcoming, but still not what I was looking for.

I had known Martha Shelley for a while, mostly from bars. I don't really remember how we met. I had gone up to see Stonewall, not to see Stonewall, but to see the streets and how they had changed after the Stonewall Rebellion. About a week later, in early July, I saw Martha Shelley on 14th Street. Martha says, "We're starting a new organization, the Gay Liberation Front. Do you want to join?" I said, "I have been waiting for this all my life," that's exactly how I felt. I was in GLF from early July 1969.

August: Well, Perry and Michela, do you want to talk about how you heard about Stonewall?

Perry: Oh, that's easy. I'm one of the very few people of my generation who will admit I was not at Stonewall. I was around the corner at Julius', which some of you may not know is another bar in the West Village. Julius’ is one of the oldest bars in New York City. By Stonewall's time, it had become an openly gay bar. When I first came to New York, it was a sporting bar, and there was a certain amount of very furtive gay activity in the back but not in the front. Very quickly, within the space of about one year in 1967 or '68, it suddenly became gay and also very, very mafia-controlled. I was in Julius’ the first, actual night of Stonewall, and some people came in, some guys came in, and said, "The girls are rioting at Stonewall."

I thought, "Well, what else is new? What else would you do at Stonewall?"

I used to go there myself to dance, and there were a lot of what we used to call street queens at Stonewall, and they could become very rambunctious. I didn't realize that they were rioting or things were happening there. The next day, I was back at Julius' and decided to go out and see what was happening. I went out the second day and saw what was going on.

It was just amazing. That whole area around Stonewall became like this theater of activism and rebellion, certainly of a historical nature. The cops had put up riot lights. There was huge lighting. It was very, very theatrical. There was glass in the streets. There were some cars with windshields smashed, and there were probably about 400 or 500 people out there in front of the Stonewall, and you just knew that something amazing had happened.

The rest of the summer, things were really going on, and you could feel that the West Village community was changing fast. Stonewall gave many people permission to be what they needed to be and do what they needed to do. There are all these ideas about who did what at Stonewall, et cetera, but the reality was we were really ready for it to happen.

Michela: Well, I wasn't at Stonewall either. I don't think any lesbian was other than Marilyn, crazy Marilyn Fowler, who started the whole riot thing, but anyway... I want to just talk quickly about something about the personality of a lot of the people who came to the Gay Liberation Front. I was always very involved in radical activism. We all were before Stonewall even occurred. Many of the people in the GLF were from the Students for Democratic Society. As an undergrad, I attended the University of Michigan, where SDS was founded. Many of us also came from the civil rights and anti-war movements.

I was so proud of the gays when they finally said, "No more. We've had enough." I also met Martha Shelley and many of the women who would be in the GLF because I was a student at Pratt, and there was an underground newspaper called The Rat. It was a radical underground newspaper based out of the Lower East Side. This was before I even joined the women's movement. It was organizing the Redstockings. They needed somebody to do paste-up and mechanicals, which is how newspapers were put together at that time.

I was very exposed to radical life, radical people, men, and women at an early age. By the time I got to the Gay Liberation Front and realized that I was one of them, I was more than ready to put my life on the line. I was watching something the other day about Martin Luther King. One of the things he said is if you want to change the world, you have to be willing to put your life on the line. All of us were willing to put our lives on the line.

Perry: I just wanted to say something about that term “radical.” GLF was a radical organization. We wanted a total change in the American government. Most of the members of the group were either socialist or communist. I was actually an exception. I had no radical background. I was almost apolitical before I joined GLF, but the idea of radicalism in GLF took a different turn. To us, radicalism meant going to the very root of the situation, which is where the word radical comes from—it’s where the word radius comes from because you go to the center and go out from there. The word radish: a radish is a root. We wanted to look at the roots of our oppression and what we can do to change this. This idea of looking at the root of our oppression and the root situation became part of the GLF mindset.

Flavia: In the very first issue of the GLF newspaper, Come Out, the first line of the editorial was, "We are going to change the world by changing our own consciousness." Now, what can be more at the root of anything than that?

Perry: Totally.

Flavia: To backtrack a little. I didn't mean to imply I wasn't at Stonewall. The day after I read about it in The New York Times, I took a pilgrimage from the depths of the Lower East Side to the site of Stonewall. "Those people bothering the rest of us again" was basically the tone of it. I smelled the smoke. Trash cans were still on fire. There was litter everywhere, and I thought, "Finally. Finally." Before Stonewall, living as a young person without a community had been very difficult. I really did not trust straight people, and I refused to ally with them. I had experienced betrayal. I had been betrayed so many times by the one straight person here or there I tried to engage with, including a therapist who tried to get me incarcerated when I told him I was a lesbian. Really, it was a world that was unbelievable, really unbelievable. It was hard to get down the street, and it was hard to go anywhere to find any allies, help, or anything.

Michela: I just want to add one thing. You see the way I'm dressed? In 1969, I would be arrested for the way I dressed because I was not wearing three pieces of feminine clothing. That's how dangerous it was to be a lesbian in 1969 and '70.

Flavia: The first time my partner and I tried to go to Sea Colony, a famous women's bar, in '69, '68, '67, I really don't remember, the bouncer at the door said, "You girls can't come in, because we were raided yesterday, and you don't have skirts on." Boy, did he enjoy saying that as he looked us up and down? That was one of my first experiences at a lesbian bar.

August: That really paints the scene. Let's talk about some of the early actions. I think it’s important to talk about these events and stories because so many of them would be lost.

August: Perry, you told me about Gay Mayday, which I had not heard of before.

Perry: One of the things we did in GLF was what we called actions. We would plan the actions at the Sunday night meetings. One of the situations about the Gay Liberation Front was that people who went to the Sunday night meetings often thought, "Oh my God, these people are crazy." We were confrontational and contentious. Because we are a radical group and radical groups are contentious, there was a certain amount of contention going on. We did a number of these actions while I was in GLF. I was involved in at least a dozen over those three years.

When I say actions, I mean these were really confrontational, difficult situations where, as we said, we were putting our bodies and our lives on the line. I was a scary fairy. That's all I can say. Sometimes, these things really did unnerve me. I respected and loved my brothers and sisters, who were much more confrontational than myself. In the spring of 1971, the Vietnam Moratorium Committee put together a huge convocation in Washington, D.C., to shut down Washington.

Anti-war groups from all over America descended on Washington for three days to shut down the government. The person who was organizing this was a man named Rennie Davis. I don't know if any of you remember Rennie Davis, but he was the head of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee, and he was one of the chief anti-war activists. People were sure that Rennie Davis was gay. He was not out of the closet, but I'm pretty sure Rennie decided that there should be a component of the Mayday demonstrations that was going to be Gay Mayday. Every GLF in the country sent people–mostly men–to Washington to be a part of Gay Mayday. There were people, of course, from the New York GLF; the Washington GLF; the Atlanta GLF; San Francisco and Los Angeles GLFs; the Ann Arbor, Michigan, GLF; and the Lawrence, Kansas, GLF. At this point, about 150 of us were involved in Gay May Day.

This was what I call the first true gathering of the gay tribe, that you had people from all over the country who were radical queers descending on Washington to shut down the government. I arrived on a Friday; we had a full day on Saturday. The shit went down on Monday because that was the regular working day. We aimed to shut down an important bridge between downtown Washington and the suburbs. My brothers and I—and I say brothers because most of them were brothers—the sisters were mainly in another place.

Anyway, we held that bridge for an hour before the cops came. It was pretty horrifying. I'm very shattered even talking about it. The cops came with nightsticks and tear gas. I managed to escape, but several of my New York GLF brothers were arrested and put in jail, and they had to basically buy their way out.

It was really hard, especially in those days. You couldn't just give them a credit card. You had to come up with cash in order to get the fuck out of jail. To me, that was a significant event certainly for the gay liberation movement. The idea that we could be involved with the rest of what we call the movement, which is the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, we could exert that kind of effort and strength. That was wonderful to me.

August: I'm going to hand this to you.

Michela: One of the things that Flavia and I have in common is we're both first-generation Americans. My family came from northern Italy, but my grandmother was Sicilian. The GLF women decided that we had had enough of these lesbian bars where these mafiosos stood in the doorway, and the drinks were very expensive. A woman named Kooky [pronounced “Cookie”] ran this bar on 14th Street, and she'd come along, and the whole thing was like, "Push the drinks. Push the drinks." You wouldn't have even finished your drink, and she'd put her finger in your drink and say, "Oh, it's warm. You need another one." It was so oppressive.

They were all oppressive, the Sea Colony, Koooky’s, all of them. When the Gay Liberation Front decided this would be one of our actions, it was decided that because Flavia and I were Italian, we would stand outside these bars with leaflets and hand them out as the girls went in. Unfortunately, some of the girls didn't think and they brought the leaflet into the bar. There's one place where we were handing out leaflets, Kooky’s, and these big mafiosos came out. They started running down, yelling at us, and I said, "Non toccarmi, Io sono sangue,” which in Sicilian means don’t touch me, I'm blood. This is real Sicilian—I'm serious.

We kept picketing. There's a famous picture of all of the lesbians in front of Kooky’s. The Gay Liberation Front women started having all these dances to get women out of the bars and into a safe space. Those bars were the mafia's cash cow. Gay men had the trucks, the parks, the streets, and they could meet guys anywhere—lesbians, we weren't on the prowl in Central Park. We decided we had had it. We had these great dances, and these dances were very successful.

One night, we're at one of the GLF dances at Alternate U, which is right down the street from Kooky’s—the bars were starting to be emptied out because the women all found out how much fun the dance were. There was this long stairway to get up to the second floor, where we were having our dance. I was standing there, and all of a sudden, the door opened, and I saw the guns—they were the first thing I noticed.

We used to charge $3 for the dances. I slammed the money box shut and handed it to Donna Gottschalk. Another one of our members said, "Put it in the garbage bag," and Donna ran down the back stairs as fast as she could go.

They came up to me, and I said, "Can I help you, gentlemen?" They were like, "We want the money." I said, "Well, we don't charge anything. These dances are free." I said, "You're welcome to stay and dance if you want." They were getting really angry, so they put the gun right up to the side of my head and said, "If you don't stop this, we're going to kill you."

I said, "Well then, you may as well shoot me right here in front of everyone because we're not going to stop." They made the mistake of going over to Martha Shelley. She looked like a little angel with blue round glasses. They shout at her, "Do you know who we are?" Martha goes, "No, and I don't care. Do you know who we are? We're the Gay Liberation Front, and we're going to put you out of business." We did. This was before the first Gay Pride march. The police wouldn't protect us, and the mafia wanted us dead.

August: Speaking of that, Flavia, did you ever get any threats? Your house was destroyed, and you were stoned on the streets. Do you remember any threats? People threatening you or the Gay Liberation Front?

Flavia: Well, this was prior to the Gay Liberation Front. I had moved away from that apartment. Threats, that's such an abstraction, a threat. When you have the person in front of you and you could, as Michela said, spit on them instead, that's real. These people were not really about threats. Regarding the housebreaking, I think people thought we didn't quite fit in; maybe we had money. I really don't know what is possible. Also, two unprotected young women in New York City in 1969 was practically an invitation. For what? It's like Kitty Genovese.

Perry: Exactly. I was thinking exactly of her.

Flavia: Exactly. You have no right to your own life alone without a man protecting you, your father, or your husband. Kitty was a lesbian, I think moderately closeted, and she was murdered in front of her building, screaming for help. It was a huge apartment building, and nobody even called the cops.

Perry: It was in Kew Gardens in New York, and it went on and on. This man was stabbing her, she was screaming, and no one came to her.

Michela: Everybody heard it, but nobody helped.

Perry: No one came. It marked a moment in New York. It became an international case.

Flavia: It's true, but I'm going to talk about something a little different, the other kind of action that GLF did. We didn't just talk about changing our consciousness. We worked really hard to change it because we really had to have the support of our sisters and brothers, and it had to go deep. Otherwise, you could just practically fall over the minute you walked out the door. We had a night, a weekend where we were going to just talk to people at random that we had never spoken to in GLF; we were going to spend as long as we wanted speaking to people.

I remember speaking to a young person, even younger than I was at that time, and I'm sure he lived on the streets, and we talked. There was a little park in the public housing right across the street from the church. We sat there and talked until it was so dark that we could no longer see each other's faces. That was one of the most profound experiences I had in GLF. I can't say I got to know him, but we connected and talked about our lives and how much we had in common. I began to realize how the world we were living in, the government we were living under, tried to separate people because we had different gender, different race, different ethnicity.

I was housed, and he wasn't. I was in my mid-20s by then, he was in his mid-teens, and we were able to talk to each other and see how we had been separated. Separate and rule, divide and conquer. The way we had been separated served no one. That was one of the most important elements of GLF. Anyone who walked in the door was a member for that night. Anyone who had something to say, well, maybe not everyone, but anyone had the possibility of speaking. Everybody wanted to speak, so not everyone got the chance to, but those exchanges really made a difference and had a profound impact.

Perry: I'd like to talk about that. We use this word now, intersectionality, a lot. The idea of bringing people together from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different classes—GLF was really into that. We didn't have that word, but we were really into that. The other thing we were so into, which I feel was part of the gay liberation mindset, was the idea that gay sexuality, romanticism, and feelings were paramount.

Michela: I met Sylvia Rivera when I was working with the Young Lords, which was, again, intersectionality. Before I even joined the Gay Liberation Front, I used to work with the Young Lords with their breakfast programs on the Lower East Side. This was my introduction again to the radical Puerto Ricans at the time. It was just something that I found very interesting.

The other thing is, I would always say when I was in the Gay Liberation Front that you can make all the laws you want, but it's people needing people that will change people's minds about what a gay person is. I feel like when we were out in the streets, proud and loud and having these actions and going up against everything from all of these organizations, Time magazine, all the Washington, DC, talking in front of the Senate, they got to see what a gay person in 1970 and beyond actually looked and lived like.

August: We brought up interacting with others. When you'd meet others of your generation, your peer group, who weren't members of the Gay Liberation Front, what did they think about what you were doing?

Perry: What I think is really interesting about this, and it's a great question, is that if you were in GLF, everyone was your family. GLF was like, this was the family I wanted. This is the extended family we all wanted. Interestingly enough, and this is kind of a wonderful aside, people from the outside had this idea that everybody in GLF must be having sex with everybody else in GLF.

That really didn't go on that much because you also had incest taboo, like, "Oh my God, he’s my brother. I'm not going to do this yet." When you met people who were not in GLF, they were outside of the family. Very often for myself and many of my brothers—I can't speak for women—that was a GLF rule. You don't speak for other people. You speak for yourself in your own group. We felt strongly about that.

At this point in my life, it was like going to a foreign country. We could barely understand their lives. GLF was such a part of my mindset, the mindset of so many of my brothers. We had changed our consciousness so much that it was difficult. I remember one of my wonderful GLF brothers, Larry Kovacs, started to date a non-GLF guy. I said, "What is that like?" He said, "Forget about consciousness. They have no consciousness."

Michela: Well, of course, I was in the women's movement where Betty Friedan called us the Lavender Menace. I became very aware of this when I was active in the GLF. The writer Susan Brown Miller was one of the people who got me into a consciousness-raising group. We were used to being called the Lavender Menace and all this other bullshit, so I accepted that women who were not in the GLF would not have a consciousness about much of anything. One day, the very first article about the women’s movement, written by Susan Brown Miller, appeared in The New York Times magazine section.

In it, she referred to us as a “lavender herring perhaps, but surely no clear and present danger.” I was so angry that the next time we had a dance, I made a T-shirt that said Lavender Herring. Everybody loved that T-shirt. Of course, that T-shirt led to the Lavender Menace action, where we invaded—we forced straight women to think about lesbianism. Unfortunately, I never dated anyone who wasn't political then, so I don't know.

Flavia: GLF was a profound experience for all of us. I would ask people, "Have you ever thought of coming to the Gay Liberation Front?"

"What's that?" they said, "Oh, we don't need that. We're fine right here."

Now, “right here” was a dance floor about six by six in the back of a bar. Where you could only do and say certain things. It was a long unpacking for the whole community, whatever aspect of the community you were involved in or how you identified yourself.

The amount of negativity that we had been bombarded with at such a young age, as Perry spoke about so movingly, and then you try on a one-to-one basis to keep trying to change that. I had the good fortune of traveling to Europe as a business agent for a theater group. In every city I went to—Berlin, Amsterdam, and London—I just had to breathe GLF. They said, "Come and speak to us." I was in a room with hundreds of people, and suddenly, I heard my name and said, "Yes." They wanted to hear about GLF. I was in progressive circles.

GLF was not only in this country—in New York and San Francisco—it extended out to other large cities and became an international movement.

Perry: For a while, the term GLF became almost generic for the gay movement. GLF started off fifty-fifty men and women, then a group split off from GLF and formed the male-dominated Gay Activist Alliance (GAA). When Gay Activist Alliance members were picketing and protesting, New York Mayor John Lindsay, who was both homophobic and progressive, looked at the group and said, “Will the gentlemen from the Gay Liberation Front please calm down?” One of them said, "We're not from GLF; we're from GAA." The term “Gay Liberation Front” had become the catchphrase for queer people who would no longer tolerate the oppression. That was a complete change in consciousness.

Michela: To Perry's point, one of the things I talk about is in August of 1970, we went to Philadelphia for the rewriting of the constitution. At that conference, Huey Newton, the head of the Black Panthers, stood up and gave a very important speech. In that speech, he called the Gay Liberation Front the most radical of all of the groups and said he never wanted to hear the word faggot or queer out of other people's mouths. The Black Panthers were going to work and respect the Gay Liberation Front because nobody was going to tell us what to do with our bodies.

Perry: It was a life-changing moment for the entire movement. When I say the “entire movement,” that was a term we used in those days to mean not simply the gay movement but also the peace movement, the civil rights movement, and the women's movement. This statement from Huey Newton was a life-changing moment.

Flavia: One of the things Huey Newton said in that speech was that gays and lesbians might be the most oppressed group in our society, which was an extraordinary thing for a Black Panther and a Black guy to say.

Perry: He did say that. Huey Newton said that gays and lesbians may be the most oppressed people in the world. He did say that, yes.

August: Talking about radicalism, I guess this is a two or three-part question, but there have been over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills submitted and passed in the nation this year. What can the movement do now? Is there a movement to reclaim the radical spirit of the GLF?

Flavia: That is a big question.

Perry: That is the question. That is a $69,000 question, let me tell you. Yes, the movement has got to do that: it's got to leave its cooperation, protectionism, and conformity and get back to where we were. A lot of that is going to have to come from people younger than we are, certainly people in their 20s and 30s and, maybe, teens. We have this idea that we're going to do all this online. I beg to differ with that, this has got to be a movement in the streets, in people's neighborhoods, and it's got to be a visible, lifetime commitment.

Flavia: I currently work with the Lesbian Herstory Archives. We're approaching our 50th anniversary. I work with them because we carry the beliefs that GLF exemplified, the radical beliefs of the '70s. The archive continues with those beliefs today. We teach from experienced people, experienced archivists, or, as we call ourselves, archivets. That's the word I was saying–archivets–to less experienced members. Our coordinator board has women from 85 to 18 and everybody has a say. We are intersectional in every possible way.

Some of our members have transitioned. We collect work by and about anybody who connects with the word lesbian. They certainly don't have to be famous. If you find some love letters from 40 years ago and you're going to dump them, no, give them to us at the archives. If you have a photo book that is some part of your life you no longer want to be reminded of, do not put it in the trash. Give it to us.

We document the lives of lesbians across the country and even across the world. We have connections with lesbian archives in South Africa, Australia, and India. We participated in a conference of Independent Radical Archives across the world in Madrid. I just got the book translated into Spanish and English, every essay. It just arrived. I'm so happy about it.

August: How did the Gay Liberation Front change your life?

Michela: The Gay Liberation Front has consistently been a part of my life. In the very early ‘80s, lesbians and gay men were not speaking to each other. When AIDS hit our community, we realized our brothers were dying, and that's what brought lesbians and gay men back together again.

I was so horrified by what was happening. Back then, AIDS primarily affected gay men and IV drug users. I watched my brothers just die. They were mistreated; at 45, I went to New York University and got a master's in social work. I have worked in this community as a social worker, but because of the Gay Liberation Front I work with, it's called Remote Area Medical. We go to the poorest parts of the country and give free dental and vision care.

Sometimes, I see 300 people a weekend and talk to them. I'm probably the only sober person they've ever met (I got sober in 1984). In many of these backwoods in Kentucky and Tennessee, I'm certainly the only gay person that a lot of them have met, and I sit and talk to transgender women. I got Remote Area Medical to actually include “transgender” as a category in these small towns, and that was a direct result of my work.

Now, as a lesbian in 2018, I want to tell you the story because I want you to know how I, as a lesbian, feel about what's going on politically in our community today. I went to see the movie Man Made, about four women who transitioned to men, and one became a bodybuilder. In 2018, I really didn't know a lot about transitioning and whatnot.

All four of the women who transitioned had partners before they transitioned. By the end of the film, only one of the four couples was still together, and the woman in that couple talked about how difficult this was. She said that when she came out as a lesbian, she lost all of her friends, and her family threw her out. And now that her partner was a male, she was no longer attracted to him because she wanted to be with a woman and a woman's body. At the Gay Film Festival, the audience of young women started booing this lesbian, and that's when I knew I no longer had a community of women. I always introduce myself as a generic lesbian. I said, “I come from a long line of women who built their homes, fixed their cars, and started organic farms and music festivals.” For 20 years, we have had the Women's Music Festival. None of this was considered masculine behavior before. I'm not binary fluid. I'm a strong and proud lesbian. I am having a little bit of a problem with what's going on now. I feel like our community is falling apart in one way, and I think these laws are all being heaped on the whole community as one when I don't agree with a lot of the radical ideas that women can have penises and men can give birth.

I feel disconnected from a community that I risked my life marching up Sixth Avenue for. I marched for the liberation of us all so that if a man wants to wear a dress, call yourself whatever, or if a woman wants to be super butch, fine, call yourself whatever. We had these types of people in the Gay Liberation Front. We have Sylvia Rivera. We had Marsha P. Johnson. We were all together as one people, and now I feel like, as a lesbian, I'm out there in the cold.

Flavia: Just to respond to this question about how the Gay Liberation Front changed my life. It is completely the touchstone of my life. I use it in my life when I think of what we would do in the Gay Liberation Front.

Perry: That radical lens.

Flavia: Yes, the radical lens.

August: What does everyone think about religion entering politics and their correlation with each other?

Flavia: Now, this is really not a matter of opinion. It's so horrendous. I remember talking to a friend one day, and I said something like, “Well, we changed the world. We made it. We're safe.” My friend said, "Really?" I think the lesson is that we have to keep struggling. Even if you're comfortable at the moment, where you are, and how you are, you still have to keep struggling. You have to work.

For example, I have been working at the Lesbian Herstory Archives for 15 years. Nobody gets paid at the archives. You have to keep working politically, even if it's making a few phone calls, because we cannot take our freedom for granted. It's just as simple as that. Every one of us could make a huge difference.

Michela: I would just like to say that we take who we are everywhere into the world. I worked in a corporation for 16 years. I never changed a pronoun. I never said, oh, he and I. It was always—I was just who I am. I take that with me when I go to the poorest parts of the country where these evangelicals live. I sit, and I talk with gay people in these small towns, especially the transgender women, and I ask them, for example, do you get proper medical care? Do you have a community? We have to keep putting ourselves out there. Nobody is going to do it for us.

I just have one last thing. I'm a painter. In my studio, I have a saying, and it's from Marsha P. Johnson, "Someday, the world is going to come, and they're going to try to divide us. When they divide us, they will conquer us." That time is happening now. She knew it was going to come. We stood up to Anita Bryant and all that bullshit. It was the biggest march we had. She thought everybody was going to hide in the closet. People came out of the closets in droves. She was the best thing that ever happened to the Gay Liberation Front.

Perry: This situation reminds me of a wonderful quote from Dick Gregory. He was asked what he thought about the white backlash. He said, "There's no such thing as the white backlash. There's just the white hate front lash." This is simply, again, a sexist front lash. It's always going to be there. I grew up in this world of religious bigots in the South—totally segregated, totally bigoted. What's happening now is simply a replay of my childhood and adolescence. I find it disgusting, but I realized this is an aspect of life, certainly in this country and a lot of other countries. It's certainly an aspect of life in places like Uganda and Kenya.

It's now happening in Turkey, a Muslim country, where Recep Erdoğan, who is Donald Trump's asshole buddy, he's sweeping through some of the ugliest anti-gay and anti-queer laws in the Western world because Turkey is now a part of NATO. You've got to do something about that. I want to be very much in solidarity with our Turkish sisters and brothers. I really do. They've got to have this feeling that they're not alone.

August: In a group as diverse as the GLF, where many things need to change, how do you arrive at some consensus of, “This is what we want to ask for; this needs to be the message for right now”?

Perry: The attitude of GLF, part of the GLF mindset, was that, what is now called our queer feelings, our love for each other, this was paramount. This was something to fight for–we would fight for this. We often did just amazingly crazy things and crazy actions. There was a horrible situation in August 1970, right after the first Liberation Day march. We found out that the cops were busting several hustler bars in Times Square.

As it realtes to the GLF, we were against male prostitution. We were against all forms of prostitution. We thought it was just capitalist exploitation. We had to side with our brothers, who were these oppressed hustlers, so we put on this amazing demonstration in Times Square. This is how you work towards this sense of unity.

Flavia: How do you reach a consensus? GLF didn't ever reach a real consensus among everyone in that room. We realized that people approach problems from different points of view, feel strongly about different issues, and want to work on them. We do have a set of manifestos and standpoints that were published by the Gay Flames, a group of gay men. They published a group of papers. Each one addresses in the most revolutionary sense how things can be changed or how this is a problem that has been misnamed and misdescribed. That's very important in reaching, not a consensus, but in reaching elements people want to work for. Whatever description you would give it, it's probably wrong.

It's not that you just take that little care part out, and then you go to work for it and do something else. It’s not important to have a correct description; what’s important is to act toward positive change, to help the world have a ladder of positive mindfulness.

Michela: There were a lot of things we didn't agree on. Some of those meetings were so contentious, but in the end, we were all solely behind whatever action we were going to take. It was the men and women we would get out there. What I am feeling now is I am a woman primarily; that is my number one thing, and women are still being oppressed all over this world.

Perry: More so.

Michela: Anyway, the problem I am having with the modern day, I don't even know if you want to call it a gay movement. Queer? I am not a queer. I was queer when it meant something. I was queer when there was a cop about to hit you over the head with a billy club so hard you had a headache for three weeks, cuffed you till your wrists bled, and then threw you with the full force of his body into the back of the paddy wagon. That's what queer meant.

At no time, no matter how much I disagreed with any of the men or trans women, they weren't called trans women, but you know what I mean? No man ever said to me, "Suck my dick, you fucking turd cunt," which is what I hear consistently when women are out fighting for their rights in this country and in other countries. Lesbians are being driven out of the radical movements or the progressive movements.

I used to give money to various gay causes. Now, I give money only to lesbian causes or women's causes. I pay for medical care and/or transportation for women who can’t afford an abortion or can’t get to a clinic. This is where my money is going now.


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