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RICH WANDEL

NEW YORK CITY GAY ACTIVISTS ALLIANCE


Rich Wandel, Gay Activist Alliance, early gay activists, march on albany, sylvia rivera, gay liberation front, early gay actions, early gay groups, Fred Orlansky, Arthur Bell, Arthur Evans, Marty Robinson, Tom Doerr, Peter Marleau, Kay Tobin Lahusen, and Fred Cabellero
Hernan Figuero and Rich Wandel (right) by unknown, circa 1970.

Now, we have Rich Wandel, the second president of the New York City Gay Activists Alliance (1972). I learned about Rich from Perry Brass, who was in the New York City Gay Liberation Front. The Gay Activists Alliance was founded on December 21, 1969, almost six months after the Stonewall rebellion, by dissident members of the Gay Liberation Front. In contrast to the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance was solely dedicated to gay and lesbian rights. The group declared itself politically neutral and attempted to work within the political system.


The GAA was known for "zaps," public demonstrations designed to embarrass public figures and draw attention to LGBTQ+ rights issues. They targeted various figures and institutions, including Mayor John Lindsay, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the NYC Taxi Commission, the New York Marriage Bureau, and the New York Daily News. Although nominally non-violent, these actions sometimes led to physical altercations and vandalism.


—August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project


Rich Wandel, Gay Activist Alliance, early gay activists, march on albany, sylvia rivera, gay liberation front, early gay actions, early gay groups, Fred Orlansky, Arthur Bell, Arthur Evans, Marty Robinson, Tom Doerr, Peter Marleau, Kay Tobin Lahusen, and Fred Cabellero
Hernan Figueroa, Richard Wandel, and a cat by unknown, 1971.

“After high school, I entered a monastery, which was both good and bad at the same time. The church, of course, remains anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-women, and bigoted. If you're studying theology, as opposed to just being the person sitting in the pew—for the person sitting in the pew, it's a lot of either or and this is it. When you actually study Catholic theology, it becomes strangely arguable and more broad. It ultimately helped me come out and form who I am. During this time, I tutored in the poor area of Hartford, Connecticut, which also helped me get out of my comfort zone. It was in a liberal community. I double majored in philosophy and history, both of which give you a broader worldview and help you think for yourself.


In the spring of 1970, I was at a monastery in Union City, New Jersey, across the river from New York City. I was living in Brooklyn and had to catch the bus at the Port Authority. I was walking from the subway to 6th Avenue near Times Square. I ran into a joint demonstration of the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Liberation Front. The picketers were protesting the arrests that had been going on in Times Square. They were calling for the end of police harassment against the LGBTQ community. I joined the demonstration, which was a simple picketing back and forth with signs. As that wound down, they decided to go to the 14th Police Precinct Station House on West 35th Street.


After that, the whole group continued walking with our signs down to Greenwich Village. As we arrived at Sixth Avenue and 8th Street—the heart of the Village—8th Street was closed and was a pedestrian street until midnight. We wound up with others, partying in the street and dancing, having a good time. Midnight came and the cops wanted to open the street again, and we didn't want to go. So it turned into a mini-riot on 6th Avenue and 8th Street. I noticed the cops grabbing whoever looked smallest to beat the shit out of them. There was a realization that I was scared shitless.


At the same time, I couldn't leave the place. It gave me an idea of being connected with this group of people and this being my community. After that, I started regularly attending Gay Activists Alliance meetings and participating in the organization.


Rich Wandel, Gay Activist Alliance, early gay activists, march on albany, sylvia rivera, gay liberation front, early gay actions, early gay groups, Fred Orlansky, Arthur Bell, Arthur Evans, Marty Robinson, Tom Doerr, Peter Marleau, Kay Tobin Lahusen, and Fred Cabellero
March on Albany by Rich Wandel, 1971.

One time, ten of us walked from New York City to Albany, the capital of New York state. Albany is about 150 miles north of New York City. You can go straight up Broadway to get to Albany—it’s a straight shot. Some people went ahead of us to do PR and stir up the media. The Gay Activists Alliance was always big into media and publicity.


Our goals were to get rid of the sodomy law that made gay sex a crime, repeal the law that criminalized expressions of sexual interest, eliminate rules against cross-dressing and impersonation, ensure fair job opportunities for gays, ban discrimination in housing and public places, and scrap the loitering laws used to entrap gay men who were seen as ‘cruising for sex.’


We stopped at a variety of places. We stayed at the Quaker Meeting House in Scarsdale. When I say ‘stayed,’ I mean we slept on the floor. We found ourselves in the rain outside a Catholic girls’ college. The good sisters told us no. We noticed a men’s room and stayed there while waiting for the rain to stop.


On one occasion, we stayed at a Catholic monastery with the Friars of Atonement in Garrison, New York. We stayed there one night, and they were welcoming. On another occasion, we were walking along, and two of our people were shot at by some locals in Rhinebeck, New York. Clearly, if the person intended to actually hit them, he would have, but he just shot in our general direction. We went to the police in Rhinebeck, and the police simply said, ‘You're lucky it wasn't us. We wouldn't have missed.’ So, we got no help there. In Brewster, New York, we stayed at the home of Pete Seeger. He was not there. His daughter hosted us.


We ended up in Albany a night early. Of course, we wanted to make a grand entrance during the rally. These things have to be properly choreographed, and our entrance was. We came up through the crowd, and I, as president of the GAA, wound up going up to the microphone and speaking. Other speakers included Reverend Troy Perry, Kate Millett, and Madeline Davis.


The march on Albany highlighted the need for New York state action, especially the need for the repeal of the sodomy laws, which were the foundation for the many solicitation arrests throughout the state. Sodomy laws were also frequently the excuse for all kinds of harassment and discrimination.”

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