NACHO and Gay Liberation
By the time NACHO convened for its next meeting on August 26, 1969 in Kansas City, the gay rights movement in the United States had undergone a marked shift. Early in the morning of June 28, 1969, eight New York Police officers raided a gay bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn. Instead of dispersing upon the arrival of the officers, the patrons of the bar fought back against them. Bottles and rocks were thrown at police as some of the assembled customers were handcuffed and loaded into paddy wagons. Demonstrations continued for the next six days in and around Christopher Street. These protests, now commonly known as the Stonewall Riots, or simply Stonewall, ushered in a crop of younger activists into the gay rights movement. Within a month of the riots, a new organization called the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) had formed.
GLF was mostly comprised of younger gay men and lesbians who took their inspiration not from NACHO but the radical New Left politics of Abbie Hoffman and other Sixties radicals. They not only wanted rights for gay men and lesbians, but they also wanted equality for African Americans and an end to the Vietnam War. The homophile movement, to the members of GLF, was of a piece of the larger struggles for equality experienced by various marginalized groups.
The radical politics of the GLF members became apparent at NACHO’s Kansas City meeting in August 1969. On August 28, NACHO’s Committee on Youth unanimously adopted a manifesto entitled “The Homophile Movement Must Be Radicalized!” Many of the young members of the committee were also members of GLF, and the text of the document reflected the new liberation politics of the post-Stonewall world. The manifesto’s twelve points called for what amounted to an overhaul of the existing homophile movement:
- We see the persecution of homosexuality as part of a general attempt to oppress all minorities and keep them powerless. Our fate is linked with these minorities; if the detention camps are filled tomorrow with blacks, hippies and other radicals, we will not escape that fate, all our attempts to dissociate our- selves from them notwithstanding. A common struggle, however, will bring common triumph.
- Therefore we declare our support as homosexuals or bisexuals for the struggles of the black, the feminist, the Spanish-American, the Indian, the Hippie, the Young, the Student, and other victims of oppression and prejudice.
- We call upon these groups to lend us their support and encourage their presence with NACHO and the homophile movement at large.
- Our enemies, an implacable, repressive governmental system; much of organized religion, business and medicine, will not be moved by appeasement or appeals to reason and justice, but only by power and force.
- We regard established heterosexual standards of morality as immoral and refuse to condone them by demanding an equality which is merely the common yoke of sexual repression.
- We declare that homosexuals, as individuals and members of the greater community, must develop homosexual ethics and esthetics independent of, and without reference to, the mores imposed upon heterosexuality.
- We demand the removal of all restriction on sex between consenting persons of any sex, of any orientation, of any age, anywhere, whether for money or not, and for the removal of all censorship.
- We call upon the churches to sanction homosexual liaisons when called upon to do so by the parties concerned.
- We call upon the homophile movement to be more honestly concerned with youth rather than trying to promote a mythical, non-existent "good public image."
- The homophile movement must totally reject the insane war in Viet Nam and refuse to encourage complicity in the war and support of the war machine, which may well be turned against us. We oppose any attempts by the movement to obtain security clearances for homosexuals, since these contribute to the war machine.
- The homophile movement must engage in continuous political struggle on all fronts.
- We must open the eyes of homosexuals on this continent to the increasingly repressive nature of our society and to the realizations that Chicago may await us tomorrow.
The document was a major departure from the Chicago statement drafted by NACHO the year before. Whereas NACHO’s 1968 Bill of Rights argued that gays and lesbians deserved rights and inclusion in mainstream society, the Committee on Youth rejected that idea outright. The young radicals saw rejection of mainstream society as key to the project of gay liberation. As a result, NACHO voted down the manifesto.
Young activists and older delegates clashed again at the next NACHO meeting in August 1970, but this time, the outcome was different. A number of sympathetic gay liberationists had been accredited as delegates to the conference, and many more GLF activists attended as observers. Over the course of four days in San Francisco, gay liberationists pointed out what they saw as flaws in NACHO’s structure and priorities, much to the chagrin of older activists. On the first full day of the conference, an intense debate erupted when several female delegates scolded NACHO for its disinterest in lesbian issues. Gay newspaper The Advocate also reported that two gay liberationists dined naked during a special delegate dinner one evening “as a gesture of social protest” against NACHO’s rules and regulations.
These tensions boiled over when GLF attendees demanded NACHO change its voting procedures to one-person one-vote. In response, NACHO members voted to close the conference proceedings to all but accredited delegates. This stopgap measure failed. On the last day of the conference, the GLF observers swarmed the convention hall, chased away the other delegates, and passed a series of resolutions that favored their positions. As the newspaper Gay Sunshine put it, NACHO was now “Upside Down.” Although plans were made for a 1971 NACHO meeting, they never came to fruition. The idea of NACHO died in the contentious debates of the 1970 conference.
The 1970 NACHO conference would be the organization’s final meeting, but the divisions between older and younger activists present there proved more temporary than expected. Many of NACHO’s original members worked with the younger gay liberation activists throughout the 1970s. Bill Kelley of Mattachine Midwest joined an organization of new activists called Chicago Gay Alliance, for example. When Frank Kameny ran for Congress in 1971, he had several members of the local Gay Liberation Front on his staff. Although different members of the movement differed on strategy, they were united in the common goal of securing rights for gay men and lesbians.