Rainbow History Project
Oral HistoriesArchivesResources & LinksMembershipDonateAbout Us

Towards a New Constitution

As gay men and lesbians organized in the first few years following Stonewall building a relationship of mutual support with the Black Panthers became a goal for some of the gay left.

Many post-Stonewall gay and lesbian activists had earned their initial activist credentials in the "Movement": the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s. From civil rights work they moved on to the antiwar movement and the other "liberation" struggles including second wave feminism, the women's "movement", and the native American and Chicano movements.

For the gay left in the late 60s and early 70s, gay liberation was one of manyliberations. It was no accident that the first post-Stonewall organization, the Gay Liberation Front, took for itself a name that echoed the National Liberation Fronts of Vietnam and Algeria.

Black Liberation and Black Power resonated strongly with the new gay left. Some liberationist gay men and lesbians supported the Black Panthers' social and civil programs in the cities; in turn they sought the recognition of the gay and lesbian civil rights struggle by the Black Panthers. The Panthers, like many groups in the American Left, were uncomfortable with gay liberation and women's liberation. Nevertheless, lesbians and gay men supported local Panther activities

In 1970, the Black Panthers Defense Fund was located at 1724 20th St NW, home to Deacon Maccubbin's Earthworks store and later the Lambda Rising bookstore. The Panther's local Ministry of Information office was at 2327 18th St NW, just 4 doors down from where the Whitman-Walker Clinic would be located during much of the 1980s. DC's 'underground' leftist press, the Quicksilver Times and the Washington Free Press carried stories of Panther events. The left wing of the "movement" embraced the Panthers.

Huey Newton's statement on August 15, 1970 acknowledging both women's liberation and gay liberation as valid liberation struggles was received as a welcome breath of fresh air by the gay left not only in Washington, DC but across the country. Newton acknowledged that the gay liberation movement was a "real" liberation movement:

We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society. (http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/newtonq.html)

Newton Statement

DC's lesbian and feminist communities supported local and national Panther protests. One major event for the city's feminists and lesbians was the rally in New Haven CT in support of Panther men and women arrested there. DC women went to New Haven in November 1970 to demonstrate in support of 6 Panther women and 7 Panther men jailed there and awaiting trial.

The Panther event that attracted the greatest involvement by gay men and lesbians was the People's Revolutionary Constitutional Convention (PRCC). In June 1970, Panther leader David Hilliard called for the PRCC to be held in Washington later that year. Caucuses of gay men and lesbians participated in the September 1970 planning meeting at Temple University in Philadelphia. Gay Liberation Front delegates attended from Chicago, Washington, and other centers. DC's lesbian and feminist community sent delegates as well. Following September's conference, DC gay and lesbian liberationists offered logistical support for the coming Thanksgiving weekend conference. Local feminists from the Women's Liberation collective charged with PRCC relations sought use of the DC Armory for the event and protested when they were denied. GLF-DC, which had just formed at the end of June 1970, began planning for November, offering space in its new S St. collective to other gay liberationists coming to town. Most of the GLF members attending from across the country stayed at American University.

Participating and organizing support for the PRCC was for DC's gay and lesbian liberationists a first attempt at participating in wider liberation activities. Those who attended the PRCC recall a sense of chaotic searching for meeting places and activities during the Thanksgiving weekend but also an invigorating feeling of involvement. GLF-DC estimated that 300 gay male and lesbian activists from around the country attended. GLF's discussions and workshops were largely held at American University. Many other events were held at All Souls Church. Returning GLF members were refused service at the Zephyr Restaurant (4912 Wisconsin Ave NW) as they returned from events. Returning to their colleagues at American University they assembled a larger group of GLF members, returned to the Zephyr and rioted when they were again denied service. This was the closest DC came to a Stonewall-style incident.

continue to Resources and Documents

Oral HistoriesArchivesResources & LinksMembershipDonateAbout Us

Help Rainbow History Preserve Our History!
Donate Now

Mail to:
Rainbow History Project
PO Box 12075
Washington, DC 20005


Contents ©  the Rainbow History Project 2000 - 2011, unless otherwise specified.