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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 3 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 31
The 'Gay Crusaders' at 40
Section One
ALL STORIES
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The 'Gay Crusaders' at 40

Landmark 1972 book an invaluable guide to the early movement

by Jesse Monteagudo - Special to the SGN

The year 1972 was to Lesbian and Gay books what 1969 was to Lesbian and Gay politics. Many important 'Gay 101' books were published in 1972. These were not scientific studies by heterosexual academics, but first-person narratives by openly Lesbian or Gay activists: The Gay Insider USA, by John Paul Hudson (as John Francis Hunter); The Gay Mystique, by Peter Fisher; I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody, by Lige Clarke and Jack Nichols; Lesbian/Woman, by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon; The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay, by Troy Perry; Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, by Karla Jay and Allen Young; and Sappho Was a Right-On Woman, by Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love. The Fisher and Martin/Lyon books received the second annual Gay Book Award by the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association.) One of 1972's most memorable titles was The Gay Crusaders, by Kay Tobin (Lahusen) and Randy Wicker. A pocked-sized original from the Paperback Library, The Gay Crusaders was a collection of 'in-depth interviews with 15 homosexuals - men and women who are shaping America's newest sexual revolution.' They were, in order of appearance:

Troy Perry (born 1940), founder, Metropolitan Community Churches

Jim Owles (1946-93), founding president, Gay Activists Alliance of New York

Phyllis Lyon (born 1924) and Del Martin (1921-2008), founders, Daughters of Bilitis

Craig Rodwell (1940-93), Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop founder, Stonewall veteran

Dick Michaels (Richard Mitch) (1926-91), founding editor, The Advocate

Frank Kameny (1925-2011), founder, Mattachine Society Washington

Jack Baker and Michael McConnell (both born 1942), same-sex marriage pioneers

Ruth Simpson (1926-2008), president, New York Daughters of Bilitis

Marty Robinson (1943-92), founder, Gay Activists Alliance of New York

Lige Clarke (1942-75) and Jack Nichols (1938-2005), Mattachine, GAY magazine

Arthur Evans (1942-2011), founder, GAA New York; historian and philosopher

Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), founder, DOB New York; Gay Task Force, ALA

Later it was revealed by Nichols at GayToday.com that Tobin wrote The Gay Crusaders all by herself, and only added Wicker's name after the publisher insisted on gender parity. This was a surprise to me, since Wicker had already made a name for himself as author of 'The Wicker Basket,' one of the first columns written from a Gay activist perspective. Even so, Wicker and Tobin will always be linked as the 'authors' of The Gay Crusaders.

Though long out of print, The Gay Crusaders endures as a basic resource for anyone who is interested in the early days of the Lesbian and Gay movement. It was part of the Arno Press series of Gay classics in 1975 and was number 55 on my own list of the 'Top 100 LGBT Books of the 20th Century.'

The Gay Crusaders left out some important figures in the movement, notably Harry Hay and other West Coast pioneers. And its coverage of Lesbian activists (4 out of 15) mirrored the Gay movement's gender inequity that by 1972 had already driven many women to form their own Lesbian-feminist movement. Historians like John D'Emilio, Lillian Faderman, Charles Kaiser, Eric Marcus, James T. Sears, Stuart Timmons, and C. Todd White have since closed most of the gaps left open by The Gay Crusaders.

A decade or so ago, TV journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a book, The Greatest Generation, that honored the men and women who grew up in the Depression, fought in World War II, and produced the postwar baby boom. In my opinion, the men and women who created the Lesbian and Gay movements of the '50s and '60s are our community's greatest generation. They dared to be out and proud at a time when virtually all of their contemporaries were hiding in the closet. Against great odds, they founded our first political, social, cultural, and religious institutions; published our first newspapers and magazines; and pioneered the field of Lesbian and Gay studies. They built the scaffold and blazed the trail that my generation, and subsequent ones, would stand on and walk upon.

Admittedly, these 'crusaders' made mistakes. Their biggest failing, by today's standards, was ignoring the rights or even the existence of Bisexual or Transgender people. As natural leaders, they had some elitist tendencies, particularly the naïve idea that all by themselves, they could unite a motley group of people who had the same enemies but virtually nothing else in common. They were not above indulging in ego trips, personality conflicts, and needless divisions. They were idealists with a zeal that made them less successful but more enduring than later, more practical, activists. Indeed, it was their idealism that turned this group of fallible men and women into our community's heroes. Though Owles and Robinson and Evans only spoke for a few when their GAA zapped its way through New York City, they became role models for many of us who were too young, too closeted, or too distant from the Big Apple to get involved. We who are active today are carrying on their legacy.

In 1998 a star-studded galaxy of pioneer Lesbian and Gay activists gathered at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Hollywood to celebrate the life of activist/author/archivist Jim Kepner, who had recently died. Joining 'Gay crusaders' Perry, Lyon, Martin, Kameny, Nichols, Gittings, and Tobin were Bob Basker, Lisa Ben, Malcolm Boyd, Vern Bullough, Hal Call, Flo Fleischman, Lee Glaze, Harry Hay, Dale Jennings, Phil Johnson, Bill Kelly, Judd Marmor, Eldon Murray, Ernie Potvin, Eddie Sandifer, Jose Sarria, and Mark Segal. In addition to paying tribute to Kepner, this 'summit' gave the survivors of the LGBT community's 'greatest generation' a final opportunity to gather. Remember these names. If we ever create a nationwide Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, these people should be the first ones in it.

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