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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

 

45 Today

On April 1st, 1969, I secured recognition for the organization Homosexuals Intransigent! ("HI!") by the student government of the City College of the City University of New York in Upper Manhattan. All that that required, once I had secured a faculty/staff advisor, was the signature of the student-government president on the application. I encountered him in a hallway of Finley Student Center and he signed it right there, on the spot. Thus began an organization that, tho never larger than perhaps 60 members, achieved outsize influence on the course of the gay-rights movement. We emboldened the timid. We were the shock troops that took the most advanced and militant stance. We didn't care to curry favor with intolerant heterosexuals by pretending to be heterosexual ourselves, by organizing ourselves in hetero fashion, men-and-women-together-now! No, ours was the ONLY organization for gay men only. We let it be known that if lesbians wanted to form a 'Lesbians Intransigent!' group, by any name, we would take their information and put them in touch with each other, but they would have to operate as a separate entity, in which we did not interfere and which did not interfere with us. The women we put in touch with each other did not, in fact, form an organization, and we did not have to compromise our stances to accommodate lesbians.
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As founder and first president, I attended the autumn 1969 meeting, in Philadelphia, of ERCHO (the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations) that accomplished one significant thing, then disappeared into history: it created an annual march to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. I offered an amendment to the resolution to bar a dress code, which was adopted. In historical context, that made sense, because the 'respectable' organizational demonstrations by gay men and lesbians theretofore had required 'proper' clothing, which meant, as we thought of it, shorthand, "jacket-and-tie" for the men and "skirts-and-sweaters" for the women. HI! was an organization of college students many of whom might not even have owned a sports jacket and tie, much less a suit, and this was the end of the Sixties, a time of tumult and rebellion among youth, so we were not about to adhere to some stuffy, outdated clothing standard.
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We did not even think — who would? — that allowing people to wear shirtsleeves and jeans would be taken by some degenerates as warrant to march absolutely naked or wearing nothing but a codpiece or leather bikini-bottom. Had I known that the absence of any dress code would produce such hideous results, as caused many media, and esp. hostile media, to focus on the freakish attire (including drag, men in women's clothes) of a tiny number of participants, and thus trivialize and misrepresent the serious purpose of the march, I would have phrased my amendment as to include language such as "appropriate to a dignified and serious demonstration or celebration, and not likely to throw the event into disrepute".
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I also participated in, and may have hosted in my apartment at least one of the meetings of, the organizing committee for the first march, which was held in June 1970. Robben Borrero of HI! also participated in at least one. During one of those meetings, I put forward the suggestion that the weekend of events designed to draw into NYC people from out-of-town, be called and advertised as "Gay Pride Weekend", rather than the first thought, which was "Gay Power Weekend". I do not for an instant think that "Gay Power" would have stood the test of time and achieved the universality of acceptance that "Gay Pride" achieved, influencing the attitudes of people of all sexual orientations. Billions of people have now come to associate the words "gay" and "pride", which is a very far cry indeed from the general feeling in 1970 that "gay" was laffably inapt for people who were thought sad, even miserable, and shame is what was actually expected of homosexuals.
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Is it 'prideful' to suggest that never in the history of the world has a different two-word phrase produced such massive change in public attitudes? "Human rights" is a powerful phrase too, of course, but it means different things to different people, and human rights as the West means the term have not been even remotely achieved in much of the world. "Gay Pride" is unambiguous, specific.
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HI! published a number of newsletters and flyers, which we distributed widely. We handed out flyers on campus and elsewhere, and posted them to bulletin boards (that is, actual, physical billboards, the only kind that then existed). We sent out, by mail (postal mail, that is, which was also the only kind there was in those days), copies of our mimeograffed newsletter to many other organizations and library special collections on sexual rights and social justice around the Nation. Many of those publications are still held in archives. In 1998, I put many of them online, where they have remained, most recently at a free website on Tripod.com. To the extent that young people just coming to terms with their feelings for their own sex can benefit from reading those materials, HI! is still helping people, even tho the organization as such dissolved in the early 1970s.
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At least the opening paragraf of the first issue of our newsletter, then called Homosexual Renaissance, was quoted in (the late) Randy Shilts's bestselling book, Conduct Unbecoming. I don't have a copy of that book to check how much was quoted, but here are the first three paragrafs of the first edition of our newsletter.
Homosexuals can effectively demand respect from others only if we first respect ourself — as homosexuals. That requires that we admit to ourselves that we are homosexual; that we affirm it, understand it, realize it in all its implications: I am homosexual. Say it! aloud: "I am homosexual." Shout it, whisper it. Laugh it, cry it. State it, proclaim it, confess it in sobs, but say it: "I am homosexual." Say it today, say it tomorrow, say it the day after that. Say it when you wake up, when you go to bed, when you find yourself thinking of someone of your own sex. Say it as often as you need to until you realize that it is true and that the fact that it is true forces you to adjust your attitudes and actions to make the very best of your life as a homosexual. "I am a homosexual."

Not "Leonardo da Vinci was homosexual", but "I am homosexual." Not "Gore Vidal is homosexual", but "I am homosexual." Not "One man of every six, one woman of every eight is homosexual", but "I am homosexual." Not even, "Some of the finest, most beautiful, and most talented people in the world are homosexual", but "I am homosexual."

Your homosexuality affects you, not Leonardo da Vinci.You are the one who must come to terms with your homosexuality, not Gore Vidal. You need not justify yourself or console yourself in the homosexuality of others. Others don't have to respect and live with you —you do, and unless you adjust to your homosexuality, it doesn't matter if all the rest of the world is homosexual: you will still be uncomfortable.
That was pretty heady stuff in those days. It still packs a wallop for some people. It encapsulates the approach of HI!, which was always concerned mainly with how gay men felt about themselves and treated each other, and only subsidiarily with the law or hetero society or anything else. If we felt good about ourselves, each other, and our orientation, everything else would fall into place, in time. We never put the cart before the horse. We could not and should not wait for society to accept us, but had to accept ourselves. If we did, what outsiders thought wouldn't matter much. And if we asserted ourselves and cared about each other, that would be enuf, even if we continued to be held in contempt by the larger society.
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I wrote those first three paragrafs of HI!'s first newsletter, and typed that text onto mimeo stencil, but it wouldn't have made its way to Randy Shilts and the wider world had it not been run by the student-services department of City College as part of the rights of an on-campus student organization, and mailed out by the members of Homosexuals Intransigent! I'm picturing a sight I had when I went to see if the newsletter was ready for pickup. A student member of that department was sitting there, reading what they had reproduced. I have no idea what he thought on reading it, but I knew for d*d sure that he had never seen anything like it! Nobody had, anywhere on Earth.
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I just reread much of the text of that first edition of our newsletter. Some of it was dated, and expressed viewpoints then commonplace that I would no longer endorse. But most of it is astonishing in its depth, and breadth, and scope. Some of the language is nearly poetic, as I poured my feelings into what could otherwise have been all-too-"soul"less verbiage. What I produced instead is not verbiage, but expression of that combination of intellect and feeling that I always wanted the publications of Homosexuals Intransigent! to be. Homosexual Renaissance No. 1 is not just a historical artifact. It speaks to the feelings and needs of young gay men everywhere.
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The Romans had a concept of "genius" that allows us who dare to think ourselves geniuses, to cover our arrogance in humility. The Roman concept was that there is, outside of us, a creative agent or agency that acts THRU us. It is the genius outside, not us, that produces "our" works of genius. We are merely, even insignificantly, the medium or intermediary thru which that genius creates works of genius — in essence, no more important than the telefone by which the outer genius conveys to our body the instructions to create a work of genius. I suspect that every creative person on Earth has done something so extraordinary that he or she looks in awe upon it and says to him- or herself, "Where did THAT come from?"
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So here we are, 45 years from the founding of HI! at City College. Happy birthday, HI!. I don't know how many of the original members of that organization are still alive, given that our average age was probably about 20. I was 24, in that I "stopped out" for several years after high school before attending college. I am thus probably the oldest surviving member of the group, but not everyone lives to even 65, so I don't know how many of my colleagues from HI! are still around. I hope most are, but know that not every last one is. Robben Borrero was found dead, floating in the Hudson River, at a time in the 1970s or 80s when some serial killer was murdering gay men. As far as I know, Robben's murder, if it was murder, was never solved; nor was it definitively ruled a suicide. I seriously doubt it was a suicide. He had, shortly before his death, been my roommate for a time, and he was involved in a love relationship that, despite being bumpy, was not so unhappy as to have impelled him to kill himself.
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I'd love to hear from any and all surviving members of Homosexuals Intransigent!, and can be reached at mrgaypride @ aol . com (minus the spaces, of course).
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* Both "Homosexuals Intransigent!" and its abbreviation, "HI!" were always intended to be italicized or underscored. This explanation appeared in the first issue of Homosexual Renaissance:
Underscoring — Homosexuals Intransigent! is an organization apart composed of people apart. We want to be set apart, noted as distinct, standing out in any printed matter. So our name is to be underscored or italicized at all times. ***

And our abbreviation: HI! — welcome to the Homosexual Renaissance, brother!



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