A 1970 Emerging Gay Community in Los Angeles

The Seed-Idea from Which the LA LGBT Center Grew

One of the pivotal events of the early Gay Liberation movement in Los Angeles was the publication of a Supplement to the Los Angeles Free Press (August 14, 1970) which highlighted the liberation consciousness and community-building possibilities represented by the Gay Liberation Front of Los Angeles.
L.A. Free Press Supplement image by Bruce Reifel, GLF artist-member. Bruce also created the 1970 GLF “Gay-In” in Griffith Park silk-screen poster, the 1971 cover image of the Gay Community Services Center brochure, and the 1979 leaflet image for the first Radical Faeries gathering in the Sonoran Desert, among others.
The Supplement appeared a year after the prairie fire ignited by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion that swept the nation among a certain demographic of gay and lesbian people—skewing younger, increasingly politically-aware in a large understanding of social change, directly-experiencing, both individually and collectively, the systemic oppression of hetero supremacy, and calling for the active liberation of gay and lesbian people through militant, direct confrontation.
1969 Judy Garland memorial billboard on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Protest photo in L.A. Free Press Supplement by GLF artist-member Kenneth McGowan.
Such Supplements rarely appeared in the Freep, as the Free Press was often affectionally referred to by young and old people. Its publication positioned GLF as an important part of the militant, revolutionary political and cultural environment of 1970’s L.A. and greased the hinges on closet doors.
The Los Angeles Free Press

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s two important newspapers existed in L.A.

The daily Los Angeles Times, with a million subscribers then, was the major news source for what was called “The Establishment”—right-wing, pro-Vietnam War, suspicious of and condescending to protesting minorities and demonizing the Black Panthers, preaching all change must happen by gradual increments bestowed by The Establishment, feminist women had gone too far, homosexuals were sick and reported on by medical journalists, the word “liberation” was unamerican and associated with “commies,” archconservative Cardinal McIntyre was appreciated, and so forth. The Times represented the Center of the Village, and was similar to other Establishment newspapers in the country.

When the 1965 Watts Uprising occurred, a front-page headline in the Times read, “’Get Whitey,’ Scream Blood-Hungry Mobs.” The Los Angeles Free Press headline read, “The Negroes Have Voted.”

The Los Angeles Free Press, the first and largest American underground newspaper, was founded by its editor Art Kunkin, a veteran lefty. The Free Press mirrored and stimulated the rest of us in L.A.—the Edge of the Village. It was from this growing edge across the country that a national social revolution of major importance was catalyzing the future direction of U.S. society.

The Freep was published once-a-week, read by a quarter-million people, and its appearance throughout the city on Thursday evenings was an important, anticipated event in the week, particularly by younger people and social change activists which seemed to be all of us at the edge.

The Free Press covered the alternative culture by people who were creating it, using an umbrella term that we all could get under—"The Movement.” Each week it was filled with news about radical left politics, Vietnam War protests, feminism, black-brown-asian-first-nation liberation, film, theater, sex, drugs, rock and roll, revolutionary and revolting personalities—the forbidden and denied being spoken out loud for all to read.

During the 1970’s, the social change represented by the Movement consciousness gradually made its way from the edge into the center of the village. A constellating critical mass led to a reinterpretation of U.S. history that included those left out, a revisioning of who we are as a plural society, and the passionate articulation of our needs and struggles that changed the country for the better.

Into that highly-fertile mix of counterculture and social revolution, the L.A. Gay Liberation Front found its voice and visible presence as an equal, to the consternation of a few hetero supremacists found in the New Left. For those of the Gay Liberation generation, the Free Press served as a crucial, weekly, communal consciousness-raising session and teach-in of critical importance.

Every week, for example, the Free Press carried witty ads by Tony DeRosa for GLF’s Friday night “Gay Funky Dance” at Troupers’ Hall in Hollywood open to all ages with beer carefully served to those with proof-of-age ID. The dances tended young, physical affection was expressed openly, and attracted about 150 men and women weekly—dancers who looked like L.A.

The “Gay Funky Dance” represented a powerful act of gay defiance and resistance. At the time, same-sex public expressions of affection were illegal in California and strictly-enforced by the LAPD as the legal pretext for periodic gay bar raids and arrests. Same-sex dancing in public was unthinkable. GLF did it anyway as a political act of rebellion. Also, it was fun dancing to the Sly and the Family Stone and early Rolling Stones with androgenous Mick Jagger. Like many other peoples, gay people have to dance.

Every major city had an alternative newspaper then. The closest thing to it today in L.A. is LA Progressive. Social media does not come close to replicating the Free Press because, with some exceptions, it largely represents “The New Establishment,” and functions as a sophisticated means of social control and capitalist expansion through mass conformity.

The Gay Liberation Supplement to the Free Press was made possible in 1970 by GLF members—Tony DeRosa and Lee Heflin—who lobbied editor Art Kunkin for the breakthrough Supplement.
The “Seed-Idea” Article by Don Kilhefner

For several years, I tried to track down a copy of the article I wrote for the 1970 Free Press Supplement because it contained the first public statement about the seed-idea that led in a straight, so to speak, line from the GLF Survival Committee, to the “Hoover Street Collective” where the idea of a community center was fleshed-out by the Survival Committee, to the pioneering “Gay Community Services Center” on Wilshire Blvd., to the “Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center” on Highland Ave., to the “Gay and Lesbian Center” on Schrader Blvd. to the current “LA LGBT Center” headquartered on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Then, as now, the world’s largest.

Several weeks ago (June 2022), I shouted “Eureka!” when I had laboriously tracked-down the long-sought Supplement in the subterranean microfilm room of UCLA’s Charles Young Graduate Research Library. The microfilm copy is not easy to read, so, I have reproduced it below in easily readable form.

I had not seen the article since a 32-year-old Don Kilhefner wrote it in July 1970. Reading it again 52 years later was a deeply-felt emotional experience, tears trickled down my cheeks. Some thoughts that bubbled-up from that reading included:
  • The article was the first that I had ever written as an openly gay man about a gay topic. I loved seeing where I began with my thinking and envisioning as a L.A. gay community organizer. My queer ripening over the past five decades+ into a deeper understanding and more articulate expression of the existential meaning of being gay-queer was clearly evident. The word “homophobia” had not even been invented yet, and “hetero supremacy” was a half-century in the future.
  • It struck me how the fundamental elements that were incorporated into the design of the community center six months later were found embedded in the essay—gay-centered, designed specifically around the real needs of gay and lesbian people, openly and in-your-face gay, using our own names—not pseudonyms, emphasis on “inculturation” (create our own community with our own institutions and culture) rather than “acculturation” (assimilation), militant language, gay oppression and liberation intelligently integrated into its operation, comprehensive in scope, served all ages, among others.

    I even found some of the phrases I often used later as Founding Executive Director of the community center. In the article, unless otherwise attributed to an individual, the attributions were really my words.
  • The article was much like a Potemkin Village in many ways. Some services existed in reality like a 24-hour Gay Helpline with referrals, draft counseling and military resistance (keeping young men from being drafted and shipped to Vietnam and getting gay people out of the military safely), and the conscious-raising provided by GLF’s Sunday at 2 p.m. weekly meeting. Otherwise, the reality was projection into the future.

    My use of the words “gay community” in the article was deliberate even though inaccurate. An organized, visible gay community did not exist at the time in L.A. or anywhere in the country. My use of the term “gay community” was akin to a young Harry Potter learning his magic, desperately trying to call a community into being through incantation.The way I use the term “community” means a group of beings who have a commonality and who assume responsibility for each other in a visible and organized way.
  • I will write about the GLF Survival Committee mentioned in the article in a later essay. All my many previous essays and more to be written during the coming year will find their way in some form into a book I’m working on, and, in truth, is working on me, titled, Once There Were Gay Warriors: Gay Liberation, Community, Identity—Los Angeles, 1969-1980.
*     *     *
Here’s the Free Press article from 1970:
Gay and need draft counseling? V.D. information. Alcohol problem? Legal advice? Just want to know where the groovy bars are? Being evicted? Drug problems? Police getting you down? Anything we can do to help? Sure, just give us a call. GLF Survival Committee, 665-1881
Don Kilhefner

To love we must survive

To survive we must fight

To fight we must love….

The LA Gay Liberation Front, the militant, activist voice of the local gay community, this week opened a Gay Survival office in the Hollywood gay ghetto. Founded on the revolutionary principle of “serve the people,” GLF’s Survival Committee is offering to its brothers and sisters a wide range of free survival services geared to the specific needs of the gay community—legal advice, gay draft counseling, personal counseling, help with VD and drug problems, and a job co-op.

“Gays have sat on their asses too long,” one gay militant stated, “attacking their problems with verbal overkill and naively expecting that Amerika’s morally corrupt institutions would ‘accept’ them and solve their problems for them. It is clear to us that the straight honko is neither willing nor capable of dealing with the needs of the gay community. We have to do it for ourselves. We already have the expertise within our community. Now we must become conscious that whether we live in Beverly Hills or Downey, we have a special responsibility to our own people.”

To a large extent, the Gay Survival Committee is an outgrowth of the current intensification of the LAPD’s continuous pogrom against homosexuals in the city. During the past year three gays were killed by the police. Police harassment, entrapment and brutality is a daily fact of life in the gay community.

As a part of its survival project, GLF is distributing printed information on a citizen’s theoretical legal rights and practical information on what to do when confronted by the police. With the assistance of the National Lawyers’ Guild, a legal first-aid course has been established in order to remove the mystery surrounding the judicial process and to train gays to deal with their own routine legal needs. Gays are being ripped off by many local lawyers, gay and straight, who charge up to $1,200 for services considered very routine by attorneys and requiring no special expertise. Part of GLF’s legal service is a free referral to lawyers who have had experience in handling gay cases and are not overly exploitative.

Many gay liberationists feel the single most crucial task facing any gay in AmeriKKKa is to undo the mind-fucking he has undergone years before he has probably even became aware of his sexuality. When a young gay does seek out professional help in dealing with his sexuality, honky straights, be they parents or psychiatrists, look upon his homosexuality as a “sickness” to be cured by self-hate therapy and electric shot treatment. More often he is forced to deal with the situation alone. For the gay militant, the brutal policing of the Amerikan Empire in Southeast Asia is “perversion.” The planned execution of Black Panthers is a “crime against nature.” Militant gays are adamantly asserting they will no longer allow a decadent and anti-life society define their humanity. Homosexuality is simply the capacity of an individual to love someone of the same sex.

GLF, using a self-actualization approach to its personal counseling program, is offering both individual and group counseling services to the gay community conducted by volunteer professional counselors, most of whom are gay. Informal personal liberation rap sessions are also being organized for younger gays who are dealing with the “coming out” process as well as discussion groups for gays seeking an alternative to the present dehumanizing gay bar and bath scene.
Back cover of L.A. Free Press Supplement by GLF artist Bruce Reifel.
The L.A. Gay Liberation Front, with the cooperation of the Homosexual Information Center, has developed the most effective and active gay draft counseling center in the nation. The Defense Department makes it plain it considers anyone with “homosexual tendencies” unfit for military service and wants them out of the armed forces. GLF activist Howard A. Fox presented the Survival Committee’s position when he stated: “There is nothing about homosexuality which makes a man undesirable or incapable of any kind of human endeavor. Homosexuals have served, and will continue to serve, honorably and courageously, in all branches of the armed forces. It is one thing to use the government’s policy to protect our brothers, and quite another to believe it.”

Unfortunately, many gays are being inducted into the war machine against their will because incorrect information is being provided by many draft counselors and induction centers. There is no need whatsoever to secure the expensive services of a psychiatrist or letters attesting to one’s homosexuality from his minister, mother or lover. The draft resistance techniques practiced by GLF have proven 100 percent effective in the past. For gays already in the army, the Survival Committee has access to expert legal advice on military resistance.

GLF is also providing a referral service for VD and drug problems and will shortly have a gay job co-op in operation. Anyone in the gay community wishing any of the free services provided by the Gay Liberation Front or wanting to volunteer their services or bread to the survival project should call 666-1881.

The present mood of GLF is perhaps best summed up by the comment made by a Survival Committee member, “The Gay Liberation Front will defend the right of our people to exist. We will not hesitate to do whatever is necessary in defense of that human right.”
Image of the original August 14, 1970 article from the Free Press.
*          *          *
Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., a pioneering Gay Liberationist, has been a frontlines gay community organizer continuously for over 52 years in Los Angeles and nationally.  He is the co-founder (with Morris Kight) of the LA LGBT Center, the world’s largest, and the L.A. Van Ness Recovery House, the first for LGBTQ people, co-founder (with Harry Hay) of the global Radical Faeries movement, and, recently, facilitator of intergenerational dialogues, among other contributions.


This Mail Chimp mailing is produced cooperatively by Don Kilhefner and Danny Battista.
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Animae Communitatis Colendae Gratia
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Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., All rights reserved.

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