Jesse Monteagudo

Arthur Evans: The Philosopher as Activist

Filed By Jesse Monteagudo | November 21, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Arthur Evans, Gay Activists Alliance, Gay Liberation, Herman Katz, John V Lindsay, Nelson Rockefeller, philosopher activist, Radical Faeries, Stonewall riotos

Arthur Evans, who died September 11 at the age of 69, was a gay activist who was also a scholar, a rare combination in the United States but common in Europe Arthur-Evans--220x300.jpg(Michel Foucault, Guy Hocquenghem). Like the late Jack Nichols, Evans was a writer whose books gave meaning to the fight for LGBT rights and an activist who translated his words into action.

Born in York, Pennsylvania (Oct. 12, 1942), Evans earned a B.A. degree at City College, New York and studied philosophy at Columbia University. He was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and a member of Columbia's Student Homophile League, an early gay student group. In August, 1969 Evans and his then-partner, journalist Arthur Bell, joined the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), one of the militant new groups that emerged after the Stonewall Riots.

Evans soon became disenchanted with GLF: "The group insisted that it had no leaders, yet a few Non-Leaders were clearly calling many of the shots," Evans recalled, in an article he wrote for GayToday.com in 1999. "In addition, the same questions were often re-debated and re-decided, with little or no group memory from one meeting to the next. Finally, the group had no problem of consistent street activism."

Along with friends Marty Robinson and Jim Owles, the two Arthurs realized the need for a new organization, one that would "be exclusively devoted to gay and lesbian issues." Such a group would "engage the political system but without becoming entangled in it. The solution: the group would question candidates for public office, publicize their response, but never endorse any candidate or political party. We would rock the system without becoming a part of it."

On December 21, 1969 a dozen activists met in Arthur Bell's apartment and formed Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). They elected Owles president and approved a preamble and constitution that Evans wrote. This preamble, Evans recalled, "called on the larger society to recognize four basic rights." They are: [1] "The right to our own feelings;" [2] "The right to love;" [3] "The right to our own bodies;" and [4] "The right to be persons." Though Evans was never elected GAA president, he represented the group on The Dick Cavett Show in November of 1970.

The Gay Activists Alliance, Evans wrote, was a "group dedicated to street activism on behalf of gay issues."

Robinson, one of the founders, "wanted the group to personally confront our oppressors, but never resort to violence. The solution: we would use 'zaps' (as Marty called them)."

In a subsequent GayToday article, Evans described "zaps" as "nonviolent, but militant, face-to-face confrontations with homophobes in positions of authority. . . . Zaps had two intended audiences - our own community and the larger political world. In regard to our own community zaps often used humor and theater to build up group morale and gay identity."

Four decades before New York State legalized same-sex marriage, GAA challenged Herman Katz, then City Clerk of New York. A dozen activists invaded Katz's office with a coffee wagon and a large wedding cake, topped with a male couple and a female couple. While clerical workers helped themselves to some wedding cake, Evans took over the switchboard, telling all incoming callers that the Clerk's office was only issuing same-sex licenses that day. Though nothing much was accomplished that day, the "zap" got people's attention.

One of the GAA's main targets was John V. Lindsay, then Mayor of New York City. In 1972 Lindsay, a "liberal" Republican (by today's standards) planned to run for President against the more conservative GOP incumbent, Richard Nixon. GAA members Marty Manford, Ernest Cohen and Corona Rivera infiltrated a Lindsay for President rally, where they chained themselves to the balcony railing and threw down leaflets to the audience below.

But "zaps" had their dangerous side. At the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office on Long Island, Evans and other zappers were pushed and shoved by plainclothes police officers. During Gay Pride Week 1970 Evans, Owles, Robinson, Tom Doerr and Phil Raia were arrested for criminal trespass when they "zapped" the offices of the Republican State Committee. Evans soon became the spokesman for "The Rockefeller Five." (Nelson Rockefeller was then GOP Governor of New York.)

By the end of 1971, the "heroic age" of gay liberation was nearing its end. Evans dropped out of Columbia, broke up with Bell, and left New York with his new partner, Jacob Schraeter. They formed a group called the "Weird Sisters Partnership" and bought a 40-acre piece of land on a mountain in Washington State they called the New Sodom. In 1974 Evans and Schraeter moved to San Francisco, to an apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district that Evans lived in til the day he died. In the fall of 1975, Evans founded the Faery Circle, a neo-pagan, gay spiritual group. This and Evans's writings and lectures on Faeries inspired other activists to form the Radical Faeries (1979).

Though it all, Evans continued to write. In 1978, Evans published Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture: A Radical View of Western Civilization and Some of the People It Has Tried to Destroy, based upon a series of articles by Evans that first appeared in Out and Fag Rag magazines.

"The professionals have suppressed Gay history, just as they have suppressed the truth about Third World people, women, the poor, the imprisoned, and the insane," Evans wrote. "This book is an attempt to record some of the things that professional historians usually leave out."

In 1984 Evans directed a production of Euripides's play The Bakkhai, which Evans translated from the Greek and which became the basis of his second book, The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos (1988). Evans later returned to his philosophical roots when he wrote A Critique of Patriarchal Reason, published in 1997.

While living in San Francisco, Arthur Evans remained a committed activist, contributing to AIDS and LGBT-rights groups in the San Francisco area. In his later years, Evans shocked progressives when he backed a ballot measure that curtailed the rights of San Francisco's homeless community. Evans died of a massive heart attack, a year after he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm.


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