Jesse Monteagudo

'The Gay Crusaders' at Forty

Filed By Jesse Monteagudo | August 03, 2012 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Books of 1972, Lesbian & Gay books, LGBT History, The Gay Crusaders

StackofBooks.jpgThe year 1972 was to lesbian and gay books what 1969 (the year of Stonewall) was to lesbian and gay politics. Many important "gay 101" books were published in 1972. These were not scientific studies by heterosexual "experts" 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
  • Sappho Was a Right-On Woman by Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love.

(Both the Fisher and Martin/Lyon books were awarded 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:

  • 1 Troy Perry (1940-) founder, Metropolitan Community Churches
  • 2 Jim Owles (1946-93) founding president, Gay Activists Alliance of New York
  • 3-4 Phyllis Lyon (1924-) & Del Martin (1921-2008) founders, Daughters of Bilitis
  • 5 Craig Rodwell (1940-93) Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop; Stonewall veteran
  • 6 Dick Michaels (Richard Mitch; 1926-91) founding editor, The Advocate
  • 7 Frank Kameny (1925-2011) founder, Mattachine Society Washington
  • 8-9 Jack Baker (1942-) & Michael McConnell (1942-); Same-sex marriage pioneers
  • 10 Ruth Simpson (1926-2008); president, New York Daughters of Bilitis
  • 11 Marty Robinson (1943-92) founder, Gay Activists Alliance of New York
  • 12-3 Lige Clarke (1942-75) & Jack Nichols (1938-2005); Mattachine; GAY magazine
  • 14 Arthur Evans (1942-2011) founder, GAA New York; historian and philosopher
  • 15 Barbara Gittings (1932-2007) founder, DOB New York; Gay Task Force, ALA

Later it was revealed, by Nichols in GayToday.com, that Tobin/Lahusen 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 in my own list of the "Top 100 LGBT Books of the 20th Century." The Gay Crusaders left out some important figures in the movement, most notably Harry Hay and other West Coast pioneers. And its coverage of lesbian activists (4 out of 15) ignored the gender split that by 1972 had already driven many women out of the gay movement into 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 few years ago television 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 Two, and produced the postwar Baby Boom. In my opinion, the men and women who created the LGBT movement of the 50's and 60's 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 community's 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 generations would later 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 held the naive notion that a small group of leaders like themselves could unite a motley group of people who had nothing in common but our enemies. They were not above indulging in ego trips, personality conflicts, or needless divisions. They were ignored by straight society and by most of their constituents, even while they were making life easier for them. They were idealists; with a zeal that made them less successful but more enduring than later, more practical, activists. It was their idealism, more than any actual achievement, 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 of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 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" an opportunity to gather together for one last time. Remember these names. If we ever create a nationwide Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, these people should be the first ones in it.


Recent Entries Filed under Media:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.