A good thing about packing up one’s stuff and moving it across country repeatedly is that you have the opportunity to go through things and the result is on occasional an interesting surprise. It is also a great way to get rid of many items that have played no role in one’s life for decades but for some reason have been dutifully carted hither and yon.
Going through several boxes of old clippings, writings and various memorabilia from the late 1970’s this past week I was struck with how much of a positive influence lesbian feminist thought and analysis were in shaping the queer community here in Denver and the political posture of The Center in particular. This came to be of course through the increasing participation of women in the larger local queer community activities, women who had cut their activist teeth in the Women’s Movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s.
The real feminist separatists had by that time of course either moved to collectives in Maine or totally flipped and married a man. It seemed though that many queer women who had become politicized in the Women’s Liberation movement moved easily into the larger LGBT community bringing not only that element of diversity but also political consciousness, something frequently not a strong point for many gay men.
This was particularly true in Denver with many very strong women becoming involved in The Center in the late seventies. One little way this expressed itself was in the name Lesbian/Gay Pride Week in 1979. Also The Center, which was originally named the Gay Community Center of Colorado or G-triple C (GCCC) for short, also added the letter ”L” around this time with other letters being added throughout the years. I suppose one could view the addition of each letter as a way of “keeping the peace”.
These women taught me many things but especially how to personally critique my own very male, albeit queer, worldview. One area in particular that they enlightened me and many other guys on was the reality of horizontal oppression and the various forms it can take: classism, racism, sexism and of course ageism, all alive and well in the gay community then. These are issues we certainly continue to struggle with today but we are at least in a better place to at least acknowledge that they exist and frequently confront them often vigorously as individuals and as a community.
Which brings me to a little bit of action on my part that I suppose could be viewed as an attempt to “keep the peace” or at least to kick the hornet’s nest and hope for a peaceful resolution. A letter I stumbled on a few days ago dated May 14th, 1979 was one I had written to the Board of Directors of the GCCC. I have included it here in this piece:
May 14th, 1979.
To: The Board of Directors of the G.C.C.C.
From: Patrick Gourley
The purpose of this letter is to bring to the attention of the Board of Directors a blatant act of horizontal oppression occurring, or soon to be occurring, at the Empire Baths. The Empire has posted in the pay window in the main entrance to the bath a notice, to take effect the 1st of June, which states in essence that the establishment reserves the right to deny admission to anyone over 50 years of age.
As a member of the Committee on Public Education and the Gay Community Center I feel that it is essential that the Center respond to this outrage publicly and directly to the management and ownership of the Empire Baths.
A frequently stated purpose of the G.C.C.C. is that it exists to meet the needs of the Gay Community that cannot be met elsewhere. Confronting the horribly destructive effects of horizontal oppression is something we cannot expect straight society to ever do for us. I feel, therefore, that an organization that exists to meet the needs of the Gay Community, and claiming to be non-exclusionary, cannot afford to ignore this situation.
If we tolerate, and silence in this situation would be toleration, this anti-human form of self-oppression to go un-confronted, particularly, as we approach the tenth anniversary of Stonewall we are making an absurd mockery of the concept of Gay Liberation in a manner more insidious than anything to come from the Anita Bryants and John Briggs of this world.
I am urging the Board to appoint an investigative person or committee to check into the facts of this situation and report back to the Board on the May 21st meeting so that you can decide on an appropriate response.
As I recall the sign disappeared quickly perhaps after the night I saw it and complained to the attendant on duty or perhaps there was a call or two from Board members. This is not to say this form of discrimination didn’t continue to occur but it at least it had to be a bit more on the down low and not quite so blatant.
In the interest of full disclosure I should say that at the time I was 30 years old and often frequented that bath in search of just the sort of daddies they wanted to keep out. I really would like to think though that my motivation for writing the letter was a bit more high- minded than that, an effort at “keeping the peace” perhaps.