In August-September 1970, the Gay Activist Alliance and then the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee booked the basement of Weinstein Hall, a New York University residence building for fundraising dances. In the eve of the third dance, to be held 21 August, the administration attempted to cancel the rest. Although the two remaining dances were held, the situation escalated and the Hall was occupied. Among the volunteers were Bubbles Rose Lee, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha Johnson. A further dance was planned for 25 September. However the administration called the New York City Tactical Police Squad, which gave the occupiers 10 seconds to vacate the Hall.
After the ensuing demonstration died down, Bubbles, Sylvia, Marsha, Bebe Scarpi, Bambi L’Amour and others founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which attempted to provide shelter, food and legal support for street queens.
Their first home was a trailer truck seemingly abandoned in a Greenwich Village outdoor parking area. This was a step up from sleeping in doorways, and a couple of dozen young street transvestites moved in. One morning Sylvia and Marshe were returning with groceries, and found the trailer starting to move. Most of the queens were woken by the noise and movement and quickly jumped out, although one, stoned, was half-way to California when she woke up.
Bubbles knew a Mafia person, well-known in the Village, Michael Umbers, manager of the gay bar, Christopher’s End, operator of various callboy and porno operations and also a friend of future Dog Day Afternoon bank robber, John Wojtowicz. Bubbles spoke to him and for a small deposit, the STAR commune was able to move into 213 East Second Street. There was no electricity or plumbing, not even the boiler worked, nor did the toilets. However with help they got the building working and it became STAR House.
Eventually Mike Umbers came around about the three months rent that he had not received. Bubbles mumbled something about the cost of repairs. Umbers said that if he didn’t get his money, Bubbles was as good as dead. Sylvia screamed that if he killed her, she would go to the police. “That bitch can’t make no money”, Umbers said, “That bitch is fat”. Bubbles skipped town soon after, possibly for Florida.
Umbers decided against violence and simply had STAR put out on the street for non-payment of rent. Sylvia and the others reversed the improvements and threw the refrigerator out of the back window.
Arthur Bell wrote an article for the Village Voice about STAR House and perhaps said too much about how the inhabitants hustle. Its publication was followed by a flurry or arrests on 42nd St.
Umbers was arrested in December 1971 on child pornography charges.
Later it was said that Bubbles had been extradited to Louisiana to face serious criminal charges, possibly murder.
- Arthur Bell. “STAR trek”. Village Voice, July 15, 1971. Online.
- Martin B. Duberman. Stonewall. Dutton, c1993. Plume, 1994: 252, 254.
- Stephan L. Cohen. The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: "An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail". Routledge, 2008: 89, 91, 97, 98, 111, 112, 113, 117, 128, 132-3, 147, 252n186.