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21 June 2020

Gay Activists Association (GAA)

​The post-Stonewall activist organizations:

While QLF and STAR were run by trans women, trans women also played significant roles in GLF and GAA. 

Queens Liberation Front (QLF)
StreetTransvestite Action Revolutionaries. (also Part III of Sylvia Rivera)
Gay Liberation Front (GLF) - New York
Gay Activists Alliance (GAA)
Gay Liberation Front (GLF) - London

See also The Five Years Following Stonewall - A New York Timeline

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The GAA was founded in New York City on December 1969 by dissident members of the Gay Liberation Front  who did not approve of the donation of $500 to the Black Panthers. The GAA were prepared to work within the political system, their meetings adhered to Robert’s Rules of Order and they had a constitution.

Sylvia Rivera and Bebe Scarpi first met at an early GAA meeting, however many of the members were initially uncomfortable with Sylvia.

GAA applied for incorporation to the New York State Division of Corporations and State Records.  However they were rejected on the grounds that the name was not a fit name for a New York corporation because of the connotation in which the word "gay" was being used, and that the corporation was being formed to violate the anti-sodomy laws of New York. It took five years to win the right to incorporate under that name.

Initially GAA met at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 9th Avenue at 28th Street. The GAA preamble included “The Right to Our Own Bodies”:
This is the right to treat and express our bodies as we will, to nurture, display and embellish them solely in the manner we ourselves  determine independent of any external control whatsoever.
In March 1970 the GAA organized protests following the police raid on the Snake Pit gay bar, and this led to the first Christopher Street Liberation Day.

Sylvia, right, collecting signatures.
GAA had started a petition to get the reluctant Carol Greitzer, representing Greenwich Village on the New York City Council, to introduce a bill for gay rights. In April 1970,  Sylvia, liking the idea, started soliciting signatures right on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues where she did her usual sex hustling – and was arrested on the 15th while doing so. This was GAA’s first arrest. Sylvia recounted her adventures at GAA. This was heard by Arthur Bell, who wrote a story for Gay Power, and made Sylvia a celebrity. When her case came to court the public gallery was filled with activists from GAA and GLF. Gay attorney Hal Weiner volunteered his services, and GAA picked up the other legal fees. After several appearances, Sylvia’s court case was thrown out when the arresting officer failed to show.

Sylvia wrote to Gay Power newspaper:
I want to tell you a little about a new gay group. The Gay Activists  Alliance. I really want to talk to my sister queens. So girls, pay me a little mind.
Well, girls, many of us were waiting for a group like GAA. I knew many of us when we used to talk about the day we could get together with other gays and be heard and ask for our freedom and our rights.
GAA collected over 6,000 signatures, but Greitzer refused to accept the petition.  Sylvia was part of the 35-person delegation that GAA sent to confront Greitzer on the issue - to no avail.

In August-September 1970 GAA/ Christopher Street Liberation Day booked the basement of Weinstein Hall, a New York University residence building, for fundraising dances. On 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. Sylvia, Marsha and Bubbles were present – and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries was born.

In March 1971 there was a Conference of Gay Liberation held at Rutgers University in New Jersey with forums on sadism, masochism, and leather; bisexuality; and transvestism. Speakers from S.T.A.R., Queens Liberation Front and GAA addressed the inaugural event on transvestism.

GAA headquarters was moved to the Firehouse at 99 Wooster St in May 1971. It offered weekly dances, with a sound system as good as in the best nightclubs; film nights curated by film historian Vito Russo; and of course political organizing.

GAA and STAR marched together from the Firehouse to Wards Island State Hospital where Marsha Johnson was then confined.

John Wojtowicz, who had become well-known in gay circles after his marriage to trans woman Liz Eden,  was a GAA member, although mainly for social activities, rarely for political events.

In July just after Mafioso Mike Umbers had evicted the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) from one of his houses, Arthur Bell wrote about his influence in the gay bar scene in The Village Voice, and shortly afterwards GAA organized a protest campaign outside Umbers’ major gay bar, Christopher’s End, at 180 Christopher Street.  Wojtowicz was out of favor as it became known that he was associated with Umbers - he turned up at the demonstration holding a sign supporting Umbers, and apparently had passed on information about GAA's plans.

GAA succeeded, after lobbying and protesting, in getting the New York City Council's General Welfare committee to discuss the problems faced by gays and transvestites in late 1971. GAA equivocated and for a while agreed to the removal of transvestite protections. However it ultimately endorsed them. STAR and QLF also gave evidence.

The GAA Street Theatre Subcommittee included trans activists and supported trans expression.

GAA published the Gay Activist newspaper until 1980.

The Wooster St Firehouse was burned down by arsonists in October 1974 – perhaps by the Mafia to eliminate the competition. The Chief Fire Marshall reported that the fire, soon after 3 am had been set in at least six places on the upper floors.

The GAA was disbanded in 1981.

  • Eric Holm.  "Dog Day Afternoon, Dog day aftertaste".  Jump Cut, 10-11. 1976:3-4.  Online.
  • Martin Duberman. Stonewall. A Plume Book, 1993: 230-4,
  • David Carter. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. St Martin’s Griffin, 2004: 233-8, 248-9.
  •  Stephen L Cohen. The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York “An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail”. Routledge, 2008: 37-40. 107-111, 136-7
  • Lillian Faderman.  The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. Simon & Shuster, 2015:.214-7
  • Phillip Crawford Jr.  The Mafia and the Gays.  2015: 34. 37.
     EN.Wikipedia
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It is now well known that Carter made no mention of Sylvia Rivera in that overall the evidence is that she was not at the Stonewall riots.  But why is there no mention in his book of her arrest re the Carol Greitzer petition, and her subsequent trial attended by both GLF and GAA?  He does otherwise write about the petition.  He is also silent about QLF and STAR, but not about GLF and GAA.

Faderman, who places Sylvia at the riots in a fleeting role, also ignores the arrest and trial.

I follow Cohen who discusses it in detail.

I was going to link to the EN.Wikipedia page for Carol Greitzer.   However all it says about her refusal of the petition and her general stonewalling on gay rights is "Following the nearby Stonewall Riots that had occurred months earlier, Greitzer met twice with members of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in May 1970".   I was appalled by this whitewashing and am not linking. 

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