Coming of Age During the 1970s — Chapter One: A Surge of Energy

Gay Liberation Front Poster Image (1970) by Peter Hujar. Credit: © 2023 The Peter Hujar Archive / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Episode Notes

The Stonewall uprising ignites an explosion of protests and organizing that transforms a small, often tentative homophile movement into a newly assertive national force that demands gay liberation and equality. In a Puerto Rico hotel pool, 12-year-old Eric experiences a transformation of his own.

Episode first published April 13, 2023.



This episode has been made possible with support from André’s Fund and Robert Dodd in honor of André Bonhote.




Learn more about some of the topics and people discussed in the episode by exploring the links below.

General resources about gay liberation organizing in the early 1970s:

Come Out!! (1970), Gay Liberation Front poster. Photographer: Peter Hujar; credit: © 2023 The Peter Hujar Archive / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Gay Activists Alliance (GAA):

Carl Wittman:

Sylvia Rivera:

Sylvia Rivera addressing the crowd at the New York State gay rights bill rally in front of the State Capitol in Albany, New York, March 1971. Her fellow STAR cofounder, Marsha P. Johnson, is visible behind her, wearing a green headdress. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

New York State gay rights bill:

Huey Newton on gay liberation:

Gay Liberation Front (GLF):

Martha Shelley holding the Gay Liberation Front publication “Come Out!” during a GLF demonstration at New York University’s Weinstein Hall, 1970. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

Mama Jean Devente:

Madeline Davis:

  • 2012 interview with Davis on the 40th anniversary of her speech at the 1972 Democratic Convention (NPR).
  • Profile of Davis by Jeffry J. Iovannone (Belt Magazine, June 1, 2021).
  • Tribute to Davis by Joan Nestle with recollections from Davis’s widow, Wendy Smiley (Lesbian Herstory Archives).
  • Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, an oral history project cofounded by Davis to record the history of the lesbian community in Buffalo, New York (Lesbian Herstory Archives).
Gay Liberation Front meeting at Alternate U, 1970. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.


Episode Transcript

Eric Marcus Narration: I’m in a pool at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Getting here was my first trip on an airplane. A 747 with a smoke-filled piano bar at the back of the plane. Can you imagine? Coach class air travel in the early 1970s.

My father has been dead for just four months. His suicide is a secret I’m not supposed to know about. I think of this trip as something of a consolation prize. My mother’s used some of the modest life insurance money to take us out of Queens and out of our day-to-day lives. For a little over a week—I think it was 10 days. My older sister, younger brother, and me. It’s 1971. I’m 12 years old.

The hotel’s pool is vast. Not quite kidney-shaped; it’s a casual ovoid. And mostly empty. I stay close to the steps at the shallow end. I can’t swim. I can hardly float. I have nothing for buoyancy; I’m scrawny. Any body fat I may have is hiding.

I’ve had swimming lessons at summer camp but apparently haven’t learned much. I’m practicing floating on my back, or trying to. Over and over again, I lean back, kick my feet off the floor of the pool, hover for a second at the surface, but then my concave chest collapses. I sink like a rock and come up sputtering.

My flailing routine—sinking, almost drowning, catch my breath, repeat—is interrupted when a teenager wades over to me. He’s tall, or at least a lot taller than I am. Lean. Tanned. A halo of blond curls backlit by vacation sun. Maybe 15 or 16. I don’t catch his name. “Let me give you a hand, I’ll help you float,” he says. “Just relax and lean back. I won’t drop you. Promise.” 

I do as I’m told. He places one hand at the base of my spine and another between my shoulder blades. He eases me onto the water’s surface. That’s when it happens. A surge of energy like nothing I have ever felt before. Not a lightning bolt or an electric shock, but a liquid bliss that spreads up and down my spine between his hands. The back of my head in the water and my ears below the surface, I can hear the inside of each breath. Instead of sinking and flailing, I am so alive. And I have no idea what this feeling means for the life stretching out ahead of me, as I stare at the sky, all at once an electric blue. 

I’m Eric Marcus. This is “Coming of Age During the 1970s,” a production of Making Gay History. Chapter one: “A Surge of Energy.”

Eric Marcus, age 11, with his father, Irwin, and his younger brother, Lewis, April 1970. Credit: Courtesy of Eric Marcus.


Chanting Crowd: Gay Power! Gay is proud! Gay Power! Gay is proud! Say it loud, gay is proud! Say it loud, gay is proud!

Breck Ardery: June 28, 1970. One of the most important days in the history of the American homosexual’s fight for freedom. 

Chanting Crowd: Gay Power, Gay Power, Gay Power, Gay Power…

BA: Thousands marched in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They represented the mood of growing militancy in the United States gay community. 

Chanting Crowd: Gay, gay power to the gay, gay people! All power to the people!


Carl Wittman Voice-over: Dateline: San Francisco, 1970. From the desk of Carl Wittman. This is “The Gay Manifesto.” “In the past year, there has been an awakening of gay liberation ideas and energies. How it began, we don’t know. Maybe we were inspired by Black people and their freedom movement. We learned how to stop pretending from the hip revolution. America in all its ugliness has surfaced with the war and our national leaders. And we are repulsed by the quality of our ghetto life.”


EM Narration: In the wake of the Stonewall uprising, a dam had burst. The flood of organizing it unleashed in the new decade was unprecedented in American LGBTQ history. In the first half of the 1970s, hundreds of new organizations were blossoming, thousands of young people were joining the movement and demanding their rights. For starters, an end to discrimination, the repeal of laws criminalizing their relationships, and the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. And their tactics changed radically. 


Protestors: Gay Power! Louder! Gay Power! Louder! …


EM Narration: Gone were the days of parading respectfully and quietly, in shirts and ties, skirts and pumps, as the homophile groups had done in the 1960s. These young people wanted liberation. 


Protestors: Louder! …


EM Narration: That is a “zap.” These in-your-face protests were the hallmark of the Gay Activists Alliance. The GAA’s zaps were attention-grabbing, personal, and kind of playful. 


Protestors: Gay Activists Alliance, don’t [overlapping voices]

Jim Owles, president of the Gay Activists Alliance, seated at the city clerk’s desk with same-sex wedding cake, during the GAA’s marriage bureau zap at the New York City Municipal Building, June 4, 1971. Credit: Rich Wandel, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.


EM Narration: This tape is from New York City in June 1971. Members of GAA have invaded the city’s marriage bureau. They’re furious with the city clerk Herman Katz, who’s been threatening legal action over a same-sex marriage ceremony of holy union that was held at the Church of Holy Apostles earlier that year. A marriage between two men or two women was of course illegal back then. The activists are having fun with their fury.


Zap Participant: You want an invitation to our reception? Here, you’re invited. This office belongs to us.


EM Narration: The bureau takeover includes a plan to host an engagement party for two same-sex couples. They’ve even brought cake. Here’s GAA member Arthur Evans answering the bureau’s phone to an unsuspecting member of the public. 


Arthur Evans: Oh, this is definitely the marriage bureau, uh, but it’s been taken over by the Gay Activists Alliance. Your mother and dad want to get married? Are they gay? Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t help you. No… No, I can’t, I’m sorry. But if you come down and talk to us in person, we’ll be glad to talk to you, give you some free wedding cake. Oh, yes, we’ll be here for quite a while, I guess, oh, yes. Well, that’s possible. Okay, bye-bye.

Arthur Evans of the Gay Activists Alliance confronts examiner Murray Rockowitz about discrimination faced by LGBTQ teachers at the GAA’s Board of Examiners zap in Brooklyn, New York, January 25, 1971. Credit: Rich Wandel, LGBT Community Center National History Archive.


EM Narration: The Gay Activists Alliance was just one of the hundreds of new organizations taking root: Lesbians Rising, the Queens Liberation Front, Lesbian Feminist Liberation, and…


Ernie Ray: Let’s hear now from the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. [Cheering.] Sylvia Lee Rivera. 

Rally Participant: Right on, Sylvia!


EM Narration: In March 1971, representatives from a dozen or so gay rights groups held a rally in Albany, New York State’s capital. They were lobbying for the passage of a statewide gay rights bill. Sylvia Rivera was there representing the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, and she was full of revolutionary zeal addressing the rally. 


Sylvia Rivera: Revolutionary love to all my sisters and brothers and half-sisters and half-brothers. Power to all the people. We’re, we’re here to ask the legislator of the state to, to abolish all laws against sodomy and anti-transvestism laws. Because we, the transvestites who are harassed the most in the United States of America, are thrown in jail under the charges of criminal impersonation—which is a felony “A,” one to three years—which is a trumped-up charge which should be thrown off the books. [Cheering.] And the only way we can achieve this is by revolution. I don’t believe in the laws and you, neither do we. And revolution is the only way. To all the people, power to all the people that are oppressed, revolution and revolutionary love. Thank you. [Cheering.] 


EM Narration: Like many activists at the time, Sylvia had a finger in numerous revolutionary pies.


Ernie Ray: Thank you, Sylvia!

Sylvia Rivera at the New York State gay rights bill rally in Albany, New York, March 1971. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.


EM Narration: In addition to starting the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries with her friend Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia was an early member of the Gay Activists Alliance, playing a key role in its founding. She was also part of the gay caucus of the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican revolutionary youth party. For groups like that, you couldn’t separate gay liberation from the global revolutionary struggle, a struggle for liberation from racism and American imperialism. And the activism was erupting from a deep dissatisfaction—no, that’s not it—an utter rejection, is more like it, of the status quo. Everything was on the table, demands-wise, to overthrow the system. Connecting struggles meant gay liberation must also demand an end to criminalization and incarceration. 


Breck Ardery: As the marchers passed the Women’s House of Detention at Greenwich and Sixth Avenues, a chant of “Free our sisters, free our selves” welled up.

Chanting Crowd: Free our sisters, free our selves! Free our sisters, free our selves!


Carl Wittman Voice-over: Carl Wittman’s “Gay Manifesto,” Section 7: On Coalition. “Right now, the bulk of our work has to be among ourselves—self-educating, fending off attacks, and building our free territory. But two problems exist with that as a total vision. (1) We can’t change America alone; we need coalition with other oppressed groups at some point. (2) Many of us have “mixed” identities: we are gay, and we are also part of another group trying to free itself—women, Blacks, other minority groups. We may also have taken on identities which are vital to us: dopers, ecologists, radicals, … Whom do we look to for coalition?”

Cover page of Carl Wittman’s “Gay Manifesto.” Credit:


EM Narration: This is Huey Newton, cofounder and de facto leader of the Black Panthers. 


Huey Newton: Uh, we’ve had meetings with the homosexual, uh, representatives of the homosexual group and, uh, also the, uh, the woman’s liberation front. 


EM Narration: Newton is speaking on Pacifica Radio in August 1970. That same month he published a manifesto in the Black Panther Party newspaper calling for an alliance between the Panthers and women’s liberation and gay liberation.


Huey Newton: The homosexual group, uh, have been, uh, oppressed so, uh, much and so badly until, uh, it was hard to convince them that, uh, the Black Panther Party, uh, uh, is relating to them.

But, uh, we see, uh, that, uh, uh, homosexuals are human beings and, uh, they’re oppressed because of the bourgeois mentality and the bourgeois treachery, uh, that, uh, exists in this country, uh, that, uh, tries to legislate, uh, sexual activity. Uh, uh, most of the laws are laws not to, to promote freedom, uh, which is, I believe that, uh, one, uh, one of the most essential things that man universally strives after, whether it’s internal freedom or external freedom.


EM Narration: Even from here, peering back 50 years into the past, the energy is palpable. The Gay Liberation Front, the very first of the radical organizations founded in the immediate aftermath of the Stonewall uprising, was spawning Marxist offshoots, including Third World Gay Revolution and the Red Butterfly cell. For some activists, gay liberation was about more than asking for legal reforms. It was a revolutionary call to join with all the other groups fighting against the system.

glf newsletter

Front and back of a 1970 Gay Liberation Front newsletter announcing the inaugural Christopher Street Liberation Day March and Gay-In and various GLF gatherings, including consciousness-raising workshops and a “mixed dance” at Alternate U. Credit: The LGBT Community Center National History Archive.


Martha Shelley: We felt that the struggles should be united, not separated. 

EM: Mm-hmm. 

MS: And that they were part of the same struggle. 


EM Narration: Martha Shelley was a founder of the Gay Liberation Front.


EM: Which… If you can for me, list the, what struggles were, were united at that time? 

MS: Well, they were united in our hearts, not in our, in the political reality of the world.

EM: Yeah. 

MS: The Black, uh, civil rights movement. The struggle against, uh, the Vietnam War and the tendency of the U.S. government to, first of all, involve itself in dominating the rest of the world, and, second, um, to draft our young asses—or at least the male young asses—and send them over there to get killed. Um, the women’s movement, feminist politics. Socialist politics—the whole idea behind the war on poverty, which anybody who was involved in it more and more began to see that it would have to involve changing the structure of the society, not just throwing out a few more welfare dollars. Every ethnic group had its own civil rights cause. And of course the gay cause. 

If you can think of any, any more, we’ll throw ’em in there. Oh yeah. Um, I’m not sure what, how to describe this, but in a sense, it was a movement for psychic liberation, and it was related to the insights we got from taking psychedelics. 

EM: Was it the right to—I remember reading this, I think it may have been GLF—the right to take whatever drugs you chose as long as you didn’t hurt anybody?

MS: Right. That was one of our platforms. But that was, uh, the point wasn’t taking the drugs. The point was—at least the way we thought at the time—to liberate our minds from the philosophical constraints, the psychological constraints, put on them: the, the things that you were allowed to think, the philosophies that you were allowed to hold, the way right-thinking people always were supposed to think. 


EM Narration: Young people were changing the world. It was the crackling energy of the previously unimaginable seeming possible. 


MS: We thought the government was going to come down.


EM Narration: In May 1971 the Gay Activists Alliance took over an old fire department building in SoHo, New York City. They called it the Firehouse. Until the early ’70s, gay and lesbian people mostly relied on bars for their safe spaces. And they really weren’t safe. They were often run by the Mafia and subject to police raids. But spaces like the Firehouse and the Gay Liberation Front’s dances at a place on the edge of Greenwich Village called Alternate U were something else. Something magical. 

Exterior of the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, 1971. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.


MS: We were expressing ourselves physically. We were expressing our affection for each other and our sense of community in those dances, which you couldn’t do in gay bars. 

EM: The fear of being raided, I would think. 

MS: Yeah, that was really strong. But at least in the Gay Liberation dances, there was this consciousness of, we are here to give each other love and acceptance, and who we are is okay. And there were circle dances. You never saw that in a gay bar. Instead of two people against the world, it was our whole community giving each other support.


EM Narration: Over at the Firehouse, there were weekly dances.

Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse dances, 1971. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.


Joyce Hunter: My former lover took me down to, uh, the Firehouse. And this was 1971. And I didn’t know what to expect. And I remember walking in, and it looked like a firehouse. They had, the first floor was, like, wide open. I guess that’s where the trucks used to be. And they had the big dances. 

EM: Interview with Joyce Hunter. Interviewer is Eric Marcus.

JH: It was exciting. And it was a woman’s dance. I was really overwhelmed and it was like—for me, it was like coming home. It was the first time that I saw a group of women not in a bar situation. And it was so exciting. And I was just… It was very overwhelming, but, boy, but it, I got hooked into, to, to the, to the people who were doing this. You know, I was saying, “What a wonderful thing.”  This was the first time I learned about—I didn’t know nothing about feminism. I didn’t know, I didn’t know what it meant. And I didn’t know about the gay movement. I mean, I was still closeted. But I had decided to come out after going to that dance.

EM: Uh-huh.

JH: It was like, this is where… Why, why am I living this crazy life, you know? And so I, uh, so the movement really did it, did so much for me. It was like, uh, it gave me a sense of who I was and a sense of identity that I really didn’t have.


EM Narration: And there was cabaret.


Cabaret Host: Now to start the show, I’d like to introduce a very good friend of mine…


EM Narration: The beloved Mama Jean Devante not only served as grand marshal at a number of early Pride Marches; she was a key member of the Gay Activists Alliance and Lesbian Feminist Liberation. A self-described butch dyke, on this occasion she’s not in her usual threads. The tape is a little fuzzy with age, and also as messy as you’d expect from a chaotic cabaret at the Firehouse, but it sounds like Mama Jean is all dressed up to emcee the cabaret—literally dressed up. She’s being introduced as the world’s first… 


Cabaret Host: … female female impersonator… Mama Jean Devante!

Mama Jean Devente at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day March, New York City. Credit: Rich Wandel, the LGBT Community Center National History Archive.


EM Narration: Apparently, she’s finding her girdle kind of uncomfortable. 


MJD: Uh! Oh, this fucking girdle, oh! Thank you. You should know what I look like underneath.

Audience Member 1: I know.

MJD: How the fuck do you know? She knows! Honey, don’t look while I’m up here, or I’ll squeeze your balls. Isn’t this beautiful, men and lesbians together in one place?

Audience Member 2: Yeah! [Applause.]


EM Narration: The Gay Liberation Front’s magazine published its first edition in the months following Stonewall. Titled Come Out! it was a magazine and it was a challenge—for LGBTQ people to be seen and to find each other. The personal was the political. Coming out was then, as it is now, an individual journey. But the visibility it brought with it—the payoff that came with the very real personal risk—was a vital part of the movement for gay rights. Here’s a little something from Come Out!’s third edition in April 1970. It’s a review of one of the dances at Alternate U by Kathy Braun. Under the subtitle, “Art Review,” Kathy writes:


Kathy Braun Voice-over: The dancing was of the usual superlative quality. Them queers can sure shake a leg.


EM Narration: Under “Analysis,” Kathy goes on:


KB Voice-over: ”Who wants to go to a gay bar when you can get six hundred dancing partners, a light show, and free coat check, all for a contribution of a dollar fifty, with drinks only a quarter!” “Although I feel that GLF is not unified on its specific politics (and need it be?) the underlying theory that prevails is that effective politics must be based on caring about people, and it is this theory which permeates the actions of every member of GLF and communicates directly to the people who come to the dances. Although there are some people who get together to talk politics, most people are simply dancing, looking, listening, groping, drinking, laughing, having fun, being cared about. Gorgeous.” 


EM Narration: Joyful community-building has always been one of the best antidotes to the isolation imposed by oppression. And the gay community was growing, fast. The number of people involved in the movement was ballooning from hundreds to tens of thousands. I mean, that’s nothing like today with millions of LGBTQ people out and proud. But still, the ways gay people were becoming visible mattered. Magazines, dances, marches, and zaps. And that visibility was reaching as far as big national political events. 


Walter Cronkite: The speaker who just started is Madeline Davis, a 32-year-old communications worker from Buffalo, New York, who’s just identified herself as a lesbian.

Madeline Davis in an undated photo. Courtesy of the Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.


EM Narration: 1972. The Democratic Party National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida. 


Madeline Davis: Twenty million Americans are grateful and proud of the Democratic Party. 


EM Narration: Madeline Davis was the first openly lesbian delegate to a major party convention, and she urged the party to include gay rights as part of the 1972 Democratic platform. 


MD: We are the minority of minorities. We belong to every race and creed, both sexes, every economic and social level, every nationality and religion. We live in large cities and in small towns, but we are the untouchables in American society. We have suffered the gamut of oppression, from being totally ignored or ridiculed, to having our heads smashed and our blood spilled in the streets. Now we are coming out of our closets and onto the convention floor to tell you, the delegates, and to tell all gay people throughout America that we are here to put an end to our fears.


EM Narration: Gay rights activists from all over the country were there. Here was Jim Owles from Gay Activists Alliance, there was beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and on the main stage, Madeline, strident and clear:


MD: Our fears that people will know us for who we are, that they will shun and revile us, fire us from our jobs, reject us from our families, evict us from our homes, beat us and jail us. And for what? Because we have chosen to love each other. I am asking that you vote yes.

Madeline Davis DNC Draft Yellow

Madeline Davis’s handwritten notes for the speech she delivered at the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida. Credit: Courtesy of the Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.


EM Narration: A female delegate from Ohio addressed the convention, offering a rebuttal to the gay and lesbian caucus’s proposed plank. She connected homosexuality with prostitution and pedophilia. The plank was not added to the Democratic Party platform that year. It would take the Democratic National Party another eight years to include gay rights in their platform. And that New York State gay rights bill Sylvia Rivera and others were rallying about in Albany back in March 1971? That was voted down two months later. 

As Dr. Martin Luther King said many times, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Activists can be laying the groundwork for decades before a payoff. There’s this uneasy pairing of the kind of impatience that refuses to accept the status quo, with the kind of patience needed to stay the course. 

As a matter of fact, Madeline Davis was the founding member of the Buffalo, New York, chapter of the Mattachine Society. I point that out because Mattachine itself was one of the first U.S. homophile organizations founded back in the 1950s and ’60s. 

New York State gay rights bill rally in Albany, New York, March 1971. At the podium is Kate Millett. Holding the Buffalo Radicalesbians sign is Madeline Davis. Morty Manford can be seen at lower right holding a cigarette. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.


Carl Wittman Voice-over: From Carl Wittman’s “The Gay Manifesto,” Section 7: On Coalition. Subsection 6: Homophile Groups. “(1) Reformist and pokey as they might sometimes be, they are our brothers. They will grow just as we have grown, and will grow. Don’t attack them, particularly in straight or mixed company. (2) Ignore their attacks on us. (3) Cooperate where cooperation is possible without essential compromise on our identity.”


EM Narration: As the Marxists marched and the gay liberationists’ love-ins and zaps drew attention, the work of that “reformist and pokey” homophile movement was bearing fruit. 

This fall, Making Gay History will tell the story of how homosexuality came to be removed from the DSM. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was the official manual of psychiatric disorders. And for as long as it had existed, it had defined gay people as mentally ill. The facts of gay lives, our loves, our identities were pathologized. 

Flyer produced by the Mattachine Society, Inc. of New York in the summer of 1969 encouraging a quiet and respectful “hang-out” of homosexuals in Greenwich Village—an illustration of the more “poky” homophile approach to protesting, which stood in contrast to the more disruptive tactics of nascent gay liberationist groups. Credit: LGBT Community Center National History Archive, Bob Kohler Collection, #110.


EM: How significant was the removal of homosexuality?

Judd Marmor: Very significant, because it means that, uh, people who want to, uh, discriminate against homosexuals can say, “Look, the psychiatrists call it an illness. It’s considered a sexual perversion under a fancier name. And, uh, we can’t, uh, have people who are sick working for us; we’re entitled to stop them from being school teachers or from hiring them,” or something of that sort. So it wasn’t merely that we removed them from the category of illness; we stated that there was no reason why a gay man and woman couldn’t be just as healthy, just as effective, just as law-abiding, and capable of functioning as any heterosexual. And furthermore, that, uh, laws that discriminated against them in housing or in employment were unjustified. 

January 1974 issue of the Chicago Gay Crusader announcing the American Psychiatric Association’s removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


EM Narration: Dr. Judd Marmor was a key figure in the fight to remove homosexuality from the DSM. You’ll meet him this fall, along with the other happy warriors who took on the medical establishment, and won. You’ll hear archival interviews, newly uncovered tape, and first-person accounts. But that’s this fall. For now, you need to know that in 1973 this major hurdle was overcome. In fact, the Chicago Gay Crusader newspaper headline read, “20,000,000 Gay People Cured!” 

It was official. We weren’t crazy anymore. But we were still facing discrimination in housing, at work, and in public accommodations. There were still bar raids, police harassment, and beatings. Professionals still lost their licenses to teach, practice law, practice medicine, or psychiatry! And when you have no rights, you have no recourse. 

Meanwhile, the first anti-discrimination laws had been passed in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Laws criminalizing sex between two men or two women were repealed in several states, including Oregon, Connecticut, Colorado, and Hawaii. Local gay rights organizations were taking root, taking action, and pushing the ball forward.

You know all that stuff people believe happened in the ’60s? It was actually the 1970s. A misunderstood decade that I’ve come to understand as the gay rights movement’s adolescence. Which might be because it was also mine, just starting to unfold in that pool at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico. 

I never saw that teenaged swim instructor with the golden halo again. It would be years before I came to understand what that feeling of liquid bliss really was, what it meant. I was still a kid. I wasn’t connected to the fight for gay rights, but those battles were already shaping my future. Those activists were in the fight for my life. 

Next time on “Coming of Age During the 1970s,” coming of age without a compass. Join us for “Fire Island and Other Stories.” 

Two vintage postcard views of the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the hotel where Eric Marcus vacationed in early 1971. Credit image at left: Hilton Brands Global Hospitality Company. Credit image at right: BryBrenn Collectables/Ebay.


This season of Making Gay History was produced and written by me, Eric Marcus, and Making Gay History’s founding editor, Sara Burningham, with archival research and production assistance from Brian Ferree. “Coming of Age During the 1970s” was mixed and sound designed by Anne Pope. Many thanks to our hard-working crew at Making Gay History, including deputy director Inge De Taeye, studio engineer Michael Bognar, photo editor Michael Green, and our social media producers, Cristiana Peña and Nick Porter. This season was recorded at CDM Sound Studios. Special thanks to interviewer-slash-oral historian Shane O’Neill. Our theme music and additional scoring were composed by Fritz Myers.

Thank you to Breck Ardery for allowing us to use audio from his incredible documentary album June 28, 1970, Gay and Proud. The tape from the Firehouse cabaret is courtesy of the Rudy Grillo collection at the LGBTQ Center in New York, and the audio of Sylvia Rivera’s speech at the 1971 Albany rally is courtesy of the Charles Pitts collection, also at the Center. 

Sound from the Gay Activists Alliance’s marriage bureau zap comes from the inimitable Randy Wicker’s extraordinary personal archive, some of which can be found on YouTube.

Huey Newton’s August 1971 interview was with San Francisco Bay Area radio station KPFA, thanks to the Pacifica archive. 

Carl Wittman’s “Gay Manifesto” was voiced by the incomparable Devlyn Camp, producer, writer, and host of Queer Serial, a three-season podcast chronicling LGBTQ+ liberation in America from the beginning to the Stonewall uprising and its aftermath. 

And thank you to Making Gay History’s deputy director Inge De Taeye who was the voice of Kathy Braun’s Come Out! column. Our deputy director has such range!

This season of the podcast was made possible by the generous support of the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, Patrick Hinds and Steve Tipton, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Calamus Foundation, Andra and Irwin Press, Bill Kux, Louis Bradbury, and scores of other individual supporters. 

This episode was underwritten with a very generous donation from André’s Fund and Robert Dodd, honoring André Bonhote.

Please consider joining us on Making Gay History’s Patreon channel, where you can support our work and at the same time gain access to exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes conversations, and additional archival audio excerpts that we think you’ll enjoy hearing. Sign up for just $5 a month at or just go to and click on the Patreon button. 

“Coming of Age During the 1970s” is a production of Making Gay History. 

I’m Eric Marcus. So long, until next time.

Gay Activists Alliance protest against Mafia-controlled gay bars and police harassment outside the Sixth Police Precinct, Greenwich Village, New York City, August 1971. Credit: Diana Davies, courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.