Remembering Gay Liberation Front’s NYU protest

This week I’ll be celebrating a birthday, and while it will be cold outside, and although we are heading into a deeper pandemic, it seems this will be a very cheerful birthday for me. The first present came yesterday, delightfully.

Over the last few months I’ve been involved with two projects that involve, among other duties, research.  As part of the research for one of the projects, it was suggested that each of us take a close look at the New York Public Library’s digital photo collections, specifically the Diana Davies Collection, which is the largest collection of LGBT activism photos from that fabulous 1969-1973 time period.

The only minor issue is that there are thousands of photos in the collection, and to look closely at each one would take some time. So I took a couple of hours looking at all the photos, seeing old friends and remembering those moments. And while I was looking through the photos, I found one that sang to me. 

The photo is of a 1970 march supporting the Gay Liberation Front members who were doing a sit-in of NYU’s Weinstein Hall dormitory in protest of NYU going back on its deal to rent the hall for LGBT Dances. The protests went on for almost a week, and the sit-in shows the LGBT movement at its birth. Would we allow a liberal university like NYU, in our gayborhood, to discriminate against us without a response?  

Here’s how Greenwich village history page puts it:

“…as the fall semester approached, the NYU administration closed all university facilities to gay social functions until a panel of ministers and psychologists determined whether homosexuality was “morally acceptable.” The administration was particularly concerned about the impact of gay dances on impressionable freshmen.

“The evening of August 28th witnessed a small but angry demonstration outside Weinstein Hall. City police were called, and a group of representatives from the gay community went to meet with NYU Dean Harold Whiteman. Gay Flame described the event:

“We told him it was Weinstein Hall or stormy weather. He looked at us and he knew we meant it. We weren’t hiding in our closets and we had a foot wedged in his. So, after a little while, he gave in and said we’d have it. We ran back over and told the people who were still marching the news. Another win for GAY POWER. We had met the enemy and the hall is ours!”

The event included the five day occupation of Weinstein Hall, various marches, meetings with administration, and police being called in.  

Eventually NYU became a welcoming place for the LGBT community, but at that moment in 1970 they were not, so we had to force them to confront the issue. 50 years later, the university marked the 50th anniversary of that very occupation. Several of my fellow Gay Liberation Front members who participated in the sit in were present at the anniversary ceremony and spoke.   

NYU, for its part, stated that they were going to put up a plaque to call attention to that often overlooked part of LGBT history. 

There’s a smaller piece here, which is the true reason for my joy in seeing the photograph. I’m arm-in-arm with my friend and fellow activist Jerry Hoose, and Sylvia Rivera is marching right behind us. For me, those photos evoke the joy it brought me to demonstrate against discrimination, and to do so with my friends including Jerry, Sylvia, and Bob Kohler. They are all gone now, but I now have these special pictures to remember them by. What a truly great birthday gift!