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Beyond Rhetoric

By

JOHN PRESTON

M

ike McConnell's application for a job as a

cataloging librarian had been vetoed by the

University of Minnesota Board of Regents in july

1970. Less than a hundred people showed up at a

rally held by FREE, the only Gay organization in the

Upper Midwest at the time. Only one non-Gay person - a

radical Methodist minister -endorsed the rally. There was

little news coverage of the event and what there was was

accompanied by snickers and smiles by the reporter. A

demonstration against the administration was originally

co-sponsored by the campus SDS, but the non-Gay

"radicals" put down their placards and posters and left

almost as soon as they had started - they couldn't handle

being called "faggots" by the onlookers. Gay liberation in

Minnesota had gotten off to a lonely start. A half-year later,

the 8th District Court of Appeals in St. Louis agreed that

the Un tversity did not

have

to hire a "known homosexual."

The ruling was a stinging affront of the civil rights of the

Gay community. Describing our Gay identities as "socially

repugnant life-styles," the court said simply and purely that

• a person who acknowledges his or her homosexuality has

no rights left in this country. A lower court's statement

that "a homosexual is, after all, a human being" was

denied.

The response to this ruling was immediate and strikingly

different than the protest of a year and a half ago. This

time, groups rushed to endorse the rally in support for

McConnell, by now a nationally known figure. The full

page ad in the

Minnesota Daily

included a list o,

endorsements that read like a Who's Who of the state: the

former state commissioner of human rights, the president

of the NAACP, the president of Minnesota Civil Liberties

Union, and leaders of Women's liberation and radical Black

organizations. At the rally itself, the spokesperson of the

Chicano movement in the state approached the podium

and, though obviously hassled by the

machismo

of his

community, asked to speak.

This time the rally was not made up of a group of people

just coming out. There were over a thousand people who

never held back in applause or singing. A group of people

both celebrating their liberation and rising up as a

community to protest an assault on the rights of a Gay

brother. This time there were five Gay groups from the

Twin Cities, and representatives of groups from throughout

the Northern States area. This time there were no snickers

on the faces of reporters; the evening news was headlined

"Gay Liberation on the Move" and spoke of "throngs of

McConnell's supporters."

A lot had happened to Minnesota in a year and a half

and it was not measured by the size of the rally alone or by

1972

"acceptance" of Gay liberation by good liberals or by the

emergence of any one leader. Part of what had happened

could be heard in the rhetoric that was used in both rallies.

When "sexism," "oppression," "chauvinism" had been used

in 1970, hardly anyone in the audience knew their

meaning. In 1970, the ·call for violent revolution seemed

absurd. But in 1971, the words needed no definition. While

cries of defiance in 1970 came across as blind defensiveness,

in 1971 vows of struggling for Gay community and the

cries of "liberation

now"

had new meaning. There was a

new consciousness that a struggle for dignity and self–

respect had been joined and that our lives were in the

balance.

It would be impossible to clearly state what had

happened to the Gay liberation in Minnesota and to each

one of our own liberations; the forces working upon us and

our experiences with other movements were too great.

Also, the manifestation of Gay liberation as a movement

whose time had come in Minnesota are not transferrable to

other areas or situations. It is my hope though that sharing

our experiences with others will help us all develop a level

of consciousness where Gay Power, Gay Pride, and Gay

community can be transformed from meaningless pieces of

rhetoric into meaningful, useable concepts.

0

ne important move for the Gay commumry came

with the opening of Gay House in March, 1971.

FREE, as with so many other Gay groups, was

hardly beginning to perform some of the functions

many of us saw as being desperately needed. FREE had

begun with a burst of activity in the form of demonstra–

tions, actions and lawsuits, but the energy was all too often

directed to responding to negative forces. It became

apparent to many of us that our activities and our lives

could not be directed solely to demonstrations

against

institutions, that if we were to go anywhere, we would have

to start demonstrating

for

people.

Gay House was conceived as a community service center;

it has never been in opposition to FREE but has been

complementary to it. It was to be a place where Gay people

could come to find support in their day-to-day lives,

especially those Gay people who were denied access to

:>ther social service agencies.

Gay House opened in March with a $2000 grant from a

small local church foundation and some money for training

from the United Methodist Voluntary Service. With this

seed money we rented a large frame house in the heart of

the Gay ghetto in Minneapolis.

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