Interesting Times

Queer Identity Politics
(30 Years Ago)

By Pat Gourley

These are three pieces, two of which were published in local Denver GLBT publications, from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. No editing has occurred except a reformatting for easier placement on the web site. They strongly reflect the influence that four people were having on my queer identity formation at the time: Harry Hay, John Burnside, Mitch Walker and Don Kilhefner. These gay men, among their many other lifetime accomplishments, were the founders of the Radical Fairie movement. Despite the frequently tortured syntax I find them to be a naively quaint view of my world at the time.

Part 1:

Gay Space

A letter to the editor published in Out Front August 1979.

Editor:
The current furor being generated by the New’s (Rocky Mountain News) recent article by a homophobic moron name W. D. F., dealing superficially with the issue of gay hustling around the Capitol building, seems to be eliciting a rather intense response from the lesbian/gay community of Denver. This response is certainly necessary and for the most part appropriate.

 I was a bit distressed, however, with a theme I picked up running through several of the responses to Mr. F’s article that were published on Monday August 20th. This being that the hustlers and others who solicit sexual contact around the Capitol are indeed despicable and certainly should not be lumped with those “respectable” gay men and women in the mainstream of gay culture. This line of thinking, I feel, is dangerous, divisive and the same basic energy that has oppressed us for centuries, i.e. differences in lifestyles will not be tolerated!

I agree that there certainly are undesirable facets to the hustling scene and a definite amount of crime that frequently occurs simultaneously. It is vital for us as gay men and women to respond to the issue when it is raised by straights in a more constructive manner, more conducive to gay unity that takes into account the historical reality that has created the situation around the Capitol.

 This reality being that historically we have not been allowed a gay space, but rather a limited controlled space to act as homosexuals. Gays have been allowed only very limited areas to meet one another and interact. In the case of gay men this has meant the outside of public buildings, parks, public restrooms and obscure bars and steam baths. These meeting places always vulnerable to various forms of harassment were conducive to quick impersonal sex, to linger with the possibility of relating to the other person, as a human being, was not allowed under punishment of arrest, beatings and all to frequently death. We therefore have often been forced into a demeaning manner of relating to one another by the dominant heterosexual culture and those people chosen by that culture to enforce its mores – the police, the vice squad and certain homophobic citizenry.

 Gay community centers, volleyball tournaments, Lesbian conferences, gay pride marches, many and varied open bars did not exist ten years ago. This budding gay space is not being tolerated very well by many straights right now. As evidence of a growing intolerance of gay lifestyles I would call your attention to House Concurrent Resolution 166 introduced by a very vocal and powerful Christian group which states in part; “Be it, therefore, resolved by the House (the Senate concurring) it is the sense of the Congress of the United States that homosexual acts and the class of individuals who advocate such contact shall never receive special consideration or a protected status under the law”.  Mr. F. and the disturbingly large minority of people in this country who agree with the above resolution are in no way going to accept you as a gay person no matter how much like them you tell them you are or how much you too deplore the kind of behavior that occurs around the Capitol.

 If gay liberation means anything to me it means the creation of a gay space. Many homophobic heterosexuals are not going to allow this to happen – at least not with open and loving support. We will create this space ourselves, and we are definitely on the road to doing just that. The creation of gay space will best be facilitated by getting to know one another as gay people. I believe in an “essence of gayness” which is just beginning to be defined. The unique and invaluable insights into what it means to be truly human that we have to offer the rest of society can not be discovered by running around and saying to straights “ I’m really no different than you are”.

 Members of our emerging culture represent the entire human race and there lies our tremendous power and the heart of the difficulty we are having in pulling it together. We are ultimately diverse unlike any other minority. To get sidetracked into being critical of gay hustlers and their tricks by a homophobic moron like W. D. F. is destructive. We can and must expand on the issue he raises, but from a positive, constructive manner conducive to the strengthening and building of gay community.

 Gay and just what that ALL means is just beginning to be sorted out. We have just barely enough space to begin the initial exploration – we must create more. Our efforts will be met with resistance and this resistance will most surely overwhelm and destroy us if we are not united as brothers and sisters.

Respectfully,
Patrick J. Gourley
Denver