NOTE: This story was originally published on the author’s, Rick Landman’s, website, InfoTrue.com. The story is well beyond the 1500 word limit but I think it’s an intimate look into the beginning stages of an LGBT movement so wanted to share it anyway. Get comfy and enjoy.
1969 was a pivotal year in most baby boomers’ lives and the same was true for me. I was graduating from high school, Nixon was president, people were rioting all over the place, my friends went to Woodstock, and I was at home thinking about going to Buffalo. Besides, to me, Woodstock was this tiny village down route 28 from where I went to summer camp. Who knew? I imagined that it would be a small folk festival with Peter Paul and Mary, and never would have known that it was going to be the event of the summer. Besides, I wasn’t ready for a free love experience. I was still a virgin for god’s sake.
But that June was very special to me. No, not because of Judy Garland’s death, and not because of the Stonewall Riots, but because I turned seventeen on the 15th and was going away to college in September. My luck, I was a virgin in the class of ’69. I knew this must have been a sexual omen. School ended before my birthday, so technically I was 16 when they graduated me, but I was 17 when I left home. It was more of a passage into adulthood than my Bar Mitzvah at 13. I actually was going to be on my own for the first time in my life. I didn’t think about it much, but I left to go to “sleep-away school” and ended up stepping out into a new world of my own. Besides from being a virgin and only 17, I was also 5’2″ tall and didn’t really look and act like the other kids going away to college. I was a nice Jewish boy who finished high school and had no choice but to go on to college to become either a doctor or a lawyer.
I was good at school stuff, and was accepted at a few places, but for financial and guilt reasons I knew that I wanted to go to a college that was free. My older brother stayed at home and went to Queens College for free, so I figured that I better not cost my folk’s too much money. My parent’s did help out with room and board and that was all that I wanted to burden them with. So the problem was which school to go to?
I wanted something far away enough that my mother wouldn’t be able to come up at the spur of the moment. An eight hour drive seemed long enough to accomplish this. But I didn’t even know where Buffalo really was. All I knew was that it was still in New York State and my Regents Scholarship Award would pay for all the tuition. It was also being touted as the world’s largest construction project and that it would be a huge university where I could find anything that I wanted. I knew that it was near Niagara Falls, because we visited it for sweat shirts on my senior trip in summer camp when we stopped by the Falls. I knew it was also near the Canadian border, which during the Viet Nam era, seemed to be a big plus. A lot of kids in my grade were considering fleeing across the border, and being a son of two Holocaust Survivors, the comment, “Where would you flee to if you had to leave?” was a familiar one to me.
So that July I flew up to Buffalo for a summer orientation program to see if I would be happy there. It was my first plane flight and was my first time ever traveling alone. I put on my new jeans, button down blue shirt, penny loafers and headed into the world of student standby flights. I think American Airlines charged $11.50 each way.
When I landed I asked the taxi driver to bring me to the house at the corner of Main and Merrimac across from the U.B. campus. A neighbor named Judy was going to U.B. at the time, and I was going to stay over for the weekend. She was actually the one whose description of the place sold me on going to Buffalo. She made it sound radical, fun, exciting and totally different than the quiet block that we grew up on in Floral Park, New York. It seemed that that year, all the baby boomers from New York City were going to school in Buffalo. But the cab driver didn’t know where Merrimac was so he dropped me off in the middle of the Main Street Campus in front of what was then called Norton Hall, which was the Student Union. There I stood in my new clothes and a little suitcase wondering what to do. A tall, handsome senior was lying on the lawn in front of the building reading a book. I asked him if he knew where Merrimac Street was and he corrected me that in Buffalo you didn’t have to say Street after the name and that he lived one house up from Judy on the corner of Main and Merrimac. She actually lived one house down on the block. We talked a while and then he escorted me over to Merrimac. I thought he was gorgeous, politically aware, brilliant and friendly, and he thought I was funny, different and a bundle of energy. It ended up that his girlfriend Sandy was one of the freshmen orientation leaders, so I was able to see Greg througout the entire weekend. I went to the program, but the only event that I remember is getting a little crazy from a glass of wine and dancing in the water fountain behind Norton Union. But my fate was settled. I would be attending U.B. for the next four years, and I had a new friend named Greg who knew everybody and was my new close friend.
When I got home I immediately wrote to Greg and couldn’t wait to get back in September. I remember that when my family was sitting on my bed watching the men land on the moon later that month, I was at my desk writing Greg a letter. 1969 was full of everything.
I knew that liked boys in a special way, but hadn’t really told everyone except my summer camp counselor when I was 12 and a few select people. At the time, the word gay was something new. The books all called men homosexuals if they liked other guys, and school kids still used the word
faggot. Compared to those terms I was glad when the word gay became popular. But even though Greg had a girlfriend, he was extremely liberal and progressive. He lived with Gene, a 40-year-old gay black man with alcohol problems who worked at a bar, and Gary, another student who was very “sensitive”. So in September, when my parents drove me up to stay in some garden apartment development called Allenhurst which was used as emergency housing for the baby boomers who flooded U.B., I knew that my time would be spent elsewhere.
Allenhurst was actually a new experiment in college living. You could only get to live there by winning a lottery. It was sort of off-campus, co-educational with five same sex people living in a two-bedroom two duplex with a garage beneath. But there could be five women living in an apartment right next door. This was also the first year that some of the other dorms actually became co-educational with men being on one floor and women being on the other. I remember the stories of how the women had urinals in their bathrooms and placed ivy growing in them.
My housemates were also four freshmen. I lucked out and only had one other boy as my roommate, named Paul, and three other guys shared the other bedroom. There was a bunk bed and a regular bed. Nowadays, I wonder how we all shared one bathroom in the morning. But I guess we did. I had five upper class wrestlers living next door. We didn’t have much in common, except for the fact that I could have had a crush on them if they weren’t such idiots. I became the mascot of the entire courtyard. I painted our apartment, and did the cooking and cleaning and was the town yenta. Everybody sort of knew me. It was my way of getting over the loneliness of living alone I guess. I was known as being political and crazy, but it wasn’t until after I left that Thanksgiving that the rumor must have gone around that I was also queer. My poor roommate must have had a lot of explaining to do.
The college ran a bus run up the street to campus, but I used my bicycle, rain or shine, dry or snow, to get to classes, and then after school I would visit Greg. After one month of school, we started having demonstrations against the Viet Nam war and administration policy. I remember protesting against THEMIS, which was some underwater military project, and know that we protested against ROTC, the changed location of the campus from the democratically controlled downtown to the republican swamp called Amherst. We were demonstrating against everything. By the time we reached Halloween, I think the school was closed more than open. Then came the national anti-war demonstrations and I think classes actually stopped. We spent our time having snow ball fights with the campus police and then the City police. That sort of ended after the Kent State massacre, and after the Buffalo City Police started using shotguns to shoot at us. When I left in 1975, you could still see the buckshot holes in front doors of the Student Union.
It was 1970 and I had my first drink, my first smoke, and my first riot before the year was out. I also remember that one of the wrestlers next door broke a chair over my back for allegedly bringing friends into the house who smoked marijuana. So over the 1969 Thanksgiving Break I moved out of Allenhurst and into Greg’s attic at the corner of Main and Merrimac on top of a store for $25 a month. By the second semester I was in love and ready to do anything for the revolution that was coming, the new way of life and the man I loved so dearly.
I was in heaven. I was surrounded by interesting people, including this sort of woman’s collective next door on top of a cleaners. Five U.B. students, Marsha, Barbara, Cindy, Dana, and Margie lived there, and we shared almost everything and spent most nights together. My closest friend next door was Marsha who was the one I would share all of my closest secrets. You have to remember, this was an era of change and free thinking. We all spent hours debating esoteric or political issues way into the wee hours of the morning. Besides, being young and inquisitive, the early 1970’s were geared to reinforcing all the beliefs of the late 1960’s. The women’s movement was becoming stronger and the gay movement was starting in New York City. In 1969, the Gay Liberation Front and a group called the Gay Activist Alliance were forming in New York City. Buffalo already had a Mattachine Society (of which I considered older, more apolitical homosexuals) and had this new group of women who called themselves the Radicalesbians. Marsha, Barbara and Cindy all had feminist friends who would stop by and leave books or have discussions on breaking down sex roles and loving whomever you wanted. This was also the period of “Free Love”, the birth control pill and no AIDS. The worst thing that people got was the crabs, and you would hear occasionally that someone got the clap. But I was still a virgin in love with a man with a girlfriend.
But when I was hanging around the women next door too much, someone told methat no men were allowed and why didn’t I go and start my own group. But there wasn’t any men’s group. There was Women’s Liberation, there were lesbian groups, but no place for feminist men or gay men to go. So I figured I could change that.
I was always starting groups and getting involved in one thing or another, and besides, I knew most of the people in the Student Association due to my other activities. I had helped to start food co-ops, intermural instead of intercollegiate sports, political clubs, etc., so why not start a gay men’s group? I filled out a form, and attended a meeting and asked for $800 to start the Gay Men’s Liberation Front. I got the name from reading something about New York City’s GLF. I think Buffalo was one of the first, if not the first place outside of New York City to have a GLF.
The S.A. meeting was uneventful. When I stood up to explain my proposal for funding a Gay group, the first reaction from my friends was laughter. They thought I was not serious and was putting on a comic routine for them. I had to really shift gears to get them to realize that this was important to me and that I would fight to get it. With giggles on their face, they approved the club and I remember walking across the long lawn down to a bank in a small shopping center across from the dorms with the $800 check, saying to myself, that there is some truth to the expression that I laughed all the way to the bank.
I deposited the $800 and then wondered what I would do with it. I remember speaking with the few gay students that I knew by then, and we decided that we would put on a dance and see if anyone came. I remember flying down to the Oscar Wilde Bookstore on Christopher Street to buy anything gay to bring back for a library at school. I think most of the literature had pictures. We booked the large room at Norton Union and made flyers which I posted on the windshields of the cars in the parking lot in the gay bar downtown, which I think was called the Hibachi Room and hired a group named Rufus to play music for us. I put my name down as the president and Mike Hamilton was the vice president and I think that Benny Wohlman was another officer. To my surprise, over 50 people came to that first dance, and from then on people signed up and joined our group. Before long, a woman wanted to join, so we voted to drop the “Men’s” from our name and become a Gay Liberation Front similar to the movement spreading across the country. I wrote articles for the student newspaper the Spectrum, and spoke in Sociology classes, handed out flyers on Gay Liberation and started Men’s Consciousness Raising Groups, but to tell you the truth, I was still a virgin at the time. And that was how the group got started. We tried to be as political as we knew, and it seemed that everyone else was also trying out the sexual part of the liberation experience, but not me. I was still a bit uneasy and no one ever really approached me in that way. Within a year, we had three Men’s Consciousness Raising groups in progress and were planning to participate in the March 14, 1971 March on Albany for Lesbian and Gay Rights. I know we sent some buses and a carpool to attend the event. I think I went on the bus. It was around that time that I figured I had to explain all of this to my parents. They knew of my politics, dope smoking and feminist views, but the actual sex stuff never came up.
It was on February 26, 1971, at one of our Consciousness Raising sessions that I mentioned to a newly forming group that I was a virgin. You see, I would attend the first meeting of the group, and in similar fashion to the group therapy session that I was attending from U.B.’s clinical program, would ask the group to go around answering some simple questions like when was the first time that you had a gay experience and how it was. When it came to my time, I told the group that I was an 18-year-old virgin and had to go to another meeting. I mean I was only starting the groups, I couldn’t be expected to spill my guts with everyone at the group. So after telling them of my sexual status one of the guys named Sam Goldsmith escorted me into a side room to discuss it more fully. I had my first sexual experience right there in the room next to all that consciousness being raised.
I called home that night to wish my parents a Happy 25th Anniversary, and mentioned that when they asked me over Christmas Break about drugs, sex and politics I told them I had done two out of the three, but that now it was three out of the three. My father asked if we knew the girl and I answered, “there were no girls there.” That is how I sort of came out to my folks. They knew that I was active in sexual politics but thought that it was an academic political rebellion phase up to that point. Now they had to really come to grips with it.
My father joked that my mother and I lost our virginity on the same day, just 25 years apart. Then he asked what Sam did. I told him that he was pre-med. He laughed again, and told my mother on the other extension phone that at least I was going with a Jewish doctor. He then went on to use an analogy of what his life was at the time. He told me how as a young 17-year-old Jewish boy in Germany, he would come home from school and asked his mother why everyone hated him. She told him that the whole world was crazy and that there was nothing wrong with being Jewish, but that his life would be harder because of it. But that he should be proud of himself and his religion. My father then told me that the whole world hated homosexuals, and that my life would be harder because of it, but that I was still his Ricky, and that even though they didn’t know any “gay people” they would not make things harder for me. They suggested that I come home to discuss this all, but I told them about going to Albany the next month for a Gay Rights Rally.
It was hard for them to say anything negative, after teaching me all my life that we must fight discrimination with all our might and make sure that the hatred of the Holocaust never occur again. So in a way I was lucky. I received more support than most. But I think that is why I had the guts at 17 to start a gay group.
But on an eventful night that year, after I was no longer a virgin, while Greg and I were in his bed having one of our platonic all-night discussions, I asked him if he was gay. He said that he thought about such things from time to time, but never had any experiences, but that there was nothing wrong with it. Remember Gene, our other housemate was gay, so obviously I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. But then I mentioned that I was not only gay, but I that I loved him. Whoops…now everything changed.
Greg told me that things have gotten out of hand, and that it would be best if I would move out. So I went to Marsha and cried and complained and told her how upset I was. Well, although everyone was understanding and helped me to pack, I sort of had a difficult time of it.
To make a long story short, I moved out and Greg and Marsha fell in love and are married now for about 20 years and have two children. GLF continued to grow during our first year, in numbers of people and importance. We were an important part of the March on Albany, and did help to set the climate for the formation of College F and other pro-diversity programs. I found some flyers which is all that I have left from those days. Too bad none of us knew that we were creating history. But for 27 years no one ever cared much about it. Now I’ve heard that most of my early friends are dead, and I thought it would be important for people to know how things started.