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Despite the glaring historical inaccuracies of the upcoming Stonewall movie, Stonewall should be a commonly known incident. Like Rosa Parks unwilling to submit to an unfair law, or Alice Paul throwing her shoes at British politicians, Stonewall was the LGBT+ movements “enough is enough” moment which helped to solidify a group of people to take action against the brutality of heteronormative sensibilities.
The anniversary of Stonewall is the day on which (or the weekend of which) the LGBT+ community celebrates Pride. But out of the immediate aftermath of the riots, a new organization was formed to keep the momentum of the Stonewall riots going on. They named themselves the Gay Liberation Front. And even by today’s standards, they would be considered a radical liberal organization.
For starters, the GLF took on racism and openly declared support for the Black Panther party. They were largely Marxist and had nothing but contempt for the Rockwellian nuclear family. While second-wave feminism had started the conversation on traditional gender roles, the GLF brought it in to sharp focus. Lesbian activist like Martha Shelley went onto form the Lavender Menace, a lesbian feminist political activist group.
The GLF was also a socially-minded organization, one who was all too acutely aware of the dangers that New York City posed to young LGBT people, especially young transgendered people. Drag queens started the STAR group which focused on helping street youth and transwomen of color.
Seeing the success of the GLF in the United States, two Brits Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter started the same movement in the UK. Their first meeting was in the basement of the London School of Economics in October 1970. Within the next year, the press recognized the GLF as a political organization, which at the time, I am told, was very difficult to do. They even published a manifesto, some of which survives today because of a very special person, but more on him later.
It seemed that there were two women who were opposed to any sort of gay liberation. In the States, we had the orange juice spokesperson and former Miss Oklahoma, Anita Bryant, who was the most outspoken homophobe in the 1970s. In Britain it was Mary Whitehouse. Whitehouse and other formed a British Christian grassroots movement called the Nationwide Festival of Light. It should be noted that Whitehouse didn’t actually found the movement, but it is her face that’s most associated with it, because she had previously made a career campaigning for cleaning up British TV.
The GLF decided to take on the Festival of Light in 1971. Mary Whitehouse had organized the first meeting, and the GLF invaded. Drag queens started kissing each other and mice were released, both to the horror of the participants. Horns honked and political banners unfurled. GLF members actually turned off the lights on the Festival of Light by posing as workmen and sneaking into the basement to the fuse box. It was arguably the most well-organized activism in the UK GLF’s early days.
The GLF eventually dissolved due to disagreements amongst leadership, splintering into several groups, one of which was called OutRage!, which exists to this very day. One of the original GLF members who founded OutRage! was Peter Tatchell who was a close friend of another GLF pioneer, Alan Wakeman.
Wakeman plays an interesting dual role in the history of the British LGBT movement. He was active in the early GLF, but he didn’t stay as active as Tatchell and others. He was a bit of a Bohemian all throughout his life. He served in the Royal Air Force in Sri Lanka, studied and became and architect, became an innovator in teaching English as a second language, even penning a bestseller on the topic. He published his autobiography. also writing novels, poetry and plays. He founded a theatre group called Gay Sweatshop, and formed a band called Either/Or (which gets a thumbs up from me just for the Kierkegaard reference) Wakeman knew love and lost love. Wakeman lost his partner, Peter Granger, in an automobile accident in 1986. Granger was all these things in the span of his full life, and he remained a resident of London’s SoHo neighborhood and an LGBT+ activist throughout his life.
In fact, Wakeman’s true contribution to the LGBT+ movement is in preserving its history. To celebrate the history of the LGBT+ Pride Movement in 2010, Wakeman published an online copy of the out-of-print 1971 GLF Manifesto. Perhaps the best and worst part of history is realizing that something is still largely relevant 40 years later. Wakeman passed away on August 12, 2015.
At the end of his brief online biography, detailing much of what this writer has told you: his many adventures, difficulties and heartbreaking moments, Wakeman wrote …
So now, I’m back where I started, making solitary daily explorations into the fascinating world of exotic creatures that inhabit London’s urban jungle whose forests contain denizens every bit as baffling and considerably more dangerous than those I first encountered over sixty years ago on my daily explorations of the idyllic Surrey countryside of my childhood.
London is bereft of one of the more interesting and exotic creatures upon Wakeman’s passing.
I’m Michael, and I’m the Philosophical Gaytheist. Gaytheist? Is that a gay theist, or a gay atheist? Well I like f*#ikng men and I don’t believe in God. My philosophical sophistication will intrigue you, and then make undergrads everywhere realize to never major in philosophy.