Monday, February 23, 2009

Forty Years Later, Gay Lib Pioneer Still Struggles

Zenger’s Associate Editor Challenges Homophobia at City College

historical background by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

At high noon on the first Wednesday of March in 1969, I and a handful of other dedicated activists launched the now international Gay Liberation movement in front of the States Steamship Lines headquarters in San Francisco’s financial district.

That was when the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (CHF) staged a highly organized civil-rights action for employment anti-discrimination laws for Gays.

The original sign-in sheet for the first CHF organizing meeting shows 13 signatures.

In San Francisco in 1969, States Lines had fired cute, blond, blue-eyed, slender, smooth 19-year-old Gale Whittington after a large photo appeared in the popular “underground” paper, The Berkeley Barb, showing me hugging Gale affectionately. We were both wearing cut-off shorts, but the photo was cropped closely to suggest we were naked. Ah, the power of suggestion.

No, we were not lovers. Mine was cute, blond, blue-eyed, slender, smooth and 19-year-old Don Burton, known then as the “Gay Folksinger” in the Bay Area.

The CHF sustained those civil-rights picket lines every Wednesday at high noon for months. It had never been done before, and the closeted queens who ran the Homosexual Community (as it was known then, before the word “Gay” became popular) were in such a tizzy.

Pat Brown of La Jolla is one of the original CHF organizers. He is currently doing ground research in San Francisco on those early events for a history book being produced this spring.

Brown will make available archival copies of the Berkeley Barb which will reveal the close con-nection between early Gay militants and the Black Panther Party. The Panthers trained and schooled the CHF Gay militants, and in their own paper, The Black Panther, they publicly endorsed the Gay Liberation movement.

“Mother Boats,” a CHF expatriate living in Australia who has rare documents and files of the CHF civil rights campaign, is also collaborating on this new Gay history book.

College Investigation

Forty years later, at my instigation, San Diego City College is launching an investigation into alleged homophobia at the campus newspaper, the City Times.

On the second day of journalism class, which I’d enrolled in to upgrade my skills in modern communications technology, a young, sweet girl got tacky about the paper’s planned continuing coverage of the recently officially recognized organization FAGS (Fellowship of Gays and Straights) on campus. I asked to speak to my classmates.

“I am Gay, and I will not tolerate any off-color remarks,” I told the class. My classmates were mostly supportive.

I submitted a story to the City Times about FAGS receiving official recognition as a campus organization, but the paper’s news editor, Evonne Ermey, refused to publish it. Ermey also told me that she was taking me off the FAGS beat and would cover the organization herself, but no article about them has appeared in City Times since then.

The Gay issue is on the table, but Assistant Professor Roman Koenig refuses to address it, or meet with me.

After an angry outburst on Feb. 23 by the City Times sports editor attacking me, I was ordered to meet with the chair of the Communications Department.

Protection Sought

After I requested “protection” from college President Terrence Burgess, he e-mailed me to say, “City College will be investigating the concerns you have raised. Vice President Peter White and Dean Denise Whisenhunt are in consultation on this matter.”

Dean Whisenhunt, however, may be removed from the investigation for actual and perceived bias. She had opposed official campus recognition of the new FAGS organization (which was won on the last week of last semester).

Indeed, City president Burgess will also be asked to recuse himself from the case for actual and perceived bias. He, too, was opposed to the name FAGS for an official campus organization, according to Jay Murley of North Park.

The Risk Management office of the San Diego Community College District is currently complying with a state Public Records Request for copies of all e-mails to and from college president Burgess and related to the FAGS organization. If they reveal opposition to the FAGS name, that may establish legal bias, which are grounds for removing Burgess from the case for cause.

The director of Risk Management of the college district, Tom Eggleston, says the requested records of president Burgess’s e-mails will be provided on February 26.

The college is considering a request to have Mesa College president Dr. Rita M. Cepeda replace president Burgess in the investigation of this case.

Communications department chairman Hilderbrand is also considering a request that no efforts be taken to remove me from the class pending the results of the college’s investigation.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at

Photo Caption: A rare look inside a staff meeting of the City Times newspaper at City College, currently under investigation for alleged homophobia. Photo by Leo E. Laurence.