The Lambda: A Symbol of Liberation

Gay in its most far-reaching sense does not mean homosexual but sexually, intellectually and emotionally free.

Allan Young , 1972

The Lambda is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet and in its lower case form is the Greek letter L.

The Lambda as a symbol of gay liberation
The Lambda

The early members of Gay Liberation chose the Lambda as our symbol.

 L for Liberation.

In ‘More Man Than You’ll Ever Be’ Joseph P. Goodwin writes:

The lowercase Greek letter lambda carries several meanings. First of all, it represents scales, and thus balance. The Greeks considered balance to be the constant adjustment necessary to keep opposing forces from overcoming each other. The hook at the bottom of the right leg of the lambda represents the action required to reach and maintain a balance. To the Spartans, the lambda meant unity. They felt that society should never infringe on anyone’s individuality and freedom. The Romans adopted the letter to represent “the light of knowledge shed into the darkness of ignorance.”

Finally, in physics the symbol designates and energy change. Thus the lambda, with all its meanings, is an especially apt symbol for the gay liberation movement, which energetically seeks a balance in society and which strives through enlightenment to secure equal rights for homosexual people.

The Lambda as a symbol of gay liberation

 

Art by Rob Goldstein

This is the birth of Gay Liberation as described by Allan Young in the 1972,  Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation:

“The birthday of Gay Liberation is June 1969, when gay people fought back against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. The Police invaded the bar, forcing people onto the street. But instead of running away, the gay people, led by transvestites locked the police inside the bar, set the place afire, and then threw coins and bottles when the police worked their way out. Participants in the incident along with others in the community got together to plan an ongoing political group for gay people. They chose the name, Gay Liberation Front.”

The Gay Liberation Front is based on the idea of liberating the human spirit and the human mind from all forms of racial and sexual oppression.

Gay in its most far-reaching sense, does not mean homosexual but sexually, intellectually and emotionally free.

This includes a vision of equality as a basis for sexual relationships regardless of gender.

From the Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto: 

“We do not intend to ask for anything. We intend to stand firm and assert our basic rights. If this involves violence, it will not be we who initiate this, but those who attempt to stand in our way to freedom.”

I used to say it like this:  “We don’t want your tolerance. We just want you out of our way.”

Art by Rob Goldstein
Gay Liberation 1970

 

 

 

Rob Goldstein 2016-2018

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Bus Trip – El Paso to New Orleans

Straight Like me
Straight Like me

12/25 Christmas Day

The Bus left EL Paso at 2pm and passed through Houston at 3am.

The sky is black and grey.

Snow and rain.

The Driver announced that thunder is always followed by bright flashes
of lightening.

The few drowsy passengers yawned with interest.

At 8am the sky turned pink and flocks of migrating birds rippled overhead.

Scent of rich, wet Earth as more black clouds moved in.

At Noon we cross the brown and swollen Mississippi into New Orléans.

I dashed around the city for thirty minutes trying to find a working ATM.

I prayed for a Bank of America and found a Wells Fargo.

The machine addressed me by name and spat a hundred dollars at me.

I picked up the cash and hailed a taxi.

Ten dollars brought me to a hostel and 40 got me a dormitory style room.

There is no pleasure like removing ones shoes after 24 hours of bus travel.

12/26

My Walk with Miguel
My Walk with Miguel

Miguel was a splendid Thirty.

Thick black hair, olive complexion, his Argentinean accent tempered by six years of living in Australia.

I thought he was gay because there was so much sex in his gaze.

I silently mumbled hallelujah and stuck my feet under the blanket lest he think I harbored a new and horrid fungus.

He told me a sad story about losing his luggage;  he had made the mistake of checking it with Greyhound.

My heart and wardrobe went out to him.

Miguel agreed with me when I said that Bourbon Street was best explored with a buddy.

After showering and dressing we set out on St. Charles Street.

Miguel told me the story of the first time he lost all of his clothing.

“I was on the beach at Cancun and met a pretty woman,” he said. “We became passionate and stripped off our clothes and what the Hell!–You don’t notice other people when you are with a pretty woman!  Some men were watching us so she took me into the dunes and when we came back all of our clothes were gone”

“Maybe you’re meant to go naked.” I said.

Miguel winked and laughed.


We ate at Scarlett’s

I had the Frankly My Dear seafood salad and Miguel had Rhett’s Hot Gumbo.

We topped it off with chicory blend coffee and two slices of Miss Pittypats Peach Pie.

Later we strolled St. Charles Avenue.

Wrought iron gates, French colonial houses, narrow one way streets, and modern houses made to look antebellum.

We reached Canal Street and searched for Bourbon Street.

We couldn’t find it and entered a stuffy Marriott and asked directions.

“Bourbon Street? Bourbon Street?” asked the clerk behind the information desk as if he’d never heard of it.

“I’m told it’s in New Orléans.” said Miguel.

The clerk leaned across his desk and pointed North: “It’s that way.”

Bourbon Street was a mere two blocks from the stuffy Marriott.

Juke joints, jazz clubs, blues clubs, strip shows, French orgies, American orgies, topless and bottomless hookers, voodoo shops, peep shows and laughing gas sold everywhere for 5 bucks a hit.

A red glow rose from the street and saturated the dense and tightly
packed crowd.

We continued to walk until the party came to an abrupt end.

Ahead was more Bourbon Street, but darker. I entered a bar called the Tool Box and realized I’d found the gay section.

I entered the bar and saw people across the street peer into it as if blind
and turn around.

Miguel was still across the street looking around for me. I thought he’d
followed me into the bar.

I had the eerie feeling that one had to be gay or bisexual to see through the black  barrier between these two slices of Bourbon Street.

Take Pride in Your Humanity
Take Pride in Your Humanity

All around me were gay men in brightly colored caps and leather jackets.

I could have been on Castro Street.

I left the bar and strolled back across the street and announced to Miguel that I had found a Gay Bar.

We stood together for a moment and watched more men enter and leave the Tool Box.

“Yes,” he said, “They have their own culture.”

RG (c) 2016

Save

Heroes of the Revolution: Harold Norse

Art by Rob Goldstein
Portrait of Harold Norse by Jim Breeden

In 1977 I lived in New Haven, Connecticut.

There are hundreds of reasons I loved my time in New Haven.

One was Manhattan was an hour away by train.

I took Amtrak to New York at least twice a month to hang out in the Village.

One weekend in the Fall of 1977 I stopped for a drink at Uncle Charlie’s on Greenwich Avenue.

I met a hot guy who invited me home.

He had a studio apartment with a bed, a chair and a nightstand.

On the nightstand was a book of poems by Harold Norse,  Carnivorous Saint.

A devouring saint?

I sat on the bed and opened the book.

I’d never seen poetry like this before.

I said good-bye to the hot guy, raced to the bookstore, got Carnivorous Saint, and hopped the train back to New Haven.

I was smitten.

The poetry in Carnivorous Saint was political, sexy and full of humor.

Norse used his poetry to define gay liberation in language that included working class men.

Norse is a working class man who declares that he is not a Man:

Art by Rob Goldstein
Scanned from my copy of Carnivorous Saint, purchased in 1977.

I’m Not A Man

I’m not a man, I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family.

I have acne and a small peter.

I’m not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars.
I like to express my feeling. I even like to put an arm
around my friend’s shoulder.

I’m not a man. I won’t play the role assigned to me- the role created
by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell,
Television does not dictate my behavior.

I’m not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would
never kill again. I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick.
I like flowers.

I’m not a man. I went to prison resisting the draft. I do not fight
when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence.

I’m not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don’t hate blacks.
I do not get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should
love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.

I’m not a man. I have never had the clap.

I’m not a man. Playboy is not my favorite magazine.

I’m not a man. I cry when I’m unhappy.

I’m not a man. I do not feel superior to women

I’m not a man. I don’t wear a jockstrap.

I’m not a man. I write poetry.

I’m not a man. I meditate on peace and love.

I’m not a man. I don’t want to destroy you

San Francisco, 1972

Carnivorous Saint
Scanned cover of my copy of Carnivorous Saint, purchased in 1977.

There is more to my story about Harold Norse but that is for another post.

To learn more about the poet, Harold Norse, click here:

Save

Save

Heroes of the Revolution: Sylvester

Art by Rob Goldstein
Sylvester

Sylvester James, Jr. (September 6, 1947 – December 16, 1988), was the first openly gay recording artist to gain international fame.

His first hit, Disco Heat, peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the fall of 1978.

It also reached #29 on the UK Singles Chart.

Sylvester was born in Watts, Los Angeles, to a middle-class family.

He first sang as a child with the gospel choir of his Pentecostal church.

Sylvester knew that he was gay while still a child.

At the age of eight Sylvester had sex with an older man.

His Mother could not accept his homosexuality and neither could his church.

He left the church because the congregation disapproved of his homosexuality and he found friendship among a group of cross-dressers and transgender women who called themselves The Disquotays.

He moved to San Francisco in 1970 at the age of 22 where he found acceptance and fame.

“I’ve never been a crusader, but I’ve always been honest. I may not volunteer details to the media, but I’ve never believed in lying or denying what I am to anyone.” Sylvester, September 10, 1988

The English journalist Stephen Brogan described Sylvester as “a star who shined brightly. He only happened once. He was a radical and a visionary in terms of queerness, music and race.”

Sylvester was a man of integrity and courage and that courage is clear in this interview with the Los Angeles Times in September of 1988:

Sylvester learned three months ago that he has AIDS, and he has spent most of the last few weeks at home, trying to regain his strength.

While often plagued by fatigue, the singer, 40, was well enough last June to lead a gay pride parade in San Francisco, albeit from a wheelchair.

“I can’t walk very well anymore,” he said in a phone interview. “I have problems with my feet and sometimes the pain is unbearable. But I don’t like to take pain killers because of the side effects.”

Despite the physical setbacks, Sylvester insists that his outlook remains positive.

“I’ve been in situations I shouldn’t have been in. We all have. But I still think that I’m a good person and I don’t regret anything I’ve done in my life,” he said.

“Down the line, I hope I won’t be in a lot more pain. But I don’t dwell on that. I’ll be fine, because my spirit is fine.”

Sylvester says that while black people are 12% of the population, more than 25% of all reported AIDS cases in this country involve blacks.

“It bothers me that AIDS is still thought of as a gay, white male disease,” said the singer, who has long been openly frank about his homosexuality.

“The black community is at the bottom of the line when it comes to getting information, even when we’ve been so hard hit by this disease. I’d like to think that by going public myself with this, I can give other people courage to face it.”

Sylvester, who rose to international fame during the late ’70s with such disco hits as “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real,” had been hospitalized three times before being diagnosed as having the AIDS virus.

“I’d been having throat problems and I thought it was bronchitis. I wasn’t worried. Having AIDS hadn’t even crossed my mind.”

Since that time he has spent five weeks in a hospital with pneumocystis, during which time he confronted his own mortality. “I was ready to go,” he said. “I made peace with that and I never thought, ‘Why me?’ I just accepted it.”

Disco Singer Sylvester Confronts AIDS Without Any Regrets

Sylvester died in his bed on December 16, 1988.

For a more complete biography of Sylvester I recommend this one at  Pop Matters.

Sylvester with Patrick Cowley: Don’t Stop
Community Audio