The 1970's

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Gay Liberation and Lesbian Feminism:
The 1970s

The first gay and lesbian meeting at UCSC took place in December 1971, when a symposium entitled "Homosexuality: Exploring an Alternative in Sexual Expression" was organized at Cowell College and attracted over 120 people from UCSC, Cabrillo College, and the Bay area. Many of the posters publicizing the symposium at UCSC were ripped down. UCSC's first gay (but still unofficial because they lacked a faculty sponsor) student organization, the Gay Students Union (GSU) formed at the symposium, and began meeting in the Stevenson College Jolly Room (which later became the Stevenson Coffeehouse).

The Jolly Room (no pun intended!) had glass walls, and several people recalled how the very visibility of the GSU members in that room scared them away from those meetings. Also, in December 1971, UCSC student Steve Kraft wrote an article for the campus newspaper, City on a Hill Press entitled: 'Gay Lib: Dispelling Uptightness.' In this article he talked about the formation of an eight-person gay, lesbian, and bisexual household in downtown Santa Cruz. Asking if there were 'sympathetic people in the campus and town communities who [wanted] to form a very original and spontaneous gay liberation-celebration front,' he called for gay and lesbian rap sessions. 'Forget your conditioning, it's all a bunch of garbage,' wrote Kraft. 'We would like to get all people together. Male and female. We want to see how feelings run. If you would like to rap with us, give us a call... The revolution begins in your mind, brothers and sisters.' But it would be another three years [1974] until the first gay and lesbian organization in Santa Cruz County, the Lesbian and Gay Men's Union [LAGMU] would form as a club at Cabrillo Community College (even though many of its members were UCSC students, staff, or faculty), and it was not until late October of 1975 that the following notice appeared in City on a Hill Press:

There will be a planning meeting next Monday for G.A.L.A. [Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a tentative title], a group for lesbians and gay men at UCSC, which, hopefully, will soon be coming into fruition. It will be at 2:30 p.m. in the Merrill Snack Bar, next to the Sky Kings pinball machine, and all who are interested will be heartily welcomed.

It was an idea whose time had come. While GSU had attracted a few brave students who were willing to discuss being gay in the early-1970s, it never really took off as a campus organization. GALA, with its film series, its 'GALA events,' its potlucks, field trips to San Francisco, and outspoken gay organizing against the Briggs Initiative (which would have prohibited the employment of openly gay teachers), and other rightwing campaigns in the increasingly conservative climate of the 1980s, was a vibrant and essential presence on campus for the next ten years. Nineteen Seventy-Five also witnessed the organization of the first Santa Cruz Gay Pride week, followed two years later by the first Santa Cruz Gay Pride march, a tradition which has continued to this day.

As the gay movement at UCSC blossomed in the 1970s, it was crossfertilized by other political movements at UCSC, which were also spaces where students were coming out. UCSC was the site of a powerful antiapartheid movement which advocated the divestment of the UC Regents from South Africa. While the story of GSU, LAGMU, and GALA is a vital part of the history of the GLBT community at UC Santa Cruz, it is not the only story. There are many stories, many communities, many overlapping histories.

The thriving feminist movement also inspired an active lesbian (and to a lesser-extent, feminist gay male) community at UCSC. With the birth of lesbian feminism in the early-1970s, many lesbians began to break off from both mainstream feminist organizations such as the National Organization of Women (NOW), as well as from gay liberation organizations. These divisions between gay men and lesbians were visible at UCSC as early as the 1971 conference at Cowell College, at which one woman was quoted as saying, 'We all know that when the shit is flying we'll all support each other. But I'm sick and tired of giving more energy to helping men. After the way they've ripped me off!' Another complained, 'Christ! The most chauvinistic thing I can think of for a man to say to me: 'Help me understand how I oppress you.' They should work that out among themselves!' Lesbians began to withdraw from GALA.
In 1974, the UCSC women's studies program was founded by a collective of students, many of whom taught student-directed seminars such as The Women-Identified Novel in Historical Perspective that included significant lesbian content. This program later grew into today's women's studies department, one of the strongest in the United States.

'Feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice,' was the slogan of the time. The 1970s and also the 1980s were times of tremendous feminist activism and much of that work was accomplished by lesbian feminists. The Santa Cruz Women's Health Collective (which still exists as the Santa Cruz Women's Health Center) formed, and published Lesbian Health Matters!, the first book on lesbian health published in the United States. Other organizations such as Women Against Rape, the Women's Prison Project, the Rising Moon Women's Center, the Breakfast in Bed Women's Radio Collective at KZSC, the Santa Cruz Women's Self Defense Teaching Cooperative, and the Women's Judo Club transformed the cultural and political landscape of Santa Cruz, and put it on the national map as a feminist center.

Still, in the 1970s it was not at all common for a student or faculty member to focus their academic research on gay or lesbian topics. Staff member Mercedes Santos remembered when UCSC women's studies lecturer and history of consciousness student Karen Rian wrote her dissertation on lesbian sex, and the members of her committee weren't able to bring themselves to say the words: lesbian sex, or vagina, or genitalia. In 1971, Alan Sable became the first UCSC professor to come out to his class. In 1977, he was denied tenure and left UCSC. Although Sable's political radicalism was clearly a factor in this denial, it is likely that his gayness, though never explicitly stated by the committee, was also a contributing factor.

Another important development in the 1970s, was the formation of a strong gay and lesbian movement in the downtown Santa Cruz community. Due in part to the influence of UC Santa Cruz, the community had changed from a conservative beach resort town to a nationally recognized center of progressive activism. (Of course, Santa Cruz is a multi-faceted community, parts of which remain conservative.) In 1975, Santa Cruz County became the first county in the United States to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for its civil service employees. That same year, the first Gay Alcoholics Anonymous meetings formed in Santa Cruz, along with the Gay Counseling Collective and Gays Over Forty. In 1978, Santa Cruz gay and lesbian activists organized against the Briggs Initiative (California Proposition 6) and Anita Bryant's national Save Our Children campaign, both of which targeted gay and lesbian teachers. This was also the year in which San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was murdered by Supervisor Dan White. Both UCSC and Santa Cruz community members traveled up to San Francisco to join 40,000 others in a candlelight vigil the night of Milk's death. The following year, on May 21, 1979, after a jury found White guilty of manslaughter instead of first degree murder, Santa Cruz gays and lesbians joined what has become known as the White Night Riot, a violent protest in San Francisco. The battle against the Briggs Initiative, and Harvey Milk's assassination were some of the dramatic landmarks in this remarkable decade of modern GLBT history.

© 2003 - Out in the Redwoods © 2004 by the Regents of the University of California. Edited by Irene Reti. Any reproduction of these interviews, including electronic reproduction, is prohibited by United States copyright law.