This Day in Resistance History: Gay Liberation Front tears down hate speech sign from bar
For 30 years the bar had posted a sign, “Faggots — Stay Out.” According to research done by Felice Picano on Gay activist Morris Knight, the Los Angeles branch of the GLF decided as one of its first actions was to target Barney’s Beanery.
The GLF had begun actions in January of 1970, just one month before, where they engaged in tactics such as shop-ins – getting people in the LGBTQ community to spend money there; change-ins – where people would come in dressed more hetero-normative, but change in the bathroom dressed how they wanted to be dressed; and sit-ins – where GLF members occupied space within the bar as a form of protest.
Management refused to remove the sign & even posted six additional warnings over a several week period. Because the bar owner refused to remove the hate speech sign, GLF activists on February 7, 1970 decided to physically remove the sign themselves.
This action brought out a significant number of the LAPD, which led to an additional confrontation on the streets.
However, the campaign did result in the bar finally removing any signage that the LGBTQ community found offensive.
There are several lessons that can be learned from such an action. First, the action by GLF members demonstrated that Direct Action is an important tactic to engage in. Secondly, the campaign against Barney’s Beanery gave momentum to the Los Angeles chapter of the GLF and other groups across the country.
According to Felice Picano, the success of the Barney’s Beanery action led to another 175 protests in the next two years by the GLF in Los Angeles alone, thus demonstrating the inspiring capacity and power of direct action to mobilize people against an injustice.
Lastly, the use of Direct Action in 1970 gave momentum to the national Gay Liberation Front, which wrote its manifesto the following year, a manifesto that reflected the radical call for ending systems of oppression.
Near the end of the manifesto it states:
The long-term goal of Gay Liberation, which inevitably brings us into conflict with the institutionalized sexism of this society, is to rid society of the gender-role system, which is at the root of our oppression. This can only be achieved by eliminating the social pressures on men and women to conform to narrowly defined gender roles.
The manifesto also encouraged an intersectional analysis and the need to build alliances with other oppressed groups.
As we cannot carry out this revolutionary change alone, and as the abolition of gender rotes is also a necessary condition of women’s liberation, we will work to form a strategic alliance with the women’s liberation movement, aiming to develop our ideas and our practice in close inter-relation. In order to build this alliance, the brothers in gay liberation will have to be prepared to sacrifice that degree of male chauvinism and male privilege that they still all possess.
On this day, February 7, we honor the courage of LGBTQ activists who not only challenged hate speech and discrimination, but eventually called for systemic change.