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Gay Activists Alliance (GAA)

Affirming Liberation
Affirming Liberation

Gay Activists Alliance. "Lambda," 1970. Flyer.
NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Gay Activists Alliance Records.
Although the Gay Liberation Front's broad radical political agenda and anarchist methods appealed to many, some activists wanted a more streamlined approach, concerned only with gay and lesbian issues. Core GLF members considered their solidarity with other liberation movements to be of prime importance, extending their support even to the Black Panthers, which many activists considered a homophobic organization. Partly in response to the support of the Panthers, in December 1969 a small group of GLF activists, including Jim Owles, Marty Robinson, Arthur Evans, and Arthur Bell — as well as veteran activists like Kay Tobin Lahusen — split off to form the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) to focus only on explicitly gay and lesbian issues. Meetings were run by Robert's Rules of Order. GAA quickly perfected the art of the "zap," a new guerilla style of press-savvy demonstrations planned to maximize media attention that started in GLF. The zaps were often humorous — members brought donuts and coffee to <i>Harper's</i> when they crashed the magazine's offices to protest a homophobic article, and zapped Fidelifax, a corporate background-check company, with an activist dressed as a duck.

GAA quickly adopted the Greek letter lambda as its logo, to symbolize the exchange of energy (lambda represents wavelength in physics), and it became the main symbol for gay and lesbian activism until it was supplanted in the late 1970s by the pink triangle. True to this sign, GAA members quickly showed their energy with a series of zaps on city and state officials to demand gay civil rights legislation. Initial targets included Mayor John V. Lindsay and Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. They also mobilized thousands to protest the death of Diego Vinales, who jumped from a second-story window to escape police in the raid of the bar the Snake Pit in March 1970. GAA quickly became the major force in gay and lesbian activism in New York City, and across the country as GAA chapters spread. GAA also created a framework for a new generation of activist organizations, including ACT UP, which used the same arsenal of attention-grabbing zaps and Robert's Rules of Order to combat the AIDS crisis.

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