3 min

The Gay Liberation Front

The GLF objected to the un-socialist depravity of 1970s' gay clubs and tubs

Yellow Journal newsboy Gordon Hardy and QQ, 40 years on. Credit: Ash McGregor

My first encounter with gay identity politics began with a case of unrequited lust.

In 1970, Vancouver was imagining itself to be the San Francisco of the North. Hippies were swarming 4th Ave, the vacant lot across from Sophie’s Cosmic Café was a veritable 24/7 love-in, and we were awash with love beads, tie-dyed T-shirts, faux African caftans and groovy catch phrases like “groovy!”

Some of these serious socialists didn’t consider the “alternative” Georgia Straight, home to my original QQ ruminations, sufficiently radical. A clutch of young activists founded an alternative-alternative publication called The Yellow Journal. But it wasn’t “gay,” and, as I confessed last month in “QQ and the Trotskyites,” the finer points of Marxist dialectic never held my attention.

What did hold my attention, however, was an adorable, curly headed youth in sprayed-on blue jeans selling The Yellow Journal at the corner of Granville and Robson, about midway between two gay hotspots, the bottle club Faces and the Castle Pub.

So it was in pursuit of young Gordon Hardy that I first heard about the Gay Liberation Front, its commune on Carolina Street, and its “Marxism lite” political activities.

Gordon, along with Simon Fraser University teacher George Smith, had founded Vancouver’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF) over drinks one night at Faces. Gordon had moved into Pink Cheeks, a “hippie commune” on Carolina that quickly became a hotbed of gay consciousness-raising and “direct action” plotting.

“As young gay socialists we were determined to challenge the corrupt and corrupting nature of the gay scene in which we found ourselves. We saw it as sexually predatory and exploitative. And we naively thought we could change it,” Gordon later told historian Robert Rothon.

“As quaint as it may sound today, socialist sexual morality for us meant rejecting promiscuity, the sexual objectification of others, and avoiding un-socialist depravity such as public sex and bathhouses.”

You can see why Gordon and I wouldn’t see eye to eye and why my sexual objectification of him was a dead-end fantasy. (Though he admits that despite their high-minded notions about unsocialist depravity, GLF members weren’t angels and there was some backsliding.)

But, doing my job, I dropped in at Pink Cheeks and made my pocket change contribution to the spaghetti dinner fundraisers. I reported on the GLF’s first big “political action”: a kiss-in at the Castle in response to homophobia by staff members. On cue one evening, the boys and their straight allies started smooching, the management called the police, and Gordon most clearly recalls the young cops who walked in and left quickly, looking acutely embarrassed and making no arrests.

The GLF also created the first non-club space for queers to gather to socialize and politicize, a third-floor walkup at 509 Carrall St in Chinatown. It was at this drop-in centre that things started to go sideways for QQ and the GLF. Even though I’d been supportive of their ventures and given them plenty of ink, I continued to be an avid chronicler of the un-socialist depravity of the clubs and tubs.

I was summoned to a meeting at the drop-in centre to be confronted with my many sins against the revolution; shortly after that a GLF delegation to the Georgia Straight succeeded in having me suspended for a short period.

Gordon and I became and have remained good friends, and he has since expressed his “embarrassment” at the GLF’s censorial tactics. But we have agreed to declare a moratorium on being embarrassed by anything we did before 30 – and anything we are doing now after 60!

In retrospect it surprised me to learn that my impressions of the GLF as being dour Marxists were less than accurate. In reality, the hard-core politicos were to be found among the founders of the Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE).

According to Gordon, the GLF also wanted to challenge the “orthodoxies of rigid structure and party doctrine” for which the left was equally notorious. “GATE was always too grim and dogmatic for our tastes,” he recalls.

If the GLF existed today, Gordon believes that “many of us would be appalled at the sexual smuttiness, political intolerance and self-indulgence that have become standard fare in today’s ‘queer culture.'”