200 Years of Freedom for Whom?

200 Years of Freedom for Whom?
Red Scare and the Depoliticization of San Diego Gay Pride 1976

by Gabrielle Garcia
Published May 17, 2021

“200 Years of Freedom for Whom?” Back, Q0858, L2008.08 Gary Gulley Collection, 1976.
“200 Years of Freedom for Whom?” Front, Q0858, L2008.08 Gary Gulley Collection, 1976.



While scanning objects from an unnamed flat file drawer of miscellaneous materials from San Diego Pride events, Diversionary Theatre, and a private artist, I came across a small double-sided flyer from 1976 that immediately caught my eye. The words “200 Years of Freedom for Whom?” across the top of the first page are bold and unrelenting. As of 1976, the United States celebrated its 200th anniversary of existence, a country built and maintained by the systemic exploitation and disenfranchisement of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, disabled people, immigrants, and poor and working class people. 1976 was also the year of the second permitted San Diego Pride Parade, entitled “Gay Spirit”, six years after the events at the Stonewall Inn in New York.1 LGBTQ pride marches and events across the United States were born out of the Stonewall Uprising, led by Black and brown queer and trans folks in response to homophobic, transphobic, racist, and classist police violence in 1969. It is necessary to say that LGBTQ pride owes its very existence to the most marginalized community members who frequented the Stonewall Inn, including butch lesbians, trans folks, houseless folks, sex workers, drag queens, people of color, and those at the overlaps of these identities.

Upon a closer look, this flyer reveals that in the lead up to the 1976 Gay Pride Parade, the San Diego pride commitee made decisions to prohibit any “political” signage to be used in the march, shortly thereafter prohibiting any signage pertaining to a group or organization. Such decisions were reached due to pressure by the Imperial Court de San Diego and the San Diego Tavern Guild to shut out the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), who were accused of being too “dominating” at the 1975 pride with their signage. These decisions were intended to force SWP members as well as people of other groups, political or not, to be “just a mass of undefined people except for ‘gay pride’ at the beginning and end of the parade,” a flattening of difference and the multi-facetedness of the community for a false unity. “The Center, MCC-San Diego, MCC-Oceanside, Military Off-Limits Defense Fund, The Imperial Court of San Diego, Dignity of San Diego, and the San Diego Tavern Guild all withdrew [their participation] at the time” leading up to the march,2 in response to this flyer that was being circulated by SWP to bring attention to the hypocrisy and injustice of such behavior. Jeri Dilno, one of the pride organizers at the time—even with her own reservations about SWP’s “dominant” presence—had said that SWP “was one of the only political groups that identified LGBTQ rights as a part of their platform”.3 Such censoring, blatant targeting against SWP (despite their pro-LGBTQ platform), and coordinated attempts to depoliticize pride and LGBTQ identity are contrary to pride’s very origins and insulting to the lived realities of its most disenfranchised community members. This behavior also embodies the same conservative Cold War anti-communism that actively targeted LGBTQ folks, quashed labor unions and struggles, and destroyed millions of lives abroad through war, occupation, coups, assassinations, and sanctions.

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Riveria, two foremothers of the Stonewall Uprising, did not commit to their activism with Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)—a radical political collective that conducted political protest and demonstrations, held meetings, and provided housing and support to homeless LGBT youth and sex workers—to have their legacies depoliticized. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn and community members did not fight back against the police for their efforts to be depoliticized. The Stonewall Uprising was political. LGBTQ Pride is political. The issues, oppression, and violence that the most marginalized in our community face, including homelessness, poverty, police violence, immigration violence, and  military violence worldwide, are perpetuated and maintained by capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy. The justice, life, and freedom of LGBTQ people are entwined with the justice, life, and freedom of other folks of marginalized backgrounds who are also LGBTQ. I’m reminded of a quote that encompasses this understanding:

“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
— Audre Lorde

LGBTQ Pride must be as multi-faceted in its protest, organizing, and celebration as its community members are. We as a community cannot be free until the most marginalized of us are free. We cannot allow such harmful divisiveness to repeat AND we must examine the ways in which privileged LGBTQ folks can actively harm other LGBTQ community members of other oppressed backgrounds. We must examine the roles that law enforcement, the military, and the Republican and Democractic parties have played historically and actively continue to play in exploiting and harming LGBTQ folks, especially BIPOC, disabled, immigrant, poor and working class, and houseless folks. Addressing the uncomfortable subject of assimilation into violent institutions, such as with the recent repeal of the military trans ban or the inclusion of LGBTQ people in American police forces, are vital to challenging the goals and direction of the broader LGBTQ community. What does it mean to gain access to inherently violent occupations and institutions that actively oppresses and disenfranchises marginalized people domestically and abroad as a member of a marginalized community? What lines do we draw? What compromises do we make? Which hypocrisies and contradictions are tolerable and which aren’t? There are no clear cut answers to these questions, but they must be reckoned with if we as a community continue to espouse goals of equity and justice.

Marchers behind a banner challenging the Bicentennial, 1976. Gary Gulley Collection (P109.007), Lambda Archives of San Diego.
“Gay Spirit” button, 1976. Button and Pin Collection, Lambda Archives of San Diego.4




1“1976 ‘Gay Spirit,’” San Diego Pride Timeline, Out on the Left Coast, last modified October 11, 2017, https://sdpride.sdsu.edu/gay-spirit/#.
2“1976,” San Diego Pride, last modified June 5, 2020, https://sdpride.org/year1976/.
3San Diego Pride, “Jeri Dilno, ‘1976,’” Youtube video, 02:14, posted April 3, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yqStB5wNgM.
4“1976 ‘Gay Spirit,’” San Diego Pride Timeline, Out on the Left Coast, last modified October 11, 2017, https://sdpride.sdsu.edu/gay-spirit/#.

Gabrielle Garcia (they/he/she) is a Project Assistant at Lambda Archives. He is a white Cuban Jewish non-binary butch lesbian with class and educational privilege and abolitionist left politics. Additionally, they are an artist and designer, aspiring archivist, and a 2019 graduate from Scripps College with a BA in Media Studies and two minors in Art and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, media, film, publishing, archives, and the LGBTQ community (especially butch lesbians). They will be applying to library and information science masters programs this winter.

Reflections on Working in a Community Archives During a Pandemic

by Gabrielle Garcia
Published April 16, 2021**

There’s something particularly chilling about handling memorial objects for local loved ones who had passed from HIV/AIDS while living through a devastating pandemic where the same government negligence continues to exacerbate human loss. 

Inventorying and handling these objects are a gentle and deliberate ceremony. Each one is touched with care and viewed with focused intention. As a 23 year old lesbian, these physical memories are a solemn reminder of the generation of LGBTQ community members we have lost to HIV/AIDS. I see an individual who was born the same year as my mother and my heart aches for this life and all these lives that had been cut so tragically short. There is so much grief and love to be held. In a country sacked by the coronavirus pandemic with 300,000+ deaths within less than a year, the pain is an unbearable weight. 

On the other hand, there is anger swirling inside me, because similar issues—a for-profit healthcare system, severely lacking public program infrastructure, and government and economic systems that choose profit over human life—are STILL bearing their full force on the most marginalized, leading to countless preventable deaths. The scapegoating within the derogatory euphemisms, “gay disease” and “China virus” are emblematic of the common theme of dehumanization in governmental and societal reactions to both viruses. At the same time, it’s crucial to remember how the Ronald Reagan administration did not publicly acknowledge the existence of AIDS until 4 years after the epidemic in the US began and how many people with AIDS were denied medical care (both related to and unrelated to their AIDS diagnosis)1 or provided less favorable treatment due to homophobia and transphobia.  

I’m grateful that Lambda Archives has been able to house these crucial items and memories.2 If we don’t archive our stories, histories, and memories…who will? The transmission of knowledge, memory, and joy between different generations of LGBTQ folks is of utmost importance for our survival, connection, and health. There are many lessons to be learned from past and present AIDS activism and organizing, including the formation of mutual aid networks and support systems that continue to blossom now. 

In addition to my powerful interactions with HIV/AIDS related materials, taking inventory of other items in the California State Library (CSL) Project has also been an emotional experience during the pandemic. Coming across an intimate Sinister Wisdom poster3 stirred up feelings of longing that have been a gnawing thorn in an era of necessary social distancing. At the same time, seeing a poster for a 1990’s lecture by Angela Davis at UCSD4 made me reflect on the continued importance of her abolitionist, anti-racist work today, having not too long ago finished reading her books, Are Prisons Obsolete? and Freedom is a Constant Struggle


Encountering materials from local LGBTQ bars and theaters, such as Diversionary Theatre and The Flame Nightclub, are reminders of the physical gathering spaces that have been restricted or otherwise lost to us. The case of The Flame, which had been shut down years ago and is now being turned into apartments, is a stark reminder of the dwindling number of lesbian/queer womxn’s bars in the United States and the danger they are in during these pandemic times. There are 15 such bars left.5 Gossip Grill is presently San Diego’s (and California’s) only lesbian bar and is one of the two remaining lesbian bars on the west coast. Being able to access such a space (prior to COVID-19) as a young adult has brought me closer to my local community and allowed me to confidently explore my butchness and my lesbianism. 

While my role as a Project Assistant at LASD has only just begun, I have deeply experienced the archives’ emotional and educational potency. I look forward to learning more about the materials I’ve encountered so far and the many more in the collections. A key lesson that emerges from this early experience is that archives must have continuous connections with the local community. Even in our socially distanced and crisis-filled present, we must actively cultivate our relationships and forge anti-racist and anti-oppressive community.

Prompts
1. If you’ve read Are Prisons Obsolete? and/or Freedom is a Constant Struggle, what are your thoughts on the connection between their contents and memory work and archives?
2. What LGBTQ spaces have you been missing in these pandemic times?

Please either comment your thoughts below or email ggarcia@lambdaarchives.org.


**This blog post was written in December 2020 and refers to an earlier stage of the CSL project.
1 A local example of this was the case of Robert Walsh who was unfairly denied care from a chiropractor due to his HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Footage of his deposition for the lawsuit against this discrimination can be found here: https://calisphere.org/item/80da03501e172b348317137434ddaea5/
2 While writing this, my project manager, Dana, informed me of a notebook in Lambda Archives’ collection belonging to Gary Cheatham (L2015.11), which contains information about the people with AIDS that Gary took care of before he himself passed from AIDS-related complications. I’m filled with an eagerness to view such a precious item and learn about the lives it contains, but also an anticipating ache in response to the emotional weight of this haunting memory.
3 L2014.01. Sinister Wisdom is a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal established in 1976. http://sinisterwisdom.org/.
4 L2011.13. Vertez Burks Collection, Lambda Archives of San Diego.
5 https://www.lesbianbarproject.com/the-15-bars-home.


Gabrielle Garcia (they/he/she) is a Project Assistant at Lambda Archives. He is a white Cuban Jewish non-binary butch lesbian with class and educational privilege and abolitionist left politics. Additionally, they are an artist and designer, aspiring archivist, and a 2019 graduate from Scripps College with a BA in Media Studies and two minors in Art and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She is interested in the intersections of art, media, film, publishing, archives, and the LGBTQ community (especially butch lesbians). They will be applying to library and information science masters programs this winter.