From the Whiskey Gulch in East Palo Alto to the Stockton Strip in San Jose, the gay community was widespread in Silicon Valley. Whayne Herriford describes community life and the bars and clubs that the gay community coalesced around.
Long distance relationships are never easy, even when two people are in the same country. Living in different countries separated by an ocean makes it even more challenging. Prior to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, another layer of hardship existed for same sex couples because the main criteria for granting citizenship is being a married spouse, child, or relative of a U.S. citizen. Because same-sex couples couldn’t get married, bi-national couples had limited time they could stay in the other spouse’s country.
Since same-sex couples could not get married until rather recently, the issue of getting citizenship for a loving partner was always near impossible. DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996, compounded the problem.
Section 3 of the law defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” Thus it explicitly denied same-sex couples all benefits and recognition given to opposite-sex couples, such as Social Security survivor benefits, insurance benefits, immigration and tax filing.
Learning all these aspects of immigration law and how it discriminated against same-sex couples, San Jose native and longtime LGBTQ+ activist Judy Rickard took on the issue by lobbying federal officials locally and in Washington, D.C. She wrote a book in 2011 which shared her story and the stories of others facing this heartbreaking discrimination.
The book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law and published by Findhorn Press, included resources for affected couples and those who were allies. April, 2021 is the 10th anniversary of her book.
She and her wife Karin Bogliolo joined with immigration attorney Lavi Soloway to confront the injustice and seek a legal solution. Years of radio and television and newspaper interviews took the fight to the public, even while Judy and Karin were forced to be out of America to be together.
As the amazon.com book listing shared: “The horrors that thousands of lesbian and gay couples face are detailed in this moving political and personal story of immigration and love. As Judy and Karin’s legal battles reveal, when only one half of a gay couple is an American citizen, immigration struggles are confounded by the fact that the partners cannot legally marry in most parts of the United States.”
Publishing the book led to Judy being invited to speak on this immigration issue on a panel at the White House in March, 2013, as the DOMA case was being presented to the Supreme Court. A chance to visit President Obama in the Oval Office gave Judy a chance to remind him of the particular immigration issue she faced. Presenting on the panel one day and demonstrating outside the Supreme Court the next day with Karin, they were interviewed and pressed the message to national media outlets.
Though Judy and Karin were married in Vermont on April 6, 2011, by a Justice of the Peace, their marriage would not be federally recognized until DOMA was struck down. Nevertheless, they still met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials. They were lucky that their officer did not reject out of hand Judy’s application to sponsor Karin for immigration. Instead, he shelved it to be reviewed later.
On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in United States v Windsor, ruling that DOMA was unconstitutional, thus allowing married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. The ruling meant that married same-sex bi-national couples can now sponsor spouses for immigration and receive all federal benefits other U.S. married couples receive.
When the case was settled by the Supreme Court, Judy’s application flew through the system. Karin received the first green card in California and the second in America for a same-sex spouse. Karin passed the U.S. citizenship test after three years and is now a U.S. citizen. They happily live in San Jose.
Torn Apart is out of print but available on amazon.com and used book stores.
You might have heard about Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s testing and vaccine officer who came out of retirement in 2020 to help in the fight against COVID-19. However, you may not know he worked for the county since 1984 and was instrumental in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Marty Fenstersheib received his B.S. at Tulane University, M.D. at Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, and M.P.H at U.C. Berkeley. He is Board Certified in Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine. He always craved big challenges. He left his first job in private practice because he found it too easy. He entered U.C. Berkeley’s Public Health program and, as a fluent Spanish speaker, was soon working in a Spanish-language clinic in San Francisco’s
In 1984, he joined Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department as director of the immunization program. This was in the early days of the epidemic. “I actually was the first person in the health department that gave results to people that they were HIV positive. The test came out in 1985 and nobody knew what to do, so no one wanted to give the results. So, I did,” Fenstersheib said. “It soon became known that if you got the test and I came in the room—it wasn’t good news. After
that, there was nothing else to tell them.”
Fenstersheib achieved national prominence when he pioneered a then-revolutionary AIDS treatment that meshed medical care with education to keep infected patients from spreading the virus. He helped open a County clinic to provide education, referrals, and support. The approach was profiled in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The HIV Early Intervention Clinical Program he started in 1987 became the model for the State of California. More than two dozen similar clinics were subsequently established and funded across the state. When Congress significantly expanded
the federal funding for AIDS care in 1990 with the passage of the Ryan White CARE Act, Fenstersheib’s program became the national model for AIDS treatment clinics.
Throughout the epidemic, Fenstersheib continued to serve as a hands-on clinician, caring for HIV patients for more than 27 years, even after becoming the County’s Public Health Officer and later, after adding the role of the Public Health Department Director.
The epidemic had a profound impact on Fenstersheib personally. His partner was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1984 and died in 1992. In addition, Fenstersheib has sung with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus since 1983, and he reflects on the loss of more than 300 members of the chorus who have died of AIDS since the epidemic began.
Fenstersheib retired from the county in Sept. 2013. In 2020, due to his knowledge of public health and infectious diseases, he was hired back to be the COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer at the county’s Emergency Operation Center.
PIONEER OF LGBTQ+ VISIBILITY
Kathy Wolfe, Founder and CEO of Wolfe Video, remembers a time when movies about our LGBTQ lives were not readily available through multiple media outlets.
Today’s LGBTQ+ younger community may not know that Kathy played a vital role in kickstarting the visibility of our community in media today.
But before the World Wide Web, Netflix, smart phones, Ellen DeGeneres, The L Word, and all the programming we take for granted today, Kathy Wolfe had a vision and took action.
In 1979, Kathy Wolfe saw the powerful documentary Word is Out at the Frameline Film Festival. “I was completely inspired by seeing that film,” remembers Kathy. “I immediately grasped the importance of bringing our stories to the public.”
For the next several years, Kathy honed her skills in producing, directing and editing lesbian documentaries, including The Changer and the Changed, an early history of Olivia Records. But she soon realized the need for distribution channels so that these movies could be seen outside of film festivals.
The technology of the day was VHS, so in 1985 Kathy formed a new company, Wolfe Video. Initially, Wolfe sold tapes directly to lesbians, many of whom were closeted and had no other way to see these movies.
From the outset, however, Kathy’s ultimate goal was wider than mail order. She wanted to spur acceptance of our community by getting these titles seen by both gay and straight audiences.
She worked tirelessly to overcome the almost automatic perception by homophobic wholesalers that lesbian and gay movies equal pornography. She made bold moves, such as cold-calling Lily Tomlin and asking to produce and distribute a VHS of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. This created a breakthrough into the giant mainstream video rental market.
Another bold move was acquiring the hit movie Big Eden, getting it rated PG (a first), and producing it as a double DVD (another first).
A continuing challenge has been keeping up with the very rapidly changing technology, but Kathy has adapted. Besides adding Blu-ray as a format for physical sales, in 2012 she launched WolfeOnDemand.com, the first digital LGBTQ platform. She also licenses Wolfe films to streaming outlets all over the world.
Ironically, large companies such as Netflix are now both customers and competitors of Wolfe’s for quality LGBTQ films. Kathy is philosophical about this. “These days our films can be streamed all over the world or purchased on DVD for guaranteed rewatching. I take pride in knowing we helped make a difference for our community. We now see ourselves – and are seen – in a much truer light.”
Both the LGBTQ and mainstream community recognize her impact and Kathy has received multiple awards over the years including: Cinequest’s “Maverick Spirit Award;” NCLR’s “Community Partner Award;” the San Francisco Board of Supervisors “Certificate of Honor,” and the National Organization of Women’s “Excellence in Media Award.”
Read more about Kathy’s story here.
Whayne was one of four founders of the South Bay Times (SBT) newspaper in 1988. SBT covered all the local LGBT news and covered the local events and social life. Unfortunately due to personal issues and the death of one of the founders, SBT was only published for two years, but was a wonderful community resource during that time.
When the South Bay Leather Uniform Group (SLUG) disbanded in the mid-1990s, the Santa Clara County Leather Association stepped in to take its place.
The SCCLA is a pansexual social and educational club, where folks can find connection, mentorship and community in leather. Renegades – San Jose’s only leather and bear club – became the group’s hub for weekend nights, Sunday brunches, movie nights and meetings of the San Jose Brotherhood.
Members stitched SCCLA’s triangle patch onto leather vests and jackets, which were often worn to annual formal dinners and leather weekends, where the dress code was, “Leather in uniforms are admired but not required.” These socials attracted people across Northern California, from San Francisco, Sonoma and Sacramento.
“We had fun, did good things, raised money for charity – I had a blast,” said Frank La, who first joined SCCLA in 2012. “I was becoming my leather self, and I was understanding what leather was about: not what’s worn on the outside but kind of inside in the heart. I loved it and took into it like a duck to water.”
The organization also hosted Mr. and Ms. Santa Clara Leather contests, whose title holders become ambassadors for the community, helping connect and educate folks in and outside of the LGBTQ community.
Frank – who earned the title of Mr. Santa Clara County Leather 2014 – said being an ambassador was one of the highlights of his life.
“I got to meet and spend some time with leaders in the leather community that, unfortunately, are no longer with us today,” Frank said. “I got the opportunity to sit down one-on-one to discuss history of where they’ve been, where they came from, where they are today and where the leather community is today. The title holding experience is just unbelievable.”
Growing out of the post WWII biker culture, leather promoted images of masculine independence that resonated with men and women who were dissatisfied with mainstream culture, especially dispelling the myth that all homosexual men were effeminate.
Gay leather became a practical way to symbolize open exploration of kink and S&M for some, while others adopted it as an entire lifestyle. In the 1960s, San Francisco became a hub for leather subculture in the gay community, which exploded internationally in the 1970s and 80s.
According to the Leather Archives, the SCCLA was founded in 1997 by Kevin Roche and Miranda von Stockhausen – who were Mr. and Ms. South Bay-San Jose Leather 1996, respectively. SCCLA represented the merger of the South Bay Leather and San Jose Leather groups.
Locally, Gabrielle Antolovich, the DeFrank Center’s president, earned the title of International Ms. Leather and International Ms. Bootblack in 1990, while Lance Moore is known as “Member #1” of the SCCLA. Moore is a Silicon Valley technical writer, Billy DeFrank Center board member and Mr. Santa Clara County Leather in 2000.
The SCCLA was spoiled; master craftsmen Tony and Dave Coronza founded Leather Masters in 1989 from their garage – in true Silicon Valley fashion.
“We would go into Mr. S (Leather in San Francisco) and some other stores and say, ‘Oh, I can make that,’ and ‘I can do that much cheaper,’” Carranza told the Dallas Voice in 2020. “I was a stockbroker at the time, and I didn’t want to wear a suit and tie to work. I said, ‘Hey, let’s go into business.’ And then we bought a sewing machine.”
Leather Masters emphasized providing correct, accessible information for people interested in the lifestyle, on top of providing the local LGBT and straight communities with high-quality leather products during the rise in popularity of the subculture’s style.
Their storefront on Park Avenue opened in 1991 in San Jose’s St Leo’s neighborhood, an emerging LGBT hub, where they not only sold custom leather jackets, vests, boots, chaps and harnesses, but also tailored garments specifically to customers’ bodies.
“To have that in San Jose – whatever you wanted – they had or would make for you, that was just priceless,” Frank La said. “It takes a true craftsmen to make those things.”
The store eventually closed in 2016, a few years after Tony Coronza passed away from complications of a stroke. Dave Coronza moved down to Dallas. The South Bay’s nearest leather shops remain in San Francisco, which can vary in price and quality.
The number of events held by the SCCLA started declining in 2019, as core members were busy with life, moving out of the Bay Area or even passing away. The SCCLA isn’t intending to shut down, but the Covid-19 pandemic really pumped the breaks on gatherings and events in 2020.
Read how the City of San Jose voted 17 years ago to recognize marriages of all city employees—not just straight ones—that were certified by other jurisdictions so their spouse could receive full city benefits.
The council chambers were packed on March 9, 2004, with 103 pro- and anti-marriage residents speaking to the proposal by Mayor Ron Gonzales and Councilmember Ken Yeager. The crowd was overwhelmingly opposed. The religious right had hoped it could change minds by saying the council was acting illegally because gay marriages were not allowed in Calif. They threatened a recall against the Gonzales and Yeager.
Read an account of the nearly four-hour meeting, as well as hear testimony from Councilmember Yeager. In the end, love won, with an 8-1 vote.
Lighting the Way
By Shawn Maxey
From OutNow, March 2004
On March 9th the San Jose City Council chamber was filled to capacity, as people turned out en masse to debate Item 3.5. If passed, the — resolution, co-authored by Mayor Ron Gonzales and City Councilmember Ken Yeager, would grant equal benefits to city employees and their spouses who had same sex marriages certified in other jurisdictions. What followed hours of impassioned comments by more than a hundred local residents was a historic vote to determine if, for the first time, San Jose would legally recognize same sex marriages.
Many who spoke in favor of the resolution said it was simply a matter of equality.
“The broader issue of gay marriage and rights is one of the key civil rights issues of our time,” said local resident Joe Pampicano. “The question is how marriage is recognized by government. The question is equal protection under the law. Councilmember Yeager and honorable Mayor, by bringing this measure forward you make me proud to be from San Jose today.”
Mark Perry echoed that sentiment.
“Are we, as a nation, going to go forth and deny rights to some of our citizens based on the prejudices of another group of citizens? How can the just thing be immoral? How can teaching ok and intolerance be moral? How are the rights of male and female couples lessened by giving those same rights to a minority class? Just as when African-Americans and the women of this country fought for the rights to vote, we now fight for equality with the rest of America.”
Others, like Rod Stone, stressed the importance of separating the religious definition of marriage from the secular.
“Let the churches keep the word marriage, just as long as my government, which is supposed to practice separation of church and state, grants me the same rights as my fellow taxpayers. My partner is a veteran of the Gulf War. He performed eight years of duty in the Marine Corps and he left highly decorated, only to find out he would be treated as a second class citizen because of his love for me.”
Members of the religious community who spoke were largely divided on the issue, with many voicing their support for the resolution.
Said Mary Parker Eaves, “I came today because | feel it’s important for you to know that many persons of faith, many Christians, stand in support of gay and lesbian rights including marriage, My congregation is one of many that have made an explicit statement that we welcome all. Throughout the Bible, love is the primary value. Our cultural context changes, our scientific knowledge grows—love and compassion supersede it all.”
Amidst the philosophical and religious arguments were more personal accounts of the resolution’s importance.
“My name is Don Burris, a City employee here in San Jose. 100 years ago, in 1901, my grandparents were not allowed to marry because mixed race marriages were not legal. The Baptist minister at their Church married them anyway. My grandparents were together 50 years and raised 17 children. I applaud that minister who stood up for fairness and equality. He could see that love and marriage are things that should be celebrated by all in his congregation. The chief issue is not an issue of morality or Christian values. This is a struggle for civil rights, the right for my spouse and I to be treated equally and fairly, not separately and unequal. I applaud Mayor Gonzales and Councilmember Yeager, for they believe that I, the gay employee here in the city of San Jose, should be treated equally and fairly.”
In addition to the usual religious condemnations and moral arguments cited by those who are against LGBT equality, many who opposed the resolution accused the Mayor and Councilmember Yeager of acting with reckless disregard for
the law. In particular, they charged that Item 3.5 violated Proposition 22, which passed easily in 2000 with a resounding 61% of the vote. Upon the completion of the public comments portion of the hearing, Mayor Gonzales invited City Attorney Rick Doyle to speak to that issue.
“What is before you is a motion where you are not passing on or making a decision on the validity or legality of same
sex marriages. The courts will have the final say on that, and whatever this Council says or does doesn’t impact that court decision. However, as a municipal employer, as an employer of a number of employees, you have the ability to provide benefits to your employees and determine who gets benefits and under what circumstances. It is a question of policy. So you do have the right under California law to decide what benefits you want to provide your employees and under what condition. And as such, you can determine to recognize same-sex marriage certificates that are issued by other jurisdictions.”
As it came time to vote on Item 3.5, Councilmember Yeager framed the resolution in a much larger context.
“I know that the only way really to change the minds of people who don’t believe in what we’re doing is when a loved one comes our to you and is gay, and that makes it a personal issue for you, you will then understand the type of love that those people have and how very important it is to recognize that love. I believe we are on the right path, I believe that San Jose has a long history of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.”
And join him they did. In the end, Councilmember Chuck Reed, citing the illegality of same sex marriages performed in San Francisco, was the lone dissenting voice on the Council, With a few simple words and the final official vote, Councilmembers Yeager, Chavez, Gregory, LeZotte, Cortese, Chirco, Campos and Mayor Gonzales moved San Jose to the forefront of communities that are leading the fight for LGBT equality.
Mayor Gonzales: “I am going to have to ask for lights on this item. That motion passes with one no vote.”
To watch the full meeting, click here here.
Founded in 1978, the Freewheelers Car Club enjoys the distinction of being the nation’s oldest gay and lesbian car club. The club’s origins can be traced to Sunnyvale, CA., when a small group of gay car collectors met to exchange information and socialize based on a shared interest in collector automobiles. As word of this informal group spread, it soon became clear that a significant number of people within the LGBTQ community shared this same interest in the art, culture, and technology of the automobile. From this chance beginning, the Freewheelers Car Club was formed and has since become an integral part of the local LGBTQ community, as well as set the standard for other LGBTQ car clubs throughout the nation.
When we aren’t in a pandemic, the Freewheelers hosts monthly events throughout the Bay Area and Central Valley with at least one or two in the South Bay each year. Some of these events have included our pool party in the East Foothills, historic tours of downtown San Jose and country drives around the south county reservoirs. We also co-host with our sister club in LA the annual “West Coast Meet” along the central coast of California, which is attended by members of LGBTQ clubs throughout the country. Between the cars, the themes, the costumes and the performances, the West Coast Meet is arguably the most entertaining car show in existence!
The Freewheelers has always enjoyed a diverse membership, embracing all genders, orientations and identifications, including straight people who know how much fun we have. Membership stands at approximately 300, with most members based in Northern California, while others are scattered around the globe. The 1,200 automobiles listed in the club roster are as diverse as the membership. There are no restrictions on make, model, year or condition, so whether you’re into Acura or Amphicar, Lincoln or Land Rover, Packard or Porsche, there’s something for everyone. You don’t even need to own a car, as long as you share an appreciation of the many aspects of the vintage and collector auto.
For more information on this exciting and unique club, please visit the Freewheelers website at www.thefreewheelers.net
Same-sex couples who made lifelong commitments to each other never found the occasion printed in the pages of non-LGBTQ publications in the South Bay.
That changed on Nov. 7, 1992, when the San Jose Mercury News began publishing announcements of same-sex commitment ceremonies within the paper of record’s pages — reversing its policy of only featuring heterosexual couples.
Amy Brinkman and Kathleen Viall were the first same-sex couple to appear on the Saturday Lifestyle section’s wedding page, announcing their Sept. 12, 1992, commitment ceremony alongside a black-and-white portrait of the new brides in their wedding gowns.
Prior to dating in 1990, the two knew each other for years while working within the community; Amy worked for Santa Clara County in substance abuse services, while Kathleen ran a residential program for the AIDS Resources, Information & Services (ARIS) Foundation.
Their places of employment and address were left out of the announcement for safety and security reasons.
“It was a challenging thing for me to do, because I wasn’t out and I don’t know that I’m still out,” Amy said, referring to the fact that she is bisexual. “Katy always thought that they blurred our picture on purpose because they thought that it was a big step and didn’t want to shock people too much … but we were just happy that they changed their mind.”
According to Our Paper/Your Paper, an LGBTQ community newspaper in the South Bay, the change brought the Mercury News up to speed with similar-sized papers nationally, including the Oakland Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. By November 1992, the Washington Post was still considering the decision. The New York Times didn’t run a same-sex commitment announcement until 2002.
Amy and Kathleen’s openness about their relationship helped jumpstart conversations – even harsh, dehumanizing ones from her family – that slowly helped educate the American public, one story at a time.
These shifts started to impact laws around the country, including in Santa Clara County where officials were discussing providing domestic partner benefits.
“All these things seemed to fall into line together and push each other forward,” Amy said.
Months of pressure and protest
Reversing the heterosexual-only policy was a focused effort of several members of the local LGBT community and the South Bay Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). In addition to a letter writing and phone call campaign, organizers talked with supportive employees at the paper who could push for the change on the inside.
A Valentine’s Day protest at the Mercury News’ Ritter Park Drive office brought public attention to the policy at the start of 1992, which included GLAAD speakers, members from Queer Nation, previously denied same-sex couples and a vow renewal ceremony.
Mercury News’ then-publisher Larry Jinks defended the paper’s position, saying that “wedding announcements have always been for ceremonies sanctioned by the state.” That’s why Amy and Kathleen originally heard “no” after they first submitted their announcement on October 8, 1992.
Christine Schmidt, a South Bay GLAAD co-chair, said while Jinks’ explanation was plausible, it was wrong, citing other papers’ decisions to print same-sex announcements across the country.
“The Mercury News subscribes to an obsolete, prejudicial and unfair state law as the basis for their discrimination against lesbian and gay couples, when it is in their power to help move society in the direction of a more enlightened view of same-sex unions,” Christine said. “The Merc chooses to ignore the fact that the government won’t let us get legally married. Heterosexual couples can make that choice but right now gay and lesbian couples cannot … basically they are afraid to take a stand for fairness.”
Robert Greeley, co-chair of the South Bay GLAAD, said months of continued pressure and meetings with the publisher ultimately helped move the dial towards fairness in the Mercury News.
“To our great dismay, the more we pressed them, the more they dug in their heels,” Robert said at the time. “I was tickled to see that the Mercury News kept its promise and that our community was now fairly represented on its weddings page.”
Some readers, however, opposed the change and wrote letters to the editor expressing their disagreement: “The implication (of printing announcements) is that homosexual relationships are the equivalent both morally and legally of a marriage between a man and a woman. We believe you are wrong;” “Although you may consider yourselves enlightened, we consider your action both tasteful and an affront to our moral and religious beliefs.”
“They didn’t want anything to do with us”
That social and cultural backlash was why Robert and South Bay GLAAD sent the newlyweds a thank you and a bouquet of balloons for volunteering to publicly acknowledge their ceremony in the paper – a big step personally for Amy.
“It was scary for me. My family is very religious and ultra-right, and they rejected me because I was with Katy. They pretty much said they didn’t want anything to do with us,” Amy said. “Once I decided that I wanted to marry Katy, I was ready to it (publicly come out), because I felt like I joined that community.”
Amy said 175 coworkers, friends and community members attended their wedding at Christ the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in San Jose, a longtime supportive congregation, in a ceremony that combined traditional hymns, prayers and scripture with pagan traditions.
After the festivities, the brides headed to downtown San Jose for an evening at the Fairmont Hotel.
Kathleen’s family was very involved in the occasion, including her mother cooking a big Italian pasta meal for the reception afterwards.
Amy didn’t have the same reaction from her family. After inviting them to the ceremony, she received unsupportive, rejecting letters from her mother, brother, uncle and aunt. It wasn’t all encompassing; her sister and cousin attended the ceremony and another aunt sent a wedding present.
“I lost what I had with my parents as a result of this, but we had a really good group of friends and they were all in our ceremony,” Amy said. “They supported us 100%.”
Kathleen passed away in 2017 from complications of diabetes and heart disease. Amy lives in South San Jose, in a house Kathleen helped her purchase.
Content warning: discussion of homophobic violence.
Vandalism on Stanford University’s campus against “Gay Liberation” sculptures transformed the monument honoring the gay rights movement into a physical reminder of the LGBTQ community’s continued fight against hate and violence in the 1980s and 90s.
Renowned sculptor George Segal honed the life-sized, white-painted figures relaxing near a park bench facing the science and engineering quad: two women sitting, lovingly caressing each other’s hands on top of one’s thigh, while two men stand together, one clasping the other’s shoulder.
Following the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the sculpture provided a domestic and intimate lens into LGBTQ lives, moving away from often sensationalized, over-sexualized depictions in media.
Stanford’s casting of “Gay Liberation” isn’t alone; the second casting resides in New York City in Greenwich Village, across the street from the site of Stonewall. While New York City was the original inspiration, delays from community approvals and renovations delayed its installation until June 1992.
Palo Alto became the first home to the artwork, which was completed in 1981. It was installed in Stanford’s Lomita Mall as a long-term loan in February 1984 – after San Francisco city officials decided not to accept the display at Harvey Milk Plaza, joining previous rejections from officials in Los Angeles and Harvard University because of its subject matter.
Trepidation about its controversy proved correct; Segal’s immaculate castings only lasted two weeks, after an unidentified man struck the art with more than 40 blows from a hammer, etching out quarter-sized scars and flattening the nose of one of the female figures.
The statues were removed from campus and transported to storage the next day, but the new void was quickly filled with flowers and mourning students.
The University’s campus overwhelmingly stood in support of the queer community, including a 200-person demonstration one week later on March 13, 1984, the same day then-California Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed a bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexuality.
Stanford enacted a university-wide ban on LGBT discrimination shortly after, joining Stanford Law School’s ban on discrimination within its admissions in 1982.
The brutal violence of the attack was a complete flip from the original inspiration behind “Gay Liberation.”
Following the incident, George Segal told the New York Times he was distressed, saying the art wasn’t meant as a political statement, but rather “a human one regarding our common humanity with homosexuals.” That ordinary subject matter – the shared human experience and aspiration of love – was a request from Peter Putnam, who originally commissioned the memorial to commemorate Stonewall’s 10th anniversary.
Some students felt the vandalized work symbolized vulnerabilities still felt by the LGBTQ community on a national scale, especially given the school’s proximity to San Francisco and its active gay and lesbian community.
While in storage, the sculpture was renovated and eventually replaced back on the university lawn. However, it was attacked again less than a year later, after the word “AIDS” was spray-painted across the male couple.
In May 1988, around 60 people rallied around the site where Gay Liberation formally stood, acknowledging its nearly year-long absence. Stanford students Steve Greene, Andrew Gans and Ann Chang, as well as Merry Meyers, a supporter visiting from San Diego posed as the statue’s four figures for a half hour as part of the Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week celebrating the community. After campus construction and renovation delays, the statue finally returned to Lomita Mall 20 months later in May 1989.
On May 16, 1994 – a decade after the initial attack – “Gay Liberation” was yet again vandalized, this time covered in black paint and rammed with a bench. Varsity football and baseball athletes were arrested shortly after at 2 a.m., and two were charged with felony vandalism, while four others were charged with misdemeanors. Hate crimes were possible charges, as no individuals were directly harmed.
The student athletes were sentenced to probation and community service.