“By day I was a reporter for KGO-TV” — the San Francisco affiliate of ABC — “and by night I was a writer for the Berkeley Barb,” the Bay Area’s pioneering “underground” paper. Laurence also led a double life of another sort — as a closeted Gay man in an era when almost nobody was “out” in the modern sense — until March 1969, when the firing of a friend with whom he’d appeared in a provocative Barb photo led him to found the Committee on Homosexual Freedom (CHF) and lead the first protests in U.S. history against a private employer for firing a Queer employee...
What they did was mount a picket outside the States Steamship headquarters from noon to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Laurence recalled that his group started with 13 “core” members and ultimately grew to about 25, plus other people on a contact list they could bring out for the States pickets and other demonstrations. Brown recalled that he was made picket captain “because I already had experience leading demonstrations with the anti-Viet Nam War movement.” He sought out training from the American Friends’ Service Committee (AFSC) on how to do nonviolent protesting, but that group — which, Brown recalled, had “organized in the South and risked their lives for Black civil rights” — refused to help a Queer group mount a protest. So Brown bought a dozen copies of the AFSC’s instruction manual on nonviolent civil disobedience and the group’s members taught themselves.
CHF founders realized they needed allies — and they looked for them in the same places modern Queer activists often do: the militant organizations of people of color. In 1969 that meant the Black Panther Party and the United Farm Workers (UFW). Laurence and Brown recalled how CHF joined the UFW’s pickets outside Safeway supermarkets to get people to stop buying grapes. In addition to signs with the UFW’s slogans, they also carried signs reading “Gay Is Good” and other messages from the new Queer movement. Not everyone on the UFW picket lines liked the idea of marching with a group carrying “Gay Is Good” messages. So, Laurence said, they went right to the top. “We called [UFW president] César Chávez, and he said, ‘Let them picket.’”
Later Laurence got a call from the Black Panthers, who essentially wanted him as a human shield to forestall a police raid on their headquarters they’d been tipped was about to happen. “They wanted some white people there,” he recalled. “I went down and it was obvious that I was Gay. The Panthers were impressed, and they taught us. --Read More from Mark Gabrish Conlan--
See also: Gay Liberation DIDN’T Begin at Stonewall!!!