Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 5 of 27

After Stonewall, Hay helped form the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, which shocked America with slogans such as "Kiss a queer" and "Take a lesbian to lunch." However, he and his longtime lover, John Burnside, soon grew tired of the politics and internal bickering in Los Angeles and moved to a small bed-and-breakfast at the San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico.

Gourley knew nothing about Hay or the history of a movement he was now part of when he went to see a documentary film called The Word Is Out in 1976. The movie was a revelation. Hay and Burnside were featured, with Harry in particular talking about gays as a separate, distinct people -- not heterosexuals in which something had gone wrong. The next day Gourley practically ran into the community center raving about the film. His praises were overheard by a huge dyke who usually was given wide berth by almost everyone because she sold pot and carried a gun to protect her business.

"I know Harry," she said, and gave Gourley the address of the San Juan Pueblo.

Gourley wrote, spelling out his disillusionment with what was happening -- or not happening -- with the movement, how it all seemed to be based on sex. A couple of weeks later, to his surprise, Gourley got a letter from Hay. The younger man was echoing some of what he'd been trying to get across for years, and maybe it was time to rev up the machine again. He was coming to Denver to see a few friends and wanted to meet.

In Hay, Gourley found the man who could articulate what he was thinking. Hay talked about the need for gays to see themselves as equal to but different from straight males. And, he said, gays were guilty of defining themselves simply by whom they had sex with. They needed to find out who they were as a people.

In March 1978, the complexion of gay activism in Denver changed when two transvestites were shot and killed by Denver police officers.

Police regularly raided the bars and baths to charge the patrons with public lewdness and threaten the cabaret licenses of the owners. Sometimes the gay community even contributed to the harassment, as it was not above some of the bar owners to call the police on their rivals.

In response, the gay community had done little more than write letters of protest. But with the death of the two transvestites, the leaders at the community center decided it was time to take a more public approach. They organized a march that drew a few dozen participants.

It was Denver's Stonewall, only in some ways more sophisticated. The participants weren't drunk queens busting windows and fighting with the police; they carried their signs peacefully, ignoring the hecklers and the police -- whose ranks included nearly as many officers, some of them taking photographs, as there were participants in the march.

The Denver march had nowhere near the effect of Stonewall, especially on the public, who cared little about the death of two queers in dresses. But it was another step forward for the members of Denver's gay community, proof that they could organize and speak with one voice. Gourley marched along with the others, taking photographs of the police who were photographing the crowd. It was an intoxicating moment of power and pride.

Writing essays and opinion pieces for the gay press and taking to the streets, Gourley was part of a revolution that was sweeping across America as yet another oppressed minority stood up and demanded to be accorded its rights. But revolutions have casualties, like the dead transvestites, and he was learning that he needed courage to face the possibility that he himself could become one. It took writing a letter to the Denver Post about the murder of the transvestites for Gourley to realize that the dangers were real. About 2 a.m. the day after it was printed, he was sleeping at home when the telephone rang. "Hey, faggot, I know where you live," the anonymous caller said and proved it by reciting Gourley's address. "I'm gonna get ya."

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Steve Jackson