[2011] Tulsa Gay Alliance Formation in 1973

Title

[2011] Tulsa Gay Alliance Formation in 1973

Description

A posting on the TulsaNow's Tulsa Forum's site.

Creator

Lowe, Ronnie

Source

TulsaNow - The Tulsa Forum

Publisher

Lowe, Ronnie

Date

08/29/2011 Posting

Contributor

Lowe, Ronnie

Text

The Tulsa Forum by TulsaNow
Talk About Tulsa => Other Tulsa Discussion => Topic started by: Ronnie Lowe on August 29, 2011, 11:04:26 pm
Title: Tulsa Gay Alliance-1973
Post by: Ronnie Lowe on August 29, 2011, 11:04:26 pm
Tulsa Gay Alliance 1973
It was 1973 and developments of great consequence were everywhere to be found. The Vietnam War was ending, the
Watergate Scandal broke, the American Indian Movement seized a trading post and a church at historic Wounded Knee
in South Dakota and minorities throughout the United States were encouraged by the progress of American Blacks.
Here in Tulsa, a small but determined group of gay people organized to secure our right to be equal to our heterosexual
counterparts.
But in 1973 the tide had not yet turned for gay people. The medical profession had still to declare us fit. Hoover’s FBI
routinely kept files on all “known” homosexuals. It was Boys in the Band times and while the coasts were closeted the
atmosphere in Tulsa was doubly onerous.
For most gay people there was the palpable fear of being beaten, fired from our jobs and driven out of our
neighborhoods. Sometimes petty enemies, jealous neighbors or toxic co-workers who learned of our circumstance
would blackmail us. Even discussion of homosexuality was considered inappropriate.
The Tulsa Police Department would regularly bust gay bars simply because they catered to gay people. The TPD would
back a paddy wagon up to the front of a bar, take the patrons down to the station, book and release them and the next
day the Tulsa World and the Tulsa Tribune would print their names and more often than not they would be fired from
their jobs.
If we were dancing to Motown downtown at the Taj Mahal Bar and the lights flickered the men on the dance floor would
separate because that was a signal that the police had arrived. It was illegal for men to dance together. It was illegal
for men to dress in women’s clothing. It was illegal for two people of the same sex that loved each other, that wanted to
have consensual sexual relations, to do so.
Meanwhile homosexuality was as common then as it is today. Roughly ten percent of every demographic in Tulsa was
homosexual -- living in denial or living in secret.
It was in this oppressive Soviet-like atmosphere that I became a founding member of Tulsa Gay Alliance. I was 19 years
old.
Formation of Tulsa Gay Alliance
That summer, I had read about and written to a new gay group at Oklahoma University in Norman and a man there
named Denis put me in touch with a religious man, as I recall a seminarian, here in Tulsa who was forming a gay
liberation group.
So there we were in the late summer of 1973: A group of gay men and my feminist friend Jan, spread around the living
room of this seminarian’s apartment at London Square, inventing our first gay political group. To my surprise my eighth
grade English teacher, Gary Durst, was there with his friend.
The energy was incredible as we addressed issues like -- what to call ourselves. Were we homosexuals, gays or the
more radical moniker -- queers? We would avoid a rigid hierarchy and take turns leading meetings, we could reserve a
room at the Tulsa Library, we would post notice and let everyone know that gay people would be gathering openly. We
would tell the world who we were. Tulsa Gay Alliance was taking shape as we brainstormed.
We accepted ourselves and that was the seminal spark.
Tulsa Central Library Meetings
There weren’t a large number of us at those first public meetings. As I recall there were only a handful, maybe seven or
eight folks. I recall a Germanic dark-haired lesbian named Tay, the seminarian, a former Tulsa policeman, an older man
who managed a gay bar and his friend, me and my straight friend Susan with her baby Jasmine in tow. There were just
two or three more young men involved.
I suppose we were trying to present ourselves as a public service when we scheduled our first guest speaker: A man
from the Tulsa Health Department who lectured us on Sexually Transmitted Disease.
I recall a drag show fundraiser at a gay bar named The Eighth Day at the intersection of 11th Street and Lewis. Barbara
Streisand, Diana Ross and Judy Garland showed up.
And I remember going to Southroads Mall with my friend Jan to canvas political candidates appearing there and asking
them about their stance on gay rights.
Tulsa Junior College
Tulsa Junior College
Meanwhile, I was planning to attend Oklahoma University and wanted to complete some credits here at the new
downtown Tulsa Junior College. Registration day arrived and I remember being pulled out of line by a security guard at
TJC who told me I would be allowed to attend only if I promised not to organize a gay group at Tulsa Junior College.
Apparently news of the free speech movement had not yet reached Tulsa.
And just as now, many folks in power in Tulsa were gay and their hypocrisy was staggering.
Generation Rap
I’m not sure how many meetings occurred or how large Tulsa Gay Alliance became or what finally happened. I
transferred to Oklahoma University early in that group’s life. At OU I joined the gay group and participated in
consciousness raising presentations for heterosexual students. Not long after I arrived in Norman, Tulsa Gay Alliance
arranged a show on a Tulsa TV show named Generation Rap. I volunteered for the show and traveled back to Tulsa with
another gay man named Richard. A lesbian from the OU group also joined us.
The show went very well. The psychologist twins who hosted Generation Rap asked me when I became gay and I
immediately responded that I had been gay from the beginning. I never experienced a so-called conversion and that
seemed to confuse the twins who asked me to repeat myself. Now I would respond that nature made me. I am a part
of nature’s grand plan.
Tulsa buffs will want to note that following the show the lone cameraman, Mazeppa Pompazoidi, stepped out from behind
the camera and told me, “Man, that was good.”
My dear mother had her sympathetic friends the Van Dusen’s over to our house to watch Generation Rap with her. I
know that my public coming out was not easy for her. But as always my mother held her head high and supported me.
Finally
Today, gay politics is not central to my life. Our progress has allowed me to take that stance. But as hokey and flawed
as our little gay group was, it was an important step for Tulsa. It was a genuine highpoint in the history of Gay People in
Tulsa. We were the group that was not afraid to say our name. Way back in 1973 we did not hesitate to say we are Gay
and we are proud.
I would very much appreciate hearing from anyone who has memory of Tulsa Gay Alliance.

Files

Citation

Lowe, Ronnie, “[2011] Tulsa Gay Alliance Formation in 1973,” OKEQ History Project, accessed February 27, 2024, https://history.okeq.org/items/show/374.