Under the auspices of the LGBT Community Center’s National History Archive, veterans of Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) and Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and others gathered at the Center, in Manhattan, on November 6, for a celebration of the life of founding member and first Delegate at Large of GAA, Arthur Scott Evans, who passed away at his home, in San Francisco, on September 11, just a month before he would have turned 69.
Rich Wandel, second President of GAA and the Center’s Archivist, who called Arthur “a person who changed my entire life,” introduced Arnie Kantrowitz, who was Vice-President of GAA and author of the book “Under the Rainbow.” Arnie read the preamble to GAA’s constitution, written by Arthur, and demanding “the right to our feelings, … the right to love, … the right to our own bodies, … the right to be persons … [and] to express our own individuality.” He also recalled a camping trip with Arthur, in the state of Washington, clearly not designed for those used to urban comforts.
Hal Offen, Arthur’s best friend and executor and GAA’s second Delegate at Large, visiting from San Francisco, called “the early gay movement … Arthur’s major legacy,” and recalled meeting Arthur at a demonstration, Hal’s first, against the Household Finance Company, which refused to sell life insurance to known homosexuals. Hal also reminded us of other early 1970s GAA “zaps,” including those against Fidelifacts; Alcoa-owned Park West apartment complex, which would not rent to two same-sex people with different last names; and New York City Councilmember Saul Sharison, for his refusal to schedule first hearings on what was then called Intro 475, the bill meant to end discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. “There were few people as responsible as Arthur for launching the Gay Movement,” Hal said, explaining that, with the zaps, “We became empowered to see our actions result in change.”
Hal paused for a clip, featuring Arthur, from the film “Vito,” about activist Vito Russo, in which Arthur spoke about a 1971 demonstration at the City Clerk’s office, in response to homophobic remarks the Clerk made concerning same-sex marriage. “We created a culture of community,” Arthur said in the clip.
Hal spoke of the Buggery, the Volkswagen repair shop in San Francisco that he and Arthur co-owned; said of Arthur, “He was brave, he was smart, he was articulate, he was witty;” and added, “He died a philosopher’s death,” insisting on foregoing potentially incapacitating treatment for the aortic aneurism, which ultimately claimed his life. Hal led us all in singing “Amazing Gays,” to the tune of “Amazing Grace,” originating from demonstrations against Proposition 6, the anti-gay teacher initiative introduced in California in the late 1970s.
Rich Wandel spoke of Arthur’s three books, “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,” “The God of Ecstasy,” about Dionysis, and “Critique of Patriarchal Reason,” and told of being present for a conversation Arthur had, in Greek, with another individual, a clergyman, whose favorite writer also was Plutarch.
Wayne Sunday played an excerpt from an interview he taped with Arthur in San Francisco two years ago, in which Arthur explained GAA’s formation, as a one-issue gay organization, in reaction against the “impractical” and “doctrinaire” multi-issue GLF, and designing, with GAA and its zaps, “a machine for creating political and cultural confrontation.”
Poet, novelist, and GLF veteran Perry Brass declared, “Arthur was a wonderfully gallant, charismatic person.” Dr. Charles Silverstein, co-author of “The Joy of Gay Sex,” recalled that Arthur was the first person who greeted him at a GAA meeting. Robert Grunquist read a paragraph from “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,” announcing, “This book really changed my life.” Bebe Scarpi said that GAA, “which Arthur helped found,” “was like a tree: in time that tree grew and blossomed,” and pointed to National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other later organizations that it inspired.
The program ended with Rich Wandel’s reading of two excerpts, “To Mystery” and “Affirmation of Unity,” from Arthur’s poem “The Cosmic Rosary,” originally written in Latin and translated into English by Arthur himself.