1969 was a pivotal year in most baby boomers' lives and the same was true
for me. I was graduating from high school, Nixon was president, people were
rioting all over the place, my friends went to Woodstock, and I was at home
thinking about going to Buffalo. Besides, to me, Woodstock was this tiny
village down route 28 from where I went to summer camp. Who knew? I
imagined that it would be a small folk festival with Peter Paul and Mary,
and never would have known that it was going to be the event of the summer.
Besides, I wasn't ready for a free love experience. I was still a virgin
for god's sake.
But that June was very special to me. No, not because of Judy Garland's
death, and not because of the Stonewall Riots, but because I turned
seventeen on the 15th and was going away to college in September. My luck,
I was a virgin in the class of '69. I knew this must have been a sexual omen.
School ended before my birthday, so technically I was 16 when they
graduated me, but I was 17 when I left home. It was more of a passage into
adulthood than my Bar Mitzvah at 13. I actually was going to be on my own
for the first time in my life. I didn't think about it much, but I left to
go to "sleep-away school" and ended up stepping out into a new world of my
own. Besides from being a virgin and only 17, I was also 5'2" tall and
didn't really look and act like the other kids going away to college. I was
a nice Jewish boy who finished high school and had no choice but to go on to
college to become either a doctor or a lawyer.
I was good at school stuff, and was accepted at a few places, but for
financial and guilt reasons I knew that I wanted to go to a college that was
free. My older brother stayed at home and went to Queens College for free,
so I figured that I better not cost my folk's too much money. My parent's
did help out with room and board and that was all that I wanted to burden
them with. So the problem was which school to go to?
I wanted something far away enough that my mother wouldn't be able to come
up at the spur of the moment. An eight hour drive seemed long enough to
accomplish this. But I didn't even know where Buffalo really was. All I
knew was that it was still in New York State and my Regents Scholarship
Award would pay for all the tuition. It was also being touted as the
world's largest construction project and that it would be a huge university
where I could find anything that I wanted. I knew that it was near Niagara
Falls, because we visited it for sweat shirts on my senior trip in summer
camp when we stopped by the Falls. I knew it was also near the Canadian
border, which during the Viet Nam era, seemed to be a big plus. A lot of
kids in my grade were considering fleeing across the border, and being a son
of two Holocaust Survivors, the comment, "Where would you flee to if you had
to leave?" was a familiar one to me.
So that July I flew up to Buffalo for a summer orientation program to see
if I would be happy there. It was my first plane flight and was my first
time ever traveling alone. I put on my new jeans, button down blue shirt,
penny loafers and headed into the world of student standby flights. I think
American Airlines charged $11.50 each way.
When I landed I asked the taxi driver to bring me to the house at the
corner of Main and Merrimac across from the U.B. campus. A neighbor named
Judy was going to U.B. at the time, and I was going to stay over for the
weekend. She was actually the one whose description of the place sold me on
going to Buffalo. She made it sound radical, fun, exciting and totally
different than the quiet block that we grew up on in Floral Park, New York.
It seemed that that year, all the baby boomers from New York City were going
to school in Buffalo. But the cab driver didn't know where Merrimac was so
he dropped me off in the middle of the Main Street Campus in front of what
was then called Norton Hall, which was the Student Union. There I stood in
my new clothes and a little suitcase wondering what to do.
A tall, handsome senior was lying on the lawn in front of the building
reading a book. I asked him if he knew where Merrimac Street was and he
corrected me that in Buffalo you didn't have to say Street after the name
and that he lived one house up from Judy on the corner of Main and
Merrimac. She actually lived one house down on the block. We talked a
while and then he escorted me over to Merrimac. I thought he was gorgeous,
politically aware, brilliant and friendly, and he thought I was funny,
different and a bundle of energy. It ended up that his girlfriend Sandy was
one of the freshmen orientation leaders, so I was able to see Greg througout
the entire weekend. I went to the program, but the only event that I
remember is getting a little crazy from a glass of wine and dancing in the
water fountain behind Norton Union. But my fate was settled. I would be
attending U.B. for the next four years, and I had a new friend named Greg
who knew everybody and was my new close friend.
When I got home I immediately wrote to Greg and couldn't wait to get back
in September. I remember that when my family was sitting on my bed watching
the men land on the moon later that month, I was at my desk writing Greg a
letter. 1969 was full of everything.
I knew that liked boys in a special way, but hadn't really told everyone
except my summer camp counselor when I was 12 and a few select people. At
the time, the word gay was something new. The books all called men
homosexuals if they liked other guys, and school kids still used the word
faggot. Compared to those terms I was glad when the word gay became popular.
But even though Greg had a girlfriend, he was extremely liberal and
progressive. He lived with Gene, a 40 year old gay black man with alcohol
problems who worked at a bar, and Gary, another student who was very
"sensitive". So in September, when my parents drove me up to stay in some
garden apartment development called Allenhurst which was used as emergency
housing for the baby boomers who flooded U. B., I knew that my time would be
Allenhurst was actually a new experiment in college living. You could only
get to live there by winning a lottery. It was sort of off-campus,
co-educational with five same sex people living in a two-bedroom two duplex
with a garage beneath. But there could be five women living in an apartment
right next door. This was also the first year that some of the other dorms
actually became co-educational with men being on one floor and women being
on the other. I remember the stories of how the women had urinals in their
bathrooms and placed ivy growing in them.
My housemates were also four freshmen. I lucked out and only had one other
boy as my bedroommate, named Paul, and three other guys shared the other
bedroom. There was a bunk bed and a regular bed. Now adays, I wonder how
we all shared one bathroom in the morning. But I guess we did. I had five
upper class wrestlers living next door. We didn't have much in common,
except for the fact that I could have had a crush on them if they weren't
such idiots. I became the mascot of the entire courtyard. I painted our
apartment, and did the cooking and cleaning and was the town yenta.
Everybody sort of knew me. It was my way of getting over the loneliness of
living alone I guess. I was known as being political and crazy, but it
wasn't until after I left that Thanksgiving that the rumor must have gone
around that I was also queer. My poor roommate must have had a lot of
explaining to do.
The college ran a bus run up the street to campus, but I used my bicycle,
rain or shine, dry or snow, to get to classes, and then after school I would
visit Greg. After one month of school, we started having demonstrations
against the Viet Nam war and administration policy. I remember protesting
against THEMIS, which was some underwater military project, and know that we
protested against ROTC, the changed location of the campus from the
democratically controlled downtown to the republican swamp called Amherst.
We were demonstrating against everything. By the time we reached Halloween,
I think the school was closed more than open. Then came the national
anti-war demonstrations and I think classes actually stopped. We spent our
time having snow ball fights with the campus police and then the City police.
Students Massing on Main Street
Police tear gassing on Main Street
Police coming up Main Street - at Winspear
That sort of ended after the Kent State massacre, and after the
Buffalo City Police started using shot guns to shoot at us. When I left in
1975, you could still see the buckshot holes in front doors of the Student
It was 1970 and I had my first drink, my first smoke, and my first riot
before the year was out. I also remember that one the wrestlers next door
broke a chair over my back for allegedly bringing friends into the house who
smoked marijuana. So over the 1969 Thanksgiving Break I moved out of
Allenhurst and into Greg's attic at the corner of Main and Merrimac on top
of a store for $25 a month. By the second semester I was in love and ready
to do anything for the revolution that was coming, the new way of life and
the man I loved so dearly.
I was in heaven. I was surrounded by interesting people, including this
sort of woman's collective next door on top of a cleaners. Five U.B.
students, Marsha, Barbara, Cindy, Dana, and Margie lived there, and we
shared almost everything and spent most nights together. My closet friend
next door was Marsha who was the one I would share all of my closet secrets.
You have to remember, this was an era change and free thinking. We all
spent hours debating esoteric or political issues way into the wee hours of
the morning. Besides, being young and inquisitive, the early 1970's were
geared to reinforcing all the beliefs of the late 1960's. The womens'
movement was becoming stronger and the gay movement was starting in New York
City. In 1969, the Gay Liberation Front and a group called the Gay
Activist Alliance were forming in New York City. Buffalo already had a
Mattachine Society (of which I considered older more apolitical homosexuals)
and had this new group of women who called themselves the Radicalesbians.
Marsha, Barbara and Cindy all had feminist friends who would stop by and
leave books or have discussions on breaking down sex roles and loving
whomever you wanted. This was also the period of "Free Love", the birth
control pill and no AIDS. The worst thing that people got was the crabs,
and you would hear occasionally that someone got the clap. But I was still
a virgin in love with a man with a girlfriend.
But when I was hanging around the women next door too much, someone told
that no men were allowed and why didn't I go and start my own group. But
there wasn't any men's group. There was Women's Liberation, there were
lesbian groups, but no place for feminist men or gay men to go. So I
figured I could change that.
I was always starting groups and getting involved in one thing or another,
and besides, I knew most of the people in the Student Association due to my
other activities. I had helped to start food co-ops, intermural instead of
intercollegiate sports, political clubs, etc. so why not start a gay men's
group? I filled out a form, and attended a meeting and asked for $800 to
start the Gay Men's Liberation Front. I got the name from reading something
about New York City's GLF. I think Buffalo was one of the first, if not the
first place outside of New York City to have a GLF.
The S.A. meeting was uneventful. When I stood up to explain my proposal
for funding a Gay group, the first reaction from my friends was laughter.
They thought I was not serious and was putting on a comic routine for them.
I had to really shift gears to get them to realize that this was important
to me and that I would fight to get it. With giggles on their face, they
approved the club and I remember walking across the long lawn down to a bank
in a small shopping center across from the dorms with the $800 check, saying
to myself, that there is some truth to the expression that I laughed all the
way to the bank.
I deposited the $800 and then wondered what I would do with it. I remember
speaking with the few gay students that I knew by then, and we decided that
we would put on a dance and see if anyone came. I remember flying down to
the Oscar Wilde Bookstore on Christopher Street to buy anything gay to bring
back for a library at school. I think most of the literature had pictures.
We booked the large room at Norton Union and made flyers which I posted on
the windshields of the cars in the parking lot in the gay bar downtown,
which I think was called the Hibachi Room and hired a group named Rufus to
play music for us. I put my name down as the president and Mike Hamilton
was the vice president and I think that Benny Wohlman was another officer.
To my surprise, over 50 people came to that first dance, and from then on
people signed up and joined our group. Before long, a woman wanted to join,
so we voted to drop the "Men's" from our name and become a Gay Liberation
Front similar to the movement spreading across the country. I wrote
articles for the student newspaper the Spectrum, and spoke in Sociology
classes, handed out flyers on Gay Liberation (see attached) and started
Men's Consciousness Raising Groups, but to tell you the truth, I was still a
virgin at the time. And that was how the group got started.
We tried to be as political as we knew, and it seemed that everyone else
was also trying out the sexual part of the liberation experience, but not
me. I was still a bit uneasy and no one ever really approached me in that way.
Within a year , we had three Men's Consciousness Raising groups in progress
and were planning to participate in the March 14, 1971 March on Albany for
Lesbian and Gay Rights. I know we sent some buses and a carpool to attend
the event. I think I went on the bus. It was around that time that I
figured I had to explain all of this to my parents. They knew of my
politics, dope smoking and feminist views, but the actual sex stuff never
It was on February 26, 1971, at one of our Consciousness Raising sessions
that I mentioned to a newly forming group that I was a virgin. You see, I
would attend the first meeting of the group, and in similar fashion to the
group therapy session that I was attending from U.B.'s clinical program,
would ask the group to go around answering some simple questions like when
was the first time that you had a gay experience and how it was.
When it came to my time, I told the group that I was a 18 year old virgin
and had to go to another meeting. I mean I was only starting the groups, I
couldn't be expected to spill my guts with eveyone at the group. So after
telling them of my sexual status one of the guys named Sam Goldsmith
escorted me into a side room to discuss it more fully. I had my first
sexual experience right there in the room next to all that consciousness
I called home that night to wish my parents a Happy 25th Anniversary, and
mentioned that when they asked me over Christmas Break about drugs, sex and
politics I told them I had done two out of the three, but that now it was
three out of the three. My father asked if we knew the girl and I answered,
"there were no girls there." That is how I sort of came out to my folks.
They knew that I was active in sexual politics but thought that it was an
academic political rebellion phase up to that point. Now they had to really
come to grips with it.
My father joked that my mother and I lost our virginity on the same day,
just 25 years apart. Then he asked what Sam did. I told him that he was
pre-med. He laughed again, and told my mother on the other extension phone
that at least I was going with a Jewish doctor. He then went on to use an
analogy of what his life was at the time. He told me how as a young 17 year
old Jewish boy in Germany, he would come home from school and asked his
mother why everyone hated him. She told him that the whole world was crazy
and that there was nothing wrong with being Jewish, but that his life would
be harder because of it. But that he should be proud of himself and his
religion. My father then told me that the whole world hated homosexuals,
and that my life would be harder because of it, but that I was still his
Ricky, and that even though they didn't know any "gay people" they would not
make things harder for me. They suggested that I come home to discuss this
all, but I told them about going to Albany the next month for a Gay Rights
It was hard for them to say anything negative, after teaching me all my
life that we must fight discrimination with all our might and make sure that
the hatred of the Holocaust never occur again. So in a way I was lucky. I
received more support than most. But I think that is why I had the guts at
17 to start a gay group.
But on an eventful night that year, after I was no longer a virgin, while
Greg and I were in his bed having one of our platonic all night discussions,
I asked him if he was gay. He said that he thought about such things from
time to time, but never had any experiences, but that there was nothing
wrong with it. Remember Gene, our other housemate was gay, so obviously I
thought it wouldn't be a problem. But then I mentioned that I was not only
gay, but I that I loved him. Whoops..., now everything changed.
Greg told me that things have gotten out of hand, and that it would be best
if I would move out. So I went to Marsha and cried and complained and told
her how upset I was. Well, although everyone was understanding and helped
me to pack, I sort of had a difficult time of it.
To make a long story short, I moved out and Greg and Marsha fell in love
and are married now for about 20 years and have two children.
GLF continued to grow during our first year, in numbers of people and
importance. We were an important part of the March on Albany, and did help
to set the climate for the formation of College F and other pro-diversity
programs. I found some flyers which I am enclosing which is all that I have
left from those days. Too bad none of us knew that we were creating
history. But for 27 years no one ever cared much about it. Now I've heard
that most of my early friends are dead, and I thought it would be important
for people to know how things started.