Gay Sunshine Press, San Francisco, 22-24. Critical analysis quotes from secret Chicago conference documents revealing the ADVOCATE magazine's strategy to isolate leftist elements within the gay community and establish a clearly defined gay capitalist market.
The ADVOCATE: A REMARKABLE PUBLICATION WHOSE READERS BUY, BUY, BUY.
[The above slogan appears on an Advocate mailing envelope.]
by Lionel Biron
This article first appeared in GAY SUNSHINE (San Francisco, Spring 1976), a literary magazine published by Winston Leyland.
To celebrate his first anniversary as publisher of the Advocate, David Goodstein wrote a controversial article on the Gay Liberation Movement in his "Opening Space" column in the January 14th  issue of that paper. In the wake of the article, George Whitmore, editor of the Advocate's Humanities/Literature section, resigned. Dave Aiken, David Brill, Arnie Kantrowitz, Vito Russo and Allen Young, all regular contributors to the Advocate, joined Whitmore in criticizing Goodstein's column in a letter to the editor published in The February 11th issue. The New York Gay Activists Alliance [G.A.A.] also responded to the column in the statement "In Defense of the Gay Liberation Movement: An Open Letter to David Goodstein and the "Advocate," adopted at its January 22nd general meeting. [A copy of this statement is available from G.A.A., Box 2, Village Sta., New York N.Y. 10014 in return for a stamped self- addressed envelope]
Gay liberationists must not discount Goodstein's article as idle rhetoric; this is not a battle of words. His remarks provide the firm ideological base from which he intends to operate as a self-declared "practicing capitalist" [Advocate No. 156]. Anyone who would doubt this should take note of the invitational letter sent by Goodstein to a select "group of like minded people," and announcing "The 1976 Advocate Invitational Conference." This Conference was held at the Chicago Hyatt Regency Hotel on March 27, 1976 and was chaired by Goodstein. The invitational letter includes the following item in the Conference's agenda:
Dealing with gay spoilers
A. Keeping them off broadcast media and out of print media organizing local media committees to educate media about whom to contact.
B. Keeping them away from legislators or at least neutralizing them.
The Conference ground rules, stated in Goodstein's invitational letter, suggest meetings held under tight security and procedural restrictions designed to make the Conference reflect the Advocate's view of politics. The Invitational letter states:
If you agree to come, I will send you forthwith an initial position paper about the agenda items and policies. Because our objective is to obtain agreement and because we don't wish to waste time over items everyone already agrees, we will not debate items unless someone submits a position paper specifically disagreeing with one or more of the start off positions.
This tightly run Conference was clearly Goodstein's answer to the less manageable meetings of most gay organizations he has criticized so vehemently. Yet, by convening this invitational conference, he contradicts the following statement made in his January 14th Advocate column:
We have not found a way to solve the problem of organizing gay people. Democracy as I've described it hasn't worked. Elitist organizing by invitation only also hasn't worked. It is resented and too narrowly focused.
Gay Sunshine No. 24 [in its article "The Advocate: A Turn to the Right?] reported how Goodstein, after purchasing the Advocate in the fall of 1974, shifted "the basic editorial position from dead center to somewhere between conservative and reactionary." During the past year the Advocate has been transformed into a show place of white, middle class gay America. Features on travel, fashion and entertainment suggest an affluent, carefree lifestyle in which Gay means little more than fun and chic. Editorial statements, lashing out at the Gay Liberation Movement, have promoted a myopic gay politics whose sole end is the passage of gay civil rights legislation, as if all will be well with gay America once anti-gay discrimination laws are enacted. Consequently, news items dealing with gay liberation spokespeople and organizations have been tailored, or censored, to conform with this editorial policy. There have, of course, been a few in depth, valuable articles in the Advocate during this period. One might single out George Whitmore's superb literary humanities section.
In his "Opening Space" Advocate column of Jan. 14th, 1976 Goodstein comments on the gay silent majority:
The past year has also shown us the truth of a complex reality we only surmised a year ago. Specifically, we know most gay people are somewhat closeted... Nevertheless, I believe many gay people would like to participate in our exciting movement. They want reassurance from those of us who are veterans that they are wanted as they are closeted. They don't wish to waste their time or money over petty or irrelevant issues. The dues of public exposure are more than they are willing to pay... We have to find ways to encourage them to do what they can from the safety of their closets. We have to articulate objectives narrowly and clearly. [emphasis mine]
One gets the curious impression that the specter from San Clemente has been conjured up for the occasion. President Nixon proclaimed himself the spokesman of America's badly maligned "silent majority." In 1976 the Advocate feels convinced that it can ride the crest of a new gay mandate by scrupulously applying the old Nixonian politics to the Gay Liberation Movement. In the late 1960's Americans were facing an agonizing reappraisal of the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam. Nixon was able to direct the anxiety of many Americans away from themselves towards the anti-war protesters who first revealed that the war was not in the national interest.
Goodstein is attempting to revive the myth of the "silent majority" for a similar purpose. Today, many gays are facing an agonizing reappraisal of their closeted life styles. The Advocate wants to direct their anxiety away from themselves towards the Lesbian and Gay activists who in recent years have brought gayness out of the depths and into the light. The same Advocate column states:
Almost anything of any significance is being done behind the scenes by people who do not wish to be known or exposed to harassment by other gay people, especially by self-appointed gay leaders. As a result, gay "spokespeople" are disconnected from their constituency.
This statement is trying to undermine the Gay Liberation Movement's politics of "Coming Out." Its message, directed to the silent "gay majority," is very blunt: No longer is it desirable to be out of the closet and openly gay. Look at the activists who have come out. They are out of touch with the gay majority. In fact the new breed of liberationists are closeted themselves. So, stop feeling guilty about not coming out. It's perfectly acceptable to be "somewhat closeted" in 1976, and perhaps even necessary if you are going to have any impact on the future of gay America.
In their Open Letter to the Advocate the New York G. A. A. challenges Goodstein's analysis:
It is true that most gay people are still closeted. This is because gay people are still oppressed, and homosexuality is still condemned by our society, But rather than urge them to stay in the closet and thereby accept as permanent the oppression that this entails, the gay movement has from the very beginning urged them to 'come out of the closets,' while at the same time trying to involve even closeted gays in the struggle for liberation by refusing to make coming out a precondition for participating in or supporting our struggle, The entire thrust of the movement has been to create the conditions in which ever greater numbers of gay people would feel they could come out publicly without running the risk of losing their jobs, their friends, their apartments, their livelihood. Has this thrust been wrong? We don't think so. In fact, we don't want to see our sisters and brothers feel obliged to continue a closeted existence. We are doing everything we can to break down the societal and psychological barriers to a free and open life for gay people.
Ignoring the purposes and accomplishments of the Lesbian and Gay activists, Goodstein tries to discredit the vocal minority by making it the scapegoat. Nixon exploited the fears of the law and order mentality of his "silent majority" by evoking the image of dirty, long-haired hippies. Goodstein evokes a similar image when referring to the present day gay leaders "They appear unemployable, unkempt and neurotic to the point of megalomania."
The motivation for this forced reasoning is apparent at the end of the Advocate column: "We must find ways to keep the emotionally disturbed members of our community out of center stage roles and on the counseling couches where they belong." The distance from the couch to the psychiatric ward is not far. To declare them mentally ill is a convenient way of eliminating annoying gay leaders. This tactic provides the necessary rationale to isolate them and their politics without appearing to violate the democratic principles of free speech.
In his Advocate column Goodstein would also have us believe that the political issues that have generated conflicts within gay organizations are of no interest to his silent majority:
Gay men and women do not believe achievement of gay civil rights has anything to do with fascism, imperialism, socialism or other aspects of Marxist rhetoric. They are enraged by gay contingents in leftist and 'Third World' demonstrations.
This statement is an affront to Black Gays, Chicano Gays, Asian-American Gays and all other minority group gays who must struggle against oppression on more than one front. Obviously, Goodstein would restrict his silent majority to the white middle class which alone can focus on the single issue of gay civil rights.
The necessity of joining in solidarity with other oppressed peoples, debated so passionately within gay organizations, has raised the consciousness of many white middle class gays, and made us aware of the common roots of class, sexual, and racial oppression and our common goal of human liberation. Goodstein also states the separatist issue in the simplest of terms:
First and foremost, no one reasonably can believe it is sensible to hate or cut off communication with half the human race [the opposite sex] or 90% [heterosexuals], among whom our silent majority has many friends. Thus, our majority regards separatism, including lesbian separatism, as counterproductive. At best it is unrealistic; at worst destructive.
Only anti-feminist homosexual men who wish to make the "gay world" the last bastion of male supremacy, choose to separate themselves from Lesbians. Unfortunately, many such men exist who call themselves gay, as our Lesbian sisters know all too well.
The only political male separatism feasible today, concerns heterosexual men. Gay males, however, must understand [without presuming to present a coherent lesbian analysis] the essential difference of gay separatism for women: our Lesbian sisters are torn between struggling against sexism with homophobic straight feminists (a diminishing problem), and struggling against homophobia with sexist gay males. Lesbian separatism teaches us that unless gay men can raise their feminist consciousness, no meaningful Lesbian/Gay coalition is possible. The Advocate's position again reveals its lack of depth and understanding in dealing with the complex issues of gay liberation. Goodstein's Advocate column goes on to say:
Most gay organizations are nearly always insolvent and dominated by people who took them over from more responsible persons through hysterical attacks on their integrity. These are the spokespeople whom our majority shuns. The straight media pay attention to them because they confirm the stereotypes they're looking for. Our people resent them for the same reason.
We can assume from this statement that the Advocate is not duped and does not pay attention to these gay leaders. These remarks seem to confirm Gay Sunshine's report of last spring [Issue No. 24] that the Advocate blacklists certain gay activists. Are you surprised when the publisher of the largest national gay newspaper tacitly admits that editorial policy is not confined to editorials but extends to the censorship of gay news? This is an important point. Anyone who reads the Advocate should be aware that under existing policy, a distorted view of the gay movement is inevitable. Of course, these news blackouts are done in the name of a "silent majority" which can begin wondering what is not "touching their lifestyle" in the pages of the Advocate.
The New York Gay Activists Alliance comments on the Advocate's censorship:
Many of us have searched the pages of the Advocate in vain during the past year for consistent coverage of activist demonstrations and struggles on behalf of gay people. The occasional and incidental mention such struggles have received cannot be entirely explained by the admitted general decrease in activism during the past year or so. Clearly activist groups and actions were put on a blacklist a long time ago by the Advocate. Goodstein simply makes it official in his piece.
In his Advocate column (mentioned above) Goodstein writes:
Another aspect of the reality we observe is that gay people everywhere in the Western world are demonstrating more self-esteem, more pride. The most obvious example of this new pride are the many new, well-lighted, expensively decorated bars and clubs that are rapidly replacing the dingy toilets of old.
New York's Gay Activists Alliance responds directly to this statement in their January 1976 official declaration (mentioned and briefly quoted, above):
First, having surveyed the worldwide status of gays, he [Goodstein] correctly notes that "gay people everywhere in the Western world are demonstrating, more self-esteem, more pride." On this, at least, we can all agree. But to what can this new self-esteem and gay pride be attributed? On the struggles of the gay liberation movement, including its noisier components, since Stonewall? No. To the impressively large, annual gay pride marches occurring throughout the United States and Canada, which each year seem to draw in wider strata of the gay population than before? No. To the growing trend toward repeal of medieval sodomy statutes (now in thirteen states) and passage of gay rights legislation (in close to thirty cities)? No. To the mounting number of books being published that deal with homosexuality in ways more imaginative than the old psychiatric formulas? No. To the successes of lesbians in making lesbianism an issue within mass women's organizations that formerly snubbed the issue? No. To the proliferation of gay groups, reaching into wider layers of our community and of American society? No.
None of these factors some of which have even received passing mention in the pages of the Advocate itself merit the slightest mention in Goodstein's piece. No, he singles out something quite different as the symbol of this new state of affairs "The most obvious examples of this new pride are the many new, well-lighted, expensively decorated bars and clubs that are rapidly replacing the dingy toilets of old."
And to whom, or to what, does Goodstein attribute this fact (if it is a fact) that the bar and club owners have made their establishments into less offensive places of rendezvous? A higher level of consciousness on the part of the Mafia? Or is he inclined to take credit for it himself? It does not seem to even occurred to him that the gay liberation movement itself may have had something to do with instilling a new sense of pride in gay people, as well as with the treatment received in the bars and clubs some of us frequent. How far out of it can you get?
An analysis of the Advocate's politics must include its economic interest in the Gay Movement. It is from Goodstein's statement "I am a practicing capitalist" that must be viewed his evaluation (in dollars and cents) of the Gay Liberation Movement. This explains why he sees gay pride reflected in the new expensive bars and clubs rather than in the achievements outlined L by G. A. A. And who are the "enlightened spokes people" for whom the Advocate has cleared the way by discrediting present day gay spokespeople and organizations? Aren't they the business people ready to sell something to the closeted clientele, the same "like minded people" at the Advocate Conference?
David Goodstein's "Opening Space" column (which I have been quoting and commenting on throughout this article) ends on a plea that the "enlightened spokespeople "join with the Advocate "as it is damned lonely on the front lines!" The nature of the front lines by now is clear. It is no revolutionary barricade. In defense of capitalism, Goodstein is manning the front lines while waiting for new recruits to share the spoils of the growing gay market the true "gay spoilers." The Advocate's continued success, largely dependent on revenue from its advertisements, encourages a coalition of "like minded" business people. Together they will work out a plan to deal with gay activists who would upset their clearly defined gay market with their politics of Coming Out.
Goodstein's "Opening Space" column is nothing less than a Gay Capitalist Manifesto. It "articulates objectives narrowly and clearly" for the gay masses in terms of gay civil rights. This permits the ordered transfer of the quasi-visible gay person into the mainstream of American society. There she/he can be granted full equality as an exploited consumer. The alternatives are clear: economic oppression or Gay Liberation.
In his January 23rd letter of resignation as literary contributor to the Advocate (mentioned above) George Whitmore recognizes these alternatives and makes his choice: Those of us who don't necessarily consider ourselves "leaders " but who want to be responsible spokespeople for the concerns of gay people no longer want to be associated with this publication. He [Goodstein] did quite ably create a "them" vs. "us" schism in his article. I'm one of "them," not one of you.
According to New York's G.A.A., the Advocate's aim is "to drive a wedge between the activist wing of the movement and the rest of the gay community." To counter this attack, the Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movement will need all the help it can get. Hopefully, we have all learned from our experience with the Nixon presidency and won't be duped by this "silent majority" double talk. If this is true, many Gays will speak out and reject this kind of closet politics. That's what Coming Out is all about.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
David Goodstein (1932-1985): In 1975 Goodstein bought the Advocate, a Los Angeles-based gay magazine, and within ten years it was the largest circulation gay news magazine in the country. Goodstein began by firing all of the editorial staff, as well as columnist Arthur Evans, one of the founders of the Gay Activists Alliance. For more on Goodstein's conflicts with leftist elements of gay lib, check out this profile @ gltbq.com
In 2009, Oxford University Press published The Story of Sexual Identity, editors Philip H. Hammack & Bertrand J. Cohler, which quotes from this article.