On Veterans Day October 25, 1971 at least seventy active duty military personnel, veterans and supporters rallied in the rain at a gate to Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. WAFB, home to the 99th Bomb Wing, was being used to support the war in Vietnam.
One of the main speakers at the rally was Airman [sic] First Class (AIC) Pat Turney, representing the GIs present. She called for an “immediate end to the senseless waste of human lives in Indochina.” She also called for unity, urging GIs, veterans, and civilians to stand together against the war.
There is a photograph of the event that was printed in the Base’s alternative newspaper, 99th Bummer . Two women can be seen on either side of Turney on the platform. The woman on the left, Sgt. Pam Speers, co-signed for the rally permit and had been active in producing the newspaper and creating a GI drop-in space.
After Armed Forces Day in the previous spring, a group of active duty Westover Airmen had started 99th Bummer. An alternative monthly, 99th Bummer included radical articles from similar groups around the country as well as ongoing critique of the Air Force Base and its role in the War. Calling themselves the Westover Action Project, the group rented a space off-base. In September, they opened a drop-in center there for military personnel. Off the Runway, as it was called, provided recreation as well as legal counseling and counseling for addiction.
Westover AFB Command reacted by removing four activists they could identify from their Air Force jobs; Speers and Turney and two men who worked at the Base newspaper with Speers. The activists brought a suit through the ACLU, but the Air Force discharged three of them, including Speers. The fourth, Pat Turney, applied for Conscientious Objector status. She needed Congressional pressure to get WAFB to follow the process to earn a March 2, 1972 honorable discharge as the first U.S. enlisted woman Conscientious Objector. A letter of support from Representative Bella Abzug to Turney was printed in 99th Bummer.
Speers and Turney, and other women in the Project not mentioned here, went on to become part of the feminist rebellion in Springfield, helping organize the Springfield Women’s Center and the Hotline to End Rape and Assault (HERA) among other actions. Some of them came out as Lesbians and were part of the network connected to Northampton. Pat Turney became known as Banshee and co-founded Northampton’s first women’s self-defense and karate school in 1976.
__”Drizzle, Confusion Mar Day.” Springfield Union. Oct. 26, 1971. Springfield MA.
__Westover Action Project. 99th Bummer. No.4. Nov. 5, 1971. Westover Air Force Base, Chicopee.
__Westover Action Project. 99th Bummer. No.7. April 1972. Westover Air Force Base, Chicopee.
February 2017 stirring of Spring cleaning; now that I’ve managed to post a couple dozen pieces, I am learning to organize them within the blog chronologically, by when the events occurred rather when I’ve written about them.
Starting today the content may be entered by page tab, with links to all the related pieces. Hopefully will allow a newcomer to enter the unfolding story by time period. “BC” and “1970s” has a good bit of content! Try it out.
The 1971 beginning of this political movement included a dance. I briefly described in a previous post my distracted attendance at the very first east coast Lesbian Feminist Conference where I was introduced to granola. Smile. Here is another bemused contemporary account of that significant happening that I came across in the Ladder. It is really apparent that we were at the vaguest of definition stage and already scrapping. If anyone knows how to contact the author Anita Rutledge or who, if anyone, still owns a copyright on the magazine or this report please let me know.
Ronald Reagan might be credited with prompting the inception of Northampton’s Pride March. Following his swearing-in as the 40th U.S. President on Jan. 20, 1981, the Valley experienced growing violence toward women, gays and people of color. The Valley Women’s Voice, an area feminist monthly newspaper, carried reports of this from alternative news sources across the country during 1981.
Springfield experienced an increase in forcible rapes that was three times the average national increase (though that also rose). One analysis of that increase in rape in California found that 30% of the victims were lesbians. Within a two-month period, six women drivers in Springfield and South Hadley were forced off the road or lured to stop their cars then beaten and raped by the “tire iron man.”
The Puerto Rican communities in the North End of Springfield and Holyoke were targets of arson. In the first eight months of 1981, 85 fires in Holyoke left 600 people homeless and killed six residents. That same summer, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in Westfield.
Accompanying this direct violence was federal and state legislation in 1980-81 that denied gays immigration and citizenship. Legislation also cut funding for or access to food stamps, Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA) positions, contraceptives and abortion, emergency assistance, aid for dependent children, and community health programs. Two of the many programs affected in the Valley were Springfield Womanshelter, which lost five of its eight staff for battered women’s services, and Northampton’s only program for alcoholic mothers, which closed.
The election of Reagan in 1980 brought not only a new militarism and cuts in community services, but also encouraged the consolidation of Christian fundamentalists into a New Right “Moral Majority.” The Oklahoma legislature voted to castrate homosexuals for sex crimes. The U.S. Congress forbade the provision of federally-funded Legal Services for gay people, among many other results.
Upon hearing of the New Right campaign in San Francisco and the concurrent rise in violence against lesbians and gays, Northampton lesbians pointed to recent local efforts by men to close women-only events, the firing or not hiring of lesbians, and increasing verbal harassment. Lesbians noted that the lack of any state law or city ordinance prohibiting discrimination increased the danger, but expressed willingness to defend themselves.
In April of 1981, a lesbian who worked at an unnamed local mainstream media organization answered the phone at her job, and learned that the “Citizens for Decency” wanted some coverage for their picket of the Frontier Lounge, a Springfield gay bar. She handled the call routinely and then, when she got home, called everyone she knew who would be willing to fight back. As reported in the Valley Women’s Voice by Sarah Van Arsdale, the twelve, mostly male, “Citizen” picketers with their messages from God were met by an equal number of counter-demonstrating lesbians with their own messages.
Toward the end of 1981, federal legislation was introduced to rollback even more social progress in America. The Family Protection Act threatened Affirmative Action, desegregation, and the rights of workers to organize, as well as the survival of women, the poor, and people of color. “Homosexuals” were specifically to be denied protection under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Over the winter of 1981-82, a coalition of Northampton- area activists started a Family Protection Act Education Project. Their first actions were to give books to Forbes Library and set up an information table on Main Street in the cold of February 1982.
Two months later, an offshoot calling itself the Gay and Lesbian Activists, GALA, put out a call for a gay and lesbian march through Northampton to demonstrate opposition to the Family Protection Act.
On May 15, 1982 Northampton became home to Western Massachusetts’ first Lesbian/Gay March.
Estimates of who and how many people participated in the day’s march and rally varied by source: “300 college-aged people” (Boston Globe); ”500 homosexuals and gay rights supporters, a mixture of college-aged and older people mostly from the Valley” (Daily Hampshire Gazette); “600 people” (PVPGA Gayzette); or, “more than 800 men, women and children” (Valley Women’s Voice). It was the first lesbian/gay demonstration and organized outing on the town’s streets, the first time the largely separate Lesbian and gay men’s communities came together in a sizable way, and the first public demonstration of support by straight friends and local progressive groups. The newly-formed Gay and Lesbian Activists (GALA) was responsible for this unprecedented event, which was endorsed by over forty Massachusetts groups.
The March in Support of the Lesbian and Gay Community wound mostly through Northampton’s back streets, with signs, balloons and chants of “We are everywhere! We will be free!” From Bridge Street School, marchers only emerged onto Main Street for two short blocks before filling Pulaski Park for a two hour rally. Disguises were provided by the organizers for those unable to risk identification. Masks, costumes, sunglasses, face paint, and paper bags were worn by some marchers, including a Northampton high school teacher who has since been able to make her lesbianism known. Contingents from PVPGA, GALA, the Northampton Committee on El Salvador, the UMass Labor and Relations Center, and the Center for Popular Economics carried banners.
The two hour rally in Pulaski park included speeches and entertainment by GALA; Angela Guidice, local lesbian anti-racism worker; John Calvi, gay folksinger from Vermont; local lesbian writer Judith Katz; and Marshall Yates, representing Third World/Lesbian Gay Focus for the People’s Anti-War Mobilization that had recently convened in town. As well as celebrating, the rally’s speakers drew the connection between all the different people threatened by the proposed Family Protection Act.
__Van Arsdale, Sarah. “Lesbians/Gays Fight Back!” Valley Women’s Voice. March 1981.
__A Sister. Letter to the Editor. Valley Women’s Voice. April 1981.
__Van Arsdale, Sarah. “Lesbians Oppose Attacks On Gays.” Photograph by Kathryn Kirk. Valley Women’s Voice. June 1981.
__Newsbrief. “Cross Burns in Westfield.” Valley Women’s Voice. Sep. 1981.
__Sperry, Jackie. “But That Can’t Happen in America.” Valley Women’s Voice. Sep. 1981.
__LaBonte, Dale. “The ‘Family’ Protection Act: Beware.” Valley Women’s Voice. Oct. 1981.
__McCrate, Elaine, spokeswoman GALA. Press release. Apr. 28. 1982. Northampton MA.
__GALA. Flyer. “Support the Lesbian and Gay Community March. Northampton. Sat. May 15.”
__Young, Iris and Irvine, Gail. “Gala March: The First.” Valley Women’s Voice. Northampton. Summer 1982.
__G.S. PVPGA Gayzette. “GALA March a Success.” Northampton. June 1982.
__Bradley, Debra. “Homosexual march here attracts 500.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton. May 17, 1982.
__Associated Press. “Northampton March Backs Gay Rights, Hits New Right.” Boston Globe. Boston. May 16. 1982.
Before there were Wimmin’s dances in the 1970s in the Valley, there were turn-of-the-century “Freshman Frolics” at Smith College, as elucidated here by Smith alumni Stacy Braverman, who was a student when she wrote this piece for the original chapbook. The Freshman Frolics ended in 1939 and it appears to me to be one of the changes incurred when the College reacted defensively to the invention and popularization of the concept of the homosexual as a perverse identity.
Crushes at Smith by Stacy Braverman
In the early days of Smith College, there was a strong tradition of “crushes” between first-year students and upperclasswomen. A 1900 article entitled “Unwritten Laws at Smith” details the rules: First-years were expected to have older crushes, and run errands for, bring flowers to, and compliment them at every opportunity. Rumors spread with great velocity about who had a crush on whom.
From approximately 1890 to 1915, the Freshman Frolic, which had been held since 1879, became centered on the crush relationship. Older students would invite first-years to the dance, and serve as their escorts for the evening. They serenaded their guests, presented them to the student body, and danced with them. After the dance, students ate dessert in their escorts’ bedrooms and then rushed home for their 10pm curfews. By the 1920s, parents began attending the Frolic and the crush aspect disappeared. The Frolic itself ended in 1932.
While having a crush was an important part of a Smith student’s first year, it was not expected to become a truly romantic relationship in the modern sense. Nonetheless, the crush was disdained by many outside of Smith. A 1904 article in the Smith College Monthly depicted a typical student’s first trip home from Smith. When she told her aunt about her crush, her aunt described Smith College life as “unnatural.”
__ Braverman, Stacy. 2004. One of a series of pieces on Smith College’s LGBTQ history written for this project when it was to be a chapbook published for Northampton’s birthday. Stacy was the archivist for the SC LGBTQ group and with another student is responsible for preserving and making available a collection of material from that group.
__Graphic in Crush folder at College Archives (in the Magic File). Pamphlet called “The Babies’ Own Journal” page 4, “The Lady from the Lodge.” Humorous magazine produced by the Class of 1908, describing crush customs. Courtesy Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA.