THE GAY LIBERATION FRONT,
THE LOS ANGELES LGBT CENTER
Dr. Don Kilhefner’s incomplete resume is still complete:
Was in the first group to serve in the United States Peace Corps
Was one of the first people to join the Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles
Attempted to create “Stonewall Nation,” an independent, gay separatist community in Northern California
Founded the Gay Community Service Center, where he ran a 24-hour gay help hotline, the first in the nation and the first to be publicly listed
The Gay Community Service Center evolved into the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which is now the largest in the world with over 700 employees
Founded the Van Ness Recovery House, a residential drug recovery group home
Founded the Radical Faeries, an international organization that is loosely based on spirituality and queer consciousness
Dr. Don Kilhefner is as fired-up as ever and remains active in our community. His email signature says, "Gay elders don't whine, they organize."
“In 1971, in Los Angeles, there was the International Psychologists and Psychiatrists Conference. We learned that one of the presentations was going to be about curing homosexuals—how to cure homosexual men based on aversive conditioning. It was basically watching a slideshow and when there's a picture of a seductive woman, nothing happens; but, when there's a picture of an attractive man, in a seductive pose or maybe semi-nude, the person gets a shock, a type of electro conditioning. Obviously, we weren't sick and we felt that this was a barbaric treatment of gay men.
We contacted the person at the University of Southern California that was hosting this and literally said, “We heard about this,” and he said it was happening.
We said we will do something about this and he got nervous and asked, “What are you going to do?”
We said, well, we don't know yet but something. I suggested to the Gay Liberation Front that we go to the Conference and we did. There were about 35 of us.
We went there and we sat in the audience and when Dr. Feldman, who was from an English University, got up to start his presentation, I walked up to the microphone and took the microphone from him and said, "I'm from the Gay Liberation Front of Los Angeles and we will not let this presentation go on until we have a discussion about the professional ethics of what you are doing here.
What we proceeded to do was divide the audience of about 150 people into about 10 groups with three Gay Liberation Front members in each group. We had them debate and discuss with us the ethics and morality of what they were doing. First of all, they created a category of sick people, psychopathology, which wasn't true. It was manufactured. We were not sick. They were trying treatments that were barbaric, trying to create something, trying to heal something that is not a problem and they needed to look at the ethics of what they were doing. After we had that discussion, maybe about 30, 45 minutes, we said now go on with your presentation, Dr. Feldman. As gay people, we wanted to register our protest—that it was inhuman and immoral and on and on and on. They did continue, but people walked out on Dr. Feldman. Dr. Feldman was so flustered during his presentation. It was a dud. Now, unknown to us at the time, across the street in Pershing Square, the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT team had formed and they were ready to interrupt the Gay Liberation Front and arrest us.
The chair of the psychology department said to the police, "No, no, no, no, everything is going to be okay, just go away. Don't interfere, don't interfere, we don't want you to interfere," and thank goodness they didn't interfere or we would have been all arrested, I think, brutally because the SWAT team is not known for their sensitivity.
Fortunately, there was a reporter there from a radio network. By the afternoon of that Saturday, it was broadcasted all over the country— about the Gay Liberation Front and what we did there. It was one of our actions. We called it the Biltmore Rebellion because it happened at the Biltmore Hotel. The Biltmore Rebellion was being reported all over the country.
It really was an important event because it had a ripple effect throughout the behavioral psychology profession. What they were doing, trying to cure gay men, was immoral and ethically incorrect. It really created a change.
When I was studying in graduate school for psychology, a decade later, I picked up a behavioral psychology textbook. The last chapter of the book was about the ethics of trying to convert a homosexual. It was written by a professor at the University of Southern California who was at the Biltmore Rebellion. So, I know that it had an effect.
That was the sort of thing that the Gay Liberation Front would do. We would be in your face. We didn't care whether we were invited or not. We didn't care whether we got arrested or not. We were going to fight back against heterosexual supremacy.”