Lambda Lore

Letting the Sunshine In

Forty years ago I went to my first protest rally. As a freshman in college, I ditched classes to attend the Oct. 15, 1969 War Moratorium, officially called the “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.” It was the largest demonstration against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, with an estimated 2 million people participating. In towns and cities throughout the country “students, working men and women, school children, the young and the old, took part in religious services, school seminars, street rallies and meetings.” Like the other supporters of the Vietnam Moratorium, I wore a black armband to signify my dissent and to memorialize the American personnel killed in the war since 1961.


The idea for a moratorium was developed by Jerome Grossman, who had worked on the 1968 presidential campaign of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy. In April 1969, Grossman had called for a national strike if the Vietnam War was not concluded by October. David Hawk and Sam Brown, who also had previously worked for McCarthy, changed the concept to a less radical moratorium. They organized as the Vietnam Moratorium Committee with David Mixner, a gay man who would later serve as President Bill Clinton’s liaison to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

In Utah the Oct. 15 event became the largest peace rally in the state’s history, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. More than four thousand demonstrators participated in nearly a full day of protest, which began with speeches at a “teach-in” held in the University of Utah’s Union Building and continued with a march from Reservoir Park down South Temple Street to the Federal Building at 100 S and State Street. There the Reverend G. Edward Howlett of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral read off the names of the Utahns killed in Vietnam. Other speakers called for an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. The demonstration was peaceful with only one teenage girl arrested, “on the charge of displaying a flag or banner with intent to engender disloyalty to the government of the United States.”

Three blocks to the south of the federal building, an estimated 250 counter- demonstrators gathered at Salt Lake City’s City and County Building for a two-hour rally, during which Salt Lake City Commissioner Jake Garn (later Salt Lake Mayor and Senator) called for the “non vocal majority to stand up and be counted.” He claimed that if the moratorium were successful, “the United States would be communist and 40,000 American lives would have been sacrificed in vain.” He even blamed the war protestors for prolonging the war and aiding the enemy. However, back before Republicans sold their souls to the far right, Republican U.S. Representative Sherman P. Lloyd said he saw the moratorium as “good for America,” because it was “a valid exercise of free speech.”

While most Utah demonstrators were peacefully protesting the war, a bomb, however, was set in the Naval Science Building, and an old barracks in use as a bookstore was burned.

Among the millions of war protestors organizing, marching and listening to speeches that day was a new generation of young gay activists known as Gay Liberationists. According to their philosophy, radical antimilitarism was central to the movement for the creation of a specifically gay identity. Gay liberationists maintained that war was immoral, and they maintained that the “macho culture of militarism” contributed to the oppression of gay people.

After the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, Gay Liberation Front chapters sprung up across the country, often started by individuals who were already active in the antiwar movement. The same was true in Utah. Many people came out publicly for the first time at antiwar protests, even here. At an anti-war forum on the University of Utah campus, a 19-year-old student named Ralph K. Place was the first person in the state to announce that he was a homosexual and active in the anti-war movement. During his speech Place linked imperialism with the oppression of homosexuals.

Ralph K. Place was a native of Salt Lake City but had attended San Francisco State University where he learned of the Gay Liberation Front movement. Later he returned to Utah to be with his lover George Kelly and to attend the University of Utah. Place and Kelly were living with four other homosexual men and women in a commune of sorts in the lower Avenues. The commune was under the direction of Pamela Mayne, a lesbian who took lots of counter culture people into her home.

This gay commune consisted of Mayne, Mary Heath and her lover, Ralph Place, George Kelly and Scott Rushton. Mayne was not all that political, but her strong personality attracted interesting people to her. Kelly and Mayne had become acquainted at the old Twilight Inn across from the Belvedere Hotel and soon became fast friends.

Finding a cheap house in the Avenues in the late 60s was easy, since the area was known as a haven for drugs, hippies and students. Mayne’s home quickly became a type of gay salon for “consciousness raising,” “rapping,” “getting stoned,” and a place for people to crash.

With Place’s residency in the commune, anti-war politics, feminism and Gay Liberation took center stage. Soon the group saw themselves forming a gay coalition with Veterans Against the War and with the National Organization For Women.

The evening after Ralph K Place announced that he was a homosexual at the War Moratorium forum, he and Pam Mayne agreed to organize a chapter of the Gay Liberation Front in Utah. Two other gay people named Tom and Jan also quickly joined the small band of liberationists, and they made up the first gay organization in Utah.

In October 1969, a small group of individuals dared to come out of the closet and not hide anymore. It is important to note that they understood the moral of Stonewall that our individual fate is connected with our collective fate. These brave souls were the first of thousands in Utah who would follow in their footsteps in the decades to come.

Finally, the Age of Aquarius came to Utah and the sunshine was let in.

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