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Gay ‘cell group,’ 1970: subversive but not malevolent

Made or posted on Dec 1, 1970

There we were, six members of a subversive gay-liberation “cell group,” out in open daylight, on a hill above Harper’s Ferry, W.Va.

Click photo for larger images.


It was December 1970, a year and a half after the Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village that catalyzed the gay-lib movement.

We were members of D.C.’s Gay Liberation Front — enlisted for self-help discussion and mutual support in one of several self-help cell groups. We adopted this dramatic paramilitary term, “cell,” often associated with tight, secretive knots of revolutionaries, expecting that it might take a while to bring the world around to the view that gay people were as good as any.

Most had to persuade ourselves first. We carried residue of the same anti-gay assumptions absorbed by almost every young adult then growing up in this world. Our “consciousness-raising,” gay-pride conversation was the primary task of the cell groups.

Little did we know that, within a couple of generations, about half of the country would be sympathetic or supportive, thanks to a surprising set of factors, including Ellen Degeneres, bipartisan constitutional lawyers and wedding planners.

But the day trip in 1970 was more of a laid-back getaway than a time for serious talk about sexual orientation or political change.


The group posed for me on a rock above the town where three states and two rivers come together. The Shenandoah flows in from the left and joins the Potomac, which enters from the right. We stood in Maryland with Virginia at left and the town in West Virginia.

GLF-Dec70-HarpersFerry-RRtunnelWe had crossed the Potomac from Harper’s Ferry on the old railroad bridge at bottom left. The rails then proceeded into a tunnel in the hill below us and then southeastward along the Potomac and the C&O Canal to D.C.