Series: Cannabis & LGBTQ - Free Love & Activism

The second installment of our Cannabis & LGBTQ series focuses on the Free Love and Activism during the 1960's and 70's. 

Anger into Activism

During the 1950's a bubbling of discontent was brewing in America. Communities were becoming organized, and people began to push back against the culture of fear and conformity the government had created. The Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis began leaflet and picket campaigns and pushing for change in legislature. The 60's also saw the birth of the first real organized group to push for marijuana legalization, LeMar (Legalize Marijuana) was founded in New York in 1964 by queer Beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg. 

For the LGBT community the 60's gained a number of victories and one massive win. The first actually taking place just shy of the 60's in 1959 with the Cooper's Donut Riot. Seven years later another riot would spur, this time in San Francisco called the Compton's Cafeteria Riot. The same year as the Compton's Cafeteria Riot, the "Sip In" at Julius took place.  Four well dressed men from the Mattachine Society entered the West Village establishment with reporters in tow, told the bartender they were gay and asked to be served. The law at the time stated that homosexuals could not be served therefore the bartender refused them. This led to a court case leading to a ruling that the New York State Liquor Authority could not deny service to gay people.  



Things came to a head in June of 1969. Throughout the country gay bars and clubs were subjected to raids by police, often with excessive use of force.  During these raids police arrested men, women, and transgendered people for wearing less than three items of clothing, drug possession, dancing with the same gender, or for general lewd behaviour.  New York had several raids in a short period of time and enough was enough. People were tired of The Mattachine Society's slow non-confrontational drive for tolerance/acceptance and tired of being beaten down. At 1:20am Saturday June 28th police entered the Stonewall Inn in New York. What followed would change the course of history and usher in the gay liberation movement.

What started as normal raid broke down as patrons refused to provide ID and comply with the officers requests. A delay of the paddy wagon also allowed a crowd of over 100 people to gather outside of the Inn within minutes. The situation soon deteriorated, sparked by what many recall by a "butch" lesbian who had been scuffling with police while handcuffed and dragged into the paddy wagon after she yelled to the crowd "why don't you guys do something", violence broke out trapping the police within the Inn and keeping backup from reaching them.

The riot lasted until about 4am when police were finally able to clear the streets but, Saturday evening and early Sunday morning saw another riot, this time with more numbers as word had spread about the previous night. One of those in the crowd that second evening was none other than Allen Ginsberg.

The Stonewall Riots may have only lasted for a weekend but their impact sent shock waves around the world. It was a message that enough was enough and the following year, demonstrations were held in several cities (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) in commemoration of the riots By 1971 cities grew to include London, Paris, West Berlin, Stockholm, Boston, Dallas, and Milwaukee. These commemorations have since morphed into the Gay Pride events held in hundreds of cities the world over.  

Growing Acceptance and the Legalization Movement 

The rather violent birth of the modern gay liberation movement was juxtaposed by the Free Love and Peace movement stemming from the anti-war movement and "hippies". Remember the beatniks from the 50's? Well they didn't really disappear they just morphed, the youth continued to experiment with cannabis and other drugs but free love (or sex) found itself more prevalent with the advent of birth control. Sexual promiscuity and experimentation, coupled with cannabis and other psychoactive drugs helped to open people's minds to different ideas, experiences, and ways of thinking.  The baby boom generation catapulted the free love and hippy movement to a new level. People were discovering that marijuana was not the demon that it had been made out to be and many discovered  the benefits that it provided. At the same time people were opening their minds to marijuana they were also with different sexual orientations. More people were coming out of the closet and more people were experimenting sexually with people of the same gender. 


By the end of the 1960's, the gay liberation movement and the movement to legalize marijuana had been been born. The beginning of the 1970's saw LeMar morph into Amorphia, the founding of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) by Keith Stroup in 1970, the creation of High Times magazine in 1974. The 70's was also when Dennis Peron, who had served in Vietnam, settled in San Francisco's Castro neighbourhood and started to become politically active as a Yippie, staging smoke-ins, and supporting Harvey Milk.

Censorship by Hollywood eased on both fronts. For the LGBT community the film The Boys in the Band was released in 1970 and for marijuana Easy Rider was released a year earlier. Pop idols were breaking down barriers with their gender bending ambiguity, and sexually open laissez-faire attitudes (David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop). Marijuana in the music and film scene was so common place it was viewed as tame with the surge in other substances being used (cocaine, heroine and LSD being some of the majors). 

Elsewhere in the world countries were starting to open up to both cannabis and homosexuality. By 1970 homosexuality was legal in Canada, the UK, and most of Western Europe, and in 1972 the Netherlands loosened laws on marijuana with possession of 30g or less being only a misdemeanor and purchasing for recreational use from coffeeshops legalized in 1976.

By the late 1970s the Disco era was in full swing and gay culture was booming, as was the drug use associated with it, including marijuana. LGBT club DJs were often the make or break factors for emerging Disco artists and Gay idols abounded with the likes of Bette Midler (who started her career singing in gay bathhouses), Barbara Streisand, The Village People, and Gloria Gaynor. Cannabis also saw an increased pop presence with the likes of Cheech and Chong (1978), and films Acapulco Gold (1976) and Rockers (1978).  

The 1970's saw the formation of Lambda Legal, the first meeting of Parents and Friends of Gays (which would later become PFLAG in 1982), the removal of sexual orientation from the American Pyschiatric's Association's  list of mental disorders in the DSM-II Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and first election of an openly gay man to political office in the United States, and the creation of the rainbow flag.  

Push Back  

While marijuana and homosexuality were enjoying increased acceptance by the general public the government and social conservatives were pushing back.

It was during this time that Anita Bryant, a once popular singer in the late 50's and 60's, became an outspoken anti-gay activist. Going on to run the "Save Our Children" campaign to repeal an ordinance in Dade country that banned discrimination in areas of housing, employment, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation, she overwhelmingly succeeded in repealing the bill which led to similar repeals in several cities across the Unites States. The aftermath of the repeal saw several attacks on LGBT people. In San Francisco, Robert Hillsborough was stabbed 15 times in the face while the attackers shouted faggot. In Miami Gay Cuban activist Ovidio "Herbie" Ramos who participated in a call-in radio show with other activists was subject to callers supporting LGBT deportation, concentration camps, and execution, Ramos would go on to commit suicide days after telling his a friend "I didn't know they hated us so much". But the loss to the LGBT community also galvanized it. Several large demonstrations were held in major cities. Following Hilsborough's murder a vigil for him garnered roughly 200,000 participants. Bryant's career spiraled and the one sponsor that remained, Florida Citrus Commission, faced a large scale LGBT boycott of Florida Orange juice.

Conservatives in the United States were cracking down on drugs, starting what would become known as the war on drugs, which included marijuana. 

Around the same time as the founding of NORML President Nixon, facing intense pressure from the antiwar movement, a war that was degenerating, and a slumping economy, needed a way to try to silence the hippies in the antiwar movement and minorities. In the now infamous Nixon tapes describes his disdain for marijuana and homosexuals. He introduced the Federal Controlled Substances Act. This created classification around specific drugs, schedule I (Drug is not safe to use, even under medical supervision), schedule II (medical use accepted under severe restrictions, abusing the drug can cause severe physical and mental addiction), schedule III (medical use allowed, abusing the drug can cause severe mental addiction, or moderate physical addiction), schedule IV (medical use allowed, abusing the drug may lead to mild mental or physical addiction), and schedule V (medical use allowed, abusing the drug may lead to mild mental or physical addiction). Marijuana was included in schedule I with other drugs like LCD, heroine, peyote, and MDMA (cocaine was included as a schedule II). 

Even though the Act cemented marijuana as an illegal drug this changed very little for those who were continuing the legalization movement, it was illegal before and it continued to be so. In fact a benefit of the act is the former congressman Ed Koch from NY successfully added language to the bill to establish the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, a commission that issued a report that called for the elimination of all penalties for small amounts of marijuana (and for the not-for-profit transfer of personal use amounts among adults), and would subsequently play a major role in getting the legalization movement off and running in the early 1970's.

While both the LGBT community and cannabis legalization movement continued to mobilize throughout the 70's, including the merger between Amorphia and NORML and the founding of several magazines in the United States and abroad, a growing movement against the LGBT community and marijuana was growing in amidst the socially conservative areas of the country. Both cannabis and the LGBT community would be dealt a major blow in the next decade with the HIV/AIDS crisis and the Reagan Era war on drugs and "Just Say No" campaign.

Part 1 - Cannabis & LGBTQ: Stigmatized & Criminalized

Part 3 - Cannabis & LGBTQ - Crisis to Compassion

Part 4 - Cannabis & LGBTQ - Acceptance & Legalization

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