Introduction: Gay Rights Movement: Series 4: The National Gay and Lesbian Task
Force Records, 1973-2000
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force collection consists of correspondence, press clippings, financial and administrative records, field files, subject files, and photographs that, taken together, provide a broad overview of the American movement for lesbian and gay civil rights from 1973 to 2000.
Subject and field files in the collection range from the California and Dade County, Florida civil rights battles of the late 1970s to the ongoing political skirmishes around the AIDS epidemic. NGLTF projects address workplace discrimination and violence against lesbians and gay men, while an entire subseries of subject files preserves materials from more than one hundred lesbian and gay organizations across the United States. The bulk of the material contained in the collection covers the activities of the mid-1980s and good portions of the early 1990s. This concentration of material is in large part the direct result of the fact that the organization during the 1970s was simply smaller in its overall scope while files from its contemporary work - specifically its “active” files - are held at NGLTF offices in Washington, DC.
Although the records of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force are organized into six separate series, the microfilm collection is divided into only three sections. The first and second sections of the microform edition coincide with the first and second series as described below. The third part aggregates the last four series outlined below into a single part.
Series 1: Internal Files
The first series contains administrative files internal to NGLTF, including founding documents, staff reports, Board minutes, press releases, membership and fundraising files, and financial records. These administrative files include correspondence from ten executive directors: Bruce Voeller, Lucia Valeska, C.F. Brydon, Virginia M. Apuzzo, Jeff Levi, Urvashi Vaid, Tori Osborn, Peri Jude Radecic, Melinda Paras, and Kerry Lobel. There are no discrete files on Jean O'Leary, the earliest director. The correspondence files of Bruce Voeller, Virginia Apuzzo, Jeff Levi, Urvashi Vaid, and Kerry Lobel are the most complete; the correspondence files of other Executive Directors do not appear to be comprehensive. Melinda Paras’ and Kerry Lobel’s extensive “Travel Files” provide a good sense of how much work executive directors conducted outside of the NGLTF offices.
Also included in this series are materials related to the Fund for Human Dignity, a functional adjunct to NGLTF established in 1974 to educate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual community and the general public about “the role of homosexual men and women in our society.” The Fund became the first gay organization to receive tax-exempt status. Files from the Fund for Human Dignity that came from the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation Archive are cataloged separately.
The second series features documentation from NGLTF “field” projects. Until about 1995, NGLTF worked on topically focused projects, with state, local, and federal work coordinated by and within these projects. Projects focused primarily on areas outside of Washington, DC. The most comprehensive set of materials comes from the Anti-Violence and AIDS Projects, directed by Kevin Berrill and Belinda Rochelle respectively.
The Anti-Violence files include staff reports, strategic planning documents, press releases, notes on congressional hearings and lobbying efforts, information on various antiviolence projects, extensive correspondence, documentation of cases of harassment and violence, and working files from 1977-1993 that provide a clear view of the range of NGLTF’s activity in this area. One whole box (54) contains materials related to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.
The AIDS Project files include subject files on HIV/HTLV-III blood testing, government funding for AIDS research, and the state and episodes of AIDS discrimination. The correspondence documents NGLTF’s role in AIDS activism in the early 1980s. Also included are extensive files on the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic with testimonies and notes. Several files on NGLTF’s organizing around World AIDS Day 1989 are also contained in this series. Three boxes contain publications relating to Health and AIDS.
Series two also includes files from Project Open Employment as well as videotapes of a series of workshops on antisodomy legislation organized by Sue Hyde, director of NGLTF’s Privacy Project. These tapes include several presentations by ACLU’s Nan Hunter and Arthur C. Warner, Director of the American Association for Personal Privacy. Files documenting the work of the Gays in the Military Project, directed by Tori Osborn; the Families/Domestic Partnership Project, directed by Ivy Young; and NGLTF’s national organizing conference, Creating Change, are also included in series two.
Information on specific projects is also located in the subset of General Field Files, which contains the files of Sharon Kennedy, Peri Jude Radecic, and Urvashi Vaid. Kennedy was involved primarily in work against censorship, especially in the early 1990s. Radecic’s files document her work as a lobbyist from 1986 to 1993. Vaid’s files cover various administrative matters and legal cases through the 1980s and 1990s. This subset also includes background material on civil rights groups and hate groups as well as geographic files organized by state and subject files on public policy issues. Major subjects covered include the arts and censorship, the National Day of Mourning for victims of AIDS, and various antigay ballot initiatives. There are also files on U.S. presidential candidates, antipornography legislation, abortion, the birth control drug Depo Provera, gay and lesbian parents, gay and lesbian journalists, and the gay-baiting of politicians.
Series 3: Policy Institute
The third series contains files from the NGLTF Policy Institute, self-advertised as “a proactive hub of research, policy analysis, tactical thinking, and strategic initiatives.” Presently, this series consists entirely of Urvashi Vaid’s files. Vaid was the director of the Policy Institute from 1996 to 2001. There are no discrete files on the work of John D’Emilio, the Policy Institute’s first director from 1995 to 1996.
Series 4: Subject Files
The fourth series, which is the largest, comprises all the subject files from the Task Force’s beginning. Almost all of the subject files are grouped alphabetically.
Among these files is the sixteen-cubic-foot subseries “Organizations, Political Parties and Publications,” which includes files on lesbian and gay organizations, political parties and elections, and correspondence with Congress members and various publications. The files of this subseries primarily consist of correspondence with local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups nationwide; correspondence with magazines, newspapers and newsletters; correspondence with members of congress from 1987 to 1993; and files on political parties and presidential elections 1980 to 1992, including results from NGLTF conducted surveys of presidential candidates, campaign mailings, and related clippings.
Series 5: Photographs
The fifth series is photographs. These are very useful to researchers seeking images of early lesbian and gay rights leaders, parades, and actions. We have organized the photos into two sub-series. The first, “People,” includes photos of former staff, board members, volunteers, individuals who were part of an NGLTF advertising campaign, and people NGLTF had labeled “Famous Gays” and “Famous Hets.” The second, “History and Events,” includes photos that NGLTF staff and others took at events including the press conference announcing the American Psychiatric Association’s changed position on homosexuality in 1973, the International Women’s Year convention in 1977, a meeting at the White House in 1977, pride marches in New York City and Washington, DC, and various NGLTF gala events and trips for volunteers. These photos have been indexed to the item level, making the series quite accessible and easy to use.
Series 6: Miscellany
Oversized materials, a few objects, some publications by NGLTF and others, and miscellaneous audiotapes and videotapes are in this series. Many of the publications and audio-visual materials are the products of NGLTF staff’s work on antigay violence and AIDS activism.
A Note on Publications
A portion of NGLTF’s publications was microfilmed. These items are listed as part of box 186 in Series 6 and include a few titles from the 1970s (a gay community services directory, a response to the Supreme Court sodomy ruling, and a conference report), a group of pamphlets from 1981, publications on anti-gay/lesbian violence from 1984-1994, a domestic partnership organizing manual and a gay parents support packet, Fight the Right Action Kits from the early 1990s, and publications about gays and religion. These may be cataloged separately in the future. See also note under “Related Collections” below for information on NGLTF publications separated from the collection at Cornell University and integrated into other collections within the Human Sexuality Collection.
NGLTF and the Growth of the Gay and Lesbian Movement in the United States
One of the more remarkable developments of the late twentieth century was the emergence of a vigorous political movement of gay men and lesbians. Half a century ago, homosexual behavior was most often viewed as a sin, a sickness, or a crime. Now, at the start of the twenty-first century, the issue is commonly discussed using the language of “identity” and debated within a framework of human rights. This shift is not unique to North America; in fact, it is increasingly global in scope as active gay and lesbian movements emerge in Central and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, South and East Asia, Australia, and Southern Africa.
In the United States, this movement traces its origins to the years immediately after World War II. During the politically conservative McCarthy era, it remained small and marginal but it took its first significant steps toward visibility in the 1960s, under the influence of the burgeoning black civil rights movement. In June of 1969, the patrons of a gay bar in New York City responded to a police raid by fighting back. The resulting Stonewall Riot was a watershed moment. In the 1970s, as radical protests swept cities and college campuses and the sexual revolution challenged conventional norms, the gay and lesbian movement strove to become a presence in American social, cultural, and political life. In the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic added a new urgency to the efforts of the gay community to influence public policy. By the time of Bill Clinton’s presidency, gay and lesbian issues had entered the mainstream. At present, lesbian and gay organizations are firmly established at the national, state, and local level. Gay communities are visible in most metropolitan areas, while the structure of law and public policy has changed significantly - and continues to change - in the direction of equal treatment.
Historians, sociologists, and political scientists have barely begun to examine in depth how such significant change happened. The key events, the important campaigns, and the underlying social trends and processes remain under-analyzed. The evolution of the lesbian and gay movement and the history of the growth of modern gay communities offer students of collective political behavior and social change rich topics to investigate. The papers of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force make up the most valuable single collection of documentary material on these issues. Its value stems from a number of factors relating to the history of NGLTF and the larger gay and lesbian movement.
Today, gays and lesbians are a visible, integral part of contemporary life: there are hundreds of openly gay elected and appointed officials at every level of government; television series routinely feature lesbian or gay characters; issues like same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and the exclusion of gays from the Boy Scouts have been major news stories. Such openness is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until well into the 1990s, invisibility was the norm. Most gays and lesbians sought to hide their identity in order to avoid harassment, discrimination, or social ostracism, while most media tended to avoid the subject of homosexuality, except as an off-the-beaten-path or overtly sensational news items or television show subject. The invisibility of gay and lesbian life in the United States, however, is belied by the reality of how much documentable - indeed, newsworthy - material there was out there. For scholars, the records of NGLTF provide what may be the best road map to the important events, the public controversies, and the political battles that addressed and affected gay and lesbian life from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s.
This is illustrated by the headlines of the press releases contained in Series One of the collection. Beginning in the late 1970s, conservatives in a number of communities around the country launched efforts to deny gays and lesbians protection against discrimination. Few people remember that in 1978, St. Paul, Minnesota - a liberal, tolerant city - was the site of a bitterly fought referendum campaign to repeal a gay rights ordinance, yet this was documented in a press release of April 26th of that year.
The Family Protection Act, now long forgotten, was a bill introduced by moral conservatives in 1981, during the first session of Congress after Ronald Reagan’s election as president. The Family Protection Act was one of the first and most visible of legislative battles in a contentious debate over family issues. “The politics of family” have been grinding on for more than two decades, leading to such devastating pieces of major legislation as the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which prohibited recognition of same-sex marriages by any federal agency or program, and the overhaul of the welfare system that same year. The NGLTF papers open a window onto an early moment in this major ongoing public debate.
Media depictions of gays and lesbians are yet another telling example. Will and Grace, one of the most popular network television shows at the turn of the millennium, depicts two gay male characters and their friendships with heterosexual women. The show has received a host of Emmy nominations and awards and has had a successful run of several years. In the 1970s and 1980s, such programming was as rare as a two-dollar bill. In fact, a major concern of activists was the stereotypically negative depiction of gay and lesbian characters. NGLTF made this a major focus of its work in the 1970s and early 1980s, when it attempted to mobilize viewers to write letters, make phone calls, and support boycotts of advertisers. NGLTF targeted some of the era’s most popular shows, such as Baretta, Kojak, and Soap. No quarter was given to Hollywood movies, like Cruising and Windows, both of which portrayed gays and lesbians as psychopathic killers. Such events now exist below the radar screen of history, but for researchers of media history, NGLTF’s work in this area is an invaluable part of our understanding of the politics of popular culture.
A Longer View
Social change organizations often have a precarious existence. Frequently dependent on volunteer energy, they are subject to abrupt shifts of fortune: loss of funding, changes in the quality of leadership, or a vision that fails to change with the times. Most of the gay and lesbian organizations of the 1950s and 1960s did not survive into the 1970s, and many of the leading groups that sparked change in the 1970s and early 1980s had disappeared by the 1990s. This makes it difficult for a researcher to get a view of change over a substantial stretch of time.
Initially called the National Gay Task Force, NGLTF was founded in 1973, during the energetic period of gay liberation following the Stonewall Riots and has continued through the administrations of seven American presidents. It was there at the start of the AIDS epidemic and has been deeply involved in the events and campaigns that have seen gay and lesbian issues move from the margins of American politics and consciousness to the mainstream. This longevity gives the collection unique value to researchers who are trying to understand the dimensions and processes of change.
Change can be measured by noticing how certain areas of concern shift over time. When the Task Force was founded in 1973, a key issue was the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Another was the Civil Service Commission’s blanket prohibition against employing gays and lesbians in any federal job. NGLTF addressed both of those issues. When key victories were achieved by the mid-1970s, these issues faded from view. In the 1970s, when such problems as police harassment and sodomy law repeal were high on the agenda of activists, there was little talk about gay and lesbian “families”. By the end of the 1980s, recognition of gay families was becoming a major plank of the movement. NGLTF’s Families Project, founded at the end of the 1980s, chronicles this change in some depth.
Because change can be charted by investigating a single issue or institution over time, the staying power of NGLTF gives this collection special worth. Among the topics a researcher might choose to investigate over time are those involving the responsiveness of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government to gay and lesbian issues, and the openness of electoral politics at the national level to gay concerns.
In the early years of the Task Force, any meeting with a federal official was considered a great victory. During the Carter presidency (1977-1981), NGLTF was instrumental in the push for simple recognition. Through its efforts, gay and lesbian activists won their first meeting with a member of the White House staff, their first meeting with officials at the Bureau of Prisons, and their first meeting with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, staff members like Kevin Berrill, the director of NGLTF’s Anti-Violence Project, and Peri Jude Radecic, then the organization’s legislative director, met, consulted, and worked with federal officials on a routine basis. The staff reports, correspondence, and project files offer ample evidence of how gay and lesbian Americans have gained access to the makers and shapers of policy at the national level over the course of two decades.
A similar trajectory of change can be discerned by looking at the material in the collection relating to national elections. In 1976, Jean O’Leary, then the co-executive director of the organization, formed a national convention project as a way of creating an opening for a gay voice in the presidential campaigns and in the shaping of national party platforms. At the time, gays and lesbians were definitely outsiders. Slowly but steadily, one presidential election after another, the Task Force continued to push for recognition. It surveyed candidates, worked to get openly gay and lesbian delegates into the national conventions, and plotted strategy for winning inclusion of gay planks in the platforms of the parties. The Subject Files in Series Four offer the researcher much in the way of evidence to document these political changes over time.
National in Its Concerns, Nationwide in Its Reach
From its inception, much of the work of the gay and lesbian movement has been local. Key issues, such as police harassment in the 1970s or homophobic violence in the 1980s and 1990s, are most effectively addressed by organizations with roots in a community. Also, gays and lesbians have expended much energy establishing and sustaining community-based institutions: community centers that provide meeting places and a sense of home; social service groups that offer assistance to homeless youth, substance abusers, and seniors; health clinics offering medical care that is sensitive to the needs of the target population.
Some problems, however, require a national response. The AIDS epidemic is one such problem. No matter how many volunteers an AIDS service organization has or how supportive the municipal government may prove, local resources are not enough to address a national public health crisis. In the 1980s, at a time when homophobia was endemic to American institutions, many were outraged at the tepid national response to the AIDS crisis, although few were surprised. The gay community responded with intensive lobbying, widespread education, the building of broad-based political coalitions, and the mobilization of constituents in order to change American policy in combating the deadly disease.
As these organizational records make clear, NGLTF played a key role in shaping a national lobbying effort and extracting a major response to perhaps the most serious public health threat of the times from a reluctant federal government. Virginia Apuzzo, the executive director during the early years of the epidemic, made the fight against AIDS the organization’s top priority. Her appearances before Congressional committees were among the very first in history by someone openly lesbian or gay. For several years, Jeff Levi, whom Apuzzo hired as a lobbyist and who succeeded her as executive director, was the leading AIDS activist in Washington, D.C. Because of the urgency of the effort to stop the spread of AIDS, the gay and lesbian movement finally became a significant presence on the national scene. NGLTF was central both to this process of growth and to shaping national AIDS policy during the 1980s.
As an organization intent on influencing the policies of the federal government, NGLTF also understood the importance of mobilizing the many hundreds - indeed thousands - of local groups and communities. Because it reached outward to the grassroots even as it pushed toward the center of government, its records offer a window into the history of local gay and lesbian organizations and the growth of local and state gay advocacy efforts. Peri Jude Radecic, the legislative director in the late 1980s and early 1990s, created a “report card” system for grading the voting record of every member of Congress on gay issues. She then distributed these to local organizations whose members made constituent visits all over the country. Staff members traveled around the country providing technical assistance to put local gay groups on a more secure footing. In states that still had sodomy laws - like North Carolina, Missouri, and Tennessee - Sue Hyde, the director of NGLTF’s privacy project, worked with activists to press for repeal. The travel files of Melinda Paras and Kerry Lobel, executive directors in the mid-to-late 1990s, reveal how widespread NGLTF’s ties were with lesbian and gay organizations throughout the United States. Thus, these papers not only offer a view of the Washington scene, but of many local communities as well.
What Is a “Task Force” Anyway?
When NGLTF was founded in 1973, the need for a national gay and lesbian organization was vast, but the resources at hand for responding to that need were small. The founders knew that the organization would not be able to do everything. Instead, they imagined it as a series of “task forces” put together to deal with the shifting priorities of the movement and the most strategically pressing needs. As a result, the organization’s records open up for researchers some of the most critical issues that the gay and lesbian community has faced since the 1970s.
AIDS was one such issue. It would not be possible to write an informed history of the epidemic and the political response to it without consulting this collection. In 1998, the brutal murder of Matthew Shepherd, a University of Wyoming college student, brought national attention to the issue of homophobic violence and antigay hate crimes, but the problem had been growing in scope since the 1970s. As more and more lesbians and gay men came out of the closet, they became easier targets of violence. In cities like New York and San Francisco, with large well-organized gay communities, antiviolence projects formed at the end of the 1970s, but elsewhere, the problem was growing faster than the response to it. AIDS compounded the danger since the epidemic initially increased public intolerance toward gays.
In the early 1980s, Kevin Berrill came to work at NGLTF first as a volunteer, and then as a staff member. He stayed for a decade. Berrill made combating antigay violence the focus of his work. He helped activists around the country launch campaigns to address the problem in their local communities. He worked with law enforcement agencies everywhere. In Washington, D.C., he cooperated with civil rights organizations like the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League, both of which had established credentials combating hate crimes motivated by racial and religious prejudice. In 1990, Berrill’s work helped win passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the first gay-affirmative piece of federal legislation in history. Researchers using the NGLTF collection can trace the emergence of this issue and the growth of national organizing around it. The staff reports written by Berrill in Series One, the Field Files of the Anti-Violence Project in Series Two, and material in the Subject Files in Series Four all speak to the issue.
NGLTF focused attention on other issues as well. Its Privacy Project was aimed at the repeal of state sodomy laws. Its Families Project raised the visibility of such issues as domestic partnership benefits, parenting rights for lesbians and gays, and issues around adoption and foster care. Its Campus Project provided assistance to student groups at colleges and universities around the country. In the 1990s, its “Fight the Right” Project worked with local and state activists to combat antigay referendum campaigns. No other set of records sheds as much light on nationally organized efforts to address these and other concerns.
Try to imagine the history of the African American civil rights movement without the NAACP and its challenge to segregation in public education, which culminated in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Imagine it without the Congress of Racial Equality and the Freedom Rides that it organized. Imagine Martin Luther King, Jr., without the support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which mobilized ministers throughout the South. Organizations are critical components of the history of any successful social movement.
This microfilm collection allows researchers to reconstruct the history of the premier national organization of the gay and lesbian movement. In the three decades since the founding of NGLTF, other organizations - some even larger - have joined the ranks of institutional advocates for gay and lesbian rights, but none has had either the continuity or the reach of NGLTF. This organization has the distinction of having a national presence, working closely with scores of local communities, and handling a broad range of issues. A perusal of the correspondence files of its Executive Directors reveals enough material to suggest the reach of its efforts and the depth of its activist networks and concerns.
These papers are an invaluable aid for understanding the dynamics of any social movement organization over a relatively long period of time. The collection records how NGLTF decided its priorities, which internal debates it engaged in, how important strong leadership was to the effectiveness of the organization, where the money came from to perform the work of gay activism at the national level, and what kinds of crises confronted the organization. Many of the questions that historians and social scientists ask about advocacy organizations can be explored by using this collection.
The staff reports in Series One are especially rich in this regard. Although the quality and level of detail vary over time, the staff reports from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s are particularly useful. Executive Directors Jeff Levi and Urvashi Vaid had staff members prepare a written summary of their work each month. These reports allowed Levi and Vaid to supervise staff effectively, but they were also an efficient way of keeping the Board of Directors informed about the work of the organization. To the researcher, they are a gold mine of information. They allow a close inside view of the issues, the campaigns, the conflicts, the victories, and the defeats as these unfolded over time. The staff reports also provide a window into the personalities of these activists. Humor, anger, uncertainty, exhilaration, and a host of other emotions creep into the writing. The best of these staff reports coincide with the years from 1987 to 1993, when the AIDS epidemic felt most urgent and the gay and lesbian movement was straining to become a player on the national scene. The drama of these years is captured in the work of a single organization struggling to make a difference in the world and leave its mark on history.
University of Illinois at Chicago
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) was founded in New York City in 1973 as the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) and quickly became a central force in lesbian and gay movement politics. At a time of vibrant grassroots gay liberation and lesbian feminist activism, the Task Force sought to introduce a vehicle for organizing at the national level. Founding members included Howard Brown, Martin Duberman, Barbara Gittings, Ron Gold, Franklin Kameny, Nathalie Rockhill, and Bruce Voeller. In 1977, the Task Force arranged with President Jimmy Carter’s assistant Midge Constanza for an historic first White House meeting with representatives of several gay organizations. From its beginnings, the Task Force defined as its primary goal the creation of a society in which lesbians and gay men could live openly and free from violence, bigotry, and discrimination. Over the last quarter century, NGLTF has lobbied, organized, educated, and demonstrated for full gay and lesbian civil rights and equality, taking on anti-gay and anti-lesbian forces among medical specialists, employers, the military, and the media. The areas in which the NGLTF concentrated its wide-ranging efforts included the following:
In the early 1970s, the NGLTF staffed educational booths at American Psychiatric Association conventions and took an active role in lobbying the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. In 1978, it urged the U.S. Public Health Service to stop certifying gay immigrants as “psychopathic personalities.” Ron Gold played a key role.
Employment and Military Service
In an effort led by board member Frank Kameny to end employment discrimination against lesbians and gay men, the NGTF successfully pushed in 1975 for the U.S. Civil Service Commission to rule that gay people can serve as federal employees. In the late seventies, NGTF staff conducted a survey of corporate hiring policies (called Project Open Employment) to determine whether U.S. employers explicitly barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This survey was followed a few years later by another of municipal police departments. These efforts were complemented by a 1985 victory in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of NGTF v. Oklahoma, which overturned a law prohibiting gay teachers from discussing gay rights. In 1988, the NGLTF started the Military Freedom Project to end discrimination against lesbian and gay male members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and it protested the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
In the 1970s, the NGTF also began to monitor local, state, and federal battles over gay and lesbian civil rights, developing large clippings files that focused on key issues and individuals. These files include clippings on such adversaries as Anita Bryant, who led the campaign against a pro-gay and lesbian rights bill in Dade County, Florida, as well as then-California governor Ronald Reagan, who had proposed an anti-gay amendment to California’s state constitution. These records further recount, among other matters, the Task Force’s introduction in 1975 of the first federal lesbian and gay civil rights bill, its 1981 campaign to defeat the anti-gay Family Protection Act, its efforts starting in 1986 with the formation of the Privacy Project to repeal anti-gay sodomy laws, and its support in 1992 of local opposition to anti-gay referenda in Oregon and Colorado.
NGTF women played a critical role in winning support from the mainstream women’s movement for lesbian and gay rights. They campaigned successfully for a lesbian rights resolution at the 1975 national convention of the National Organization for Women. In 1977, co-Executive Director Jean O’Leary and women board members obtained endorsement of lesbian and gay rights from the U.S.-sponsored conference for International Women’s Year in Houston, Texas. O’Leary was the only openly lesbian delegate on Carter’s International Women’s Year Commission. At the conference, 130 openly lesbian delegates attended. In 1993, NGLTF enlarged its work on lesbian concerns by coordinating the first congressional briefing on lesbian health issues.
Gays and Lesbians on Television and in the Arts
Recognizing the benign neglect, if not outright threat to gays and lesbians from how they were represented in the arts, the NGTF closely monitored the images of gay men and lesbians within the world of television, stage, and screen. This resulted in the creation of the Gay Media Task Force, which took on as one of its primary missions the lobbying of major television networks to improve their coverage of lesbian and gay issues. In the world of the arts, the Task Force actively opposed the anti-gay restrictions on grants from National Endowment for the Arts proposed in 1990.
Anti-Gay and Lesbian Violence
The Task Force has concentrated on preventing and bringing attention to anti-gay violence over the years. In 1982, it began its Anti-Violence Project, directed in the mid-'80s by Kevin Berrill. In its most focused data-gathering effort to date, the NGLTF set up a telephone crisis line designed to provide assistance to people who had been harassed or assaulted, as well as lay the groundwork for a comprehensive study of violence against lesbians and gay men. NGLTF's Anti-Violence Project produced reports that were regularly cited as authoritative on the subject of homophobic violence. In 1987, the Task Force helped secure passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the first federal law to address sexual orientation, which was signed into law in 1990.
The onset of the AIDS epidemic led to an unforeseen array of political struggles in the early and mid-1980s. NGTF responded early in the developing crisis, pushing for a statement on national blood policy in 1983 and obtaining the first federal funding for community-based AIDS education in 1984. NGTF was instrumental in negotiating FDA approval of the first HTLV-III antibody test. It also ensured that the test was to be licensed only to professional physicians and that it was always to be accompanied by an explanation of the limits of its accuracy and usefulness. This push for quality medical care also brought the benefit of doctor-patient privilege, which proved an enormous boon in light of the sudden explosion in AIDS-related discrimination. NGLTF's files on AIDS-related discrimination - home evictions, school expulsions, and job terminations - grew with alarming speed in the early years of the epidemic. This wave of discrimination was met by an uncoordinated and seemingly reluctant response to the epidemic at the federal level. In 1985, NGLTF executive director Virginia Apuzzo would testify before a U.S. Congressional hearing on the abysmal failure of the federal response to AIDS. In 1991, NGLTF staff briefed the Congressional Black Caucus on the issue of AIDS and people of color.
Although the politics of the epidemic absorbed uncounted days and hours of energy at NGTF, the organization continued to grow and change. In 1985, NGTF officially became the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a move that marked both the specificity of lesbian life and politics and the coalition between lesbians and gay men. Although the name change cost NGLTF some gay male members, it sought to rectify matters by publicly stating the hope that gay men and lesbians could work in tandem as independent but related activists. One year later, NGLTF officially moved its offices from New York to Washington, DC, setting itself up more squarely in the midst of a specifically national lesbian and gay politics.
The development of a genuinely national purview at NGLTF involved more than mere relocation. By the mid-1980s it had become normal for NGLTF staff members - especially its executive directors - to spend entire weeks traveling to local lesbian and gay events, lending moral support and the promise of political backing to struggles across the United States. The Task Force helped organize the 1987 and 1993 Marches on Washington to demand lesbian and gay men’s rights and worked to increase the visibility and participation of lesbians and gay men in the presidential elections at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. In 1988, NGLTF held the first Creating Change conference to bring together gay and lesbian activists from around the country. In 1989, NGLTF started publishing campus organizing newsletters and initiated a Lesbian and Gay Families Project to advocate for family diversity and acceptance. In the 1990s, NGLTF continued to offer new networking and training opportunities to strengthen local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered activism in each state.
In 1995, NGLTF evolved further and formed the NGLTF Policy Institute, a separate, non-profit organization to serve as a national information clearinghouse and resource center dedicated to educating and organizing around lesbian and gay men’s issues. In 1997, NGLTF changed its mission statement to include bisexual and transgendered people and launched the Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Statewide Political Organizations.
LIST OF DIRECTORS
NGLTF Executive Directors
Bruce Voeller, 1973-1979 (co-E.D. with Jean O’Leary,
Jean O'Leary, 1976-1979 (co-E.D. with Bruce Voeller)
Charles Brydon, 1979-1981 (co-E.D. with Lucia Valeska)
Lucia Valeska, 1979-1982 (co E.D. with Charles Brydon until 1981; 1981-82 as sole E.D.)
Virginia Apuzzo, 1982-1985
Rosemary Kuropat, 1985-1986 (Director of Finance and Development)
Jeff Levi, 1985-1989 (Director of Program and Legislative Activities until 1986, then sole E.D.)
Urvashi Vaid, 1989-1992
Tori Osborn, 1993
Peri Jude Radecic, 1993-1994
Melinda Lindsey Paras, 1994-1996
Kerry Lobel, 1996-2000
Elizabeth Toledo, 2000-2001
Lorri Jean, 2001-present
Policy Institute Directors
John D’Emilio, 1995-1997
Urvashi Vaid, 1996-2001
Sean Cahill, 2001-present
The intention of this note is to describe the more technical aspects of the microform publication of this research collection.
Range of Material
The contents portion of this collection guide describes only the first series of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1973-2000. This series comprises the internal files of the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).
Description and Labeling
This collection guide provides the reel number on which materials in each individual folder lies. It also provides the box number and folder number from the original collection, as housed at Cornell University. Content descriptions appear at the folder level. In creating the original finding aid, upon which this collection guide is based, staff at Cornell University used folder headings as originally provided by NGTF and NGLTF. When such descriptions were not provided, staff at Cornell University supplied descriptions of the folders’ contents.
NGLTF labeled folders “originals” when they contained material that were later to be photocopied and distributed. These files often contained original press releases, newspaper clippings, or magazine articles or items related to NGLTF’s work. An “original” served as what was also called a “master copy” for general use by NGLTF staff.
Unfilmed, Unpublished, and Restricted Materials
In this collection guide, a description for the entire collection appears, even though portions of the collection have not been microfilmed for publication. Information about these portions of the collection has been included in order to provide the researcher with a complete picture of the collection and allow the researcher the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether personal inspection of the collection is warranted.
Three types of materials have not been published for reasons of research need, privacy, and copyright.
Research Need: Certain materials have not been microfilmed largely because of their relatively low priority with respect to research needs. Examples of such materials from National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1973-2000, include ledger books and folders of cash receipts.
Privacy: In the interest of protecting the privacy of individuals, personnel files and records that contain persons’ social security numbers or personal financial information have not been filmed. Access to individuals items of this nature at Cornell University is restricted for fifty years after their assumed creation.
Copyright: Publications by non-NGLTF-affiliated organizations were not microfilmed for distribution for copyright reasons. However, preservation copies of much of this copyright-protected material are available for use at the Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell University.
Recording Unfilmed/Unpublished Materials
An asterisk at the beginning of a folder description, with a note at the end reading “not microfilmed” is used when an entire folder has not been microfilmed at all, as in the following example:
Description: *Applicant Biographies and form Letters – not microfilmed
An asterisk at the beginning of a folder description that includes the notice “publications” in parentheses, indicates that the entire folder comprises publications that have not been microfilmed for distribution. However, these items will appear in the microfilmed preservation copy of copyright-protected publications from National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1973-2000 housed at Cornell University. The following entry is a representative example of this type of entry.
Description: *Hispanic Task Force and Lambda (Publications) – not microfilmed
Whenever a selected folder from a group of folders that have been cataloged together as a unit has not been microfilmed, that individual folder will be singled out in a note, as appears below:
Description: An Evening Under the Stars, Los Angeles (*Folder 5 – not microfilmed)
Whenever selected publications from a folder of materials have been excluded from microfilming, these items will appear in the preservation copy of copyright-protected publications from National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1973-2000 housed at Cornell University, the notice “excludes publications” will appear in parentheses at the end of the description, as appears below:
Description: Mel Boozer; Commission on Civil Rights, Sam Hart Nomination (excludes Publications)