When California schools start teaching about LGBT history, they would do well to include a lesson on gay activist Arthur Evans, who died of a heart attack on Sunday at age 68.
Sparked by the militant energy that grabbed New York’s gay community in the weeks following the Stonewall Riots, Evans joined the Gay Liberation Front in the summer of 1969.
In December of that same year, he broke with the GLF to found the Gay Activist Alliance—and the group became legendary for its “zaps,” nonviolent confrontations with public figures who were actively anti-gay. (What, you thought glitter-bombing was a new thing?)
Among the GAA’s targets were Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor John Lindsay, Harper’s Magazine and The New York Taxi & Limousine Commission, which once require gay people to get a psychiatrist’s approval before they would be allowed to drive a cab.
Below, check out this 1971 “zapping” at New York City’s marriage-license bureau, which the Alliance took over and threw an engagement party at for two male couples.
Said friend Hal Offen, “There may be others who were as instrumental as Arthur in launching the modern gay liberation movement, but very few more so. He was a brilliant strategist, forcing the establishment to yield to our demands for justice by making it easier for them to give in than to refuse.”
Evans’ notoriety even got him on the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, one of the first gay activists to appear as a guest on a national talk show.
But by 1972 he tired of the spotlight and moved with boyfriend Arthur Bell to the West Coast, first to Washington State to live off the land, and later to San Francisco to open “The Buggery,” a Volkswagen repair shop. Staying in the City by the Bay until his death, Evans remained a part of the local activist scene and continued to write and advocate for public-safety laws.
Well aware of his frail health—he was diagnosed with a large aortic aneurysm in October 2010 and was only given months to live— Evans even penned his own obituary. Of the Gay Activist Alliance, he wrote:
In effect, GAA created a new model of gay activism, highly theatrical while also eminently practical and focused. It forced the media and the political establishment to take gay concerns seriously as a struggle for justice. Previously the media treated gay life as a peripheral freak show. The new gay activism inspired gay people to act unapologetically from a position of gay pride. This new model inspired other gay groups across the county, eventually triggering revolutionary improvements in gay life that continue to this day.
We’ll miss you Mr. Evans. We’d say we hope you’re zapping the homophobes in heaven but with any luck they’re in the other place.