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5 Direct Action Zaps We Can Learn From in LGBT History

5 Direct Action Zaps We Can Learn From in LGBT History

These LGBT activists shocked the nation. 

A zap is a form of direct action that was popularized by the group Gay Activists Alliance in the 1970s. The goal of a zap was to embarrass a public figure or celebrity while calling the country’s attention to LGBT rights. Zaps were a departure from the peaceful picket lines of the 1960s. Instead, zapping aimed to make the personal as political for straight people as it already was for LGBT people. We can certainly think of some public figures who could use a zap to wake them up (cough—Gov. Pat McCrory—cough). These five zaps in LGBT activist history can serve as inspiration for how to tackle the battles we’re fighting now.

1) Anita Bryant and the pie.

Singer Anita Bryant led one of the vilest anti-gay campaigns in U.S. history in the 1970s, and in 1977 led the “Save Our Children” campaign and a vote that repealed Miami-Dade’s gay rights ordinance. Bryant was frequently on the receiving end of regular zapping and lost a TV series that would’ve been sponsored by Singer Sewing Machines as a result. Bryant was one of the first people to be publically “pied” as a political act at a news press conference answering questions about her crusade against gay rights in 1977. We have gay activist Tom Higgins to thank for Bryant getting her just desserts.

2) New York Mayor John Lindsay vs. the Gay Activists Alliance.
lgbt activism

New York Mayor John Lindsay was a frequent target of GAA zaps, with the GAA urging Lindsay to take a stance on gay rights issues. He refused to speak publically about gay rights and refused to meet with the GAA to discuss a citywide anti-discrimination ordinance for fear it would hurt his political standing as a liberal Republican, and his future chances at the Presidency. The GAA’s first zap targeted Lindsay in 1970. The group infiltrated the opening night of the 1970 Metropolitan Opera season and shouted gay rights chants as the mayor and his wife entered. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

3) Barney’s Beanery
lgbt activists

Barney’s Beanery is now a chain of gastropubs, but at the original West Hollywood location owner John “Barney” Anthony displayed a sign behind the bar that read “FAGOTS [sic] – STAY OUT”. Anthony died in 1968, but the sign stayed up. A coalition of gay activist groups then organized a zap on February 7, 1970. Over 100 people converged to picket and hand out leaflets outside. The owner put up more signs with the phrase made out of cardboard, harassed gay customers and refused service, and eventually assaulted a customer. The wooden sign was taken down that day, though it did reappear though out the years. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

4) Gays Protest CBS Prejudice

Mark Segal, now the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, planned a zap on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite as a 23-year-old member of the Gay Raiders in 1973. Segal leapt in front of the camera with a sign reading “GAYS PROTEST CBS PREJUDICE” to protest the harmful depictions of gays and lesbians on CBS shows. When Segal appeared with his sign, the screen quickly went black, but after a break, Cronkite resumed his program and reported on the zap. Cronkite discussed the reasons for the zap with Segal and examined whether or not he was censoring gay and lesbian news stories on his program. He went on to cover LGBT news with regularity, and later criticized the Reagan administration for its handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

5) ACT UP’s Die-In on Wall Street

The direct action group AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) adopted zap-like forms of direct action reminiscent of those employed by the Gay Activists Alliance. On March 24, 1987, 250 people demonstrated against price gouging for anti-HIV drugs by staging a die-in on Wall Street. ACT UP staged many die-ins including the one depicted in the video above that took place in 1989 at the Pacific Stock Exchange. 

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Cassie Sheets