A Gay Guerrilla

On this day in 1983 I attended the first western regional conference of the Gay Press Association in San Francisco, a weekend assembly of mostly young writers who met to explore the theme “Creeping Professionalism.” Since the universe of gay writers was still fairly small back then, the conference attracted an interesting cross-section of print and broadcast journalists, historians and essayists.

Konstantin Berlandt standing on a desk.

Photo: UC Berkeley.

Among the people I met was a hero of mine: Konstantin Berlandt, a founder of the free speech movement at UC Berkeley who wrote a scandalous (for the time) series on sexual minorities for the university’s student newspaper in 1965. It was shockingly titled “2700 Homosexuals at Cal.”

While still a student in 1969, Konstantin formed the Gay Guerrilla Theater group at Berkeley, a mime troupe that held public performances advocating gay rights. And in the early 1970s he was involved in protests that convinced the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. He stormed the stage at one APA convention dressed in a red sequined gown and blond wig as activists tossed paper airplanes at the panelists.

Newspaper cover with text: The Bars Are Ours.

Photo: Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College.

In August 1970, Konstantin was thrown out of the White Horse, an Oakland gay bar, for distributing copies of a radical gay liberation newspaper, Gay Sunshine. He was outraged that the bar’s heterosexual owners were happy to profit from gay customers but didn’t support gay rights. “If gay people are set free, they won’t have to come to that shitty bar,” he told the Berkeley Barb.

He wrote for the Barb’s competitor, the Berkeley Tribe, a radical counterculture publication whose contributors included Robert Crumb, Marge Piercy, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary and Diane Di Prima.

Konstantin’s first-person essay, “My Soul Vanishes From Sight: A California Saga of Gay Liberation,” was published in 1972 in the gay and lesbian anthology, “Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation.”

Sadly, he died of AIDS in December 1994 at 48.

One thought on “A Gay Guerrilla”

  1. It’s good of you to remind us of our brave pioneers — & of how far the U.S. has come, how much it has to work to keep the gains made, & how more work there is to be done.

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