Street fair outside the GAA Firehouse, June 1971. Photo by John Lauritsen.
GAA Firehouse, 1971. Photo by Diana Davies. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
"June 18 to 27, Gay Pride Week" sign hangs above the entrance to the GAA Firehouse, June 11, 1971. Gift of The Estate of Fred W. McDarrah.
Gathering at the GAA Firehouse, 1971. Gift of The Estate of Fred W. McDarrah.
Meeting at the GAA Firehouse, 1971. Photo by Richard C. Wandel. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Dance at the GAA Firehouse, 1971. Photo by Richard C. Wandel.
GAA members, including Vito Russo (right) holding the banner, in the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, June 1970. Photo by Kay Lahusen (also sometimes credited under her pseudonym, Kay Tobin). Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
The Black Lesbian Caucus, a subcommittee of the Gay Activists Alliance, at the 1973 NYC Gay Pride March. Photo by Bettye Lane. Courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.
GAA booklet cover.
Flyer of the Gay Men's Health Project, which was founded at Liberation House, 247 West 11th Street.
GAA flyer and the Lambda symbol.
GAA membership card. Source: Archives of Sexuality and Gender.
GAA letterhead. Source: Archives of Sexuality and Gender.
Two keys (at left with green "GAA" labels) to the Firehouse, used by GAA member Steve Ashkinazy. Photo by and courtesy of Steve Ashkinazy.
Gay Activists Alliance, 25th Anniversary button, 1994. Collection of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.
GAA Firehouse, 1971. Photo by Richard C. Wandel. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
GAA Firehouse, c. 1972. Photo by John Barrington Bayley. Courtesy of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
GAA Firehouse after the arson fire, October 15, 1974. Photo by Frank Leonardo/New York Post Archives. Source: NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images.
The exclusive purpose of GAA, the leading and largest American gay liberation political activist organization of the early 1970s, was to advance LGBT civil and social rights. It lobbied for the passage of local civil rights laws, banning police entrapment and harassment, the creation of fair employment and housing legislation, and the repeal of sodomy and solicitation laws. Many of the group’s activities were planned at the Firehouse after it opened in May 1971, including sit-ins and picket lines. Perhaps GAA’s most famous tactic was the “zap,” a direct, public confrontation with a political figure regarding LGBT rights, designed to gain media attention (see a list of GAA actions, in chronological order, in our curated theme). GAA was the first group to adopt the lambda as a gay symbol in 1970.
The Firehouse was New York’s most important LGBT political and cultural community center during these years. It hosted numerous social events, particularly weekly Saturday night dances (crowds were said to be as large as 1,500 people), which provided income for the group’s activities, and “Firehouse Flicks,” a Friday night movie series selected by activist and film buff Vito Russo. The building was also used for meetings and events by Lesbian Feminist Liberation, Gay Youth, the Gay Men’s Health Project, and the Catholic group Dignity. The Black Lesbian Caucus, one of GAA’s subcommittees, later became the Salsa Soul Sisters. The Firehouse was also the site of Jonathan Ned Katz’s seminal play Coming Out: A Documentary Play About Gay Life & Liberation in the U.S.A. in June 1972.
In Arnie Kantrowitz‘s book Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay (1977), he described the spatial usage of the building: the basement had space for committee meetings; general membership meetings and dances were held on the first floor; the second floor had a snack bar and committee meetings space; and the third floor had offices and additional committee meetings space.
An October 1974 arson fire destroyed the interior of the firehouse and GAA was evicted. Of the fire, GAA president Morty Manford stated that it was “part of a wave of harassment against gays.” GAA later moved its headquarters to 229 East 11th Street, meeting there from June 1975 to August 1976. It then moved to the West Side Discussion Group Center. GAA disbanded in 1981.
Landmark Designations for LGBT Significance
In June 2019, based on recommendations by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the GAA Firehouse a New York City Landmark.