overview

On January 18, 1971, the Gay Activists Alliance zap at Fidelifacts of Greater New York, in Times Square, highlighted that investigative agency’s discriminatory polices towards the LGBT community, and the necessity of passing a City Council bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Header Photo
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2020.

History

Fidelifacts of Greater New York was a private investigative agency accused of gathering information on the sex lives of individuals, particularly LGBT people and those thought to be, and selling it to prospective employers. Said to collect gossip and hearsay from neighbors and acquaintances, it also had a policy of warning customers of the undesirability of hiring homosexuals. The firm was under investigation for illegally purchasing confidential arrest records from police. When asked how he could identify gay people, Vincent Gillen, the Fidelifacts founder and president and a former FBI agent, replied, “If one looks like a duck, walks like a duck, associates only with ducks, and quacks like a duck, he is probably a duck.”

The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) planned a zap at the Fidelifacts offices in the Bush Tower Building on West 42nd Street for 3:00 p.m. on January 18, 1971. (See our curated theme for background on the “zap” tactic.) The focus was the discrimination faced by the LGBT community, and the necessity of passing Intro 475 (Clingan-Burden Bill) that had been introduced into the City Council on January 6 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

About 20 GAA members, including president Jim Owles, accompanied by the press and WOR-TV, managed to get inside the sixth-floor Fidelifacts offices, and attempted to pay for an investigation of Gillen. Employees called the police who threatened arrests, so the protestors joined their colleagues on the GAA picket line outside. Totaling about 65 people, including members of the Daughters of Bilitis and Mattachine Society New York, the group attracted considerable notice from passersby and the press while holding picket signs and making shrill sounds with small squeezable rubber ducks. The single most noticeable GAA member was Marty Robinson, who was dressed in a rented duck outfit.

DOB president Ruth Simpson recalled:

“We decided to have a demonstration outside of what we called Fiddle-di-Facts. And GAA rented this marvelous duck costume. And we met on Times Square, we had our signs, ‘Fiddle-di-Facts oppresses the homosexual,’ I forget all the signs we had. And we had a bullhorn. And so we started marching. We walked over to their offices, went up into their offices, and said, ‘We want to meet with whatever-his-name-is…’”

In a bizarre coincidence, the movie Shaft was being filmed in Times Square the day of the Fidelifacts zap. The opening sequence of the finished movie, during the credits, features actor Richard Roundtree winding his way through the activists, providing a rare live color documentation of a GAA action (see video below, starting at 2:20).

Gillen was indicted eight days later, on January 26, on several felony bribery charges of illegally obtaining confidential information from the police department. He pleaded guilty to one charge.

Read about other GAA actions, listed in chronological order, in our curated theme.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Helmle & Corbett
  • Year Built: 1916-18, 1921

Sources

  1. David Carter, Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004), 251.

  2. David W. Dunlap, “1971: Ostriches, a Six-Foot-Tall Gay Duck and John Shaft,” The New York Times, March 19, 2017.

  3. Fidelifacts Pres. Charged with Bribes,” GAY, March 1, 1971, 12.

  4. Gay Activists Alliance, Fidelifacts Zap press release, January 18, 1971.

  5. Gay Activists Alliance, Meeting Minutes, January 21, 1971.

  6. Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution: the Story of the Struggle (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 224-226.

  7. Morty Manford and Arthur Evans, “The Theory and Practice of Confrontation Tactics, Part 3: How to Zap,” GAY, March 12, 1973, 17.

  8. Peter Fisher, “Fidelifacts: Sex-Snooping Agency Draws gay Fire,” GAY, February 15, 1971, 1, 3.

  9. Ruth Simpson, interview with Eric Marcus, February 9, 1989, Making Gay History podcast, Season 6, Episode 1. [source of pull quote]

  10. Snooper’s Office Invaded,” The Advocate, February 17, 1971, 1, 2.

Curated Themes

20 Sites

Gay Activists Alliance

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

1133 Broadway
Mattachine Society & Daughters of Bilitis Offices
Organization & Community Spaces
1564-1566 Broadway
Palace Theater (interior)
Performance Venues
481 Eighth Avenue
Magnus Hirschfeld at the Hotel New Yorker
Residences