Gay Activists Alliance Zap at the Inner Circle Dinner at the New York Hilton Hotel
The Gay Activists Alliance’s April 15, 1972, zap of reporters’ Inner Circle dinner at the New York Hilton Hotel, to protest media handling of LGBT issues, garnered some of the gay rights movement’s best media coverage and drew attention to anti-gay violence.
Morty Manford’s assault by Michael J. Maye, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, led directly to his parents’ founding of PFLAG.
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On April 15, 1972, members of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) had just returned to New York City from a large rally at the State Capitol in Albany to highlight the gay rights bills then languishing in the legislature. The tired activists received a phone call that Intro 475 (the Clingan-Burden Bill that had been introduced into the City Council in January 1971 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation) was being ridiculed at an event at the New York Hilton Hotel in Midtown. This was the 50th anniversary dinner of the Inner Circle, a group of City Hall newspaper reporters who lampooned New York politicians every year. On very short notice, GAA decided to swing into action and zap the event. (See our curated theme for background on the “zap” tactic.) One of GAA’s goals had been to confront the press about its role in the oppression of the LGBT community, both through blackouts of significant coverage and inclusion of pejorative writing. One such very recent example was a Daily News editorial that had used such terms as fairies, nances, swishes, fags, and lezzies.
About 25 to 30 GAA members entered the second-story Hilton grand ballroom at about 11:00 p.m., during an intermission of the program, and started distributing leaflets criticizing the media’s coverage of homosexuals. One activist attempted to speak from the microphone. They were soon ejected from the ballroom and, as they were departing, a number of GAA men were physically assaulted by about a dozen attendees and hotel management. The injured, several of whom required hospital visits, included Morty Manford, then head of Gay People at Columbia, former GAA president Jim Owles, Bruce Voeller, John Vouriotis, Ron Thomas, and Bobby Rome. At least six city administration officials who witnessed the event later testified in print or in court that Michael J. Maye, a former professional heavyweight boxer and the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, assaulted Manford and stomped multiple times on his groin. Police refused to arrest Maye, or assist in identifying the other assailants.
GAA president Rich Wandel held a press conference the next day at the GAA Firehouse, and called on the district attorney to investigate the actions of the police. Seven GAA members filed assault charges against Maye and six other unknown assailants. One of GAA’s co-counsels for the case was William M. Kunstler, head of the ACLU. The incident and its aftermath garnered some of the best media coverage of the gay rights movement, drawing attention to the issue of anti-gay violence and to attempts to pass a city gay rights ordinance. New York Post columnist Pete Hamill was first with an angry piece on April 17, which was followed by an editorial and other stories in that paper, and finally the New York Times and Daily News.
GAA has been a nonviolent, political organization. We’ve tried to educate our opponents by picketing and leafleting. But violence has repeatedly been perpetrated on us.
On May 4, a dozen GAA members picketed the apartment building of District Attorney Frank S. Hogan at 404 Riverside Drive, for his failure to prosecute Maye, and GAA held a rally there on May 7. A grand jury on May 22 finally charged Maye, but only with harassment, which was a violation and not an indictment. Manford was the only attacked member brought before the jury, and in apparent retaliation against GAA, Allen Roskoff, one of its members, was also charged with trespassing.
On the scheduled trial date of June 7, about 70 to 100 people demonstrated at the Criminal Court Building, 100 Centre Street, protesting that Maye had not received an indictment. Activists Cora Perrotta, Brenda Howard, and Martin Clabby were arrested. At a postponed trial, the judge acquitted Maye on July 5.
One highly beneficial series of events resulted from the GAA zap at the Hilton. Jeanne Manford, Morty’s mother, outraged that the police had not assisted her gay son when he was beaten, wrote a letter to the New York Post on April 29 expressing her love and support for him. Two months later, she walked alongside Morty in the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. The unexpected and overwhelming response Jeanne received led her and her husband Jules Manford to form Parents of Gays (today PFLAG) in 1973.
GAA president Bruce Voeller led a commemoration protest of the 1972 zap, again at the New York Hilton Hotel, on March 3, 1973.
Read about other GAA actions, listed in chronological order, in our curated theme.
Entry by Jay Shockley, project director (August 2020).
NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.
- Architect or Builder: William B. Tabler, Sr. and David P. Dann, with Harrison & Abramowitz
- Year Built: 1961-63
“3 in Gay Unit Seized at a Maye Hearing,” The New York Times, June 8, 1972, 35.
Bruce Voeller, Inner Circle protest flyer, March 3, 1973, and “President’s Letter: The Inner Circle Affair,” Gay Activist, March 1973.
“District Attorney’s Belated Arrest Stirs Anger in N.Y. Gay Circles,” GAY, July 10, 1972, 1, 10.
Eric Marcus, “Jeanne and Morty Manford” podcast, Making Gay History, May 13, 1989, bit.ly/2lTr9sb.
Eric Pace, “Official Accuses Maye of Assault,” The New York Times, April 25, 1972, 11.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Inner Circle Dinner, New York Hilton Hotel, 4/15/72” memorandum, April 20, 1972.
Gay Activists Alliance, Inner Circle Dinner Zap press releases, April 18 and 27, May 1, and June 17, 1972.
“Hogan’s Home is Picketed by Homosexual Protestors,” The New York Times, May 5, 1972, 22.
John P. Le Roy, “Maye Trial Nears Completion,” GAY, July 24, 1972, 1, 18.
John P. Le Roy, “Maye Trial Nears Completion,” GAY, July 24, 1972, 1, 18.
Lacey Fosburgh, “Maye is Held as Harasser in Gay Alliance Outbreak,” The New York Times, May 23, 1972, 30.
Lacey Fosburgh, “Maye Kicked Man, Witness Testifies,” The New York Times, June 24, 1972, 36.
Lacey Fosburgh, “Court Told Maye Beat Homosexual,” The New York Times, June 27, 1972, 42.
Laurie Johnston, “Bronx Official Backs ‘Gay’ Complaint,” The New York Times, May 2, 1972, 86.
Les Ledbetter, “Homosexuals File Assault Charges Against May and 6 Others,” The New York Times, April 19, 1972, 23.
“Maye Cleared of Harming Homosexual,” The New York Times, July 6, 1972, 38.
Phil Katz, “The Inner Circle Affair,” Gay Activist, May-June 1972, 1, 4, 6, 12, 13, 16.
Rich Wandel, “Gays Assaulted at New York Hilton” Gay Activists Alliance press release, April 18, 1972.
Vicki Richman, “Ex-Heavyweight Boxer Attacks Gays at Hilton Dinner,” GAY, May 15, 1972, 1, 18-19.
Vicki Richman, “District Attorney Slow to Act on Beatings,” GAY, May 29, 1972, 1, 16.
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