overview

On August 6, 1971, the Gay Activists Alliance held a zap at the West Side YMCA to protest the Y’s discriminatory policies against gay men.

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

History

The West Side YMCA on West 63rd Street near Central Park, like many other YMCAs nationally, had a reputation as a popular lodging and recreation option for gay men. Among the famous names who stayed there, according to the Y’s archives, were Tennessee WilliamsMontgomery CliftJames Dean, and Jack Kerouac. It was listed, along with the Sloane House YMCA on West 34th Street, in the Guild Guide (a gay guide) published in 1971. The facility’s director, however, announced that year a policy of rejecting patrons there for “homosexual practices.” He later admitted that their files contained some 1,000 cases over the past 15 years. This Y instituted regular room checks and residents were evicted if gay literature or other “evidence” was found. The number of visitors per room was monitored, and a rule was adopted that a resident’s door must be kept open if he had a visitor after 9:00 p.m. This Y also employed informers and installed two-way mirrors in the basement bathroom.

After receiving complaints about the West Side YMCA, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) planned a zap for Friday, August 6, 1971, to protest the discrimination on the premises, with the goal of getting the YMCA to change its policies. (See our curated theme for background on the “zap” tactic.) The zap began with five GAA members checking into the Y in the afternoon. At 6:00 p.m., about 75 to 80 GAA members gathered on Central Park West with picket signs and leaflets. At 6:30, Morty Manford and Bob Ruecker requested a double room, and the Y employees, apparently knowing of GAA’s action, allowed them to register. GAA president Jim Owles then arrived at the registration desk, announced who he was and that he intended to register, and was accepted. The crowd outside then descended into the Y’s cafeteria and announced that the building was officially liberated.

But around 7:10 p.m., the zap coordinator Richie Amato was contacted by the Y’s director, who reiterated the anti-homosexual policy. The protest then resumed as a sit-in in the Y lobby with GAA’s banner and signs. The original five GAA members upstairs shoved flyers under every door. At 7:35, the director called back and offered a meeting with GAA on Monday. The picket continued on the sidewalk, and ended at 8:00 p.m.

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

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Dwight James Baum
  • Year Built: 1928-30

Sources

  1. “A Word to the Y’s,” Gay Activist, September 1971.v

  2. “About the West Side YMCA: History,” YMCA of Greater New York, bit.ly/34TLJOk.

  3. Gay Activists Alliance, General Meeting Minutes, July 29 and August 5, 1971.

  4. Richard C. Wandel, “Wild Melee at the YMCA: Kiss-In Staged by Young Men,” GAY, September 13, 1971, 1, 6.

Curated Themes

20 Sites

Gay Activists Alliance

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

Lincoln Center Plaza
Lincoln Center: Damrosch Park
Public Spaces
215 West 92nd Street
Joan Nestle Residence
Residences
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center: New York State Theater
Performance Venues