overview

In 1972, friends Leonard Ebreo and Alice Bloch co-founded Liberation House, an early post-Stonewall community center that provided health services to the LGBT community.

It was also the first home of the influential Gay Men’s Health Project, the Gay Switchboard, and the Lesbian Switchboard.

Header Photo
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

History

Liberation House (or “Lib House”) was an early post-Stonewall health services center for the LGBT community. Run by volunteers, it was co-founded by Leonard Ebreo and novelist Alice Bloch in 1972. (At the time, Bloch also served as an editor for The Lesbian Tide, the first national lesbian newspaper.) Ebreo and Bloch signed a cheap lease for the central storage area in the basement of this tenement at 247 West 11th Street and furnished it with folding chairs and a card table.

Liberation House hosted women’s and men’s groups, a coming out group, and an S & M group. Ebreo, together with Marc Rabinowitz and Perry Brass, established the Gay Men’s Health Project here after holding an open community forum on gay men’s health at Washington Square United Methodist Church in 1972. According to Brass, it was the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast and the first group of any kind to use the words “gay men” in its name. The clinic educated men about their bodies and the importance of using condoms (only previously associated with preventing pregnancy) to protect against sexually-transmitted diseases.

There were no places even to ask questions about gay sexuality, the physical aspects of it as well as the emotional aspects that were often totally dismissed.

Perry Brass, Gay Men’s Health Project co-founder, 2013

By February 1976, GMHP moved its office to Sheridan Square. In 1983, it merged with the St. Marks Gay Men’s Health Center and became the Community Health Project at the LGBT Community Center. Fourteen years later, in 1997, it moved to 356 West 18th Street in Chelsea and became Callen-Lorde, which still operates.

Beginning in January 1972, the Gay Switchboard of New York rented space in the basement from Liberation House. Gay male members of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), the recently defunct Gay Liberation Front (GLF), and others helped foster its creation. Volunteers gave information, referrals, and advice over the phone and soon handled over 400 calls per week. According to one of its pamphlets, the Switchboard received a large percentage of calls for information on local and out-of-town bars, discos, organizations, and dances, but also had listings for gay or “straight but sympathetic” doctors, therapists, lawyers, dentists, travel agents, and businesses. The Switchboard later moved to a number of locations before incorporating in October 1977 and leasing a suite of offices at 110 East 23rd Street, which became the Gay and Lesbian Services Center. In the mid-1980s, the Switchboard was renamed the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard and today is part of the GLBT National Help Center.

Liberation House was also the first location of the Lesbian Switchboard, which shared space with the Gay Switchboard for approximately six months beginning in January 1972. The volunteer-staffed telephone service gave peer counseling, referrals, and information about local events and groups to lesbians. According to activist Kathy Wakeham, a volunteer at the time, the Lesbian Switchboard and the Gay Switchboard, which was operated by gay men, had separate rooms in the basement, with a wide doorway between them that was left open. The intent behind having the two switchboards in the same space was to promote solidarity. However, after men at the Gay Switchboard were having sex with the door open, Wakeham and her Switchboard partner brought this up at the organization’s next meeting. The decision was unanimous to move the Lesbian Switchboard to the newly founded Women’s Liberation Center in Chelsea in the summer of 1972, which operated there until 1987.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: William Graul
  • Year Built: 1887

Sources

  1. Daniel Hurewitz, Stepping Out: Nine Walks Through New York City’s Gay and Lesbian Past (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997).

  2. Duncan Osborne, “What They Gave, What We Lost,” Gay City News (May 1-7, 2006), bit.ly/2eNWvsl.

  3. Gay Switchboard of New York records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

  4. Kathy Wakeham, comment on @nyclgbtsites Instagram post, January 3, 2022, bit.ly/3GU0QYo.

  5. Kathy Wakeham, e-mail to Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, January 20, 2022.

  6. Perry Brass, “A Prophecy Before Our Time: The Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic Opens in 1972,” New York Public Library blog (November 7, 2013), on.nypl.org/2eDa5iQ [source of pull quote]

  7. Perry Brass, “A Prophecy Before Our Time: The Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic Opens in 1972, Part Two: A Wasted Opportunity,” New York Public Library blog (December 20, 2013), on.nypl.org/2eCrRra.

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Curated Themes

12 Sites

Early Community Centers

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