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Gay Activist Alliance Headquarters Bombed

Gay Activist Alliance Firehouse.

On October 15, 1974, the Gay Activist Alliance Firehouse, located in SoHo at 99 Wooster Street, was bombed. 

One of the most highly influential LGBT groups of the post-Stonewall era, the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) was founded in 1969 by Marty Robinson, Jim Owles, and Arthur Evans. The group was an offshoot of the Gay Liberation Front. Their location in an abandoned city firehouse became the first gay and lesbian organizational and social center in New York City. Their “zaps” and face-to-face confrontations were highly influential to other activist and political groups.

NYT article about GAA bombing, October 16, 1974. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

In the evening hours of October 15th, 1974, the GAA headquarters was targeted by an arson fire.  As recounted in a New York Times article about it, the fire was “set in at least six places.” When questioned about it, then-president Morty Manford charged that the fire had been set as part of a wave of harassment against gays, citing a number of fire‐bombings of homosexual churches and centers around the nation as well as “considerable animosity” aroused by a homosexual rights measure that was set before a City Council committee. Subsequently, the fire forced the GAA to cut back on functions. They officially disbanded in 1981.

Gay Activist Alliance Firehouse (former location), 99 Wooster Street

In the 1970s, SoHo and the adjacent South Village were a hotbed of organizing around lesbian and gay rights.  Just a few blocks away stood 186 Spring Street, an 1824 rowhouse which housed a “gay commune” of sorts where many important figures of the post-Stonewall era lived, including many who spent time and organized at the nearby GAA firehouse.  That building was demolished over GVSHP protests in 2012.

In spite of the firebombing and demolition of nearby sites like 186 Spring Street, today the firehouse still stands.  It now houses retail space.  But the efforts of the GAA helped pave the way for other, formalized spaces for the LGBT community, such as the LGBT Center on 13th Street.  In June of 2019, after a five-year campaign by Village Preservation, both the GAA Firehouse and the LGBT Community Center were landmarked along with several other sites, becoming the city’s first LGBT landmarks after the 2015 designation of the Stonewall Inn (also proposed and resulting from a campaign led by Village Preservation).

More can be read about the GAA, as well as other LGBT activists and sites in the Village, on the GVSHP Civil Rights and Social Justice Map.

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