Gay Power volume 1, number 16, underground newspaper with cover image by Robert Mapplethorpe of his photographic collage titled “Bull’s Eye,” published by Joel Fabricant, May 1970 (all photos courtesy Swann Auction Galleries)

Fifty-four years after the Stonewall Riots catalyzed an era of vigorous sociopolitical activism in the United States, the nominal protections afforded to the LGBTQ+ community are back on the bargaining table as America’s puritanical roots crawl upwards along our political framework. In this legislative battleground, it’s critical to turn to our elders and archives to recall the survival tactics and modes of connectivity that fueled the movement toward liberation. The Gay Power newspaper was reportedly among over 150 LGBTQ-centered periodicals born from the Stonewall Riots, rife with radical text and art meant to incite, bring together, and bring comfort to the LGBTQ+ community throughout the 1970s.

Gay Power was by and large a print manifestation of the gay liberation movement that’s best characterized by its radical political activism and mitigation of societal shame with the beginnings of the Pride movement. Primarily active between the late ’60s through the early ’80s, the movement was inherently anti-racist and anti-capitalist — said ideologies are largely reflected in the periodical’s wide-ranging content.

“Variety is the spice of life and Gay Power is by and for all people,” a portion of the periodical’s mission statement read. “A people is what we shall exemplify first not in any ‘half see how far we can get’ subtle way, but in the best entertaining and educational way.”

Cover art of the first and second issues of Gay Power, “New York’s first homosexual newspaper,” published in September and October 1969 respectively

The original printed copies of the first two issues of Gay Power, both published in late 1969 by Joel Fabricant, are among the lots in Swann Auction Galleries’ upcoming LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History sale. Fabricant is best known for his prominent role in NYC’s underground queer press between the ’60s and ’70s, also publishing the erotic magazine KISS, the bi-weekly periodical East Village Other, and the astrology-centered Aquarian Agent.

A subscription form featuring an illustration by Lordan Kimbrell, one of the art directors for the Gay Power underground newspaper that emerged in late 1969 after the Stonewall Riot

With the tagline of “New York’s first homosexual newspaper,” Gay Power, available via mail-order subscription and emblazoned with a quintessentially groovy typeface and psychedelic cover art, incorporated political news, local calls for activism including boycotts to protests, community-based events and calls to action, erotic art and photography submissions, steamy stories and personal ads, and, as rumored by historical records, perhaps the first published photograph of Robert Mapplethorpe (on the cover of the 16th issue). The newspaper also worked with other prominent LGBTQ+ writers and artists of the time, including Pudgy Roberts, Tom of Finland, Arthur Bell, Charles Ludlam, Bill Vehr, Pat Maxwell, Clayton Cole, and Taylor Mead.

The second issue of Gay Power, published October 1969, began with a call-to-action statement co-signed by Fabricant, periodical editor John Heys, and art directors Bob Hard and Lordan Kimbrell, entitled “GET THE MAFIA AND COPS OUT OF GAY BARS.” The typewritten statement plainly called upon LGBTQ+ New Yorkers to divest from patronizing queer watering holes, including the Stonewall Inn, owned and run by the mafia so as to render them unprofitable, therefore undercutting the mafia’s Prohibition-era monopoly on nightlife that exploited the LGBTQ+ community through poor and unsafe facilities and police “show raids” targeting the most vulnerable members — Black and Brown transgender women.

“The expression ‘Gay Power’ was a rallying cry originating in the 1960s, allegedly influenced by Black Panther slogans like ‘Black is Beautiful’ and ‘Black Power,’” Nicholas D. Lowry, president of Swann Auction Galleries and director of its Vintage Posters department, told Hyperallergic.

A page spread from one of the Gay Power issues including a news article, a call for creative submissions, and a drawing submitted and created by William Hunter

Lowry specified that the explosion in queer press after Stonewall was less about making the LGBTQ+ community more palatable to the heterocentric sociopolitical landscape as earlier publications had done, but rather to demonstrate queer life fulfilled with eroticism and untarnished by shame, and serve as channels of information and community outreach. Like much of the underground print from the time, it’s unclear how long Gay Power ran and how many issues were produced.

A few PDF copies of Gay Power‘s earlier issues are digitally available to peruse for anyone seeking wisdom of the past to light the way for the future — and to honor the radicals before us as the concept of Pride gets corporatized and sanitized in the face of dehumanizing legislation.

Gay Power‘s second issue opened with a lengthy statement entitled “GET THE MAFIA AND COPS OUT OF GAY BARS” that was co-signed by the newspaper’s editor, publisher, and art directors.

This article, part of a series focused on LGBTQ+ artists and art movements, is supported by Swann Auction Galleries. Swann’s upcoming sale “LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History,” featuring works and material by Tom of Finland, Sadao Hasegawa, Yiannis Nomikos, and many more will take place on August 17, 2023.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...