By Jack Nichols
t a Heritage of Pride rally held last Sunday afternoon in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, an unprecedented occurrence took place.
The choice of Jim Fouratt as an honored speaker caused prominent New York City activists, including the director of the New York Anti-Violence Project and the city’s transgender spokespersons, to complain bitterly about his presence on the Pride stage. Pioneers of the lesbian and gay movement likewise complained.
Bob Kohler, a founding Gay Liberation Front (GLF) stalwart often quoted
in histories of the Stonewall era, reports that besides ten transvestite
activists, there were protestors from four other organizations. Over a
thousand flyers critiquing Fouratt were distributed. Kohler said:
Some were holding placards that read: "We are people too." Fouratt, these transgendered activists said, had been actively misrepresenting their inner motivations. Fouratt has denied this accusation, however, reportedly claiming that an e-mail he’d sent in which prejudicial comments were said to be found, had been stolen and doctored, turning him into a movement target.
The New York Anti-Violence Project, for its part, e-mailed its friends and supporters, warning against the giving of any encouragement to Jim Fouratt:
"We are emailing this letter to our constituents, friends and supporters to also inform them that AVP has decided to officially withdraw from participating in the June 18th Rally at Bryant Park.. We have come to this difficult decision because HOP has chosen Jim Fouratt as one of their invited Rally speakers. In the past several months, Mr. Fouratt has repeatedly expressed his ill-informed, and highly prejudicial anti-transgender opinions via broadcast emails, and therefore, AVP felt that to formally participate in a Rally that condoned his rhetoric would be antithetical to our mission, and the spirit of our day-to-day work with the entire community.
We are hopeful that other trans-supportive individuals, groups, and agencies will follow suit, and we are contacting other scheduled speakers to encourage them to make note in some way during their speeches, presentations or performances, of Mr. Fouratt's virulently anti-trans ideology. Please feel free to forward this information as you see fit."
Sylvia Rivera, who’d been praised in the book Stonewall by Fouratt as a person "who’s instincts were always correct" angrily denounced Fouratt’s choice as a speaker by the Heritage Of Pride (HOP). In an e-mail widely circulated, the fiery Founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries and a Stonewall Riot Veteran told the Heritage Of Pride committee:
"You have the nerve to have as one of your speakers Mr. Jim Fouratt whom I once called friend and comrade in the Early Years of the Gay Movement. He has shown his true colors. A once oppressed white gay male, now free and liberated, has become the enemy and the oppressor of the Transgender Community around the World."
Addressing Fouratt directly, Sylvia Rivera challenged: "You are afraid of your true self. Find yourself and leave us alone. We know who we are and are very happy, not like yourself."
Fouratt has long been perceived as a smooth-talking "reasonable sounding" activist who’d nevertheless sewed considerable discord in gay liberation meetings following the famed Stonewall uprising in June, 1969. Since then, say his long-time critics, he’s continued over three decades to incite such divisiveness at activist meetings nationwide.
Until only a few weeks before the Millennium March on Washington, for example, Fouratt had worked to oppose that march. What was his motivation, the activists ask, what turned him around at the last minute?
Far from deserving honor, says a new, growing coalition of anti-Fouratt activists, Fouratt has been unwisely canonized by the revisionist historian Martin Duberman who described him as a beautiful blond and who celebrated his hotly disputed Stonewall-era exploits.
New York City Gay Activist Alliance co-founder (1969) and acclaimed philosopher Arthur Evans, now living in San Francisco, told me:
"Jim Fouratt hasn't just spread divisiveness in our community. He has also poisoned the well of history-writing. His venomous views of others have hardened into historical concrete, thanks to his influence on writer Martin Duberman and film-maker Arthur Dong.
"Both these historians treated Fouratt like an oracle. They ignored the many witnesses who disagreed with Fouratt's accounts of things. Like the judge in Alice in Wonderland, they didn't want the evidence to get in the way of the verdict."
One pointedly disputed "fact" that’s been allowed into Jim Fouratt’s curious biography today, appears in New York’s Official Pride Events Guide for 2000 and says, "He has also been a commentator on radio and television since 1967 when he came out on David Susskind’s national talk show."
This statement is especially suspect, believe persons who were taped on David Susskind’s first TV discussion about homosexuality. There seems, in fact, to be no record of Jim Fouratt’s 1967 Susskind coming-out.
Even those very few movement pioneers who did, in fact, appear on television programs during that same year deny ever having seen Fouratt come out in 1967. Duberman’s ‘history’ book, however, repeats Fouratt’s story that "in 1969 he’d helped bring the Susskind show to dead stop by unveiling a live duck that promptly shat over the stage." Was this, it must be asked, how Fouratt came out as gay on national TV?
Prior to that august event, according to Duberman’s suspect reportage, Fouratt had "already stunned Susskind by appearing dressed all in white; an apparition, complete with flowing blond hair, that seemed a miraculous reincarnation of Jesus Christ himself." No date is allowed for this happening, but if it truly occurred in 1967, history critics are wondering, then had this then been the same occasion during which, as the Official Pride Events Guide for 2000 says, "he came out on David Susskind’s national TV talk show?"
Fouratt is on record, filmed in 1998, about having seen—when it first aired— The Homosexuals, a 1967 CBS documentary. He admits, in his 1998 statement, to having been inspired in 1967 by a Mattachine activist’s interview with Mike Wallace, an interview he’d watched while seated in his parents’ home. He gives no indication in that statement that might lead one to imagine him as a self-outed and televised pioneer in 1967.
Dr. Sarah Diane Fox, a transgender activist, addressed the Heritage of Pride organizers also, using for her ammunition the reputed letter that had recently been sent by Fouratt to the New York Times Magazine. It concerned both Calpernia Addams and transsexualism and, says Dr. Fox, is the perfect illustration of what she says are Fouratt’s self-righteous flaws. She writes:
"With one hateful and untruthful letter, Fouratt has done more to enrage the transgender community than anyone I can recall in recent history, including even leaders from the religious right. Just consider what he has written about us in a recent letter to the New York Times (mostly in reference to male-to-female transsexuals): (1) We are simply gay men who are pressured by the heterosexist establishment into undergoing dangerous interventions in order to be heterosexual women. (2) The late Brandon Teena, a 19 year old female-to-male transsexual who was brutally raped and murdered because of her transsexualism, was in fact not transgendered and, worse, was a "she." (3) Calpernia Addams is a ‘he.’ (4) Sexual reassignment is a failed experiment that is harmful to those "gay men" who undergo it. (5) We transsexuals are mostly workers in adult entertainment and prostitution, the only exceptions being Wendy Carlos and Renee Richards."
Dr. Fox addressed Fouratt directly about his claim to having suffered e-mail message tampering. She wrote: "I would be very interested in hearing your perspectives about how your letter might have been stolen, doctored, and redistributed, and I would particularly be interested in viewing the undoctored original."
Marc Rubin, a New York City school teacher and a stalwart activist who has been filmed in the front lines of direct activism since the Stonewall era’s inception, poured out his gut feelings to the Heritage of Pride organizers:
"I feel it is very important that you know who Jim Fouratt is.
"His voice was gentle, reasonable, a bit whiney. And he talked and
"When I was working on Stonewall 25, I had the opportunity to work in concord with Bob Kohler, who, along with Martha Shelly was a major force in GLF. At that time we agreed that there was little to be gained by immuring ourselves in past disagreements, that each of our beloved organizations had made huge contributions to the current Queer World, and it was more important to deal with the reality of the nineties.
"It is what Fouratt has done since the demise of GLF as an effective organization… and it is what he has done since then that has caused me to oppose him whenever and wherever I can. GAA has nothing to do with it. GLF has nothing to do with it. Fouratt operates as a Committee of One and from there he broadcasts an unending stream of dissension, disruption, lies, and confusion.
"The same pattern is always played out. Fouratt arrives on the scene. He charms everyone with his intelligence, his soft reasonable voice, and his gift of articulating his thoughts effectively. He is welcomed with open arms. People are immensely grateful that he's joined their effort. And then, after a relatively short time, they begin to be concerned about him. They grow weary of his defining The Only Right Way. They worry and worry and eventually they cease to exist as a group, or they expel him.
"He did attend GAA meetings where the unending litany of the sins of Gay men, combined with his clever use of Robert's Rules of Order, GAA's medium for discussion and discourse, served as very effective disruption of the organization's work. Many of us found ourselves using almost as much energy countering his diatribes, as we did fighting to make Gay Liberation a reality. I was even driven to write an article in GAA's Newsletter called Liberation Guilt.
"We were activists, constantly out on the streets, confronting heterosexual society, asserting our right to self-determination and equality. When we weren't zapping, we were planning. Fouratt was never there. He never did anything but talk. He was never anything but an obstacle that had to be overcome.
"After the defeat of one of the attempts to get a Sexual Orientation Law through the NY City council, many of us from GAA invaded St. Patrick's cathedral. Fouratt had done nothing at all to help our efforts, but he appeared in the Cathedral.
"We insisted on speaking to a representative of the Diocese. When that meeting eventually was held, Fouratt, quite suddenly appeared. He always had a good eye for where the action was. When I asked him why he was there, he said he was, after all a Catholic. When I said something like "you're anything it's convenient for you to be", he vanished.
"In his rather slimy rebuttal to Arthur Evan's letter he mentions a ten month stay in the Dallas County Jail while on an "organizing trip" Who was he "organizing for? GLF was deceased. GAA hadn't authorized such a trip.
"What I remember was that he was arrested for stealing a steak from a super market. He wrote to GAA asking for financial help. I don't remember what GAA did. The minutes would probably tell, but I do know that in a couple of weeks we were astounded to learn that he was out of Jail and back on the road. Ten months? I don't think so."
If Marc Rubin was led to think that Jim Fouratt had been arrested in Texas for stealing a steak from a supermarket, history writer Martin Duberman’s book reports a different tale:
"After searching his van, the police charged him with possession of heroin and dynamite," it says, although Duberman also reports that there’d been neither of these two substances in the van, but instead a cache of radical literature. Duberman notes in this section that Fouratt has an actor’s tendency to dramatic flair and reports that "Kit Carson’s lawyer got the charges against Jim reduced to possession of marijuana—though Jim rarely smoked pot and swears none was in the car."
A third reason for his Texas arrest has been advanced by a fellow Gay Liberation Front friend of Fouratt’s, but will not be reported by until further verified. Marc Rubin continues:
"Since the 70's I've walked what seems millions of miles on picket lines, been arrested more times then I can remember, attended an infinity of meetings. In all that time I never saw this great man DO anything. I've heard him talk and talk and talk, and I've noticed how he has a talent for getting close to what he perceives as the leadership. He clearly sees himself as being in a different class than the common folk. It has been dismaying to see him given credence by Martin Duberman, the press's current Reigning Authority who is so busily revising the early history of the Gay Liberation Movement.
" As part of the Ad Hoc Committee for an Alternative Process that tried to alter the organizing process for the late unlamented Millennial March, he attempted his usual disorganizing tactics. But he was up against the likes of Mandy Carter, Leslie Cagen, Bill Dobbs and Steve Ault. So he very cleverly, after many months of becoming more and more disruptive, left it, recanted, and got to speak at the rally. Everyone loves a saved sinner.
"Unfortunately, this gave him new credentials with a new generation of Queers who don't know him. Now he can spread his message that he alone knows what Queer Liberation really is and what groups have the right to be called Queer. Transgendered people don't fit in the Gospel According to Saint Jim. Remove them! This man's role as a principal speaker at the HOP rally is an insult to our Transgendered brothers and sisters and an unfortunate boost to his credibility."
Among Jim Fouratt’s other disputed claims is that prior to Stonewall he’d been Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) stalwart Marty Robinson’s lover for two years. He has since been particularly unkind to Marty who in 1969 had been his successful political rival. Two years prior to Stonewall, however, would have returned Fouratt with Marty to 1967—the year when he admitted on videotape to having been wide-eyed in his parents’ dwelling. There are no current witnesses or believers among Marty Robinson’s close friends who feel that Fouratt’s claim of having had a two-year affair with the fearless legendary journeyman carpenter is factual.
Marc Rubin laments:
He put himself on the line again and again for his lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. In all the time I spent with him and that included being his caretaker during the sad time of his dying, he never mentioned Fouratt with anything but loathing. I do know they'd had sex. If they'd been ‘lovers for two years’ it was something he was too ashamed to talk about."
After Fouratt learned that Arthur Evans was also in favor of urging the cancellation of his Heritage Of Pride speech, he accused Evans of "crawl(ing) out of his rock of bitterness and jealousy".
Marc Rubin rushed to the defense of Evans, his long ago proud comrade-in-arms,saying that Fouratt’s deranged comments about Arthur Evans, as he put it, are:
"…akin to accusing Pete Seegar of selling out to polluters. Anyone who knows Arthur knows that crawling isn't a possible action for him. Fouratt accuses him of waging a whispering campaign against him.. I am certainly liable to that accusation, but neither Arthur nor I whisper.
"For thirty years we have been witnesses to Jim Fouratt's malevolence. We have both exposed it as often and whenever we could. He is a powerful person with great gifts that he uses with great effect. Like the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, he is a destroyer who speaks softly and with reason. Rather than placing him on podia where he can do his work, he should be ignored or challenged wherever he appears."
Fouratt’s detractors say that for decades he’s thrown gasoline on every conflict in the movement that he could find, all the while posing as the apostle of unity.
Today, however, people on both sides of the long-ago GLF/GAA divide seem convinced that Fouratt is divisive and untruthful, and that he should be repudiated as a community leader.
"Reminds me of Nixon," Arthur Evans told GayToday, " Remember what he said in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention? --He once saw a young girl holding up a sign reading ‘Bring Us Together,’ and that would be the motto of his administration.
"Then he became the most divisive president in modern history. But he did eventually succeed in uniting us -- through impeaching him!"
Jack Nichols is Senior Editor at GayToday www.gaytoday.badpuppy.com and author of The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists (Prometheus Books)
JN is Senior Editor at GayToday:www.gaytoday.badpuppy.com
His latest book is The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists (Prometheus Books)
READ JACK'S COLUMN FROM LAST WEEK
Jack Nichols is also the author of Men's Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity (Penguin); Welcome to Fire Island: Visions of Cherry Grove & the Pines (St. Martin's Press); and is co-author with Lige Clarke of I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody (St. Martin's Press); and Roommates Can't Always Be Lovers: An Intimate Guide to Male/Male Relationships (St. Martin's Press)