Professor Stein Recalls 1969 'Purple Hands' Protest in San Francisco

Thursday, October 31, 2019

BAY AREA REPORTER -- Marc Stein is a professor of History at San Francisco State University and the author of “The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History” (New York University Press, 2019). He wrote this opinion piece for the Bay Area Reporter.

“Halloween has long been one of the queerest of holidays, but on October 31, 1969, San Francisco LGBT activists found new ways to confront their terrifying fears of media misrepresentations and police violence. In their wake, they left behind ghostly new symbols of gay liberation, purple hands, which continue to make apparitional appearances in the work of those who practice the dark arts of queer history.

“The horrifying tale began on Saturday, October 25, 1969, when the San Francisco Examiner published journalist Robert Patterson’s slashing expose on Folsom Street gay bars, clubs and restaurants. For Patterson, these ‘deviate establishments’ were ‘sad’ and ‘dreary’ sites for the ‘sick’ ceremonies of ‘homosexuals,’ ‘transvestites,’ ‘drag queens’ and ‘male prostitutes.’ The frightening feature was particularly hostile to those Patterson described as ‘semi-males,’ ‘members of the pseudo-fair sex,’ ‘women who aren’t exactly women’ and ‘hybrid blossoms.’

“Over the next two days, LGBT critics of Patterson and the Examiner attempted to speak with the beastly journalist and his monstrous editors, who refused to meet with them. On Monday, October 27, two members of the Committee for Homosexual Freedom, a radical gay liberation group that had been staging demonstrations since April, disguised themselves as human beings and entered the Examiner building at 110 Fifth Street, where they reportedly were verbally and physically attacked by Patterson.”