Friday of the Purple Hand

Historical Essay

by Tommi Avicolli Mecca


Listen to an excerpt from Tommi Avicolli Mecca's essay, "Sometimes You Work With the Democrats, and Sometimes You Riot":

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Previous stop: Nicaraguan Consulate takeover
Next Stop #3: Labor sights and smells

On Halloween night 1969, members of Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and Society for Individual Rights (SIR) gathered outside the San Francisco Examiner building to protest anti-gay articles that had been running in the daily. Like other periodicals around the country, the paper had a policy of printing the names and addresses of men arrested in gay bar raids or even in tearooms, bathrooms where gay men sometimes had sex. When employees on the roof spilled purple printer’s ink down onto the demonstrators, the queer radicals used it to scrawl “Gay Power” and other slogans on the
wall. They also left imprints of their hands on the surrounding buildings, thus giving rise to what
became known as “Friday of the Purple Hand.”


Larry LittleJohn, who was then SIR president, relates what happened next:

At that point, the tactical squad arrived—not to get the employees who dumped the ink, but to arrest the demonstrators who were the victims. The police could have surrounded the Examiner building...but no, they went after the gays...Somebody could have been hurt if that ink had gotten into their eyes, but the police came racing in with their clubs swinging, knocking people to the ground. It was unbelievable.

The media wasn’t the only target. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) classified homosexuality as a mental illness. Homophile groups had been lobbying the APA for years to change that designation. San Francisco GLF disrupted a 1970 gathering of shrinks at a convention center downtown. That same year, GLFers in Los Angeles took over a similar meeting of the APA and conducted a consciousness-raising session with the befuddled doctors. The APA eventually succumbed to the pressure and in 1973 dropped homosexuality from its list of diseases.

by Tommi Avicolli Mecca, from his essay "Sometimes You Work with the Democrats, and Sometimes You Riot, in the anthology "Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-78" (City Lights Foundation: 2011), edited by Chris Carlsson.

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