Gay activist pioneer, PETE FISHER was born on this date (d: 2012) His groundbreaking 1972 book “The Gay Mystique” chronicled the early, vibrant post-Stonewall movement and explained homosexuality to straight people and to homosexually-oriented people still coming to terms with themselves. For this reporter, it was a seminal text as a college student coming out and, later, becoming an activist in 1974.
Describing his intense joy marching in the Christopher Street Liberation Day march in 1970 that commemorated the first anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, Fisher wrote, “There’s no going back after that. You can’t feel those things and take them back to the closet and nurse them. When you know what it really means to be free, you know that freedom is life. Do you know how it tastes to be alive for the first time? Oppression in any form requires the complicity of the oppressed. To come out is to refuse to oppress oneself, refuse to play the game.”
Fisher was writing and agitating at a time when sodomy was still a crime in most states including New York, psychiatry classified homosexuality as a mental illness, and civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation were non-existent. He led several of the most famous “zaps” for which GAA was known, taking over the offices of the Daily News when its editors derided gay people as “fairies, nances, and queers” and of Harper’s magazine when its Joseph Epstein wrote, “If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth, because I consider it a curse.”
When City Councilman Saul Sharison refused to allow the New York Gay Rights bill to be heard in committee in 1971, Fisher was among those who led more than a thousand people from a dance at the GAA Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street to Sharison’s high rise at 70 East Tenth Street and got clubbed by the police. “It was the most nightmarish scene I had ever witnessed: long, brutal clubs smashing left and right, landing on people’s heads, the crowd panicking, pushing first to the barricades and then falling back,” he wrote. He and Rubin were arrested, but five days later the hearing was scheduled on the bill that GAA put forward as the first in the country to propose protections on the basis of “sexual orientation.”
Perry Brass, a veteran of the Gay Liberation Front, wrote in an e-mail, “I remember Pete as a very handsome, very charismatic, blonde young man. He was always dressed either in leather or a tight, beautifully fitting T-shirt, but he was totally devoted to GAA and the cause of real Gay Liberation, that is, leaving self-hatred, leaving oppression, and forging a new identity as a Gay man.”
With partner Marc Rubin, Fisher wrote the novel “Special Teachers/ Special Boys” based on Rubin’s experiences teaching troubled youth.
Fisher, coming to consciousness of being Gay pre-Stonewall, had a rough time. His father, an executive at the New York Times, strongly disapproved and sent him to a shrink to try to turn him heterosexual — partly by forbidding masturbation! Fisher’s counsel to parents in “Mystique”: “The rule with regard to sexuality is a simple one. Hands off — let your child be himself.”
Fisher took his own life by suffocation. Lynne Fisher said her brother “told me he spent 60 percent of his time thinking about suicide” and made several unsuccessful attempts over the years. This latest successful try was not unexpected. But she also remembers Pete as “exceptionally intelligent, a book writer and a songwriter,” and “a quiet but popular kid.” He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in her backyard in Springfield with Rubin’s.