Unless you count the teenage boys calling names or speeding through on their bikes with signs bearing slurs, whoever was making threats of violence in Northampton under the name of SHUN (Stop Homosexual Unity Now) did not have the courage to make themselves known at the second March for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Northampton, MA on May 14, 1983. But the campaign of harassment continued with more phone calls that very afternoon.
In the month following the March, ”Harassment Chronology.” Lesbian and Gay Task Force Newsletter. Northampton MA. June 1983. Courtesy of Bambi Gauthier.
Over the next few weeks, eggs were sporadically thrown by unknown persons at Womonfyre Bookstore at 22 Center Street, the most publically visible sponsor of Lesbian events. Kim Christensen, the March’s spokesperson, who had made her phone number public in order to answer City official and press queries, received not only phone calls but 4:30 a.m. visits from males who stood shouting outside her home.
Affidavit from Kim Christensen harassment experienced by her Jun-Jul 1983.
One lesbian began receiving as many as thirty phone calls a day. When this woman went to City police, on-duty officers refused to take her complaint or listen to the message machine tape and misinformed her about what could be done. Only after contacting the Northampton Lesbian/Gay Task Force was she able to make her complaint to the police, with the support of Task Force members. It was reported in the Valley Women’s Voice that while Northampton Police Chief Labato appeared sympathetic, he referred to her and accompanying Task Force members as “you gays and lezzies.”
“Harassment Reports Ignored.” Valley Women’s Voice. Northampton MA. Sep. 1983.
The Task Force strongly disagreed with Mayor Musante’s decision to disband the group because he thought that their work was done. The group continued to work to stop the violence after being disbanded by the Mayor. While the Mayor, his assistant and the Northampton Police representative withdrew, the three Lesbians and three gay men, and the Assistant DA Dave Angier continued to meet. In response to the ongoing threats Angier got the DA’s office to assign State Police Trooper John Gibbons to join him in working with the group. The Task Force encouraged the communities to report any incidents to the DA, Police and Task Force. While the Lesbian and Gay Task Force members names were kept confidential, under pressure, when one man allowed his name to be public he also became a target. Threats to beat “faggots” began.
Other people in the community were working on a City anti-discrimination ordinance. In July, after four months work, N’CAN, the Northampton Citizens Action Network, circulated a draft ordinance and asked for help to get it passed in the coming year. That same month, the task of educating the people of Northampton was aided by a series of articles on the community written by Maureen Fitzgerald for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. At the same time, Boston’s Channel 4 aired a two-part special on the harassment in Northampton.
Outreach Committee, Antidiscrimination Ordinance Coalition. Letter. PVPGA Gayzette. July 1983. Courtesy of Bambi Gauthier.
All of this publicity seemed to spur the numerous anonymous males, whose telephoned threats were being taped, into overdrive. As harassment increased, Lesbians working with the DA’s office finally agreed to help set up a phone trap. The co-owners of Womonfyre Books and Kim Christensen worked with ADA Angier and the city police to put it in place. Lesbian events were deliberately advertised with a home phone number. One of the women stayed home after the advertisement appeared to monitor the phone calls and tape them with a machine furnished by the DA’s office. As threatening calls came in, the time was to be noted so that the phone company could then trace specific calls to the phone from which they were made.
Two of the three women who were key to trapping one of the harassers, Kiriyo and Kim. Bookstore co-owner Jil Krolik isn’t pictured. “Northampton’s Gays Fight Back.” Boston Globe. Boston MA. May 22, 1983.
“Interestingly,” Kim Christensen recalls, “as soon as the trap was to go into effect, the calls temporarily stopped. Sometimes it was uncanny. E.g., we’d be planning to turn on the phone trap at 9:00 AM and I’d get a call at 8:00, 8:15, 8:30 and 8:57, and then they would stop.” For weeks, the procedure was repeated with the same results. Kim adds, “Finally the ADA decided to put on the trap without notifying the police department beforehand, and boom! a member of SHUN was trapped on the very first attempt. It was extremely suspicious.”
On Saturday, July 30, while the phone trap was in place, thirty-five calls were made by boys and three by an adult male who identified himself as belonging to SHUN. Suspicious events didn’t end there, according to Kim, but continued with difficulties with the local phone company. While the originating phone number could have been identified immediately, the Northampton office refused to give it to the authorities involved. Five days later investigators from the DA’s office, armed with a search warrant, raided the Northampton phone company business office looking for the number, without success. Eventually it had to be obtained from the phone company’s Boston headquarters.
Armed with this information, on Aug. 5 State Police went to the Northampton address identified. They questioned a 23 year-old local male living there. One of his relatives was a former Northampton policeman. After initially denying the charges, the suspect confessed on tape to the State Police that he had made the three July 30 phone calls and he was arrested.
The next day he was formally charged with repeatedly telephoning Jil Krolik for the purpose of harassing and annoying her, and for threatening bodily harm to Kim Christensen and Kiriyo Spooner. Additionally, District Attorney Ryan charged that the threatened reprisals were violations of the women’s civil rights; the rights of free speech and assembly, free association, and privacy.
When the accused agreed to submit to a sufficiency of evidence that indicated his guilt, a sentencing hearing before a judge was set for Aug. 24. A maximum penalty of two and a half years in jail was possible. Though no other males were arrested, calls from SHUN ceased. [If you really want to know his name, you can look it up. He is still living in the area and I will not credit him.]
Although ordered to stay away from the complainants, the guilty male confronted one woman on the street before the next scheduled court appearance and shouted names at her. At the Aug. 24 sentencing hearing in Hampshire Superior Court, Sherman Boyson later reported in the PVPGA Gayzette, the defendant’s friends hissed at the testifying lesbians and called them “scum.” The tape from July 30 was played. It included this threat: “We promise systematic violence…Beware when you walk home! Beware when you walk the streets and where you live at night!” Boyson called it quite chilling.
The prosecutors then moved to play the taped confession made by the accused. Before that could be done however, the accused’s lawyer stopped the proceedings, changed his client’s plea to “not guilty,” and asked for a trial. Boysen later surmised that the seriousness of the evidence already presented was clearly pointing toward jail time, which the defendant’s lawyer wished to avoid for his client.
Both the prosecutors and the State Police believed that the accused had made many more threats then the three he had admitted to. In preparation for a jury trial, the PVGA Gayzette reported, the District Attorney’s office made plans to send some of the fifty message tapes accumulated to the FBI for voice analysis in order to determine what additional charges would be made.
The three complainants continued to aid in preparing the case for trial. One of the woman was alarmed, however, to be asked by the State Trooper and later an FBI agent for information totally unrelated to the case. She was asked to try to identify people in a photos she later learned were suspected members of the Weather Underground. Kim Christensen remembers that the telephone message tapes that would hopefully be analyzed by the FBI were sitting in the room at the time of this interview, and it was made very clear to her by the Agent that cooperation was a two way street.
“FBI Questions Northampton Lesbians: Agent Probes Progressive Politics.” Gay Community News. Boston MA. Sep. 24, 1983. Courtesy of Bambi Gauthier.
The FBI Agent went on to ask about the size and composition of the Northampton lesbian and gay community, its support for Sandinistas, belief in blowing up buildings, and any coalitions with leftist groups. All three of the women interviewed by the FBI felt pressured to cooperate in this fishing expedition. Kim immediately recognized what was occurring and refused to cooperate. The women sent word out to the community of the FBI’s intrusive presence. No voice analysis was ever done by the FBI to help the court case and the proffered message tapes disappeared. If copies had not been made and kept by the women complainants, there would have been no recorded evidence to present at a trial.
Before a jury could be convened, the confessed harasser changed his mind once again and agreed to submit to facts rather than face a trial. A sentencing hearing was once more scheduled, but before it could take place, his attorney got a continuance so his client could undergo psychiatric testing and counseling. Finally, on Oct. 11, 1983, the hearing resumed before Judge Alvertas Morse in Hampshire Superior Court.
The defendant’s attorney argued that counseling and community service was appropriate punishment, that his client had been raised in a “staunchly Roman Catholic family” which believed homosexuality was immoral, which may have contributed to his feelings against the gay community. Judge Morse, however, found the defendant guilty on all charges and sentenced him to one year in prison, three months of which were to be served and the rest suspended while he was on probation for four years. DA Michael Ryan told the Daily Hampshire Gazette it was the first time anyone in the Commonwealth had been imprisoned for violating a person’s civil rights as guaranteed by the 1980 Massachusetts Civil Rights Law.
I find no record that the male convicted expressed any remorse. Interviewed outside the courthouse after sentencing he blamed his “big mouth” for his behavior. He stated he didn’t know what going to jail would prove. Intimating that he was justified in his behavior, he said, “I would like to know what the community thinks about this,…the Northampton natives.”
In November, all of Northampton’s City Council, the Mayor, and half the School Committee would be up for reelection. In a new chapter of political activism, Lesbians and gay men would demonstrate to the City that they would not only march in the streets but would wield the power of their votes.
The PVPGA Gayzette. Northampton MA. Aug. 1983.
__Sege, Irene. “Northampton’s Gays Fight Back.” Boston Globe. Boston MA. May 22, 1983.
__”Harassment Chronology.” Lesbian and Gay Task Force Newsletter. Northampton MA. June 1983.
__”Brief History of the Task Force.” Lesbian and Gay Task Force Newsletter. Northampton MA. June 1983.
__Christensen, Kimberly. Affidavit: Exhibit R. March 20, 1984.
__Outreach Committee, Antidiscrimination Ordinance Coalition. Letter. PVPGA Gayzette. July 1983.
__Logan, Rebecca. “Harassment Reports Ignored.” Valley Women’s Voice. Northampton MA. Sep. 1983.
__Goldsmith, Larry. “FBI Questions Northampton Lesbians: Agent Probes Progressive Politics.” Gay Community News. Boston MA. Sep. 24, 1983.
__Hasbrouck,Amy. “Fallout From the FBI.” Valley Women’s Voice. Northampton MA. Dec. 1983.
__Christensen, Kim. Email correspondence with Kaymarion Raymond Aug 8- Nov. 17, 2004.
__Blomberg, Marcia. ”Arrest made in phone threats to gays.” Springfield Union. Springfield MA. Aug. 6, 1983.
__”Gay Man Runs for Northampton City Council.” The PVPGA Gayzette. Northampton MA. Aug. 1983.
__Boysen, Sherman. “Results! Man Arrested in Hamp Harassment.” The PVPGA Gayzette. Northampton MA. Sep. 1983.
__”gay man runs for northampton city council seat.” Gay Community News. Boston MA. Sep. 3, 1983.
__Thomas, Linda. “Empowerment by Vote.” Valley Women’s Voice. Northampton MA. Sep. 1983.
__Boysen, Sherman. “…Case Still Not Settled.” The PVPGA Gayzette. Northampton MA. Oct. 1983.
__Fitzgerald, Maureen. “Man jailed for threats to lesbians.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton MA. Oct. 11, 1983.