Men Protest 

 “It was scary,” Steve Trudel recalls, “but the police action and media reports were so outrageous that even though I wasn’t into cruising rest stops myself, I was moved to do something about it.”

Steve lived in Northampton in the late seventies. He and other men were galvanized into protest by October 23-24, 1978 newspaper accounts of a sting operation at an Interstate 91 rest area in Holyoke in which sixteen men were arrested for soliciting casual sex. The names and addresses of those arrested—along with the “morals” charges made against them –were widely reported in area newspapers, including the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the UMass Daily Collegian.

DHG MDC Oct 23 78_edited-1Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton MA and UMass/Amherst Massachusetts Daily Collegian coverage Oct. 23, 1978

scenic area i mile

Scenic Area 1 mile (today on I-91)

The rest area was not the one listed in GCN’s 1976 New England Gay Guide . It attracted men from up and down the highway, as well as locals. A fourth of those arrested lived in Connecticut. One was from Vermont, another from Eastern Massachusetts. Three were from nearby Hampden County. Northampton’s Daily Hampshire Gazette printed the names and addresses of the five from Amherst, Florence, Hadley and Northampton, including two who lived together. While the age of the sixteen men charged ranged from twenty to sixty-two, most were in late thirties and early forties.

Springfield_Union_1978-10-24_16   Springfield (MA ) Union Oct. 24, 1978

Police justified the entrapment because seven weeks previously a man reported that he had been raped and robbed there by another man. Such victimization of men who cruised for anonymous sex (and who were unlikely to report crime to authorities), was so common that it was referred to in the gay subculture as “being rolled.”

Rather than trying to solve the crime however, police focused on shutting down the sexual activity, which they characterized to the press as “homosexual attacks.” For two weekend evenings, Oct. 21-22, plainclothes police made themselves available for proposition at the rest area and then arrested anyone who approached them. The men were charged with “lascivious behavior,” “open and gross lewdness,” and/or, if there was any physical contact, “assault and battery.” In a follow-up article in the Springfield Union, the Captain of the local State Police said that the alleged homosexual activity was continuing in the rest area adjacent to Mount Tom in spite of the arrests, and that the state police undercover work there would continue until the situation [was] cleared up.

scenic area 2

Only one of the sixteen arrested, the man from Somerville, submitted to the facts of the case in the Holyoke District Court on Oct. 23 and was fined $125. All the others pled innocent and were given trial dates, or were given hearing dates to enter a plea. Their court dates were scattered over the coming month. It would be interesting to know the results of further hearings or trials but I could find  no later newspaper coverage . Holyoke District Court records are not digitized for this time. Does anyone know where the paper records are stored?

The press coverage of the arrests provoked a response from Valley gay men and their allies. Several were moved to write letters to the editors of local newspapers, including, I am told, the Valley Advocate and one printed in Springfield Union from Amherst resident Paul Shepard.

Springfield_Union_1978-11-01_15Springfield Union Nov. 1, 1978.

Two weeks after the arrests, Nov. 5, approximately fifty people protested police and media action by bringing signs and mimeographed handouts to the rest stop at midday, standing so they could be seen from I-91 as well as by those pulling into the rest area. Steve Trudel and at least one other gay man from Northampton were among the protesters. The UMass Gay Alliance was one of the organizing groups with members present.


Springfield Union, Nov. 4, 1978

The purpose of the demonstration was to expose the harassment of gay men for adult consensual behavior; the waste of police resources which could better be used solving “real” crimes such as the rape and battery of women; and the general oppression of gay men. Demonstrators also wanted to correct the false image of gay men created by homophobic police and media.

nov 4 78 rally flyer_edited-1Flyer distributed Nov. 5, 1978, mimeograph one of two sides, courtesy Bambi Gauthier

There were no hassles and at least one TV station filmed the demonstration. In an interesting aside, Steve recalls being interviewed at the demonstration by a Valley reporter who he recognized from other political events and who gave him “the creeps.” So Steve asked him if he had a history of doing undercover work. The reporter admitted he had previously worked for the government.


Springfield_Union_1978-11-05_2Springfield Republican Nov. 4, 1978.

It was very radical analysis and action for the time. While there was no overt reply or statement made by the local governments or state police in response to the rally, I couldn’t find news records of further arrests at that scenic area or of that nature. So it appears that the outcry successfully stopped further entrapment of gay men.

scenic area 4

as seen today (2019), there are no holes in the fence and bushes and trees are cut back.

Steve remembers it as “the only exciting (pro-gay) political action at the time. It was difficult to do, to put oneself out there.”  Valley gay men with a political consciousness, it seemed to him, were few and far between in this decade. Just as many Northampton lesbians were energized working with feminist women, a few politicized gay men found support, albeit out of town, in other progressive groups.

Steve and Bill Starkweather were joined at the I-91 demo by members of a group they belonged to: a pro-feminist men’s action group formed at Hampshire College in 1978. This group referred to themselves as ”positively men”and continued until at least 2004. Steve’s realization that there was more to being gay than sex and dancing led him to demonstrate solidarity with other oppressed groups. In Northampton in 1978, he was among the group of men who provided care for children while the mothers participated  in the Valley’s first  Take Back the Night March  . He and others of the group of also attended the 1979 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

It would be a few more years before gay men in Northampton formed their own group and began working in coalition with the city’s lesbians.

In a post note: I found documents online indicating that at least ten of those arrested in 1978 are now deceased.  It is too late to ask them how that public outing in the form of being charged with crimes impacted their lives. Seven of the deceased had enough information in their death notices to indicate their marital status.  Three of them had wives and children while four did not. One of those bachelors was the “Beloved friend of Robert…, William…, Rudy…, Bruce…, Todd…, Jack…,[et al.]” And he had volunteered at a local AIDS support organization. Another of the unmarried men was a resigned Catholic priest charged with child sex abuse in 2002.

skyview scenic area


__Trudel, Stephen. Phone interview and email correspondence. Sep. 20, Nov. 22, 2004.

__”16 men arrested in sex raid.” Springfield Union. Springfield MA.  Oct. 23. 1978.

__ “Five men from area charged in sex cases.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton MA. Oct 23, 1978.

__Horgan, Sean T. and Quinlan, Joseph. “16 arrested in sex raid at I-91 South rest area.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian. UMass Amherst. Oct 23, 1978.

__Perkins, Robert. “Cops to continue probe of highway rest area.” Springfield Union. Springfield MA. Oct. 24, 1978.

__Shepard, Paul. “Questions raised by police raids on I-91 rest area.” Letter to the Editor. Springfield Union. Springfield MA. Nov. 01, 1978.

__”Gay Rally set at Rest Area.” Springfield Union. Springfield MA. Nov. 04, 1978.

__Blomberg, Marcia. “Group protests I-91 arrests.” Springfield Republican. Springfield MA. Nov. 05, 1978.

__”Diocese of Burlington releases priest sexual abuse report, names.” Vermont Business Magazine. Aug. 22, 2019.

__thanks to Bambi Gauthier for bringing this story to my attention and providing copies of some documents and contacts to interview.





Just Before the Revolution

Was there a gay revolution in Northampton? A look at the gay subculture that existed here just before 1970 may help answer that. I am still looking for and surveying existing literature but here’s a summary of one piece of research.

Lack of documents is one thing noted by Vincent Bonfitto in his 1990 search for Valley gay history prior to the modern gay and lesbian political movements. Only by interviewing seven older gays and lesbians (all of whom may have been white), including Warren Clark and Jean Grossholtz, for his Master’s thesis at UMass was he able to add a little to our sparse knowledge of post-WWII Valley gay subculture.

In general he found this subculture was largely limited to very private social networks meeting in each others homes; and, often isolated individual couple relationships. Gays and lesbians in this era often had to go out of town to find venues for meeting each other. The experiences of men and women and their subcultures differed in significant ways.

Those interviewed by Bonfitto noted that social life for gay male academics centered around private Smith College cocktail parties and trips to Jacob’s Pillow dance center in  Becket MA in summer. Gay male social life was absent at Amherst College, where a gay male faculty member had been asked to resign in the 1950s. No information was included on UMass, except that couples existed. One social network consisted of gay priests in the diocese. Three of the four men interviewed had lost jobs because of homosexuality, one not rehired at Amherst High School in 1962 for, among other things, being “effeminate.”

Gay men in the Valley cruised public facilities for anonymous sex in Amherst, Holyoke, and Greenfield, as well as Northampton. The largest cruising grounds familiar to the men were in Springfield, including the lobby of the Bridgeway Hotel, a huge public men’s room next to City Hall, and the park behind Old First Church off Court Square.

The nearest gay bars were also in Springfield. Though they occasionally were visited by gay women, they were largely for men, with varying clientele. The fourth floor bar and restaurant Blakes was run like a private club, very “high class,” and had drag balls during the holidays. The Arbour was a formal, “posh” piano bar for the over-thirty crowd, while the Arch and Sports Lounge were more informal and mixed class. The Arch, in particular, was known as a pickup place. Bonfitto doesn’t mention the race of bar patrons, the location of the bars, or dates of existence.

Gay women’s or lesbians’ culture appears to have been much more restricted and largely separate from the men’s. Throughout his thesis, Bonfitto refers to the women as “lesbians,” with no note of the actual self-referents of those he interviewed. The three women noted very closed social networks, little bar attendance, but the known existence of a reputed butch-femme bar culture with alcohol-fueled violence. At Mt. Holyoke College, students who came out (were discovered) were moved by the administration to live by themselves in single dorm rooms or off campus. The only alternative to the Springfield bars mentioned above, for women,  was attendance in Boston at Daughters of Bilitis events and vacationing in Provincetown.

Aside from Bonfitto’s thesis there are a few other published sources I have yet to review that contain bits about this period. Some scraps have come my way. I was told by a Smith College alumnae who came to live at Green Street in the early 70s that she had been suspended for a semester and sent home to get psychiatric treatment because her feelings for another woman became apparent to others.

In 1969, among the many old WAC friends who visited my partner Susan and me in Williamsburg, was a gay female couple then living in New York. They brought the portentous news that one of them was transitioning to male. Because of Susan’s regular correspondence with Ladder editor Barbara Grier, our friend Karl (literary pseudonym) wrote what may have been the first article on transsexuals published by the magazine. In 1972, the couple, now legally married and with an adopted child, moved to Northampton and totally assimilated.

The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Written by a transsesexual who moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.
The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Karl (a literary pseudonym) moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.

The semi-rural nature of the Valley and the generally small size of towns, even those with academic institutions, undoubtedly contributed to the very private and often isolated existence of gay people in Northampton and the area prior to 1970.

What began to change and how it happened are the topics of the next series of blogs on the 1970s. I am very much looking forward to getting my personal copy of Lillian Faderman’s new history the Gay Revolution. It’s been given fine reviews and I’m sure, like the other volumes I have of her work, I will underline, highlight and scribble madly in its margins. A timely publication that can be referred to as we lay out the story of the revolution here in the Valley. Stay tuned in!

COMING NEXT: A Kind of Revolution: Overview.

__Bonfitto,Vincent F. “The Formation of Gay and Lesbian Identity and Community in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts, 1900-1970.” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 33(1) 1997, 69-96. Haworth Press. I will include more material in future blogs.
__Ericsen, Karl. “The Transsexual Experience.” The Ladder, Apr/May 1970, 25-27. Daughters of Bilitis, San Francisco.

FUTURE WORK? LOOKING FOR: I have also been told about, but not yet verified and researched, semi-pro women’s baseball and basketball teams in Springfield, and a Valley-wide industrial women’s softball league that may have existed in the 1960s. Who knows about this? Also were there male equivalents? Or bar leagues as have been found in other large cities? Does anyone know the location of the Springfield bars mentioned by Bonfitto, or (pie in the sky) have photos? I will post a blog soon on the Girls Club, lesbian bar in Chicopee started in the 1940s.