Thursday, September 15, 2011

Arthur Evans (1942-2011)

My friend Arthur Evans died on September 11 in San Francisco, where had lived since 1974. A year ago, recognizing that he was in failing health, Arthur wisely composed his own obituary, which I reproduce below.

The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was the most vibrant and influential gay organization to emerge in New York City from the turbulent period that followed immediately after the Stonewall events in June of 1969,

A charismatic figure in those days, Arthur Evans was the last survivor of a quartet of men who were most instrumental in founding and sustaining GAA. The others were Arthur Bell, Evans’ lover, a journalist and author; Jim Owles; and Marty Robinson. The last two are perhaps best described as community organizers. Of the four, Arthur Evans particularly excelled in organizing “zaps”--demonstrations in which he assembled groups of activists to confront powerful homophobes in the media and public relations.

Arthur Evans and I got onto a wrong track when I wrote a negative review in Gay Books Bulletin of his 1978 book “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.” Since he lived in San Francisco and I in New York, we did not interact much. About five years ago, though, the two of us struck up an Internet friendship. Arthur was aggrieved, and rightly so, that the philosophy department at Columbia University refused to grant him the Ph.D. even though he had written a substantial monograph in the field, the last requirement for the honor (his book “Critique of Patriarchal Reason”). Evans hoped that the degree would allow him to assume a teaching position at a Bay Area College. This was not to be. Arthur was a favorite student of Paul Oskar Kristeller--no mean tribute since Kristeller was one of the great Renaissance scholars of the time. Since I live near the university campus, I invited him to come and stay with me. Together we would try to hold the university’s feet to the fire. For some reason the plan fell through, and I now regret that I didn’t go to see Arthur in his apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

At all events he should be remembered now for his unwavering struggle and his many accomplishments. Here is his own statement..

                 Arthur Evans [1942-2011]

Arthur Evans was a gay activist, writer, and neighborhood activist
who lived at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San
Francisco since 1974. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he played
a pivotal role in the newly emergent gay liberation movement in
New York City.

A few weeks after the famous Stonewall Riot of June 1969 (which he
missed), Evans and his lover, Arthur Bell, joined The Gay
Liberation Front (GLF), a new group that proudly proclaimed itself
to be gay, countercultural, and revolutionary.

Within GLF, Evans and others created a cell called The Radical
Study Group to examine the historical roots of sexism and
homophobia. Many of the participants later became published
authors, including (besides Evans and Bell) John Lauritsen, Larry
Mitchell, and Steve Dansky.

A number of GLF members, including Evans, soon became dissatisfied
with the organization, complaining that it lacked a coherent,
ongoing program of street activism. At the suggestion of GLF
member Jim Owles and Marty Robinson, about twelve people met in
Arthur Bell's Manhattan apartment on December 21, 1969, and
founded The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Evans wrote the group's
statement of purpose and much of its constitution.

Acting on the principle that the personal is the political, GAA
held homophobes who were in positions of authority personally
accountable for the consequences of their public policies.
Accordingly, Robinson, Evans, and Owles developed the tactic of
"zaps." These were militant (but non-violent) face-to-face
confrontations with outspoken homophobes in government, business,
and the media. Evans was often arrested in such actions,
participating in disruptions of local business offices, political
headquarters, local TV shows, and the Metropolitan Opera.

In effect, GAA created a stunning new model of gay activism,
highly theatrical while also eminently practical and focused. It
forced the media and the political establishment to take gay
concerns seriously as a struggle for justice. Previously the media
treated gay life as a peripheral freak show. It also inspired gay
people themselves to act unapologetically from a position of gay
pride. This new model of activism inspired other gay groups across
the county, eventually triggering revolutionary improvements in
gay life that continue to this day.

In November 1970, Robinson and Evans, along with Dick Leitsch of
the Mattachine Society, appeared on the Dick Cavette Show. They
were among the first openly gay activists to be prominently
featured as guests on a national TV program.

It was a big change from Evans' earlier days in York, PA, where he
was born on October 12, 1942. His father worked most of his life
on assembly-lines, the last in a chain factory. His mother ran a
small beauty shop out of a front room in the family house.

When Evans graduated from public high school in 1960, he received
a four-year scholarship from the Glatfelter Paper Company in York
County to study chemistry at Brown University in Providence, RI.
While at Brown, Evans and several friends founded the Brown
Freethinkers Society, describing themselves as "militant atheists"
seeking to combat the harmful effects of organized religion.

The group picketed the weekly chapel convocation at Brown, then
required of all students (even though Brown is a secular
institution) and urged students to stand in silent protest during
the compulsory prayer. National wire services picked up the story,
which appeared in a local York newspaper.

As a result, the Glatfelter Paper Company informed Evans that his
scholarship would be canceled. For help, Evans turned to Joseph
Lewis, the elderly millionaire who headed the national
Freethinkers Society. Lewis threatened the paper company with a
highly publicized lawsuit if the scholarship were revoked. The
company relented, the scholarship continued, and Evans changed his
major from chemistry to political science.

Although obstreperous politically, Evans remained closeted
sexually and very lonely, not knowing any other gay person.
Throughout both high school and college, he often thought of
suicide. In 1963, after completing three years at Brown, he read
an article in a national magazine reporting that many
"homosexuals" lived in Greenwich Village in New York City. He
promptly withdrew from Brown and moved to the Village, a change
that he later described it as the best move he ever made in his

In 1963 Evans discovered gay life in Greenwich Village and in 1964
became lovers with Arthur Bell (later a columnist for the Village
Voice). In 1966 he was admitted to City College of New York, which
accepted all his credits from Brown University. He participated in
his first sit-in on May 13, 1966, when a group of students
occupied the administration building of City College in protest
against the college's involvement in the Selective Service System.
A picture of the students, including Evans, appeared the next day
on the front page of The New York Times.

In 1967, after graduating with a B.A. degree from City College,
Evans was admitted into the doctoral program in philosophy at
Columbia University, specializing in ancient Greek philosophy. His
doctoral advisor was Paul Oskar Kristeller, then the world's
leading authority on Renaissance humanist philosophy. Kristeller
had studied under Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger in Germany but
fled to Columbia University after his parents were killed in the

Evans participated in many anti-war protests during these years,
including the celebrated upheaval at Columbia in the spring of
1968. In the same year he also participated in the protests at the
Democratic Convention in Chicago. During this time, the poetry of
Allen Ginsberg had a powerful influence on the formation of his
values. While at Columbia, Evans joined the Student Homophile
League [founded by Robert A. Martin], although he was still closeted.

In 1971 Evans and Bell, by then a columnist for the Village Voice,
separated. Bell later died from diabetic complications in 1984.

By the end of 1971, Evans had become alienated from urban life and
the academic world. With a second lover, Jacob Schraeter, he left
New York in April 1972 to seek a new, countercultural existence in
the countryside.

Using Seattle as a base, Evans, Schraeter, and a third gay man
formed a group called The Weird Sisters Partnership. They bought a
40-acre spread of forest land on a remote mountain in northeastern
Washington State, which they named New Sodom. Evans and Schraeter
lived there in tents during summers.

During winter months in Seattle, Evans continued research that he
had begun in New York on the underlying historical origins of the
counterculture, particularly in regard to its sex. In 1973 he
began publishing some of his findings in a gay journal called
Out and later in Fag Rag. He also wrote a column on the
political strategy of zapping for the Advocate, a national gay

In 1974, Evans and Schraeter moved into an apartment at the corner
of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco, from which Evans
never moved. Schraeter returned to New York in 1981 and died from
AIDS in 1989.

In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new pagan-inspired
spiritual group in San Francisco, the Faery Circle. It combined
countercultural consciousness, gay sensibility, and ceremonial

In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures, entitled "Faeries,"
on his research on the historical origins of the gay
counterculture. In 1978 he published this material in his
ground-breaking book "Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture." It
demonstrated that many of the people accused of "witchcraft" and
"heresy" in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were actually
persecuted because of their sexuality and adherence to ancient
pagan practices.

At this time, Evans also was active in Bay Area Gay Liberation
(BAGL) and the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club, which later
became the vehicle through which Harvey Milk rose to political
prominence. He and his friend Hal Offen opened a small
Volkswagen-repair business, which they named "The Buggery."

In the late 1970s, Evans became upset at the pattern of butch
conformity that was then overtaking gay men in the Castro.
Adopting the nom de plume of "The Red Queen", he distributed a
series of controversial satirical leaflets on the subject. In a
leaflet of 1978, entitled "Afraid You're Not Butch Enough?" he
facetiously referred to the new, butch-conforming men of the
Castro as clones, initiating use of the now widely used term
"Castro clones."

In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret
in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient
Greek, of Euripides' play Bakkhai. The hero of Euripides' play is
the Greek god Dionysos, the patron of homosexuality. In 1988, this
translation, together with Evans' commentary on the historical
significance of the play, was published by St. Martin's Press in
New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.

As AIDS began to spread in 1980s, Evans became active in several
San Francisco groups that later morphed into ACT UP/SF, although
he himself was HIV-negative. With his good friend, the late Hank
Wilson, he was arrested twice while demonstrating against the
drug-maker Burroughs-Wellcome, accusing them of price-gouging, and
once against a local TV station, charging them with defamation of
people with AIDS.

In 1988, Evans began work on a nine-year project on philosophy.
Thanks to a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, it was
published in 1997 as "Critique of Patriarchal Reason" and included
artwork by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro.

The book is a monumental overview of Western philosophy from
antiquity to the present. It shows how misogyny and homophobia
have influenced the supposedly objective fields of formal logic,
higher mathematics, and physical science. Evans' former doctoral
adviser at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller, called the
work "a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its

In recent years, Evans devoted much time to improving neighborhood
safety in the Haight-Ashbury district. As part of that effort, he
penned a series of scathing and funny first-hand reports entitled
"What I Saw at the Supes Today," which he distributed free on the

The reports recount many acts and comments of the city's
Supervisors, often of an embarrassing nature, which the
established media missed. The politicians were not amused, as when
Evans caught Jake McGoldrick and Chris Daly each snarling "Kiss my
ass!" at each other in front of the press box in the board's
ornate chamber. Altogether, the reports run to over a thousand
pages in length and provide a provocative look at the inner
workings of local politics at the time.

In 2010, Evans was instrumental in helping pass Proposition L, the
civil-sidewalks law. In addition to writing his own reports on the
matter, he worked behind the scenes to get favorable coverage in
various newspapers and on TV.

His support for the measure provoked intense criticism from many
of the city's self-styled progressives. To which, he replied:
"Neighborhood safety is a progressive issue. How can we make the
world a better place if we neglect improving our own



Post a Comment

<< Home