Although only active from 1966 to 1969, Vanguard is described by several historians as prefiguring subsequent stages of the gay rights movement.223 Organized by Tenderloin youth, Vanguard drew in young gay men, hustlers and “hair fairies” (men who acted and dressed in a manner drawing on a mix of current feminine and masculine styles).
As noted, a primary mission of the Glide Urban Center was to focus on issues unique to the Tenderloin community. Leaders at Glide recognized that young gay residents faced overwhelming challenges despite the safety in numbers and cheap hotel rooms the neighborhood offered.224 As Vanguard member Joel Roberts remembers, the price of coming out for many young people was being “disinherited…. You no longer had any family. So, in a way, the street was the only place to go. There was no place and middle-class gays were in the closet, they weren’t going to help us. We were really on our own.”225 Glide Urban Center almost immediately opened its arms to Vanguard as a sponsor. Lewis Durham recalls: “They’d started organizing and so we gave them an office and telephone and a little furniture…. [They] were some pretty sharp kids.”226
The group hosted dances in the Fellowship Hall at Glide, some of which drew up to 100 people.227 News eventually broke that Vanguard “wasn’t your typical church youth group,” and Glide drew flak. A conservative newspaper columnist wrote a scathing article on one of the Vanguard dances, reporting in detail about young men dancing cheek-to-cheek. Bishops from the southern United States sent telegrams to Bishop Tippett, demanding that the Glide ministers be “defrocked.” (Tippett responded by letting Lewis Durham respond to the telegrams.)228
With additional support from the Society for Individual Rights and Daughters of Bilitis, Vanguard members also organized holiday dinners and self-published a journal filled with art, poetry, advice, and political analysis of larger events such as the Vietnam War and of their own situation in San Francisco. 229 “We of the Central City are going to have to start fighting…exploitation by slum landlords, gouging store owners, drug dealers, and men who patronize young hustlers but won’t hire them for work.”230 Vanguard member Adrian Ravarou later recalled “many of the street people felt that they had nothing to lose, so why not stand up for their rights?”231
In the fall of 1966, Vanguard organized a “sweep-in” to remove litter from the Meat Rack, a section of Market Street where “drug addicts, pill heads, teenage hustlers, lesbians and homosexuals” made their homes, but who were “often the object of police harassment.” 232 Using brooms lent by the City of San Francisco, about 40 youth swept the blocks between Powell and Turk Streets. “We’re considered trash by the rest of society,” Vanguard’s president Jean-Paul Marat stated, “and we wanted to show the rest of society that we want to work and can work.”233
Vanguard representatives’ experience at a planning meeting of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations illustrated the difference in generational perspectives. Reporting “this conference was a waste of time and money,” Vanguard’s writer notes, however, that “Vanguard made quite an impression on the other delegates,” whose organizations reportedly planned to publish feature articles on the youth group.234