Mary’s True Crime in Academia is off today. Instead, we’re taking this opportunity to show you a teaser from one of the upcoming projects we’re especially excited about! Starting in September, we’re going to be featuring creative writers on the Ivory Tower Boiler Room website at a rate of one per week. Each writer will take their rightful spot on the homepage as our featured artist for the week, and all of them, past and present, will be accessible to our readers via our library. So if you love reading new writing, make sure to check in starting in September. And if you have some writing you would like to be featured on the blog, make sure to contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details on how to submit. Meanwhile, enjoy this thrilling journalistic piece on one of American LGBTQ+ history’s most (justifiably) unappreciated figures.
By Guest Writer Tyler Albertario
There are many figures who have become synonymous with the formative years of the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States: Frank Kameny, Marsha P. Johnson, Barbara Gittings, Sylvia Rivera, and others. While these figures’ philosophies, tactics, and roles all differed, no serious person disputes the impact each of these luminaries had on LGBTQ history in the United States.
As the titans of their era, their deaths are marked with obituaries, tributes, and candlelight vigils. Their visages adorn countless monuments, plagues, signs and banners. In a form of living monument to their accomplishments, many of their peers of their time still walk among us, regaling us with tales of victories, as well as setbacks. The moral courage that they displayed throughout their lives continues to inspire and arouse the passions of millions of LGBTQ people in the United States and around the world.
It is perhaps therefore unremarkable that no such commemorations occurred in the wake of December 21, 2018. No “titan of the movement” had passed away that day, so there correspondingly was no such memorial. There were no obituaries, and no tributes, and no candlelight vigils. No plaque or monument is inscribed with their name, and it is very unlikely that anybody ever has — or indeed ever shall — wave a sign or banner in their honor. But somebody did die that day. And they were involved in the movement.
Their name was Lee Craig Schoonmaker.
Born December 20, 1944 in Newark, New Jersey, not much is known about Schoonmaker’s early life. What is known is that he grew up with several sisters and attended Middletown Township High School in Monmouth County, New Jersey, graduating in 1962. Following high school, Schoonmaker remained in Newark for a few years, working several jobs, before finally moving to Manhattan in June 1965. Shortly thereafter, he began to go by his middle name Craig in everyday life.
Not long after arriving in New York, he entered into a long-distance relationship with a man living in Vancouver, Canada. Despite this, Craig Schoonmaker largely stayed clear of the burgeoning gay activist scene which had begun to take hold in New York City. After he enrolled as an undergraduate at City College of New York in the summer of 1968, there remained little indication that that would change anytime soon.
That is, until one night that August.
According to Schoonmaker’s writings, it was that night when, while having a conversation with a fellow gay friend on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, they were approached by an officer of the NYPD, who instructed them to, “Break it up and move on.” After refusing, Schoonmaker was arrested and spent the night in jail. At his arraignment the next morning, he pleaded not guilty on the basis of constitutional infringement of his First Amendment right to free assembly. The charges were eventually dropped.
Schoonmaker’s case caught the attention of Dick Leitsch, the president of the Mattachine Society of New York. Founded in 1955, the Society was among the oldest of a select few organizations anywhere in New York that catered to the legal and social needs of the city’s gay population. Leitsch, who at the time had been liaising with city officials in an attempt to curtail rampant anti-gay police harassment the likes of which Schoonmaker and his friend had experienced, published a write-up of the case in one of the Society’s newsletters that fall.
Energized by his arrest and the resultant publicity, Schoonmaker informed Leitsch of his desire to form a gay student organization at City College. Leitsch put Schoonmaker in touch with Stephen Donaldson, the founder of the Student Homophile League (SHL) of Columbia University, the first gay student organization on any American college campus. After forming the original Columbia University branch in April 1967, Donaldson had grown SHL into a budding national organization, with affiliate chapters at Cornell, New York University, and plans for one at MIT.
Amidst SHL’s expansion, Schoonmaker wished to add his group at City College of New York to the growing list of official chapters. In order to effect this, he and Donaldson arranged a meeting at Donaldson’s Columbia University dorm room. The encounter, detailed by Schoonmaker in a February 1, 1969 letter to Dick Leitsch, proved to be hostile:
“And, of course, he’s a ‘bisexual’ and thinks it’s just hunky-dory for the majority of the membership of a ‘homophile’ organization to be non-homosexual…. I told him what I thought of bisexuals, that they need not do anything, because they can just ride on the coattails of homosexual activists; that therefore they probably aren’t too upset…”
In addition to his attacks on Donaldson’s bisexuality, Schoonmaker also took extreme umbrage to SHL’s policy of gender-integrated membership. He envisioned his organization — which he intended to call Homosexuals Intransigent! — to be defined in part by an all-male membership:
“The presence of women (girls) at a gay social function is always restricting, and there is no reason whatever for their inclusion, certainly no reason as strong as the reasons for their not being present.”
At the conclusion of their meeting, Schoonmaker claimed that Donaldson promised to have his contacts at City College get in touch with him, but that at the time of his letter to Leitsch — some weeks later — none had.
Despite this brush with Donaldson, Schoonmaker forged ahead with seeking official recognition for his organization. After some creative maneuvering, City College of New York officially recognized Homosexuals Intransigent! as a chartered student organization on April 1, 1969.
Perhaps in part due to Schoonmaker’s calamitous first encounter with Donaldson, official relations between HI! and SHL immediately got off to an inauspicious start. Towards the end of April, SHL-Columbia and SHL-NYU began advertising an event that was to be held May 2nd at the Church of the Holy Apostles, the first “NYC All-College Gay Mixer.” At some point, Schoonmaker offered to have HI! co-sponsor the event. The leaders of the SHL chapters refused, due to Schoonmaker’s policy of enforcing all-male membership within HI!
Chastened by what he felt was an attempt to “boycott HI! out of existence,” Schoonmaker traveled west for the summer, both to spend time with his sisters, as well as to take summer courses at California State University Long Beach and San Francisco State University. It was during this brief stint out west that Schoonmaker missed out on what is often regarded as the seminal event in all of American LGBTQ history: The Stonewall Uprising, where patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against NYPD officers attempting to conduct a raid. Schoonmaker returned to City College that fall, determined to capitalize off the events at Stonewall to HI!’s advantage.
His first opportunity to do so was at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO), which took place November 1–2, 1969 in Philadelphia. On the conference’s second day, he stood to speak in opposition to a resolution supporting “Dominion over one’s own body.” The resolution was part of a series of proposals made by a coalition of radical gay liberation groups that had been formed in the wake of Stonewall, and was tailored to support the notion of personal freedom in regards not only to sexual orientation, but also birth control, consumption of drugs, and abortion. And supporting the right to an abortion was something that Craig Schoonmaker could not abide.
During his floor speech in opposition to the resolution, Schoonmaker referred to abortion providers and supporters of abortion rights as “murderers.” The conference immediately flew into an uproar. Martha Shelley, another conference attendee, later wrote of the incident in an essay for Tommi Avicolli Mecca’s book, “Smash the Church, Smash the State!”:
“The older DOB [Daughters of Bilitis] women jumped to their feet and raised hell. I knew from private conversations that one of them had been raped and impregnated and had procured an abortion, at a time when that was illegal and dangerous.”
Ellen Broidy of SHL-NYU proposed a resolution to censure Schoonmaker for his remarks, but Chairman Frank Kameny ruled her motion out of order. In a dramatic move, the delegates then voted to overturn Kameny’s decision by a single vote, 30–29. However, before debate could proceed on the motion to censure Schoonmaker, Broidy withdrew it. The delegates then voted to approve the bodily autonomy resolution by a vote of 39–13.
Ellen Broidy and SHL-NYU’s nearly-successful effort to have him censured at the ERCHO conference infuriated Schoonmaker to no end. His humiliation was compounded when, for the second semester in a row, SHL-NYU refused to co-sponsor an event with HI!, again due to Schoonmaker’s continued policy of not admitting women.
Schoonmaker’s simmering resentment over these perceived slights finally boiled over on November 12, 1969, when he published HI!’s first official newsletter. The newsletter, which Schoonmaker openly admitted to having written while being intoxicated, referred to Broidy by the pejorative slur “Superdike” a total of ten times.
As Schoonmaker continued directing his ire towards Broidy and SHL more broadly, another outcome of the ERCHO conference was beginning to take root: The delegates had voted in favor of a proposal made by Broidy on behalf of Craig Rodwell to dispense with the July 4th Annual Reminder pickets of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, in favor of an event to be held in New York City the following June 28, 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.
To organize the event, Rodwell established the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee (CSLDUC), comprised of members representing the various LGBTQ groups throughout New York City, one of which was Homosexuals Intransigent! It was here where Schoonmaker, as HI!’s official representative to CSLDUC, would make his most significant imprint on LGBTQ history.
At one of the earliest CSLDUC meetings, discussion ensued regarding the terminology which was to be used in official advertising for the upcoming event. A sizable contingent of CSLDUC members favored adopting the term “Gay Power” for the event. However, according to a 2015 interview he gave to the linguistics podcast “The Allusionist,” Schoonmaker offered an alternative term: “Gay Pride,” which the members of CSLDUC voted to adopt. Despite this victory, his simmering hatred for the Student Homophile League and its female members would soon derail any hopes Schoonmaker may have had for any further influence on the movement.
At the February 8, 1970 meeting of CSLDUC, members of SHL-NYU presented Schoonmaker with a letter containing their official response to his newsletter the previous November attacking Ellen Broidy. Published with bracketed commentary from Schoonmaker in HI!’s February 25, 1970 newsletter, it addresses several objections Schoonmaker previously raised regarding SHL-NYU’s open admittance of women as members, as well as allowing heterosexuals to attend meetings, and maintaining discretion regarding individual members’ private sexual lives.
On the subject of Schoonmaker’s antipathy for Ellen Broidy, they write:
“Must every female who exercises leadership be termed a female chauvinist and, if gay, a superdike? She and SHL-NYU told you ‘No’ on the dance issue. You’ve made the matter emotional; you have been told ‘No’ by a woman!!
“We weren’t saying, ‘No, L. Craig Schoonmaker, we shall not dance with you.’ We were saying that the principles your organization represents clash with ours. What we stand for, we dance for.”
Schoonmaker’s behavior during this period did not go unnoticed by others in the gay liberation movement. In their January/February 1970 newsletter, Barbara Gittings’ Philadelphia-based Homophile Action League (HAL) wrote the following of Homosexuals Intransigent!:
“Unfortunately, both the structure of the organization and its first newsletter evidence such infantile male chauvinism and offensive anti-female bias that we cannot extend to this group the warm welcome to the movement that we would like.”
In light of this constant stream of backlash, Schoonmaker and HI!’s fledgling influence on the now-ascendant LGBTQ liberation movement in New York City began to wane. Organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, Radicalesbians, and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries took up the mantel of the era, and asserted themselves with a slew of actions which garnered national attention. The Christopher Street Liberation Day March went off better than the members of CSLDUC could have hoped, and it was becoming clear that a new era of LGBTQ liberation was on the horizon. As a result, groups representing the “old guard” of activism such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis began to decline. The Student Homophile League and Homosexuals Intransigent! were not far behind.
As 1970 bled into 1971, HI! continued to wither. Still isolated from the rest of the larger LGBTQ movement due to Schoonmaker’s persistence in limiting full membership to men only, the group’s already sparse membership began to dwindle. Following the Fall 1970 semester, HI!’s longtime vice-president John Singer left for California, leaving Schoonmaker to ponder the impact of his own destructive influence on the group being left unchecked:
“When John was here, the group functioned well…. But once John left, there was only the stick, for no single other member was strong enuf [sic] a personality to offset the very negative aspects of mine. And the organization fell apart…. Now the group has adjusted to the realities of my utter domination and changed in nature to an ultra-militant and purist male organization. For there is no one in the group whose personality is powerful enuf [sic] to offset my presence — unfortunately.”
Singer, for his part, would go on the following year to become the lead plaintiff in a marriage equality test case in Washington State, along with his partner Paul Barwick. Meanwhile, Schoonmaker and Homosexuals Intransigent! continued to falter. In an effort to bring HI! back into the fold, others in the movement began to write to Schoonmaker, beseeching him to shed his misogynistic tendencies. That winter, Gay Liberation Front member Ralph Hall wrote to Schoonmaker in a letter:
“It is sad that you must detest women human beings so. That is the sensitivity [THEY — Establishment] wish male homosexuals to cling to and has been the main reason we males have been divided and separated from our sisters so long.”
Schoonmaker responded in HI!’s March 1971 newsletter:
“It is not women that I resent, nor even womanliness, but rather the constant, infuriating push from all sides for women to intrude upon my life.”
Later in the response, he finally elaborates more thoroughly on his contempt for women:
“Every time I step into and [sic] elevator and can’t breathe because the place reeks of perfume, I am reminded that I dislike womanliness. Every time I walk down the street and hear a woman fifty feet from me setting a cadence with her incredibly noisy high heels, I am reminded of how much I dislike womanliness.”
As it became increasingly clear that Schoonmaker’s gender segregation policies were rooted in a deep-seeded resentment of women in general, HI! disintegrated. When Schoonmaker graduated from City College in 1972, the group effectively ceased to exist.
Although HI! was no more, Schoonmaker continued to pursue a number of interests in the following years. These included HIV denialism and promoting the cause of Phonetic English. He lived in almost complete obscurity until the mid-2000s, when he made the decision to begin publishing his thoughts to a broader audience online, both with his LGBTQ-oriented blog, Mr. Gay Pride, and his more all-purpose political blog, The Expansionist.
For over fourteen years, Schoonmaker used these blogs to hit out at various groups and individuals. One of his posts from 2010 advocated the complete and total destruction of all LGBTQ organizations as presently constituted, to be replaced by “organizations OF gay men, run entirely BY gay men, FOR gay men ONLY.” Lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and any other gender-nonconforming person need not apply, at least not according to Craig Schoonmaker.
As the years wore on, and his views on gender separatism began to fall increasingly out of favor in the movement, Schoonmaker needed a new foil. He had long expressed antipathy for transgender people, even referring to gender reassignment surgeries as “atrocities” in an op-ed for Gaysweek Magazine in 1978. However, as increased transgender visibility came to define much of LGBTQ life throughout the 2010s, Schoonmaker sensed an opportunity.
In post after post after post, a common theme emerged: Schoonmaker felt that all transgender people were mentally ill “losers,” and that there existed a grand “Castration Conspiracy” on the part of media figures and medical professionals to castrate as many healthy, virile gay men as humanly possible. To him, efforts to accommodate the medical needs of transgender people represented a “crime against humanity” on par with the Nazi concentration camp experiments performed by Josef Mengele.
So intense was his hatred of transgender people that in June 2016 he issued a call to “distinguished personages” from the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s to join with him in a working group to address the “madness” of transgender visibility and acceptance.
There is no evidence whatsoever that any such “distinguished personages” heeded his call, or even took notice of it.
Despite his preoccupation with his favorite new political scapegoat, Craig Schoonmaker would not be deterred from his original passion, that being his lifelong animosity towards women. Following the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, he seized the opportunity to promote the result as a repudiation of all things female:
“Hillary’s people thought that this country wants not just a woman President at the head of the Federal Government but even a female Commander in Chief. Radical Feminists have been deluding themselves for decades.”
In addition to reviving his favorite pastime, Schoonmaker made clear that people of color would not be spared his wrath either:
“Is it really a surprise that blacks did not do their duty, in their own interest? Americans are disgusted by the behavior of blacks in this country, in every single area of national activity save sports. No one in major media has dared to touch upon this, but I will. Americans are TIRED of blacks.”
Indeed, in his final years, Schoonmaker laid bare every single hatred and prejudice he had stirring deep within the recesses of his psyche. Whether it was calling undocumented immigrants “invaders” and “lawless barbarians,” or wondering aloud what exactly was so wrong about viewing black people as “enemies to be exterminated,” Craig Schoonmaker left behind no ambiguities in this regard.
And, perhaps all too appropriately, one of the final things Schoonmaker ever wrote in his life hearkened back to the conflict which defined his entire adulthood and smothered his career in activism before it even got off the ground: His seething hatred for women. Responding to accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, he wrote the following:
“If Judge Kavanaugh is NOT confirmed, and the slanderers win, men may have to ratchet up the discord and fight back and make this truly a war, not an unanswered, unending barrage of attacks upon men. Men may have to declare actual, military war against their enemies, and take no prisoners. Now, can we take bets on which gender would win a military war between men and women?”
Less than three months later, on December 21, 2018, Craig Schoonmaker’s imaginary war against the women of the world lost its only fighter.
There was a certain amount of moral courage which went into establishing any group which catered to any slice of the LGBTQ population prior to the Stonewall Uprising. For this reason, Craig Schoonmaker’s actions in forming Homosexuals Intransigent! at the time that he did should be viewed through this lens.
However, situational moral courage alone is not sufficient to cultivate a legacy. Figures such as Sylvia Rivera, Barbara Gittings, Marsha P. Johnson, and Frank Kameny were able to build lasting legacies in part because they were able to articulate a vision that future generations of LGBTQ activists could take up as inspiration. Additionally, while their visions may not have been all-encompassing, they also were not exclusionary.
Craig Schoonmaker spent his entire adult life advocating an exclusionary vision of LGBTQ politics in which white, cisgender gay men wielded all power and influence. As a necessary component of this vision, women, bisexuals, transgender people, and anyone else who did not fit into his rigid sexual and gender binary were not simply irrelevant in Schoonmaker’s eyes, but were his mortal enemies. The very concepts of solidarity and cooperation were alien to him.
To some extent, this exclusionary vision of his is still articulated in some corners of the political landscape, namely by the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Lucian Wintrich. The difference being, however, that these unwitting inheritors of his vision are rejected and reviled by all those who believe in the true ideals of LGBTQ equality, and are never mistaken as anything other than reactionary and regressive in nature. Just as these modern-day versions of himself, Craig Schoonmaker spent his entire adulthood being as offensive, affronting, and hostile as humanly possible towards every person whose experience he did not understand. Nobody at any of the marches which bear his proposed nomenclature of “Pride” will ever fly his visage, recite his writings, pay tribute to him, nor even deign to utter his name in the same breath as those figures for whom they do. Craig Schoonmaker failed to build any meaningful legacy at all.
It is for that reason that perhaps the greatest obituary that ever could have been written of Craig Schoonmaker was one that he managed to read while still alive: A letter written by an anonymous acquaintance of his, going by the initials T.M. Published in one of Homosexuals Intransigent!’s final newsletters in 1971, its conclusion reads:
“What I am trying to say is that neither vituperation nor hyperbole have a place in a conscientious, responsible political approach, if only for the reason that such expressions eventually take their toll upon the mind and soul of their expresser. Then there’s nothing — no politics, no truth, no love — no people…. Please don’t lose yourself that way, Craig. You’re too good to go like that.”
This essay was first published on Medium.com on August 16, 2019.
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2 thoughts on ““Pride” and Prejudice: The Craig Schoonmaker Story”
I knew Craig. We were friends. I met him at the original Eagle in NYC back in the 90’s. We would play pool all night and drink cans of Bud Light. I would drive him home to his apartment on W.46th St. One day he told me he was going to lose his apartment so I suggested he buy a house in Newark NJ. And he did. I stayed in touch with him regularly thru emails until early December 2018. I noticed I hadn’t heard from him for about a week and I got concerned. I called the Newark police and asked if they could check on him at his Smith St home. They did and said nobody answered the door. So I reached out to his family out in Las Vegas and California. They in turn called the Newark police and gave permission to enter the house by force. They found Craig dead fully dressed and laying on his bed. Craig didn’t have heat in his house and mostly stayed up on the third floor in his hoffice as he would call it. So therefore, it was very cold in his house in that December and I think that his body was probably preserved from the cold. I know he died well before December 21st 2018. I miss Craig. We were friends.
Joe Grasso in New Jersey
Thank you for telling us your personal story about Craig.