The latest issue of Newsweek has a feature article about Rev. Raymond Broshears. He was a gay preacher from Illinois who moved to San Francisco in 1965. It was there, after being beaten by a group of teenagers, that he decided to protect his community. He formed the Lavender Panthers, a group of armed gay activists on the prowl for would-be gay bashers.
He’s but one of many stories of LGBTQ people fighting back, but he’s a lesser-known hero of the community and the queer civil rights movement.
The Beginning of the Lavender Panthers
The idea for the Lavender Panthers came on July 4, 1973. July 4 is a good day for beginnings — though it wasn’t a good day for Rev. Raymond Broshears. Earlier that day, he’d called the police on a group of teenagers for throwing cherry bombs into traffic. That evening, the teens — around a dozen — surrounded Broshears and beat him “within an inch of his life,” according to his friend Elisa Rleigh.
This was not an isolated incident. Gay bashings were common in the Tenderloin, San Francisco‘s gay neighborhood. The police generally weren’t any help. As Rleigh said, “If you called the police, it was like, ‘OK, figure it out yourself.'” If the police did do anything, it was harass the LGBTQ residents, like in the Compton’s Cafeteria riot.
Since the authorities weren’t helping the LGBTQ community, Rev. Raymond Broshears figured he had to. And so the Lavender Panthers, taking their name from the Black Panthers, were born. As Broshears himself put it, he wanted to stop “all those young punks who have been beating up my faggots.”
The End of the Lavender Panthers
Sadly, the Lavender Panthers only lasted about a year. After a bartender was jumped by teenagers throwing water balloons at the Pendulum Bar near the Castro, four Lavender Panthers arrived and started beating up the teens. The teens’ parents complained to police, who said the Panthers had to disband, otherwise they’d all be arrested. Broshears reluctantly agreed, though he also said he’d received 318 letters of support.
Sadly, though Broshears remained active as a queer activist, his mental state deteriorated. He became more and more paranoid, fearing the federal government was going to murder all homosexuals.
On Jan. 10, 1982, Rev. Raymond Broshears died. An autopsy showed the cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage. Though by then he’d been somewhat forgotten by the bigger LGBTQ community in San Francisco, his influence proved wide-ranging. Similar groups to the Lavender Panthers, like the Pink Panthers, still exist, protecting queer people to this very day.