‘Gays Fight Back’: The True Story of Rev. Raymond Broshears and the Lavender Panthers

The latest issue of Newsweek has a feature article about Rev. Raymond Broshears. Broshears was a gay preacher from Illinois who moved to San Francisco in 1965. It was there, after being beaten by a group of teenagers, 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.

 

The beginning of the Lavender Panthers

raymond broshears lavender panthers pose
Photo by Annie Leibovitz via the British Library

The idea for the Lavender Panthers came on July 4, 1973. July 4 is a good day for beginnings — however, it wasn’t a good day for Rev. 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 Broshears’ 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 no one was helping the LGBTQ community, Rev. Broshears figured he had to. And thus, 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 Panthers arrived and started beating up the teens. The teens’ parents complained to police; police 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 become 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 1982, Broshears had been somewhat forgotten by the 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.

 

 

Read the full Newsweek article on Rev. Raymond Broshears and the Lavender Panthers here.