Justice  /  Biography

The Most Dangerous Gay Man in America Fought Violence With Violence

Four decades ago, Raymond Broshears armed his disciples to keep LGBT people safe from violent homophobes.
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives/USC Libraries

Beatdowns like the one Broshears experienced were common, Rleigh says, especially in the Tenderloin. San Francisco was a “gay mecca” in the early 1970s, but gangs often targeted the growing number of young gay residents in the neighborhood. Broshears claimed he had a list of dead gay men—all unsolved murders. Gays in San Francisco, he believed, were under siege—both from the gangs and the crooked cops who were supposed to serve and protect all of the city’s residents.

Now, sitting in a hospital bed, his face and arms mangled, Broshears was enraged and wanted to strike back. The violence against his flock—poor gay men, drag queens and trans people—had to stop. He wanted, as he’d later tell a reporter, to strike terror into the hearts of “all those young punks who have been beating up my faggots.”

And that’s when the idea crystallized: He’d fight back. With fists. With knives. With pool cues and chains—with anything necessary to protect the vulnerable kids who hung around his community center. His idea was to train his crew in karate and judo, and arm them so they could protect themselves—and one another. He knew the idea was crazy, and he knew the police would hate him for it. But he didn’t give a damn. He wanted to form his own gang—for self-defense.

Two days later, Broshears held a press conference at his community center in the Tenderloin and announced the founding of the nation’s first gay militant patrol. Its name: the Lavender Panthers. He modeled the group after the Black Panthers and even cribbed their logo—a panther on the prowl. As he spoke, Broshears took his .410-gauge shotgun down from the wall and held it out to the room full of spectators. Some gasped. Then, hoisting it high above his head, he announced that gay men should begin to arm themselves with guns. “We are now forced to act,” he bellowed. “The police look the other way when a gay is beaten. The beaten person is threatened as if he were the criminal, not the victim. We shall retaliate. Never again will we just sit by!”