Sit in and Boycott at Morrie’s Bar, 409 Eddy St, October 1970

Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour

Sit in and Boycott at Morrie’s Bar, 409 Eddy St, October 1970

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services, Ithaca College


Morrie’s Bar may have been the site of the first gay student sit-in demonstration in the country. (Beemyn, 2003). Cornell’s Student Homophile League, the second gay rights group to organize at a US university, was established in 1968. At that time there were few places where gay or lesbian people could safely be out, other than at parties in private homes.

At that time a restaurant more than a half hour away served as an underground gay bar one night a week. Gay people had to arrive on Saturday nights before 11 pm and present as if they were heterosexual. After the restaurant closed, and all the heterosexual patrons went home, the proprietors allowed the gay customers still there to remain until the early hours of the morning. Students understandably did not like this arrangement and went in search of local safe places to socialize.

The Alt Heidelberg bar in Collegetown had been a popular hangout, but it was completely destroyed by fire in 1968. The cause of the fire was never determined. Gay people then began to visit the Royal Palm at 209 Dryden Road, but the owners and other customers harassed them.

In 1969 when they heard a new bar was about to open in Collegetown, a few students decided that rather than wait for an actual gay bar to be established, that they could pick a public place and make it gay by simply showing up. They reasoned – what does it take to make a gay bar? A bar full of gay people. They called everyone they knew and told them a new gay bar was opening, and when Morrie’s opened it was full of gay people.

For about a year the bulk of customers at Morrie’s were gay, with Tuesday and Thursday nights being unofficial “gay nights.” Despite this, gay patrons could not be too open, and the bar’s owner Morris Angell never acknowledged his gay customer base. He did not want the bar to become known as a spot where gay people congregated; in turn the LGBT community tacitly agreed to avoid any public mention of Morrie’s in order to preserve their access to this space.

But in October 1970 a writer for the Cornell Sun described Morrie’s as a place to see “fag aesthetics.” The night that piece was published, Angell ejected several members of the Gay Liberation Front (who had recently changed their name from the Student Homophile League) and told them never to come back because “their kind’ were not welcome in his bar. He was irate that the piece had been published identifying his bar as a gathering place for gay people.

The next day, the student group held a sit-in inside the bar while hundreds of supporters demonstrated outside. More than fifty people sat inside and refused to move or buy drinks. When the police responded to the owner’s call for help, Captain Raymond Price told him “you can’t insult these people. You can’t just refuse to serve them.” Angell promised to stop discriminating and the protesters left. However, Angell devised new tactics to harass gay customers, such as refusing to serve anyone he thought might be gay. The Gay Liberation Front organized a boycott, and asked the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to revoke their liquor license. Suffering from a major loss of revenue from both gay people and heterosexual patrons who stopped coming because they feared being labelled as gay due to the bar’s reputation, the boycott ended in March 1971 when Angell issued a written apology.

Beemyn. (2003). The Silence Is Broken: A History of the First Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Student Groups. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 12(2), 205-223.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour


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