TOPMAN ¶ Online Writings by and about John Preston

John Preston Joins an Organization of Gay Students


By Robert Halfhill

I am the Robert Halfhill who was treasurer of FREE [Fight Repression of Erotic Expression, a student group at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota that began in October 1969 —Ed.]. John Preston was a member of FREE and, when he first showed up for a meeting, I remember him saying to Jack Baker that "I'm on a heavy religion trip." I do not think he was ever a University of Minnesota student but I seem to remember that he tried to enroll at a local theological school and his being rejected because he was Gay. [Preston later became a student at the University of Minnesota Medical School. —Ed.]

I remember him saying at a FREE meeting, using the type of rhetoric that counterculture people often used in those days, that "some people are about to bomb the place." Now, of course, if you said something like that, you would be viewed as either a nut, a provocateur, or someone who was liable to get themselves arrested.

At the time, there was a bitter factional dispute during which the faction led by Jim Chesebro took over FREE. Jack Baker, the first president of FREE, and I were on the other side against Chesebro. [Eventually, the group opposing Chesebro left FREE.] Preston remained in FREE and later remarked that Chesebro, et al., were "absolutely right," but "they were going about it in the wrong way." The number of people coming to FREE meetings declined from about twenty to seven [after that]. Afterwards, each succeeding weekly meeting declined to six, five, four and three until it finally went defunct. In the two following years, there were attempts to revive it. It started out fairly strong but petered out by the end of the winter quarter in each of the two years. . . .

[A characteristic of Cheseboro's supporters] was an attempt to do away with hierarchy, even to the extent of tying to deny the differences among people in ability and articulateness. I remember one meeting in which John Preston showed great concern as he asked why it was still the same people who were talking at meetings and why weren't any new people talking? . . .

During this first period of the Gay Liberation movement in Minnesota, all the organizational functions of a Gay community, health, counseling, political activism, etc., were done through one organization, FREE. As FREE began to decline, other organizations began to spring up to specialize in some of these functions of a Gay community. The first of these was Gay House, a Gay settlement house [founded in March 1970 —Ed.], which took over counseling and mental health. John Preston was involved in the founding of Gay House.

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Creative Commons License: Some Rights ReservedThis text, or a variation on it, was originally published at as part of Topman: Online Writings by and about John Preston. Copyright © 2004 Dusk Peterson. Some rights reserved. The text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License ( You may freely print, post, e-mail, share, or otherwise distribute the text for noncommercial purposes, provided that you include this paragraph. The author's policies on derivative works and fan works are available online (