Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics And Lipstick Lesbians

Gay L.A.LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA – Lillian Faderman says Los Angeles’ contributions to gay history are left in the closet.
“The cliche that gay people didn’t fight back until Stonewall isn’t true. There was a mini-riot in 1959 at a downtown L.A. coffee shop, and gay men protested for several days after the Black Cat was raided in 1967, two years before Stonewall (the infamous raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar),” says Faderman, who, along with Stuart Timmons, authored “Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians” .
“What is particularly disturbing is L.A. is presented as La-La Land, home of the movie industry, filled with vain people, smog and crowded freeways,” says Faderman, who signs copies of “Gay L.A.” today at Equal Writes bookstore in downtown Long Beach.
The 361-page book provides an in-depth account of Los Angeles’ overlooked but worthy place in gay history and the gay rights movement.
“L.A. is the place where the U.S. gay rights movment was born,” says University of Illinois at Chicago history professor John D’Emilio.
The authors discuss a host of topics: The first missionary encounters with Native American cross-gendered “two-spirits”; how Long Beach played a role in making oral sex illegal; the remarkable freedom of Hollywood lesbians in the 1930s; gender-bending styles of matinee idols and screen sirens who influenced the country; and the Los Angeles Police Department’s 80-year reputation as the nation’s most homophobic police force.
“We have a history that is sometimes glorious and can make you proud,” Faderman says.
Here, Faderman talks abut seven magnificant milestones in Los Angeles’ gay history:
1 In 1914, the overly zealous Long Beach Police Department raided two private clubs, the 606 Club and the 96 Club, and arrested 31 men, who were accused of fellatio. Sodomy had been a felony in California law since the 19th century, but oral sex had not been. The whole incident was interesting because it was one of the first incidents of police entrapment. The arrests received major attention. Several newpapers published a “List of the Guilty Ones” and one man, John Lamb, committed suicide.
As a result of those arrests, Long Beach passed a law making oral sex illegal. The following year, the California legislature passed a bill outlawing oral sex. The law remained on the books in California until 1975.
2 Long Beach native Lee Glaze was one of the early rebels. He led a Stonewall-like rebellion in his Wilmington gay bar, The Patch, in 1968, a year before the Stonewall Rebellion, which got much more press. Glaze had been warned by the police commission that if he wanted his bar to stay in business, he had to prohibit not only drag but also groping, male-male dancing and more than one person at a time in the bathrooms. Glaze tried to comply, but boldly reinstated dancing. Then vice squad officers burst in with half a dozen uniformed policeman and began making arrests. Glaze told the crowd that the Patch would post bail for the arrested men. Glaze and the patrons went to a nearby flower shop owned by one of the patrons and bought all the gladioli, mums, carnations, roses and daisies. At 3 a.m., the demonstrators carried huge bouquets into the Los Angeles Police Department Harbor Station and staged a “flower power” protest as they waited for the arrested men to be released.
3 We found all sorts of traces of gay culture in the late 19th century. In the 1890s, downtown Los Angeles businesses were suffering from an economic depression. In 1894, the Los Angeles Merchants started the annual, weeklong mardi gras type festival, La Fiesta. In its second year, the carnival gathering drew 100,000 people. On the last night, a no-holds barred, culminating event was held. It was called “All Fools Night.” Women dressed as men and men dressed as women, and the religious right of the era was upset. Conservative Protestant groups protested about the “vile” behavior. The City Council was torn between the economic benefit from tourists and the pressures of the religious right. But the right won. In 1898, the city council banned the festival and “masquerading.”
4 “Gay talent in Hollywood has influenced movies from the beginning and has certainly influenced fashions all over the country. In the 1930s, bisexual actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn, for instance, made it fashionable and sexy for women to wear pants. Before then, pants were pretty much the choice of lesbians in nightclubs, which is where those actresses may have gotten the taste to begin with. But they spread the fashion all over America. It was shocking and exciting. It gave a lot of women ideas on how to be shocking and exciting.”
5 “The first lesbian magazine in the country, Vice Versa, began in Los Angeles in 1947. It didn’t have a huge circulation, but what was exciting was that the editor, who went by the name “Lisa Ben,” had the idea to do it. The notion that she could speak to other lesbians in print with book reviews and play reviews was astonishing.
She said in an interview that she worked at RKO as a secretary, but saw images that made her brave. She saw actress Lizabeth Scott walking around the lot holding hands with her lover.
Lisa Ben said L.A. was a place were lesbians could find other lesbians.”
6 The first on-going gay organization in America, Mattachine, began in Los Angeles in 1951. There had been attempts to start gay-male groups in New York after World War II and in Chicago in the 1920s, but both were brief and folded. The cops were merciless with gay men in the post-World War II years. Very few lesbians joined the group because Mattachine’s main concerns were issues affecting gay men, such as police entrapment. Harry Hay, the group’s founder, chose the name Mattachine, which referred to medieval jesters who performed behind masks.
7 The first gay church, Metropolitan Community Church, began in L.A. in 1968. Troy Perry, a Pentacostal minster who was expelled by his Tennessee congrgation because they found out Perry was gay, was at the Patch the night it was raided. His date, Tony Valdez, was one of the men arrested. After Valdez’s release, Perry tried to comfort him with by talking about God, but Valedez was uninterested and said God didn’t care about gay people. Perry saw the moment as an epiphany and later that year started the Metropolitan Community Church, which has 275 congregations in 23 countries and houses of worship in all but four states.
from The Long Beach Press-Telegram

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