VAT Number One of the others objected, shouting that five men was too many to fit in one squad car. The previous month, L. An hour later the something future novelist was being interrogated by police in a small room inside a vast parking garage under Pershing Square. After she was jailed, they confiscated her clothes, made her wear a gray convict dress, and held her until her court appearance the following Monday. Halloween in L. Rainbow Plastic Cup. Our partyware is also suitable for hen or stag nights, weddings, birthdays and other special occasions. Business Reviews 0.
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Stonewall is so synonymous with gay pride that it obscures the fact that the movement for gay rights in the United States was born in Los Angeles. The city derided as a sun-drenched Land of the Lotus-Eaters, not serious or cerebral enough for the cognoscenti of the Bay Area or the East Coast, has been the driving force of gay culture in America since the dawn of the Hollywood movie colony at the turn of the 20th century.
It was home to the earliest known lesbian publication Vice Versa , , first official gay rights organization the Mattachine Society, , first homosexual magazine ONE Magazine , , first gay motorcycle club the Satyrs MC, , first Supreme Court decision in favor of gay rights One Inc. Olesen, , and first mention of a gay riot in response to police harassment Cooper Do-nuts, So while Stonewall is enshrined as the enduring symbol of gay liberation, the 50th anniversary of the Black Cat uprising went largely unnoticed.
But if Stonewall was the crowning achievement of gay militants of the s, the Black Cat was its precursor—the first time in American history that the gay community laid claim to the right to equal treatment under the law. I n the early s, John Rechy stepped out of a Greyhound bus from Manhattan into downtown Los Angeles for the first time. An hour later the something future novelist was being interrogated by police in a small room inside a vast parking garage under Pershing Square.
For decades Pershing Square had been an illicit meeting place for members of L. By the s it was past its prime, but to Rechy it seemed like paradise.
It was an incredible array of society. It was the era of televised hearings in Washington in which Sen. Legions of soldiers disembarked at the military posts and a vast army of able-bodied men and women migrated to jobs at shipyards and aircraft factories.
Many were gay and living on their own for the first time, and for them the city offered the chance to find one another at the teeming gay pickup spots in Pershing Square, West Hollywood, and Venice.
Then, as now, Los Angeles could seem like a world apart. Nancy Valverde remembers it like it was yesterday. The year-old moved to East L. Later as a teenager in the s, she used to venture alone to the Pink Glove, a fancy lesbian bar on the Westside.
Women got in free. She says the police repeatedly arrested her on Fridays when she was on the way home from barber school downtown. After she was jailed, they confiscated her clothes, made her wear a gray convict dress, and held her until her court appearance the following Monday. The duality of gay life in Los Angeles knew no boundaries. Even in Hollywood where homosexual men and women enjoyed unusual power and prestige, the thriving queer culture had to constantly hide itself and cover its tracks.
The year-old Bowers, a marine veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima, says he bartended at more than one gay private party where the LAPD showed up uninvited. They crawled over the ground and up the hills to get away. Undercover cops wearing tight clothes and sneakers prowled the streets and bars trolling for entrapment.
At a club for gays and lesbians in Topanga, a flickering of the lights told same-sex dance partners to switch to hetero pairings because the police were outside. On rare occasions, tensions with police boiled over. The shop was a well-known gay hangout, says Valverde, who went there often for five-cent pastries.
Rechy recalls that one night at the shop in May , after bars closed at 2 a. One of the others objected, shouting that five men was too many to fit in one squad car. Before you knew it, more squad cars came and blocked the street. People were running around and shaking the squad cars. Everything could happen, and it seemed like nothing had happened. T he activist movement for gay rights in America emerged out of an unusually brutal police crackdown on gay bars in the Silver Lake area during the first week of January That same week Ronald Reagan was sworn in as governor of California on a pledge to bring law and order to a state racked by riots, campus radicals, the hippie counterculture, and surging feminism.
The previous month, L. The tension between the gay community and the LAPD grew on pace with the increase in the gay population and the greater openness of L. In no part of the city was the proliferation of gay life less hidden than along the one-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake that was home to a dozen or more gay bars. Busts in gay bars were routine. What seemed to catch the police by surprise was that gays were doing something about it this time.
Gay men and women arrested for lewd conduct always settled the matter as quickly and quietly as possible to avoid the stigma of a court appearance. But many of those arrested at the Black Cat and New Faces hired lawyers, pleaded not guilty, and prepared for trial.
The Tavern Guild of Southern California, which included gay bars among its members, put out a press release protesting the raids and raised thousands of dollars for the legal defense, including donations that rolled in from New York and San Francisco. Witnesses came forward to testify against the police despite the pressure the department could apply on their employers.
Its persistence paid off. The local TV news stations covered the aftermath of the raids. The Police Department was suddenly in unchartered territory; the gays who were forcing the cops to answer for their actions knew they would pay a price, but they did it anyway.
At the stroke of midnight, balloons dropped from the ceiling, and confetti shot through the air. There were as many as 13 plainclothes officers in the Black Cat that night—by some reports, the entire vice squad of the Rampart Division was tipping back beers by the pool table. The cops wore tight pants and shirts and mixed in with the crowd. Just as the New Year revelry began, the undercover officers yanked the plug from the jukebox, tore down the Christmas decorations, and turned the lights up full.
Asked to show a badge, one of them instead pulled a gun. Uniformed cops appeared in the doorway, blocking escape. The cops began dragging the Black Cat staff and patrons out of the bar.
One customer reportedly had his head slammed against the jukebox, another was struck from behind and knocked unconscious. The bartenders later testified that a burly officer named Thomas Duehring pulled them over the bar and onto the floor; one said the deep scars on his face and forehead were sustained when he was dragged across broken glass. The brother was still charged with public indecency.
Before the police had a chance to begin lining up arrestees face down on the sidewalk, two unsuspecting holiday revelers—one in drag, the other in a suit—strolled into the Black Cat, saw the police activity and ran out. Robert Haas, the pound waiter, was beaten and kicked by five officers and sent to County General Hospital in critical condition with a ruptured spleen. Police charged him with a felonious assault on an officer.
William Morgan, the manager, was beaten and left bleeding on the ground. Public morals, decency, and the law must be maintained. New Faces subsequently became the target of frequent and intimidating visits by cops and closed within 20 days of the beatings.
He was an organizer of a rally scheduled for 9 p. Saturday, February 11, , to protest the Black Cat raid. Romanoff has a vivid memory of the long car ride from Santa Monica to Silver Lake. The most important case involved 11 men from the Black Cat charged with lewd conduct. Four of them pleaded no contest and did not appear in court. The remaining seven were tried en masse, and Judge Philip M. Newman ruled out defense testimony charging police brutality, declaring that whatever took place after the arrests had no bearing on the case.
Michael Butler, of the Rampart vice squad, testified in court with his arm in a cast and sling; the cast reportedly came off once the jury left the room. At the end of the five-day trial, a jury of four men and eight women convicted six defendants, but they could not reach a verdict on the seventh, a married bartender who reportedly spent time during court recess making out with a woman in full view of the jury.
The judge finally dismissed the charge against him. Two of the six men convicted were required to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives: Charles Talley allegedly kissed a man on the mouth for three to five seconds, and Benny Baker allegedly kissed three men and was wearing a white dress that night. In an unprecedented strategy, Selwyn invoked the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to claim equal protection under the law for gays.
His argument was years ahead of its time; the U. Supreme Court, on appeal, declined to hear the case. Vice squad cops and the sergeant who led the attack at the Black Cat mingled with protesters. Romanoff says he was so focused on not giving the police a pretext to stop the demonstration that the sheer volume of gay and straight demonstrators arriving at first escaped his notice.
PRIDE organizers had to keep the approximately 40 pickets moving in front of the Black Cat to avoid being charged with obstructing the sidewalk, and they instantly picked up leaflets discarded by passersby to prevent the demonstration from being shut down for littering. As many as protesters attended the rally at a vacant lot near the Black Cat.
It was the largest gay civil rights protest in American history. In it grew into The Advocate, the first national gay newsmagazine. The PRIDE demonstration, as the Black Cat protest would become known, was the first domino to fall in the cascading momentum of gay rights. Stay on top of the latest in L. Sign up for our newsletters today.
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