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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can a Silver Lake bar renew interest in L.A.’s gay past?

More than 40 years ago, hundreds protested outside The Black Cat, a Silver Lake gay bar where police had beat and arrested more than a dozen men, including two caught kissing, during a New Year’s Eve raid. It is widely believed to be one of the nation’s first, major gay rights protests, predating New York’s well known Stone Wall riots by two years.

On Friday the Los Angeles City Council declared The Black Cat, now known as Le Barcito, as a cultural historic landmark. One day later, gay activists and their supporters once again were marching on Sunset Boulevard past the site of The Black Cat. This time it was to protest the victory of Prop. 8, the anti-gay marriage measure, during last week’s election.

Maybe landmark status for The Black Cat and gay anger and frustration generated by the approval of Prop. 8 might stir more interest in Los Angeles gay history, which included a great many notable people and places in Silver Lake and the rest of the Eastside. In 1950, for example, a group of men met at the Silver Lake home of Harry Hay to form what would become the Mattachine Society, one of the nation’s first gay rights group. It is a history that has inspired many to keep fighting for more change. Wes Joe, the Silver Lake resident who nominated the Black Cat for landmark status, was quoted in the Times as saying:

“With Prop. 8 we took five steps backward, but the Black Cat gives us the perspective that we’ve taken 50 steps forward since 1967.”

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