LGBT History: The Black Cat Protest; The West Coast’s Stonewall

The website, Ventura County Pride, helps to expand our knowledge in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) history with a posting about a protest against a raid on the gay bar The Black Cat.

February 11, 1967 is not a date that’s widely heralded as significant in the fight for LGBT civil rights. In the popular consciousness, it doesn’t rival June 28, 1969, the day of the famous Stonewall riot in New York City, which is widely regarded as the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. But in truth the 1967 Black Cat protest is the older sister — the Jan Brady to Stonewall’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” — of Stonewall. And in Southern California, its claws ran deep and left their own indelible mark.It was the first time that LGBT people in the United States organized a protest against police persecution. The raid and the arrests that accompanied it inspired the first legal argument that gay people were entitled to equal protection under the law.

The Black Cat protest in Silver Lake in February 1967

The Black Cat protest in Silver Lake in February 1967 (photo via Ventura County Pride Website)


The demonstration was planned by a group called P.R.I.D.E. (Personal Rights in Defense and Education). A Hollywood bar owner agreed to let P.R.I.D.E. organizers meet in the bar during hours when it was closed. A phone tree was set up, with each person calling 10 or 20 others.

People were nervous and feared further violence from the police. That’s why the protest didn’t happen until weeks after the New Year’s raid.

That’s also one reason protests were planned in communities other than the LGBT one. The organizers tried to coordinate simultaneous rallies in black, Latino and other minority communities. The strategy was to spread police forces thin with demonstrations across various parts of the city.

A letter signed by Jim Kepner, curator of the National Gay Archives (now the ONE Archives), mentions the simultaneous rallies.

“The Black Cat attack outraged gays and many others as well,” Kepner wrote. “On February 11, a protest was organized outside the bar by PRIDE, first gay organization largely oriented toward the bar community, and coordinated with similar protests on the Sunset Strip (where Sheriffs were beating hippies nightly for the 6 o’clock news), Watts, Pacoima and Boyle Heights. The overall coordinators howled at the word ‘homosexual’ on our leaflets, so, under pressure, we avoided mentioning our name during the rally, but swore that ‘the love that dared not speak its name’ would never again be silenced. Forty people marched in the picket line, and two hundred of us (and fifty incredibly armed police) participated in the rally in the lot east of the bar. We passed out 3,000 leaflets, chiefly to persons driving by who promised to join us next time.

The article notes that the site of The Black Cat has been designated with a historical marker, noting it’s significance.

Read the full article

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