LONG BEACH - Long Beach's gay history is coming out of the closet.

The Historical Society of Long Beach is working on a massive project to collect, preserve and present the history of the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

It's the Historical Society's single largest project ever and possibly the first time any group has attempted such a comprehensive endeavor on the local and well-established LGBT community.

"The visibility of the LGBT community in Long Beach is remarkable. But why Long Beach, how did that happen?" said Julie Bartolotto, executive director of the Historical Society of Long Beach. "I hope we uncover that history."

It's a challenge because the community was hidden in the closet for many decades and didn't begin to come out until the mid-1970s.

"Long Beach is contributing its voice to the chorus about LGBT history in America," said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Society in San Francisco.

"I have no doubt this project will find a broad level of interest and support, not just with the LGBT community. Anyone who cares about the history of Long Beach will care about this project."

For several years, the Historical Society discussed the idea of a civil rights project, but earlier this year decided to focus specifically on the fight for LGBT civil rights, Bartolotto said.


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The Historical Society's LGBT project, which launched in July, is a work in progress and exact details have not been finalized. But it will include oral histories of longtime LGBT activists; a documentary and a year-long exhibition, "Coming Out in Long Beach," opening in February at the Historical Society's Atlantic Avenue headquarters in Bixby Knolls.

The exhibit will chronicle the LGBT community's struggle against oppression and battle for civil rights and equality from the early 20th century to present day. The LGBT community's historical, social and cultural contributions to Long Beach also will be highlighted in the exhibit, Bartolotto said.

"Everything is on the table for discussion to develop the narrative and tell the story in the exhibit and the documentary," Bartolotto said. "We won't be able to cover everything, but we've discussed a lot of topics, including the formation of organizations, like Long Beach Pride and The Gay and Lesbian Center, and police harassment."

Long Beach Historical Society project historian Kaye Briegel said LGBT people have long been denied their human rights, so ordinary research doesn't reveal their activities.

The new exhibit "will allow us to portray their rightful place in the city's history," she said.

At least one incident will put Long Beach on the map for making LGBT history.

In August 1968, Los Angeles Police Department officers and vice squad members raided The Patch bar in Wilmington and arrested several gay men.

Bar owner and Long Beach resident Lee Glaze told the crowd that the Patch would post their bail.

Glaze and numerous bar patrons went to a nearby flower shop owned by one of the patrons and bought everything in sight. At 3 a.m., the demonstrators carried huge bouquets into the Los Angeles Police Department Harbor Station and staged a "flower power" protest, waiting for the arrested men to be released.

This revolt predates the Stonewall riots in New York City - which many people think started the gay rights movement - by more than a year.

Photos from that raid are among items the Historical Society is considering for the exhibition. The Historical Society also is asking individuals and groups to empty their closets and donate or loan items that showcase or document the local LGBT community.

This memorabilia could include photographs, publications, parade and celebratory paraphernalia, political items and documents. The Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Center, Long Beach Pride, The Imperial Court of Long Beach and the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club gave material to the Historical Society, Bartolotto said.

Some pieces in the display will include materials spotlighting the city's negative reaction and resistance to the first Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Pride Celebration and Parade, Bartolotto said. Another item collected for the display is a gold record for Melissa Etheridge's 1988, self-titled debut that hung in the Que Sera.

Early in her career, Etheridge performed at Long Beach lesbian bars the Que Sera and Executive Suite.

To donate or loan material for the history project or to help fund the project, call the Historical Society, 562-424-2220, or e-mail executive director Julie Barolotto, julieb@hslb.org. phillip.zonkel@prestelegram.com, 562-714-2098, twitter.com/outinthe562