LONG BEACH - Though little known, the gay civil rights movement has some of its earliest roots in the Long Beach area.
Many historians say the gay community's fight for justice and equality began in New York City in 1969 with the Stonewall Inn riots, a series of violent demonstrations by gay people against a police raid.
However, 10 months earlier, Long Beach resident Lee Glaze became a gay rights pioneer when he led a nonviolent rebellion against Los Angeles police harassment at his Wilmington gay bar, The Patch.
"The gay civil rights movement didn't start at Stonewall," said John D'Emilio, University of Illinois Chicago history professor and co-author of "Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America."
"There are examples of post-World War II protests in Los Angeles against police harassment that are not acknowledged by major historians and historical groups. By the late 1960s, a spirit of protest was in the air," he said.
"The events in Long Beach were part of a pattern that was spreading, and the Stonewall riots in New York finally broke things wide open. But the Los Angeles area is the place where the U.S. gay rights movement was born," D'Emilio said.
A vintage photograph from the trailblazing Patch protest is on display in "Coming Out in Long Beach," a new exhibit at the Historical Society of Long Beach's Bixby Knolls headquarters, 4260 Atlantic Ave.
The exhibit, which opens Tuesday and closes March 1, 2014, chronicles the gay community's struggle against oppression and battle for civil rights and equality.
The exhibit spans from 1914 to 2012 and highlights the gay community's historical, social and cultural contributions to Long Beach.
The city of Long Beach and police department conspire to arrest gay men and keep the bail money they paid. In all, 30 men are entrapped and booked for "social vagrancy," though it's not clear if any of the men were gay. One victim commits suicide and states his innocence in a note, saying he had no chance to deny the allegations.
On June 30, the Commodore Tavern is licensed to operate at 350 E. Broadway. It is one of the city's earliest gay bars and possibly the first on Broadway. In 1960, Long Beach police raid the bar and arrest men dressed in drag. After a fire in 1962, the bar is closed.
The Long Beach Area Council of the Mattachine Society publishes its first newsletter. The Mattachine Society is considered one of the first gay organizations in the United States after its founding in 1950 in Los Angeles. The Long Beach chapter is considered a flagship group.
Cal State Long Beach schedules the first homophile course and is one of only two such classes offered in the United States.
The Long Beach Imperial Court, a philanthropic group of drag queens and kings, holds its first Royal Court Coronation Ball. The Imperial Court is one of the oldest Long Beach-based gay groups and continues today.
The Long Beach Gay Service League establishes a gay hotline staffed by volunteers. The Service League is a forebear to the Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Center, which forms two years later.
Thirteen drunk Long Beach police officers enter the Red Mill gay bar after midnight, creating a disturbance. Three officers are fired for conduct unbecoming an officer.
Thelma Robbins forms the Long Beach Chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Long Beach bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Dan Baker is elected as the first openly gay council member. He resigned in 2006.
Gerrie Schipske is elected as the first openly lesbian council member. She was reelected in 2010.
A couple thousand protesters march along Broadway in protest of Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage.
- Sources: Historical Society of Long Beach; historical documents
Those struggles and triumphs are told with more than 200 items, including photographs, celebratory paraphernalia, political buttons, documents and banners.
The exhibit marks the first time any group has created an exhibit to spotlight the local and well-established LGBT community.
"Long Beach is contributing its voice to the chorus about LGBT history in America," Paul Boneberg, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society in San Francisco told the Press-Telegram in August when the exhibit was announced.
"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," he said.
Historical Society of Long Beach project historian Kaye Briegel said gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have long been denied their human rights, so ordinary research doesn't reveal their activities.
"`Coming Out in Long Beach' will allow us to portray their rightful place in the city's history," Briegel said.
Gay flower power
Part of that history is Glaze's response to police harassment and raids at his bar.
Glaze was warned by the Los Angeles Police Department that if he wanted his gay bar, which opened in 1967, to stay in business, he had to prohibit not only drag queens, but also men dancing together and more than one person at a time in the bathrooms.
That month, in 1968, Troy Perry, 28, and his date, Tony Valdez, 21, went to The Patch, which was located on Pacific Coast Highway.
Valdez was buying a beer and laughing with fellow patrons when one of them, after hearing one of Valdez's jokes, lightly slapped Valdez on the butt, Perry, now 72, said in a recent phone interview from his Silver Lake residence.
When Valdez walked back to Perry, three undercover Los Angeles police vice officers quickly approached, flashed their badges and told Valdez to come outside, Perry said.
Valdez and the man who slapped him on the butt was arrested, accused of lewd conduct and taken to the Los Angeles Police Department Harbor Station.
Glaze told the bar crowd the Patch would post bail for the arrested men.
Glaze and about a dozen patrons went to a nearby flower shop owned by one of them and bought all the gladioli, mums, carnations, roses and daisies.
At 3 a.m., the demonstrators carried huge bouquets into the Harbor Station and staged a "flower power" protest as they waited for the arrested men to be released, Perry said.
"When we arrived at the police station, Lee told the officer at the desk, `We're here to get our sisters out.' The officer asked, `What are your sisters' names?' When Lee said, `Tony Valdez and Bill Hasting,' the officer had this surprised look on his face and called for backup.
"They didn't know what to do with all the gay men waiting in the lobby," Perry said.
Six hours later, the two men were released.
"Lee showed me you don't have to be afraid of the police," Perry said. "Once that happened, it encouraged me to become a gay activist."
Two months later, Perry, a former Southern Pentecostal minister, started the renowned Metropolitan Community Church, possibly the world's first LGBT-embracing church, in his Huntington Park apartment. In October, the church, now headquartered in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, will celebrate its 45th anniversary.
Creating `Coming Out'
"Coming Out in Long Beach" was nine months in the making.
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 gay civil rights, said Julie Bartolotto, Historical Society executive director.
The Historical Society announced the exhibit in June and formed a 17-person steering committee, comprised of local LGBT community members, to help organize the exhibit.
In July, the Historical Society put the call out and asked individuals, organizations and business owners to empty their closets and donate or loan photographs, documents and artifacts for the exhibit or to the Historical Society.
The Historical Society received several hundred potential exhibit items, but narrowed the selection to the more than 200 on display.
Themes explored in the exhibit include police entrapment and harassment; the beginnings of the Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Center; the social scene, such as bars, women's bookstores and bathhouses; the formation of Long Beach Pride Parade and Festival; churches and spirituality; and the AIDS crisis.
The exhibit is part of a larger Historical Society project to collect and preserve the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history.
"We've amassed an amazing amount of material, more than we can show, but this exhibit is not a complete history of the gay community," Bartolotto said. "We hope it motivates other people to do research or share materials with us."
Though it's not comprehensive, it's a great starting point, said East Long Beach resident David Hensley, 72, a member of the 17-person steering committee that helped organize the exhibit.
"There are so many people who don't have an idea of our past in Long Beach," he said. "They may remember their first Pride Parade or Festival, but there's so much more than that."
WANT TO GO?
What: "Coming Out in Long Beach," a history exhibit chronicling the gay community's struggle for justice and equality and its social and cultural contributions to the city
When: Tuesday through March 1, 2014; 1-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday; 1-7 p.m. Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Historical Society of Long Beach, 4260 Atlantic Ave.
Information: 562-424-2220, hslb.org