February 17, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

GAY LA: When Lesbian Visibility Was an L.A. Specialty

In 2017, West Hollywood’s Plummer Park hosted an exhibit titled Lesbians to Watch Out For: ’90s Queer L.A. Activism.

On display were banners, pamphlets, radical texts and street flyers that told of a time gone by in Los Angeles: a time when the lesbian scene wasn’t just thriving but on the verge of creating major social change. Though it’s disheartening to think about how the city has changed in regard to holding and maintaining lesbian spaces, it’s something we shouldn’t allow ourselves to gloss over and forget. At least, not if we want the community to thrive.

Before the Internet came and rapidly commodified all queer identities, L.A. was more than just a lesbian hub. It was a lesbian destination spot. It’s difficult to take into account just how prevalent gay girl identity was before the bars started closing and the neighborhoods started closing themselves off to more radical, less commercially-viable ways of fighting against the Man. From the Girlbar L.A. dance party (possibly the inspiration for “The L Word’s” ‘Shebar”) to 1940s and ‘50s favorites like Joani Presents and The Star Room, this town was chock full of places where ladies could be in the company of ladies (and more than a few drag kings.) Needless to say, the glory days of the lesbian bar have come and gone. In a recent Twitter thread between L.A. writer and editor Trish Bendix and novelist Roxane Gay, the lack of lesbian bars in the city was starkly exposed. 

“Are there any lesbian bars in L.A.?” Gay tweeted. “If this was something I could find with Google I wouldn’t have asked. Guess what? There aren’t any. So it’s not a crazy question.”

“Just pop-up parties,” Bendix replied, “weeklies and monthlies or other sporadic events. There’s not a go-to spot where you’re guaranteed to find queer women en masse on any given day. But if you want to come play dominoes with a group of dykes tonight in Eagle Rock, I got you.”

How did it come to this? How did Los Angeles change from a dyke mecca to a town where you have to settle for Domino night?

Perhaps the answer lies in some of the artifacts from the past. If you can get past the initial depression brought on by the constant reminder of better days long past, you’ll be able to see not just the sheer volume of lesbian activism and social activities on offer, you’ll also get a sense of just how diverse it was. A flyer from Lesbian Visibility Week in 1990 promotes a “Dykes and Their Dogs” pet show. Notices from the late ‘80s and ‘90s promote marches, ACT UP meetings, all-girl dance parties, and get-togethers that do what dykes do best: promote social justice and activism while having an amazingly hot time on the dance floor. 

So what happened to the ground-breaking feminism of the early ‘90s? What happened to the protest signs reading “Dykes Reclaim the Universe” and “Eat Pussy, Not Cow?” While queer activism hasn’t died, it looks a whole lot different in this century. While queer spaces and events like Folklore Salon, Cuties, Project Q, Lez Croix, and Dyke Day exist to provide social justice-oriented queer folks with a community, many of the specifically lesbian-identified events only pop up a few times a year, usually during Pride Week. If you want to go to a lesbian bar, you’ll have to hit Long Beach or settle for a few more fluid options in Los Angeles proper, such as Akbar or Oil Can Harry’s. 

Maybe we’ll never get back to the glory days of Dyke activism. But one thing’s for certain: When it comes to the L.A. social scene, there should always be at least a handful of places for girls who love girls to hang out in, party in and change the world in. 

Related Posts

Honoring National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day at the ONE Archive

February 4, 2020

February 4, 2020

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is on Friday, February 7. In the LGBTQ+ community, HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects gay black men...

Q&A: Being Openly Gay at LA Opera

February 3, 2020

February 3, 2020

The scene: Eurydice always imagined that her wedding day would be a day she’d never forget. But after a tragic...

USC One Archives to Host Screening of Film on Black Trans Woman to Honor Black History Month

February 1, 2020

February 1, 2020

Meet Mary Jones, a black transgender woman born in New York in 1803. Described as a “man-monster” in the press. ...

Trans Flag Emoji Unveiled for More Cyber-Inclusion

January 31, 2020

January 31, 2020

Transgender texters, rejoice! For there is finally an emoji there for you!  Unicode Consortium, the company that sets industry standard...

LGBT Center to Host Groundbreaking Conference for LGBT Widows and Widowers in L.A.

January 30, 2020

January 30, 2020

Renowned Designer, Author, Advocate Nate Berkus to Give Keynote Address On Saturday, February 29, the Los Angeles LGBT Center will host...

LGBTQ Center of LB Announces 2020 Executive Team for Board of Directors

January 29, 2020

January 29, 2020

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach recently announced its new executive team to lead the organization’s 2020 Board of Directors.  Stella...

Public Outcry Temporarily Saves Los Angeles LGBT Center’s STD, HIV Services

January 28, 2020

January 28, 2020

The temporary agreement restores funding through the end of March. The Los Angeles LGBT Center announced today that it has...

HRC to Honor Dan Levy, Janelle Monáe at Award Ceremony in DTLA

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Award Season is upon us, and the LGBTQ+ Community is not immune. HRC announced today that actor Dan Levy will...

HEALTH FEATURE: Need a Podiatrist?

January 26, 2020

January 26, 2020

Dr. Steven L. Rosenberg treating foot injuries with traditional, regenerative and homeopathic medicine.  By Staff Writer If you suffer from...

VIDEO: South Coast Chorale’s Tribute to Gay & Civil Rights Activist

January 24, 2020

January 24, 2020

67 years ago, openly gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay “lewd conduct” charge for...

IN PHOTOS: WeHo Dodgeball at Sin City Classic LGBTQ+ Sports Festival

January 23, 2020

January 23, 2020

Hosted annually by The Greater Los Angeles Softball Association (GLASA), Sin City Classic brought together the United State’s finest athletes last weekend for three...

GUEST COLUMN: Queer Mindfulness Meditation

January 22, 2020

January 22, 2020

InsightLA is a non-profit meditation center offering practices of mindfulness and compassion that are both secular and Buddhist in origin. ...

Honoring Gay Rights & Civil Rights Activist Bayard Rustin

January 21, 2020

January 21, 2020

On this day in history 67 years ago, gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay...

City of WeHo Accepting Clothing Donations for LGBTQ+ Youth as Part of MLK Day of Service

January 20, 2020

January 20, 2020

Today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the City of West Hollywood encourages citizens to volunteer...

Recent West Hollywood Property Listings

January 19, 2020

January 19, 2020

Thinking of buying a house in West Hollywood? With a population under 40,000 and an area of just under 2...