From an era-defining raid to a gentrification hotspot, a breakdown of Long Beach’s part in the movement.
Long Beach’s queer roots go deep. Even if we’re, for some reason, not taking into account the city’s seminal role in criminalizing oral sex, the relationship between Long Beach’s LGBTQ+ residents and its history as a thriving city is quite rich, if also quite violent.
Long Beach seems like it was always on the radar of queers trying to a find a place that wasn’t too LA-central or too suburban. In 1914, two men were arrested during a raid of the 606 Club and the 96 Club, two gay spaces that had been on the police force’s radar for some time. The bust was huge, and one of the first entrapment schemes that garnered wide press – especially after one of the victims took his own life later on.
In the 1950s, gay bars like The Patch and gay societies like the Daughters of Bilitis and the Long Beach-based Satyrs Motorcycle Club offered a way for LGBT residents to gather far away from the threat of police raids.
Later on, in the1980s, long-running lesbian bars like Que Sera popped up, which helped artists like Melissa Etheridge come to fame.
In the midst of all this, however, the threat of entrapment, police violence and random homophobic acts lingered in the background. The first hard-won Long Beach Pride Parade in 1984 lasted only thirty minutes despite drawing a crowd of thousands. Judi Doyle, the Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade President, was threatened with violence in the weeks leading up to the 1985 march.
“There was no way we would not march. The board affirmed that, not that there wasn’t a sense of fear,” The 75-year-old activist told QVoice News. “But what came with the fear was a sense of anger…We weren’t going to be told that we need to sit in the back of the bus anymore. We will not let the community be stopped or put down anymore.”
Doyle wore a bulletproof vest to the parade.
The 1980s may have been a breaking point for queer citizens sick of putting up with homophobia, discrimination, and violence. It was also an incredibly violent decade for activists seeking change.
“During the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Long Beach Police Department was notorious for entrapping members of the LGBTQ community, particularly gay men in bars and at “cruise spots” where they frequently linked up to have sex.” The Long Beach Post states in a recent article about the monthly dance party Queer Mondays. “The Long Beach Museum of Art and the bluffs between Gaviota and Redondo avenues were among those places.”
Long Beach organizer Robert Fox created the Alamitos Beach Neighborhood Association to help prevent gay-bashings in the neighborhood. He would create groups of escorts to see bar goers safely home at night. In the mid-80s, gay bashings were a nightly occurrence. Gang violence was also at an all-time high, leading Fox to try to mandate new 30-day Just Cause notices to make sure gay tenants weren’t being thrown out simply because of their orientation. This initiative, however, backfired, causing corrupt landlords to fight back in violent ways. After dropping the initiative, however, the city began to deal with a gentrification wave that started pushing out lower-income queer residents, along with communities of color.
Today, Long Beach Pride is a destination for queer folks all over the country. Its violent roots are something we shouldn’t forget. They shouldn’t, however, detract from the incredible accomplishment that is the parade itself. In a time when queer folks couldn’t live an open, legally protected life, Long Beach created a community unlike any other.