The clock had just struck midnight at the Black Cat tavern on Sunset Boulevard on New Year's Day 1967. As singers performed "Auld Lang Syne" in the Silver Lake bar, gay men kissed and embraced, celebrating the new year.
Unbeknownst to them, plainclothes Los Angeles police officers had positioned themselves in the crowd that night. They beat patrons and arrested 14 people, who were charged with lewd conduct for same-sex kissing. On Feb. 11, 1967, protesters took a bold step for that era and grabbed their picket signs, publicly protesting the police raid outside the bar — a gay-rights demonstration that pre-dated the monumental Stonewall riots in New York City by two years.
On Saturday night, members of the LGBTQ community, along with Los Angeles city leaders, will gather at the Black Cat to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the demonstration.
"Back in 1967, the community was so used to being oppressed by the police and persecuted that they didn't know what to do," said L.A. City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, the openly gay councilman who represents the district. "It was a violent evening. So, they decided to get organized."
Demonstrators used secret phone trees to contact each other for the protests, and hundreds of people showed up outside the Black Cat in an era when police raids on gay enclaves were common and when being openly gay could ruin lives, O'Farrell said.
"They demonstrated in an organized fashion in an unprecedented way in 1967," O'Farrell said.
In a sign of how far things have come, members of the Los Angeles Police Department will join in Saturday's commemoration and celebration, which will include speeches, live performances and a re-enactment of the protests, O'Farrell said.
Saturday's event is scheduled to take place from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Black Cat, 3909 Sunset Blvd.