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Newsletter: Essential California: The West Coast LGBTQ activism that predated Stonewall

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The 1967 Black Cat protest in Los Angeles.
(ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, June 28, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

It’s simple and powerful to say that the gay rights movement began 50 years ago today, when the first brick was thrown in the early hours of June 28, 1969, outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

Movements are unruly, with ragged edges and a penchant for flaring and sputtering in many directions. But the weight of history has a way of condensing things. And the spin cycle of time will slough off the footnotes and find the linear narrative.

The three nights of rioting sparked by a routine police raid at a New York City gay bar and the even more routine police harassment of the gay community were unbelievably important and symbolic. But they also followed years of organizing and numerous previous eruptions against police harassment in community spaces. Much of that groundwork was laid in California, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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“The spark of Stonewall goes exponentially beyond what the actual events created,” Terry Beswick, the executive director of the GLBT Historical Society and museum in San Francisco, explained over the phone earlier this month. “At least in the popular culture, [Stonewall] swallowed up a lot of the very real and even more significant organizing that was happening for decades before that — and afterwards.”

In San Francisco, police raided a 1965 New Year’s costume ball organized by the newly formed Council on Religion and the Homosexual. Officers sought to photograph all the attendees and made two arrests. The event galvanized organizing in San Francisco’s gay community and helped draw broader attention to the police harassment gay people faced.

“That was really what most of the pre-Stonewall real spontaneous actions were about — police harassment of our gathering places,” Beswick said.

[See also: “An ode to L.A.’s gay restaurants, where a community can find a home” in the Los Angeles Times]

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“In the 1960s and back into the ’50s, gay bars were our community centers,” Beswick said. “They were where we found each other. They were where we found fellowship and emotional support, as well as sex.”

In Beswick’s view, those bars were “like homes,” sometimes “even more so” than the places where their denizens actually lived. “For police to invade those spaces really fought against the notion of any kind of self-determination and safety for us,” he said.

Two and a half years before Stonewall, the Black Cat bar in Silver Lake was raided just after midnight on New Year’s Day 1967. Police beat patrons and arrested more than a dozen people. Several weeks later, hundreds peacefully gathered outside the bar in a protest — a demonstration that was considered a seminal turning point in the early gay rights movement.

[Go deeper: “Before Stonewall, the Queer Revolution Started Right Here in Los Angeles” by Jason McGahan in Los Angeles Magazine]

And nearly a decade before Black Cat, a group of transgender women, lesbians and gay men fought back against police harassment in what turned into a melee outside Cooper Do-nuts in downtown Los Angeles. That was May 1959, and it’s believed to have been the first LGBTQ uprising against police harassment.

“Stonewall, at least in the rear-view mirror, has become a place of demarcation for historians, where we can sort of measure our progress,” Beswick said.

“But it’s important for us to resurrect those stories around other events. It’s important for the pride of LGBT people in San Francisco to know that the New Year’s Day ball event happened and that Compton’s [Cafeteria riot] happened,” Beswick said, and he didn’t stop there. He listed off the names like a litany of early organizations and leaders and places that have been turned into symbols by virtue of what happened there.

“The same kind of stories can be told all around the country, in Philadelphia and D.C. and Chicago,” he said.

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And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

TOP STORIES

In a decision of great importance to the future of California, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to approve a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. A 5-4 majority sent the matter back to a lower court for review, raising doubts about whether the Trump administration will now have enough time to win approval to include a citizenship question in next year’s survey of all U.S. households.

Citing a climate of fear in immigrant communities, experts had predicted that millions of households would refuse to participate in the census if the question were asked, which could produce a severe undercount in states like California, and lead to a loss of government funds and political power for the next decade. Los Angeles Times

California Sen. Kamala Harris arguably dominated Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate in what many outlets are calling a breakout moment for her. She ripped into Joe Biden on race and delivered some of the most memorable moments of the night. Los Angeles Times

And fellow Californian Marianne Williamson left viewers transfixed and confused. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

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A spead at Spago, Wolfgang Puck's flagship restaurant in Beverly Hills, may include (clockwise from top left) veal Wiener schnitzel; bread plate; corn soup; spicy tuna tartare cones; Chirashi box; A-5 Wagyu steak; pizza with house-cured smoked salmon; and Spanish octopus.
(Silvia Razgova / For the Times)

Spago at middle age: Is Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant still relevant? Los Angeles Times

[For more from The Times’ restaurant critics, sign up for the Tasting Notes newsletter.]

A coalition of Hollywood workers and gay rights advocates are protesting industry website IMDb’s practice of publishing the birth names of transgender performers (also known as “deadnaming”). New York Times

“I tried L.A.’s trendiest golden lattes to see if they taste like my mother’s haldar doodh.” L.A. Taco

Los Angeles County’s sprawling Metro system and smaller lines have hemorrhaged bus riders as passengers have fled for more convenient options (mainly driving) over the last decade. But California needs to stop a transit ridership slump to meet its clean-air and traffic-reduction goals. Transportation reporter Laura J. Nelson dug deep into why riders are leaving Metro and the broader challenges at play. Los Angeles Times

The first of six “master planning” meetings on the future of the largely fenced-in Silver Lake Reservoir was held Thursday night. This op-ed argues that Los Angeles “does not need another monument to be peered at through fences,” and that the eventual reservoir master plan should establish more environmentally sustainable and publicly accessible green space. Eastsider LA

Weekend getaways: Here are seven camping destinations within driving distance of L.A. Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.

IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Immigration has moved to the forefront of the Democratic primary. Politico

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed his first budget. Here’s where the $215 billion will go. Los Angeles Times

California is set to be the first state to protect black employees and students from natural hair discrimination. The CROWN Act, which passed the state Senate in April, was approved by the Assembly on Thursday. It still needs to be signed by the governor before it becomes law. Los Angeles Times

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was lambasted on Twitter after posting a photo of her new cohort of summer interns, which appeared to include no African Americans. (One of the interns pictured is, in fact, biracial and identifies as African American.) East Bay Times

These two candidates were the most Googled in California before the first debate. Desert Sun

San Diego supervisors have narrowly approved the Otay Ranch development, despite wildfire and climate concerns over the 1,119-home project in a rural area. San Diego Union-Tribune

CRIME AND COURTS

New details about Nipsey Hussle’s death have become public after The Times successfully sued for grand jury records. The transcripts released Thursday indicate that the rapper and activist was shot after a four-minute conversation with suspect Eric Holder in which the topic turned to snitching. Los Angeles Times

The Justice Department is examining whether senior FBI officials acted inappropriately by attending a 2018 Dodgers playoff game while a corruption investigation into Major League Baseball was unfolding. Wall Street Journal

After a prominent Salinas psychiatrist in his 70s was found bludgeoned to death, the Playboy Italia model he was supporting was arrested in connection with his slaying. Recently released testimony from another suspect and expert witnesses has revealed new details about the doctor’s last hours. Salinas Californian

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Ninety-six people have died in the Central Valley’s Kern River since 2000, and six more are missing and presumed drowned. Could a loaner life vest program at busy recreation spots help prevent drownings? Bakersfield Californian

It’s been a rough season for whales in the Bay Area: At least 13 dead gray whales have washed ashore in recent months. But what happens to the carcasses — which often stretch 40 to 50 feet — after they wash ashore? KQED

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Rancho Santa Margarita could lose nearly half of its affordable housing supply at the end of this year. Orange County Register

Fighting words: The governor of Tennessee is now openly bragging about luring businesses east to his state. “It is a beautiful day in Tennessee, but I gotta tell ya, as governor, today, I’m California dreaming,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a video posted to Twitter. In the last six months, four California companies have announced their move to the Volunteer State, including (as we mentioned yesterday) Mitsubishi Motors. The Tennessean

San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Restaurants annual list is here. San Francisco Chronicle

Are you a civically minded member of the Modesto community? The Modesto Bee is seeking visiting editor applicants to serve a six-month term as a temporary member of the Bee’s editorial board, weighing in on editorial opinions and positions. The Bee’s opinions editor Garth Stapley told me that the paper has pulled visiting editors from the community for more than 20 years. “We’ve had teachers, we’ve had doctors, we’ve had lawyers, we’ve had beer salesmen,” he said. “There’s not a template for who we look at.” Modesto Bee

Actor and entrepreneur Danny Trejo has conquered movies, tacos, doughnuts — and now he wants a slice of the music business. Los Angeles Daily News

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly sunny, 78. San Diego: partly sunny, 73. San Francisco: partly sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 75. Sacramento: partly sunny, 85. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix.
former Vice President Dan Quayle

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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