Sunday, March 26th, 2023

East Coast, meet the West Coast

Billy GloverJanuary 9, 2009.

I feel I should point out a few things about the failure, then and perhaps now, of people in the movement for civil rights for homosexuals to fail to communicate and know what we are doing.

A good example, if not very important since in a sense it is history, is the conflict in two sources I happen to read the same day.

First I read the January issue of The Guide, coming from Boston and Canada, then I reread Gay L.A. with a view of history of the West Coast — mainly L.A. although most people assume it is San Francisco that is gay heaven.

In an article called “Discovering the Undiscoverable,” Michael Bronski makes several statements that can only be said if you only know of the “history” you were involved in.

First, to repeat what has been said plenty of times, the homosexual/gay or whatever movement that continues until today started in Los Angeles in 1950. It did not start with Stonewall. Perhaps we can excuse the lazy, incompetent, and unethical media for thinking that something started when they discovered it, but this is not reality.

No one can write about LGBT history and continually say that this movement started in 1969 with Stonewall. There had obviously been other such “riots” in Los Angeles and San Francisco years before. The difference is that the media ignored them. That does not mean that they did not have an affect. So who is this “we” that “often think of gay history starting at Stonewall?”

And again we have the discussion on the terms we use. Again, who is it that decided that in “the intra-community ‘gay’ became commonly accepted”? There is not only one community-wide preferable term, just as there is, no matter what the media or some politicians say, only one term for black Americans. Or those who question the existence of a god. All you can say is that the community uses several words, none of which is the only “correct” one.

And who says that the “Boston-based Fag Rag, started in 1970, was the first national gay male publication”? What was Drum? And for that matter, there were women who said ONE was male-oriented, and do we ignore Grecian Guild/Bob Mizer publications?

I may finally figure out what Bronski is saying if I can even figure out even his final paragraph, which sounds “new-age” nonsense.

It is at that point, when queer history can become history, when the drag queen shows his masculinity through his femininity, that the visible becomes invisible and the invisible visible that we will finally begin to understand from where we come and, logically and illogically, where we might be going.

I suggest Bronski read Gay L.A., which tells us where we came from and where we are going. It starts off like Gay New York but manages to get beyond drag queens and balls. Not many of us are going to seek guidance in our community’s needs or “culture” from Plato, Joan of Arc, or Emily Dickinson.

And wise ones will spend no time arguing over whether we are going to get rights faster if we use a certain term, even though Karl Rove seems to have been successful in the short term by giving terms a different meaning.

I see that circulation of The Guide has grown, but if this issue is an example of why I would sure like to know the thinking of the people finding it worth reading. The only cities covered for gay readers are foreign, in a time of financial troubles for most people. Otherwise all we get are maps of major cities, with a few listings of bars and lodgings, which may be gay, but there are few mentions of major gay resources — for instance, why no mention in Los Angeles of the gay center in Hollywood, or of local LGBT papers, or churches? Nor mention of gay archives?

At least there is a small mention of the issues brought about by the passage of Prop 8 in California. Bill Andriette is right when he says there is blame for everyone. And that the organizations being blamed the most have other obligations than gay marriage. And lets see how much good bloggers do in the long run. It can be claimed that ACT-UP changed lots, but it didn’t do it alone. Homosexuals rioting in Los Angeles in the years before Stonewall did not get much success because the time was not right. So while Andriette is right that “in-the-street protestors are targeting their anger at the real enemies, like the Mormon Churches,” it is historically correct to say that it takes legal, political, religious, and community work to actually change things.

Now to the West Coast, and a reminder that it is time for the world to give credit to the Southern California people who started this movement and did everything first because they were first.

It is nonsense to claim that all the drag queens and balls in New York means that that was a gay movement. One of the flaws in Gay New York and Gay L.A. is the space devoted to drag queens and balls. It takes a close reading of either book to understand that that was a small per cent of the community, and actually not the “gay” part.

It is irresponsible to pretend that homosexual Americans were out of the closet before the ’80s. The few in bars were those who had nothing to lose, the ones with no job, no family, etc. That means that the vast majority were hidden — and thus in fact were not “gay” — that the movement was starting to get the public to think about who might be homosexual.

And to “honor” the Hollywood celebrities, then and now, as if they then or now were doing much to change things for homosexuals is a slap in the face of those who did do something, that did take risks, and did change things. To devote chapters and space to Hollywood stars who had parties is dishonest. We are letting the media decide our history.

While I’m thinking about Gay L.A., I should say two things that are related to the way we understand history and the part the media plays. Two examples are covered in the book.

I know about the division of ONE, Inc. into two parts — I was not only there, I was the immediate cause (see my profile in Before Stonewall, edited by Vern L. Bullough). So I know that the book gives/gets it wrong even if the facts it gives are not wrong.

Constantly history has tried to write Don Slater out of ONE. He was an editor and the editor of the magazine from start to finish. He was an equal co-founder; all the others left, disagreeing with Dorr Legg or policies. So to give only Dorr’s view of the separation is dishonest, as is the fact that nowhere in the book is the legal decision quoted correctly. The decision did not give all the material of ONE back to Dorr Legg and his coworkers. And in fact when Dorr violated the agreement, by sending out a claim that he had won and we were declared thieves, that ended the agreement and Tangents continued to operate as ONE, Inc. as long as we needed to to cover taxes, etc. The city, county and state were well aware of the legal situation, and we kept our license in the name of ONE, Inc. (We had to pay taxes for the Book Service, etc.)

We separated ONE in 1965, we incorporated in the honest name, as the Homosexual Information Center (with the dba The Tangent Group) in 1968, and were the first homosexual organization to get tax-exemption as such. No other organization had it before we did (Herb Selwyn was the attorney.) Not even ISHR was openly gay. And that is another point, it is not clear anywhere that we had formed the Institute for the Study of Human Resources, to be the funding, tax-exempt arm of ONE, before the separation and that Don Slater and I were the first employees of ISHR, which is why Dorr kept misleading people by saying Don was no longer a ONE employee.

A personal issue: the book credits Harry Hay and John Burnside and Don of appearing on TV and radio shows, such as Regis Philbin’s. It does not say that I also appeared on Regis’ show, and on the talk show of Louis Lomax, etc. Nor that Don co-hosted a week of talk shows on KHJ as guest host of Stan Bohrman and Maria Cole. If one show is worth mentioning, why not others? The book certainly lists every known bar they could find, etc., as well as every possible local person or group — but finds no space for a picture of Dorr or Don or Jim Kepner.

And Kepner was not perfect, although he of course left ONE twice and yet wrongly told a board member not to support Don because Dorr would win fast and easily.

And the other issue I find I personally have a different take on is the Troy Perry church’s growth. It is not mentioned that Tangents picketed the Los Angeles Times, to get them to use the word homosexual, mainly in an ad we placed for the play The Geese. Yet it is mentioned that gay liberationists picketed them to force them to use the word “gay” instead of “homosexual.” Someone has and have had an agenda.

But the reason our picket is relevant to Troy is that he was one of those who picketed, as was Melvin Cain, who also was involved in religious work. While we were picketing, the religious writer for the paper came down and talked to Melvin and Troy. He ignored Melvin when told that the church was not a gay church. He then interviewed Troy and wrote a good article, picked up by many newspapers, and that is one of the major reason the MCC got so much publicity. That does not mean any other view or claim as to why the church has grown so much was wrong, but it sure adds an element that could be a major lucky break at the early period of the church. And that means “History” should be given from all views.

One other gay comment/issue is that of the value of protesting. Some on the East Coast have said that the West Coast did not do that much. Yet here in the book is a quote from Jeanne Cordova who says, “A little theory may have gotten whipped up in Boston, but in Los Angeles we put it into effect. Lesbians and gays did a lot of marching and demonstrating in the streets of L.A. because here you can do it all year round, like you can’t in the East with their long cold winters.”

But my feelings about Cordova are colored by her behavior in the early days. I had spoken to the L.A. Daughters of Bilitis in one of their meetings. So when I spoke to a psychology class at UCLA, I suggested they have other speakers, such as DOB. Later I heard that she spoke to the class and told either them or the professor that they should not ever contact HIC again as we were out of the main stream and didn’t represent the gay view. That type of back-biting and attempt at censorship of what the public hears from our movement/community was wrong then and is today. Also she has never mentioned HIC in her publications, as is true of The Advocate. So much for community cooperation.

One final thought about what is not in the book: there is no coverage of how gay authors might have affected out movement. No mention of such writers as ONE/Tangents/HIC’s Joseph Hansen. And only a glancing mention of Patricia Nell Warren. None of Dale Jennings’ work on The Cowboys which HIC gets income from since it owns Jennings’ estate. That’s show business, I guess.

To get the real story, the rest of the story, see C. Todd White’s forthcoming book, Pre-Gay L.A. Don Slater would really be gay to see how things have turned out.


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1 Comment

  1. Paul C.

    Billy, presuming what you say about Bronski is true, he should have his “gay historian” card revoked. He has really done the early movement a terrible disservice by this article you reference.

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