For the gay patrons of the Black Cat bar in Silver Lake, it was a rotten way to start 1967. But in the aftermath of that horrific night, the LGBTQ+ community adopted a word that would help define a movement.
As balloons fell from the ceiling of the neighborhood gay tavern at midnight on Dec. 31, 1966, to celebrate the new year, undercover officers with the Los Angeles Police Department tore Christmas decorations from the walls, brandished guns, and then attacked and handcuffed 14 people.
Two men arrested for kissing were forced to register as sex offenders. Two patrons escaped to another nearby gay bar, New Faces, where police chased them, assaulted the bar’s owner, and beat her two bartenders unconscious.
One of the bartenders suffered a ruptured spleen from the police attack.
Black Cat protest
Violent police raids on gay bars were common in the 1960s not only in Los Angeles, but also across the county.
But this time, the gay community fought back.
On Feb. 11, 1967, more than 200 people peacefully marched at the Black Cat on Sunset Boulevard while heavily armed police hovered nearby.
They protested not only the Black Cat raid, but also the Los Angeles Police Department’s broader campaign of routine harassment, terror, and brutality at LGBTQ+ establishments.
The demonstrators, who marched several days, also demanded the police end their tactics.
The department, however, refused to stop its terror campaign that targeted gay people.
The demonstration was organized by a gay activist group called Personal Rights in Defense and Education, also known as P.R.I.D.E., that Steve Ginsburg formed in 1966. This reference appears to be the earliest documented use of “Pride” and gay.
From the beginning, P.R.I.D.E. was more confrontational than the pre-1960s gay rights groups like Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis. The group’s goal was to get into the streets and get in the faces of the opposition with noisy, loud demonstrations, and political action.
The group’s meetings were called “PRIDE nights” and took place at The Hub, a local gay bar. Like many gay bars, The Hub served the community not only as a safe space to socialize but also as a place to host and organize political events.
Also, Ginsberg often used the bar and club scene to connect with gay youth directly. P.R.I.D.E. defended gay bars and gay youth culture that attended them.
Historic protest, P.R.I.D.E. legacy
The Black Cat protest was the site of one of the nation’s first organized LGBTQ+ demonstrations. It was more than two years before the Stonewall Uprising in 1969.
This landmark demonstration — along with numerous others in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and across the country in the mid-1960s — helped launch the gay civil rights movement.
In September 1967, P.R.I.D.E. published a newsletter, The Los Angeles Advocate. Two years later, it transformed into a nationally distributed magazine known today as The Advocate.
Following the Stonewall Riots in 1969, LGBTQ+ communities in cities across the nation organized marches and protests as a way not only pushback against decades of discrimination and violence, but also inspire a growing gay civil right movement.
Initially, they were called “Gay Freedom Marches” or Gay Liberation Marches.”
In 1973, it appears that Minnesota gay rights activist Thom Higgins helped create “Gay Pride” for a banner and slogan to chant to supporters and bystanders during a march protesting anti-gay comments by The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
In the following years, such marches and celebrations, organized by LGBTQ+ people, spread across the county. Their mission was to not only demand fair and equal treatment, but also come out of the closet and celebrate their right to exist.
The LGBTQ+ community eventually identified these events as Gay Pride parades.
Pride is as relevant today as it was 55 years ago.
Phillip Zonkel is the co-founder and publisher of Q Voice News, the only digital-first LGBTQ+ news outlet in the greater L.A. area.