UCLA LGBTQ Campus Resource Center
A Tour of Los Angeles’s Sites of Queer and Trans History
Welcome to the webpage for the LGBTQ Campus Resource Center’s History Tour Project, which was researched and completed in honor of our 25th Anniversary by interns, Arlene Reynolds and Mika Baumgardner, in collaboration with alumni and community members. Please find information about the tour conducted on January 22nd, 2020, as well as information about other history at UCLA and in the LA area. The documents are made available to allow folks to self-conduct their own tours of the various sites.
We consider this project to be “living” and welcome suggestions and comments from the community in order to allow this project to better reflect the diversity of queer and trans history offered by Los Angeles.
How to Explore the Tour
Click this icon on the embedded map in order to open the list of tour sites.
Selecting the name of each site in the list will highlight that location on the map and open a short description of that tour site. If you want to learn more about the site you are interested in, we have more complete information listed at the bottom of this page.
These are the 8 sites that were originally planned for a physical visit at the outset of the tour planning. These are still the 8 main sites chosen to structure our tour of LA. They give an overview of various facets of queer life and history in LA, including the vast diversity of identity and experiences for the community here. We invite you to browse through the descriptive information for each site.
In addition to the sites listed below, a variety of sites were intended to be visited between destinations. To learn more about these sites, we invite you to browse the script of the tour in its entirety.
Jewel’s Catch One
It’s impossible to talk about Jewel’s Catch One, one of the first and longest running black gay bars, without talking about its founder and former owner, Jewel Thais-Williams. After achieving a Bachelor’s Degree in History from UCLA and opening an unsuccessful boutique, Jewel wanted to operate a club to offer a space devoid of the discrimination she had faced in club scenes as a black woman. After securing a deal to narrowly purchase what was at the time called The Diana Club, she faced further hardships when her bartender refused to work for her because of her race and many white patrons stopped attending the venue. However, Jewel’s kindness and acceptance of all patrons proved essential for her success and attracted a large clientele. The club would later earn the name Catch One because folks, particularly QTBIPOC who could not attend other clubs because of their identity, would frequent the venue at night hoping to “catch” the one. Because of the locale’s popularly among QTBIPOC, police frequently raided and harassed patrons of the Catch One. Despite this, Jewel upheld her core beliefs of inclusion for all and even achieved her Master of Science in Chinese Medicine so she could open a non-profit, called the Village Health Foundation to provide health education and solutions for low-income communities. Despite Jewel’s efforts to maintain the club’s popularity, the Catch One’s attendance began to decline, eventually leading to a change of ownership. In November of 2015, Steve and Mitch Edelson bought the Catch One and briefly renamed it The Union before reverting to the Catch One again. The club still operates and brings together a wide variety of patrons. A documentary about Jewel and Catch One is available on Netflix.
The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives is the oldest existing LGBTQ organization in the US and stores the largest collections of LGBTQ materials in the world. Although the collection has only been located in the USC Libraries since 2010, ONE Inc. was founded in 1952 as one of the first national LGBT publication companies. In 1956, the ONE Institute was created to pursue LGBTQ studies, at the time called “homophile studies”. Later, in 1957, ONE Inc. was involved in a Supreme Court case where they fought to allow their magazines to be distributed by mail. This was the first time the Supreme Court had ruled on a case involving homosexuality and free speech. Ultimately, the court voted in favor of ONE, stating “it is in no way proper to describe a love affair between two homosexuals as constitut(ing) obscenity”. Finally, in 1994, with the help of Jim Kepner who was a main writer for ONE Magazine, ONE Inc. and the International Gay and Lesbian Archives merged. Since then, ONE Inc. has operated solely as an archive.
Content warning: Brief descriptions of police-perpetrated violence
Cooper’s Do-nuts was a popular 24-hour café in the 50s and 60s. Frequented by police during the day but known as a hub for LGBTQ patrons during the evenings, Cooper’s is commonly known as the site of one of the first LGBTQ uprisings in the US, predating Stonewall by 10 years. In the evening of May, 1959, two police officers entered the establishment and asked customers for ID. At the time, it was illegal to have a different gender expression than the gender indicated on your ID so this was a common way that LGBTQ folks, specifically trans folks, were policed. That night, the police attempted to arrest five people: two transgender women of color, two male sex workers, and John Rechy, a famous gay author. After the detainees protested that there wasn’t enough space in the cop car for them and that they would not comply, other patrons of Cooper’s – mostly trans women – began protesting as well by throwing trash, coffee, and silverware at the police. Eventually, the police left without the initial group of five but a riot broke out and many were arrested that night amidst the protests. Rechy later wrote about the event: “[The officers] fled into their car, called backups and soon the street was bustling with disobedience. Gay people danced about the cars.”
El Pueblo Historical Monument
The El Pueblo Historical Monument stands as the oldest area in LA. On September 4, 1781, a group of 44 people ordered by King Charles III of Spain colonized the area to establish a religious pueblo which later grew into the City of Los Angeles. In the plaza area of this monument, a plaque can be found commemorating the Tongva village that was colonized to make this pueblo possible – Yang-Na. The Tongva peoples were what we today might consider to be very LGBT friendly, accommodating trans-identifying people, celebrating two-spirited people, and openly accepting same-gender marriages. It’s a shame that their presence in this area has been reduced to a mere plaque.
The Wall: Las Memorias AIDS Monument
The Wall, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, was designed by David Angelo & Robin Brailsford. Angelo was the architect and Brailsford is a public artist, who chose this location in 1993. This specific spot was chosen both because of its proximity to the HIV/AIDS treatment center at USC and because of its centrality within the Latinx community in LA.
The memorial is designed like a serpent, which is the Aztecan symbol for rebirth. One may also notice that there are 8 panels that make up the serpent, consisting of 6 murals vibrantly depicting life with AIDS in the Latinx community and 2 panels with the names of those lost. As of now, there are over 360 names etched into the panels.
The monument inspired the construction of other Las Memorias monuments across the US and was formally dedicated as a landmark in 2004.
The Mattachine Steps
These steps were dedicated as a historical site in 2014, in honor of Harry Hay’s 100th birthday. Harry Hay created the Mattachine Society in the late ‘40s. Harry Hay, who identified himself as a communist and labor activist, is considered by some to be a parent of the Gay Rights Movement in the US. He started the Mattachine Society in his home, which is on this same block, a few houses down.
The Mattachine Society started to decline in prominence in the late-60s and early-70s, as Gay Liberation Activists came to realize that the group’s respectability politics were no longer a viable strategy. The group eventually splintered into ONE Inc. However, the group remains a prominent for the history of LGBTQ+ activism in the U.S.
Black Cat Tavern
The Black Cat was a queer bar primarily, established in November 1966. Two months after opening, on New Year’s Eve, a few undercover LAPD officers entered the bar dressed in plain clothing. The officers began to get violent with patrons as patrons rang in the New Year. Folks described it as “all hell breaking loose” after such a happy, high moment in the bar. Patrons who were judged by the officers to be homosexual and kissed each other at midnight were arrested and 14 were later charged with things such as Public Lewdness, among others.
A month later, there was a public demonstration organized by two local activist organizations. While it often gets ignored, the Black Cat “Riots” is an example of yet another demonstration that predates the Stonewall Riots, but gained less notoriety.
In 2008, the site was dedicated as a Historical-Cultural Monument and today is back in operation, but as a general (as opposed to queer-specific) space.
Established in 1975, the Circus Disco was a Latinx-owned gay bar that focused on serving the Latinx community. It was famous for its theme nights as well as its philanthropy. The bar made major moves toward community-based accessibility, trying to provide free entry into most events at every turn, as well as having flyers in both English and Spanish. Because of all of this, as much as the owner, Gene La Pietra, valued and centered the loyal community he cultivated, the bar was just as important to the community. The club gained notoriety after a 1978 lawsuit against the LAPD for harassment, which was later settled. The bar demonstrated its potential influencing power.
In 2016, as the bar was in the running to get dedicated as a historical site, the bar went out of business and had to withdraw its application as renovations commenced, though parties such as the LA Conservancy are still pushing for its notarization.
LGBTQ+ Historical Sites in Los Angeles
Please note, while this document contains many sites in Los Angeles pertaining to queer ad trans life, it does not contain all of them. Life and work of our peers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color is notoriously underrepresented in historical accounts. We have done our best to compile those we could find and are open to feedback on this living project!