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First LGBT protest to be commemorated

SILVER LAKE — Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell will join activists at 8 p.m. Feb. 11 to mark the 50th anniversary of the demonstration at The Black Cat, 3909 Sunset Blvd., which is credited as the first LGBT civil rights protest in the United States.

The event will feature a re-enactment, march and political rally.

“Los Angeles and the 13th Council District have been ground zero for some of the most important events in LGBT history, especially the watershed Black Cat protests that took place right here in Silver Lake 50 years ago,” O’Farrell said.

“It wasn’t that long ago that people like me were targeted by the police for being true to ourselves. Lives were ruined, and a whole class of people were marginalized,” the councilman added. “We have come a long way since 1967, but new threats loom on the horizon from the Trump administration, threatening our civil rights and those of other traditionally persecuted communities.”

The protest at the Black Cat Tavern on Feb. 11, 1967, is credited with being the first public protest for gay rights in the country and happened in reaction to police beating and arresting some gay men on Jan. 1 for kissing in public — which was illegal at the time.

A plaque on the wall outside the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake commemorates a demonstration held Feb. 11, 1967, protesting police raids Jan. 1, 1967 that saw six men arrested for kissing other men. Courtesy photo

A plaque on the wall outside the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake commemorates a demonstration held Feb. 11, 1967, protesting police raids Jan. 1, 1967 that saw six men arrested for kissing other men.
Courtesy photo

The celebration is exactly 50 years to the date of the original demonstration, and will include speeches from gay activists and other Angelenos. The event will acknowledge the past, present and the unknown future of LA’s LGBT community.

“As a resident of Silver Lake, I am proud of the legacy of those brave souls fighting for our rights in 1967,” said Daniel Henning, one of the organizers of the event. “Most people don’t know that the first LGBT demonstration in the U.S. was here — in Silver Lake. It’s an important story to tell the next generation so they can make sure the rights we fought for so strongly continue into the future.”

The event will showcase performances by Celebration Theatre and Gay Theatre Activist/Icon Michael Kearns and will include a dance party in the parking lot.

“We feel it is our role being at the center of the physical location to keep this story alive,” said Lindsay Kennedy, one of the current owners of the Black Cat. “It is our obligation to the community to be caretakers of that history. To us, gay rights are human rights.”

According to historians and published reports, shortly after midnight on Jan. 1, 1967, bar patrons of The Black Cat Tavern rang in the new year with a kiss. Also in attendance that evening were undercover officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, who ended the night with violence and 14 arrests, including six who were charged with lewd conduct because of that kissing.

The raid sparked the burgeoning gay rights movement in the country.

People demonstrated outside the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake on Feb. 11, 1967 in what is considered the first LGBT civil rights protest in the United States. The demonstration was held to protest police raids of the bar New Year’s Eve. (Courtesy photo)

People demonstrated outside the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake on Feb. 11, 1967 in what is considered the first LGBT civil rights protest in the United States. The demonstration was held to protest police raids of the bar New Year’s Eve. (Courtesy photo)

“Fifty years have passed since that first Pride demonstration on February 11, 1967,” said Alexei Romanoff, one of the organizers of the 1967 protest. “We, the American LGBT community, have made tremendous progress since then, but our struggle for full acceptance continues.

“Nothing is more appropriate for this special occasion than to revisit the site, learn what happened and why, and join in rededicating ourselves to finish the work we began so many years ago.”

While the Black Cat protest did not change how law enforcement treated the gay community, it did serve as a launching pad for the LGBT civil rights movement in the United States. The event also sparked the rise of The Advocate, one of the first LGBT-publications in the country.

In 2013, O’Farrell and some of the original demonstrators dedicated The Black Cat as an historic landmark and unveiled a plaque outside recognizing the demonstration.

 

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