Americas Gayest County!

A secret queer history of Orange County

Who's gay? We're gay, honey! Totally gay! Orange County is one of the queeriest places on the planet—even without Disneyland, Laguna Beach and The O.C.! So while you're traipsing around the Long Beach Gay Pride fest next weekend and thinking about how queer-o-rific the LBC is, ponder this: history is often made when nobody else is noticing. We may not have an OC gay pride fest of our own anymore (it was canceled a few years ago for lack of interest), but that doesn't mean we're not in touch with our inner Carson Kressley. Sure, we could use a good bear bar and the lone gay bookstore is long gone, too, but there's plenty of evidence OC is the gayest place on Earth. Here's 26:

BRAVO AND EL CALOR!

Are you queer and love Spanish music but fear flocking to the county's Latin music clubs because of that whole machismo madness? Drop your stereotypes and visit El Calor and Bravo, two Anaheim Latin dance floors celebrated throughout the county's Latino queer community for its welcoming environs and caliente tunes. Entrepreneur Jeff Adger owns both clubs, so the music spun at each doesn't really vary—a bit of rock en español here, annoying electronica there, and blazing tropical music throughout. But the boys are cute, the women wonderful, and the drinks affordable. The only true quibble with El Calor and Bravo is the lack of Mexican regional music—there are queer couples out there, Jeff, that like to hold each other close when they dance, ¿que no? Bravo, 1490 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-2291; El Calor, 2916 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-8873.

THE CRYSTAL CATHEDRAL!

Designed by renowned gay architect Philip Johnson, who not long after its 1980 opening dubbed Robert Schuller's made-for-TV church "a big studio."

DANA POINT!

After a five-month voyage in 1835 from Boston around Cape Horn, Richard Henry Dana, a strapping young 19-year-old Harvard student, arrives aboard the trade ship Pilgrim in what is now known as Dana Point. In Two Years Before the Mast, Dana's journal of the adventure, he describes his friend Bill Jackson as a "fine specimen of manly beauty" and admits having "affection" for another shipmate, a young Hawaiian named Hope. Hmmm . . . five months at sea with no women around . . . a shipful of burly seamen . . .

GAY LATINO HAIRDRESSERS!

Okay, so most Mexican men hate jotos—no surprise there, unfortunately. But the one public place where a macho has no problem with a gay man is at your local peluquería (barbershop). We still have fond memories of Mari, a short, stocky man who permed his platinum-blond hair constantly and wore Daisy Duke shorts from December to December. His real name was Mario, but all the men who went to get their hair cut at a barber shop on Fourth Street in Santa Ana called him Mari—even my father, who once forbade us to enter a swimming pool after he found out that my sister's gay classmate had swam in it. I don't know where Mari works anymore, but I remember him as one of the few instances that my father dropped his bullshit and was human. And that barber shop? Closed long ago, but Fourth Street still remains a haven for queer hairdressers.


Agran
Photo by Davis Barber
IRVINE!

This is Orange County's Stonewall, but with ballot boxes instead of police batons. Like Stonewall, our story begins on a sultry summer night, this one in July 1988, and not in a hot, hot gay club, but in the starched-shirt council chambers of the city of Irvine, where Mayor Larry Agran led the Irvine City Council majority to extend civil-rights protections to the city's gays and lesbians. It seemed an obvious move: next door, Laguna Beach had already set the bar for gay-friendliness; Irvine is a college town and home to some 1,000 multinational corporations. But banning discrimination based on sexual orientation turned out to be the tipping point in a city that, though 4-1 Republican, had dependably elected Democrat Agran in every municipal race since 1978. As the June 1990 Election Day approached, phobes banged loudly the drums of war. The Reverend Lou Sheldon came to town, telling the Los Angeles Times that Agran's position on homosexuality was "a test of where the community stands on this issue. This issue hits a central nerve on the future of the heterosexual ethic in Orange County. And it will help determine whether we accept homosexuality as a viable lifestyle." In hit pieces delivered to doorsteps and snapped under windshield wipers on cars outside houses of God, the phobes described the one aspect of homosexuality that truly seemed to intrigue them: butt sex. Agran lost the race because "he'd lost touch with our community," said the woman who beat him. Like Jesus—good and Jewish, but educated at Harvard Law—he disappeared into the wilderness, emerging once to run for president (of the United States, in 1992; he lost) and then more recently for City Council (he won). And now he's the mayor again, and though we have our differences with him sometimes, we honor him still for his heroics. And Mike Shea, the guy who led the Irvine Values Coalition's war against Agran? He left his wife shortly afterward to take up with a newer model in West Hollywood. West Hollywood. We're just saying.

DAVID! Michelangelo Buonarroti (like Madonna and Cher, we know him today on a first-name-only basis) was a gay Italian who carved his sexual desires in stone. Take David, his most homo-rific, full-frontaled creation, which academians have theorized was modeled on a young male quarryman ol' Mikey was shtupping at the time. Completed in 1504, the statue has been copied many times, and one has an intriguing OC history. In 1939, Puritan bluehairs were so offended by Dave's huge exposed package on a statue at Forest Lawn Cypress that they had his marble member covered with a plaster fig leaf, where it would remain until 1969. David stood fully exposed until the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, when it was toppled and broken into pieces. Forest Lawn donated David's remains to Cal State Fullerton in 1989, where the crumbled parts were spread out—in a sort of man-is-breakable-but-his-spirit-isn't art statement—across a patch of grass northeast of the campus library. It's been there ever since, though you can't ogle at his once-controversial pecker. Fearing students would do "inappropriate" things to Dave's dong, they had that particular section buried ass-side up. Still, this hasn't stopped many a scholar—straight male ones, even!—from rubbing and kissing Dave's colossal rump for good luck.
Sierra
Photo by Keith May
MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO! Founded Nov. 1, 1776, by Father Junipero Serra, the area surrounding the mission doubled as OC's hottest drag club for a while during the late 18th century, what with the local Native American tribes and their population of berdache, androgynous "two-spirit" people whom fellow tribes people classified as neither men nor women—cross dressers, basically, but in a more religious sense. Berdache were relatively plentiful among the natives who lived at the missions that peppered the length of California—nearly every one had two, three if they were lucky. But the Spanish Catholics who established the mission system were hell-bent on eliminating berdachism. A priest at the time wrote, "We place our trust in God and expect that these accursed people will disappear with the growth of the missions." Apparently, they did. By the 1820s, a missionary living at San Juan Capistrano reported that while berdache were once very numerous among the natives, "At the present time, this horrible custom is entirely unknown to them." These days, you may not be able to get blown at the mission, but you can sometimes get Swallowed . . .ba-dum-bum!
Not the first tragic dead gay icon anyone thinks of,
but since Judy Garland is buried in New York,
we'll take Karen, who lies in this fabulously
ornate crypt in Forest Lawn Cypress
Photo by James Bunoan
KAREN CARPENTER! Not the first tragic dead gay icon anyone thinks of, but since Judy Garland is buried in New York, we'll take Karen, who lies in this fabulously ornate crypt in Forest Lawn Cypress. HARVEY MILK DISSES! God knows we've produced loads of vile, embarrassing queer-hating politicians, but Neanderthals like the Westminster School Board Three are poseurs compared to John Briggs, who certainly ranks among the vilest. Briggs, then a Republican state senator from Fullerton, got an initiative placed on the November 1978 ballot, Proposition 6, which, if it had passed, would have made it illegal for California public schools to hire gay teachers, mandated the removal of any teacher discovered to be gay after he or she was hired, and prohibited even straight teachers from portraying homosexuality in a positive light under the penalty of dismissal. Prop. 6 was so smelly that even Ronald Reagan spoke out against it. But supporters included Anaheim burger magnate Carl Karcher—the initiative's No. 1 financial contributor—and soon-to-be-infamous homophobe the Reverend Lou Sheldon. While stumping for Prop. 6 in San Francisco, Briggs branded that city "the moral garbage dump of homosexuality in this country," to which Supervisor Harvey Milk—who would be assassinated that year—replied, "Nobody likes garbage 'cause it smells. Yet 8 million tourists visited San Francisco last year. I wonder how many visited Fullerton?" Prop. 6 would be defeated at the polls by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin.
The Happy Hour's Jo Moore
GARDEN GROVE! Garden Grove was the capital of queer OC for decades—no, seriously! In 1964, the Happy Hour, a women's bar, opened on Garden Grove Boulevard. Lured by cheap rents, other gay pubs sprung up in the city throughout the following 10 years, including Rumour Hazzit, the Tiki Hut, the Mug, the Iron Spur, the Old Bavarian Inn, the Knotty Keg, the Hound's Tooth, the Ranger, the Saddle Club and DOK West. For a while, Garden Grove's gay bars actually outnumbered West Hollywood's. Police harassment, such as arrests on scurrilous lewd-conduct charges (which often involved nothing more than same-sex hugging, kissing and handholding) eventually shut down most, but the queers didn't go down without a fight. Things came to a head in 1974, when nearly 500 demonstrators held a 1.5-mile march down Garden Grove Boulevard to protest a spate of 43 arrests. The crowd chanted slogans like "Two, four, six, eight, how do you know your son is straight?" and the march ended with several speeches at Garden Grove City Hall. The Advocate interviewed a gas-station manager on what he thought of it all: "I guess it's all right, if that's what they want to do. I think I'd rather see them out marching than a bunch of communists or draft dodgers." But another bystander was less sympathetic: "I was aware [of all the gay bars in town]. I've been beating them up for a long time." Pesky cops would continue to plague the city's queer community into the '80s, eventually withering the number of gay bars in Garden Grove down to two and today, with the shuttering of the Happy Hour last year following the death of owner Jo Moore, down to one. JOSEPH EICHLER! The coolest homes in Orange County have to be the midcentury modern edifices Joseph Eichler built in Orange 40-some years ago. And since they're the coolest, they have to be gay, right? These are textbook mod homes, centered on atriums, focusing your attention on things like the environment, built of natural things like redwood, and scarcely dated at all. And speaking of scarcely dated, we hear the late Joseph Eichler scarcely dated at all, but he was as gay as . . . What's that? Oh, he was married. And? Oh, yeah, he had kids, too. Sorry 'bout that. So where are these homes? Go to www.google.com and search "Eichler in Orange County." KINKY RUBBER! Nothing screams hetero like a non-well-manicured lawn. But there's a place that'll fix that for you: Bob and Rita Denman's Denman & Co. They cover all your gardening needs with vintage-looking sprinklers that actually work, handmade hoes and trowels, and genuine Goodyear rubber hoses that won't kink. Because nothing's worse than kinky rubber, unless you're into that. Denman & Co., 401 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-8106. LOS CRISTALES! It's a rather drab bar most every day of the week in one of Santa Ana's grimiest neighborhoods. But come Sunday evening, Los Cristales transforms into OC's premier drag-queen showcase for Latino males. There are rumors of another Latino bar in Orange that hosts drag-queen (even king!) shows, but until we find out more info, this is the place to visit. Los Cristales, 1638 S. Standard Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 835-1631. MARION MICHAEL MORRISON! Oh, Mary! The birth—or drag—name of John Wayne, whom the airport's named after! MARTÍN SORRONDEGUY! Only one thing provoked Sorrondeguy's 2001 move from his Chicago birthplace to the complacent streets of Orange County: love. Nearly three years later, the former lead singer of iconic Latino punkers Los Crudos and his partner are still together, occupying a beautiful half-house in Santa Ana. A happier couple, gay or straight, you'll never meet, plus they make the best damn Italian dinner outside Sicily. MILITARY BASES! The El Toro and Tustin Marine Corps air stations opened in 1942. Both were decommissioned in the '90s, but an untold number of closeted gay and lesbian service people passed through them. Meanwhile, further south is Camp Pendleton, whose military men stationed there have been known to journey up to San Clemente to prostitute themselves to older gay men. A San Clemente Sun-Post article from 1977 reported that at the time, this was a growing problem. Don't ask, don't tell, indeed. NEKKID ICE PEOPLE! Naked people—say, guys, for instance—aren't always legal to have around. Like at parties, for instance; someone might object, and that would be très embarrassing, n'cest pas? For a legal naked guy who won't snitch, check out Crystal Creations, www.icesculpturing.com. They sculpt a wicked naked hottie (male or female) whom you can pour drinks through (hers through a breast, his through . . . you guessed it). Best, at night's end, you never have to see them again because they've melted. Crystal Creations, 507 S. Agate St., Anaheim, (714) 635-7521. OC DEVELOPERS! They've never seen an orifice on the land that didn't need plugging! THE OC GAY & LESBIAN COMMUNITY SERVICES CENTER! Every gay ghetto has one, but OC's is also one of the country's oldest, begun in a house in 1972 with a hot line and group rap sessions, and eventually moving to Garden Grove to be more accessible to the city's queer-bar patrons. It's still in Garden Grove, in a comfy office complex, having endured in its previous locales a slew of broken windows and other assorted acts of vandalism (including a dead possum with a knife through its head left on the front porch), as well as a fire of suspicious origins in 1981. THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER! A schizophrenic queer history, sure—back in the '60s, the Reg used to print the names, ages, home addresses and occupations of "suspected homosexuals" who had been arrested for propositioning undercover cops—and these men had only been arrested, not convicted, mind you. But for every printed gay-bashing—a weekly occurrence, if you've ever perused the paper's Letters to the Editor page—there have also been surprises, like an excellent, generally positive three-part series on OC queer life that ran in 1979 (typical for the era, most of the people interviewed for the stories didn't want their real names used). And how's this? The Reg has been endorsing gay marriage since at least 1996, when they ran an announcement of the engagement of Eddie Miller and H. "Mac" McCarthy on its Celebrations page, complete with a photo of the happy couple. And the workplace environment there is totally gay-friendly, according to a source who freelanced for the Reg back in the '90s who fondly recalls sitting on the can in a third-floor men's room and spotting "Meet here for B.J., 11 p.m. Tuesday" graffiti scribbled on the tile caulk. REPARATIVE-THERAPY GROUPS! Exodus International was founded in 1976 at Anaheim's Melodyland Christian Center by Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, and it would eventually become the most prominent "reparative therapy" organization—groups that idiotically try to "cure" self-confessed queers of their evil, evil ways and literally set them straight. What Exodus and other freaky, playing-off-queer-people's-low-self-esteem cults like these don't want you to know is that Bussee and Cooper, on a plane ride while stumping for their group, realized they were in love with each other, quit Exodus, and started speaking out about the harmful effects of reparative-therapy programs. SHAG! The most gay-friendly artist you ever heard of has to be Cowan Heights resident Josh Agle, a.k.a. Shag—except he's neither gay nor particularly gay-friendly. He's friendly toward all (metrosexual?), as you'll know if you know his work—rife as it is with tiki gods, shriners, monkeys, jet-setters and bartenders. Maybe that hipster vibe the kids dig is why the Showtime TV network a couple of years ago decided they had to use his graphics to plug their Night Out, a Wednesday lineup of queer programming. Not that there's anything wrong with that, except Showtime never got Shag's official permission, meaning they basically stole his artwork. Wait, on second thought, there is something wrong with that: it's wrong.
Photo by Jack Gould
DISNEYLAND! Well, of course, sweetheart. We could think of a zillion things to write about the Queeriest Place on Earth, but even heteros know what most of them are. We will divulge that the first-ever Disney "gay night" was held here way back on May 25, 1978, and attracted some 20,000 people. Attached to every presale ticket was a dress code ("No drags"), plus an order against passing out pamphlets or leaflets. "This is the Gay Woodstock!" exulted one reveler. Queers from outside the county, though, were a bit leery about going anywhere near OC. Said one particularly paranoid patron, "I just know this whole thing is a plot. Anita Bryant has rented a crop duster, and she's going to spray the Magic Queendom with deadly paraquat!" A park employee working in Tomorrowland told New West Magazine, "Hell, these people aren't so weird. You shoulda been here for the psychiatrists' convention. They said that Dumbo was a symbol to adults of penis envy. Now they were weird." TRANNIE PROSTITUTES ON FOURTH STREET! From a longtime Santa Ana resident: "I had a business near Fourth Street in Santa Ana a couple of years ago that required me to spend many late nights. When I would finally close up, they'd approach me—individuals with large breasts and even larger bulges in their pants. I never went for it—I like straight women, thank you—but the amount of condoms I'd find close to my store the morning after proved that the often-repeated Mexican-men-hate-gays line is a lie, at least in Santa Ana. You can still find condoms there, too!" HEY, WE'RE TRANNIE NIRVANA! The Orange County Imperial Court, a fund-raising/ activist organization made up of drag queens, held its first coronation ball at the Balboa Pavilion in April 1973. Big hair, hoop skirts, glittery jewelry and glam, glam, glam were the rules. Tourist heads turned and crowds gathered at the sight of drags getting out of their cars and entering the building. A few years later, a group of about 20 transsexuals met for a potluck dinner at a private home in Costa Mesa to stir up interest in a trannie support group in OC. A special guest of the evening was Laguna Niguel resident Christine Jorgensen, who in 1952 underwent the world's first sex-change operation. News of the event ran in Renaissance, a Santa Ana-based trannie newsletter. YOUR ANAHEIM ANGELS! The then-California Angels moved into then-Anaheim Stadium for the 1966 season. Take the Kinsey Study, which claimed that 10 percent of the population is gay, and apply it to the approximately 1,300 players who've ever put on an Angels uniform during the team's 38 years in OC, and you've got quite a platoon of ball-whacking switch-hitters who love waving their wood around. Like all pro sports, baseball is a pretty good atmosphere for a closeted queer athlete to hide in. Just ask Billy Bean, who made it from the diamond at Santa Ana High School all the way to the majors in an eight-year career that included stints with the Tigers, Dodgers and Padres, coming out only after he retired (and writing a book about his experience, Going the Other Way). And we won't even get into the tight uniforms with the ass-flattering pants, or the constant butt-patting that goes down on the field, or the crowds who obliviously sing along to the Village People's "YMCA" whenever it blares across stadium sound systems, a tune that—do we really have to keep reminding you people?—is all about cruising for hot man-on-man action in health-club locker rooms!
 
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