An Incomplete History of Gay & Lesbian OC
Photo by Brian Feinzimer
3 MILLION B.C. The Pacific Ocean begins sculpting Laguna's famous gay West Street Beach.
LATE 1700s Over 130 North American natives are documented to include among their tribes berdache, androgynous people classified as neither man nor woman—cross-dressers, basically, but in a spiritual sense. Berdache are plentiful among the Native Americans living at the missions that pepper the length of California—nearly every village has two, three if they're lucky. But the Spanish Catholics who have established the mission system are hell-bent on eliminating berdacheism. A priest writes, "We place our trust in God and expect that these accursed people will disappear with the growth of the missions." Apparently, they do. By the 1820s, a missionary living at San Juan Capistrano reports that while berdache were once very numerous among the natives, "At the present time, this horrible custom is entirely unknown to them."
1835 After a five-month voyage from Boston around Cape Horn, Richard Henry Dana, a 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 . . . a shipful of burly seamen . . .
1920s The blossoming film industry discovers that Laguna Beach makes a great shooting locale. Laguna's first wave of gays arrives as members of these early movie crews.
1927 The South Seas bar in Laguna Beach—later known as the Boom Boom Room—opens.
1937 Puritan fraidy-cats take a plaster fig leaf and cover over the wibbly-wobbly thing between the legs of the David statue at Forest Lawn in Cypress. Big Dave's package will remain sealed until June 1969.
1942 The El Toro and Tustin Marine Corps air stations open. Until both are decommisioned in the '90s, an untold number of mostly closeted gay and lesbian servicepeople will pass through them.
1957 Two years after its opening, Disneyland adopts regulations regarding public dancing, which includes a ban on same-sex shimmying. The idea, officials say, is to control crowds. The rule remains on the books until 1985.
1964 The Happy Hour, a women's bar in Garden Grove, opens. Lured by cheap rents, other gay bars spring up in the city throughout the next 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, gay bars in Garden Grove actually outnumber West Hollywood's. Police harassment eventually shuts down most, but the Happy Hour is still there 35 years later.
APRIL 1966 The California Angels move into Anaheim Stadium. Take the Kinsey Study, which claimed that 10 percent of the population is gay, and apply it to the approximately 1,100 ballplayers who've ever put on an Angels uniform during the team's 33 years. Then there's the fact that sports is a great place for a closeted queer athlete to hide.
MAY 1966 The Santa Ana Register (later known as The Orange County Register) reports on a "crackdown of suspected homosexuals" in the Newport Pier area, men who have allegedly been propositioning undercover police officers. The key word here is "alleged": before the men can be convicted, the Register prints their names, ages, home addresses and occupations, as if they're already guilty.
MARCH 1968 The Advocate, which has just started publishing and will eventually grow into "the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine," reports that an OC man has recently lost his home and car insurances after a neighbor saw him kissing a man in his back yard. The neighbor called police, who notified his insurance company.
1971 Christ Chapel Metropolitan Community Church, affiliated with the church's growing movement of gay-tolerant denominations, opens its doors in Santa Ana.
FEBRUARY 1971 Cal State Fullerton's Experimental College offers a course called Gay Life and Lib: A Study In Homosexual Life Styles and Politics. The Experimental College is part of a national trend on college campuses, a move toward non-traditional classes and new educational concepts. Other classes offered this semester at CSUF include Witchcraft: Traditional Vs. Avant-Garde, Appreciation of Restroom Graffiti, and the Life and Music of Jimi Hendrix.
APRIL 1972 The pink mailbox outside the Costa Mesa home of John Rule tells you that you've found what will eventually evolve into the Orange County Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center—one of the first in the country. The center is born in Rule's house this month, with a hot line and group rap sessions. The center will later move to Garden Grove to be more accessible to bar patrons, but it will endure broken windows and other assorted acts of vandalism—including a dead possum with a knife through its head left on the front porch.
SEPTEMBER 1972 A man wearing a GROOVY GUY T-shirt attempts to enter Disneyland. Park security, however, makes him turn his shirt inside-out. The slogan refers to a hunky-man contest regularly featured in the Advocate. It's not clear how Disneyland security officers would know this.
APRIL 1973 The Orange County Imperial Court, a fund-raising/ activist organization made up of drag queens, holds its first coronation ball at the Balboa Pavilion. Big hair, hoop skirts, glittery jewelry and glam, glam, glam are the rules. Tourist heads turn and crowds gather at the sight of drag queens getting out of their cars and entering the building.
SEPT. 7, 1974 Police harassment of gay bars in Garden Grove has been an ongoing problem. The Advocate reports that bar patrons have had address books stolen from their cars, and anyone arrested on a lewd-conduct charge (which often involves nothing more than hugging, kissing and hand-holding) has the names and addresses of their acquaintances copied down by police. Things come to a head on this day, when nearly 500 demonstrators hold a 1.5-mile march down Garden Grove Boulevard to protest a recent spate of 43 arrests. The crowds chant slogans like "Two, four, six, eight, how do you know your son is straight?" The march ends with several speeches at Garden Grove City Hall. The Advocate interviews a gas-station manager on what he thinks 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." Another bystander is less sympathetic: "I was aware [of all the gay bars in town]. I've been beating them up for a long time."
1976 Exodus International, a "reparative therapy" group that attempts to change gays and lesbians into perfect specimens of heterosexuality, is founded at Anaheim's Melodyland Christian Center by Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper. But on a plane ride while stumping for the group, the pair realize they've fallen in love—with each other. They quit the organization and begin speaking out about the harmful effects of reparative therapy programs. Now based in Seattle, Exodus has grown into one of the largest of such groups—though they don't like to talk about their founders, whose story is told in a 1993 PBS documentary.
JUNE 18, 1976 A group of about 20 transsexuals meet 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 is Laguna Niguel resident Christine Jorgensen, who in 1952 underwent the world's first sex-change operation. News of the event runs in Renaissance, a Santa Ana-based newsletter for transsexuals.
SEPT. 14, 1977 The San Clemente Sun-Post reports on the growing number of military men from nearby Camp Pendleton who are coming into town and prostituting themselves to older gay men.
1978 John Briggs, a Republican state senator from Fullerton, gets an initiative placed on the November ballot, the Briggs Initiative (Proposition 6), which if passed would make it illegal for California public schools to hire gay teachers, mandate the removal of any teacher discovered to be gay after he or she is hired, and prohibit even straight teachers from portraying homosexuality in a positive light, under the penalty of dismissal. Prop. 6 is so smelly, even Ronald Reagan speaks out against it. But supporters include 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 calls the city "the moral garbage dump of homosexuality in this country," to which Harvey Milk replies, "Nobody likes garbage 'cause it smells. Yet 8 million tourists visited San Francisco last year. I wonder how many visited Fullerton?"
MAY 25, 1978 Upward of 20,000 people attend the first-ever "gay night" at Disneyland, which is sponsored in part by a West Hollywood disco. Dance floors are closed off for the evening, however. Attached to every pre-sale ticket is a dress code ("No drags"), plus an order against passing out pamphlets or leaflets. "This is the Gay Woodstock!" exults one reveler. People from outside the county, though, are a bit paranoid about going anywhere near OC. Says one gay activist, "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 tells 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."
NOV. 7, 1978 Prop. 6 is defeated at the polls by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin. "Mark my words," Briggs tells 250 supporters at an election-night party at the South Coast Plaza Hotel in Costa Mesa, "the battle is not over." Oh, but it is, sweetheart.
SEPT. 23-25, 1979 The Register runs an excellent, generally positive three-part series on gay and lesbian life in OC written by staffer Lori Weisberg. However, many of the people interviewed for the story don't want their names used.
SEPT. 13, 1980 Andrew Exler, a 19-year-old Loara High School graduate, and his male date, Shawn Elliot, are booted out of Disneyland for dancing together. They had only been doing so for a couple of minutes when Tomorrowland Terrace security guards escorted them off the floor and out of the park. One guard tells them, "This is a family park. There's no room for alternative lifestyles here." Exler sues.
SEPT. 14, 1980 Renowned gay architect Philip Johnson's latest work—the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove—is dedicated. Johnson later calls Robert Schuller's TV palace "a big studio."
FALL 1980 The Orange County Gay & Lesbian Resource Booklet is published. It's a 34-page user's guide to queer OC, with phone numbers and addresses for community, political and health organizations; bars; and gay-accepting churches.
1981 A fire of suspicious origins damages the current Orange County Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center building on Garden Grove's Euclid Street, forcing a relocation. Today, the center is in a comfy office complex on Garden Grove Boulevard.
NOVEMBER 1981 Disney dance activist Andrew Exler runs for a seat on the Fullerton Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees, becoming one of the first—if not the first—openly gay candidates to seek office in OC. He loses.
1983 Laguna Beach's Bob Gentry becomes the first openly gay person elected mayor of an American city.
1984 The AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County is established.
1984 Former Congressman Bob Dornan, a carpetbagging opportunist and raging homophobe, moves from Santa Monica to Garden Grove in order to run in a district where he thinks his chances will be better. He wins, thoroughly embarrassing OC for the next 14 years before fading into obscurity.
MAY 18, 1984 Disneyland's 27-year-old ban on same-sex dancing is struck down by a jury vote, 11-1. Andrew Exler and Shawn Elliot's dismissal from the park is ruled a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. However, their victory means that only Exler and Elliot can dance together—no other same-sex couples. The ban will be lifted outright a year later, when Videopolis, the park's new dance club, opens—partially because of the Exler case, but mostly because with these damn kids today, you just can't tell who's dancing with whom anyhow. By the 1990s, Disney will evolve into one of the most outwardly gay-friendly companies around, with its own gay-employee group.
MAY 10, 1985 Owners of the Garden Grove bar Mac's Landing file a $2.7 million lawsuit against the city, alleging police harassment of their customers. According to the suit, Garden Grove cops have been regularly stationing themselves outside the bar at night, taking photos of people going in and out. Police also employ intimidation tactics, such as making regular walk-throughs several times per hour. "We have had more police in and around Mac's Landing than the local Winchell's Donuts," reads the bar's newsletter. The constant harassment withers the number of gay bars in Garden Grove even further. Today, only two remain.
JUNE 1985 OC businessman Niles Merton becomes publisher of The Advocate.
NOVEMBER 1987 Vincent Chalk, an OC middle school teacher laid off because he has AIDS, wins reinstatement in a landmark wrongful-termination ruling.
1988 The city of Irvine includes sexual orientation as part of an anti-discrimination ordinance. A year later, it will be repealed by voters in a savage, nationally prominent campaign.
1988 The first gay night at Knott's Berry Farm is held.
September 1988 Courting the the conservative nut fringe, Vice President George Bush, who is running for president, names anti-gay Congressman Bill Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) as his personal representative at a national medical conference. Dannemeyer had just said that "AIDS was God's way of punishing gays."
JUNE 1989 The OC Board of Supervisors makes Orange County the only urban area in California to reject plans to outlaw discrimination against people with AIDS in housing, employment and public services.
SEPT. 10, 1989 A clash between attendees at Day 2 of the first Orange County Gay Pride Festival and Parade in Santa Ana's Centennial Park and a gaggle of protesting Christian conservatives results in a mini riot, with six arrests. Lou Sheldon, who tried to stop the fest, says, "Orange County is not the place to flaunt homosexuality. We'll fight to stop the homosexuals from staging another festival, no matter where they go." Didn't work, hon. The fest and parade move the next year to UC Irvine, its present home, and the site of this weekend's 11th annual event.
MAY 1990 ACT UP/Orange County is born.
MARCH 9, 1991 Five activists are arrested for trespassing outside an Anaheim church after attempting to disrupt a Lou Sheldon-run symposium titled "Preservation of the Heterosexual Ethic"—whatever the hell that is.
JUNE 12, 1991 Five members of ACT UP/Orange County leave 170 pounds of steer manure outside the Anaheim headquarters of Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition.
SEPT. 8, 1991 The first protest by the OC chapter of Queer Nation. Three members, chanting "Stop crucifying queers!" are arrested after disrupting services at Santa Ana's Calvary Chapel, an action taken in response to Calvary members who've been passing out anti-gay literature in West Hollywood.
1992 The city of Laguna Beach begins offering domestic-partnership benefits.
APRIL 1992 The Blade premieres. Though often criticized for lacking heavy news content, OC's only gay publication can still occasionally pull off a great story, such as Denise Penn's May 1995 "Confessions of an El Toro Marine" piece.
AUGUST 1992 Laguna Beach's Frank Ricchiazzi is one of two openly gay alternate delegates at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, where Pat Buchanan calls for a "cultural war."
1993 Eric Anderson, a track coach at Huntington Beach High School, begins coming out to his students and colleagues. At the time, he is the only openly gay athletic coach in OC.
OCTOBER 1993 A student-led gay-support group begins meeting on the campus of Fountain Valley High School. The Student Alliance, as it's called, has about 45 members. By January, word—and controversy—gets out, culminating in a meeting of the Huntington Beach Union High School District Board. With police officers standing by, a crowd of 300 argues whether the alliance should be allowed to stay. The board votes 4-1 in favor, citing the district's Equal Access Policy.
FEBRUARY 1994 In response to the formation of the Fountain Valley High Student Alliance, a similar group is started by straight student Erich Phinizy at Huntington Beach High School. The public outcry is more like an out-whisper. A student at Canyon High School in Anaheim will also attempt to start a gay-straight alliance group, but she is discouraged from doing so by fellow students and faculty members.
OCT. 15, 1994 Three members of the Orange County Master Chorale resign after being told they would be performing with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in a concert to pay tribute to people with AIDS.
April 1995 After a right-wing Republican takeover of the Laguna Beach City Council in the November 1994 elections, the city council decides it will protest the annual "Laguna Pride Festival," a weekend-long event sponsored by the city's gay and gay-friendly merchants. Apparently self-loathing gay councilman Wayne Peterson (a member of the conservative gay Log Cabin Republicans) complained that "there are people who get tired of their relatives calling from Nebraska asking, 'How's the gay mecca?'" Fellow Republican Steve Dicterow was equally neanderthal. He claims he supports the gay community but doesn't want the "world" to think Laguna Beach has "only gay events."
MARCH 1996 In a profile in Sports Illustrated, pro golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin of Laguna Beach becomes the first LPGA player to come out. In June, she'll appear on the cover of The Advocate.
APRIL 21, 1996 The Register runs an announcement of the engagement of Eddie Miller and H. "Mac" McCarthy on its Celebrations page, complete with a photo of the happy couple.
February 1996 The Weekly profiles the case of Scott Stockwell, who has been on trial in Newport Beach for the brutal near-decapitation of Orange County gay businessman Boyd Finkel at his Irvine home. Stockwell's attorney argues that it was Stockwell, the killer, who had been the victim of a "domineering and calculating" homosexual "who would have died anyway." The jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter, the lowest possible finding other than "not guilty." A juror tells the Weeklythat a majority of the jury decided it was okay to defend against alleged homosexual advances by "whatever means necessary."
June 1996 Huntington Beach High School track star Jerryme Negrete suffers fractures to both sides of his jaw, head contusions, a damaged ear drum, multiple severe bruises and blood in both eyes after he was beaten by a fellow student screaming anti-gay epithets. Principal Jim Staunton dismisses the incident as a "game" that evolved into "punches." Staunton also praised the athletic skills of the attacker and said, "nothing homophobic happened." Negrete will have a 2-inch stainless-steel plate screwed to his jaw for the rest of his life.
NOVEMBER 1996 Libby Cowan wins election to the Costa Mesa City Council—with lots of gay support—and Loretta Sanchez topples Bob Dornan.
May 1997 Brian O'Leary Bennett, a long-time close advisor and travel companion to Dornan, comes out of the closet on the front page of the Times Orange County. Bennett, now a lobbyist for Edison, says, "I was in the mindset of working for Bob Dornan for so long that I was a horrible, horrible person." Bennett refused, however, to distance himself from the anti-gay congressman whom he affectionately calls "Poppy." An embarrassed Dornan leaves a long, rambling angry telephone message at the Weekly in hopes of strenuously distancing himself from Bennett.
AUG. 8, 1998 Gay Games 5 closes in Amsterdam. OC team members pick up 25 medals, 16 in swimming alone.
JUNE 1999 Though he solicited money and votes from the gay community for his election, Democratic state Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) refuses in a cowardly manner to provide the necessary last vote on a bill to bolster protection of gay and lesbian students from discrimination and physical violence.
AUG. 12, 1999 Former OC Democratic Party Chairman Jim Toledano comes out on the cover of OC Weekly.
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