a hop, skip and a tumble down the street from where I live is a crusty little bar called le barcito, nestled between a laundromat and rough trade, which is a seller of…um…er…adult leather goods? i think. at least that’s what i heard somewhere. anyway, i’ve been in le barcito a couple of times for a drink on my way to akbar or the eagle or church or wherever and have always thought it was a perfectly okay place to start or end an evening.
the bar itself is a typical hole-in-the-wall gay latino bar — flat screens showing news, soccer or telenovelas, really bad techno, pop and tejano music, and semi-scary drag performances. oh, and cheap drinks. pretty standard stuff. nothing to write home about.
so i was surprised when i read this article from the LA times last november reporting that the los angeles city council had designated le barcito a historic-cultural landmark. whaaaa? pero, por qué?
amazingly, the bar, which was formerly called the black cat, was the center of major protests in silver lake in february 1967. in the 60s and 70s, life as a gay american was a lot different than today. there were no legal protections for gays and people could be fired from work if they were outed, or arrested if they were caught holding hands or kissing someone of the same sex. so in that environment on new year’s eve of 1966/1967, plainclothes cops went into the black cat, beat up and arrested 14 patrons and bartenders. two of the men arrested were later found guilty of lewd conduct, just for kissing each other as auld lang syne played, and were registered as sex offenders. these events happened two years before the stonewall riots (which are widely seen as the birth of the gay rights movement in america), and the resulting protests drew hundreds of LA residents demanding equal protections for homosexuals under the law.
in addition to a handful of my friends who live in the neighborood, the event commemorating this landmark drew superstar LA city council president eric garcetti, lillian faderman – a scholar, author and historian of GLBTQ history and alexei romanoff, who was the owner of the new faces bar (now circus of books bookstore) down the street from the black cat. (rami kashou of project runway fame was also there, and we chatted for like eight seconds. he seems really nice!)
the event made me well up with such a Snuggie™ feeling of pride and gratitude for everything that GLBTQ’s of a previous generation have done for me and the friends i love. it also gives me courage and hope for the future, and brings added meaning to the hours of protesting we did following the passage of prop 8 in november.
even though i was closeted growing up in my little hometown in florida and constantly received signals from all around me that it wasn’t okay to be gay, i knew that there were other places in the world where it was. and it’s because of the amazing sacrifices that people like alexei made to just be the person they were born to be that made that possible.