In 1969, with the Stonewall Rebellion and the beginning of the militant Gay Liberation movement, the lives of gay and lesbian people in Los Angeles and nationally were transformed.
The early vehicles for this radical revolution in L.A. were the Metropolitan Community Church and the L.A. Gay Liberation Front which evolved into the Gay Community Services Center (now the LA LGBT Center), then as now, the largest such organization in the world. (“Understanding LA Gay History”)
Over the next year, I will be writing about that history in Los Angeles (1969-1980), and its pivotal events. It is a collective Gay Liberation story of profound significance and magnitude.
The Show In Front Of The Camera
One of those early pivotal events occurred in 1971, a half century ago with L.A. PRIDE only one year old, when GLF/GCSC was invited to be on KCET, then the National Public Television station in L.A., as guests talking about Gay Liberation and GCSC on the “Current Events” show hosted by a young Lynn Littman. The premise of “Current Events” was to report on what was new and cutting edge in L.A.
The appearance of militant and articulate gay and lesbian people on the show was an important breakthrough at the time—the first television show in L.A. which took the Gay Liberation movement seriously and had a substantive discussion about gay and lesbian oppression within the context of systemic and institutionalized Hetero Supremacy. The appearance of gay and lesbian people on the show was validation for what GLF/GCSC was trying to accomplish at the time—the creation for the first time of a visible, organized, politically/culturally aware, and self-accepting gay community where we collectively assumed responsibility for each other. And KCET reached then a liberal demographic in L.A. with which the pioneering Gay Liberation movement wanted to engage in a forward-moving, proactive dialogue.
Two rare videos from that early, post-Stonewall, gay social revolution are found below in the form of the 1971 KCET “Current Events” show titled “The Gay Way.” PRIDE was originally created to celebrate and commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. This fact has been largely erased by the Rainbow Capitalism that now controls PRIDE in L.A. and nationally. For example, in 2019, when the rest of the country was joyfully celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, L.A. PRIDE in West Hollywood incredibly made no mention of that anniversary or even Stonewall whatsoever. Stonewall is an affront to the WeHo establishment.
In the first video, four GLF/GCSC gay men talked about Gay Liberation and the newly-founded community center. They are Morris Kight, the founder of GLF and co-founder with me of GCSC, Rev. Dick Nash, a Unitarian minister, Jon Platania, a Gay Liberationist, and me, a GLF organizer and founding Executive Director of GCSC. This was the first time a television audience in L.A. heard gay and lesbian people talking about their oppression and dehumanization, and how gay people were seizing their own liberation with the assistance of our straight allies.
“The Gay Way” – KCET Los Angeles (1971) – Part I, Gay Men
The second video records a wide-ranging discussion in 1971 by radical lesbians in L.A.—Ellen Broidy, Susan McGreivy, Liz Stevens, Marsha Salisbury among others—ushering in a consciousness of social revolution among women and laying the groundwork for a progressive lesbian community.
“The Gay Way” – KCET Los Angeles (1971) – Part II, Lesbian Women
REMEMBER: As you watch these videos, remember that at the time, each one of these individuals was labeled psychopathological (sick) by the mental health industry, a criminal worthy of arrest by the State of California and the LAPD, an abomination in the eyes of God by virtually every religious groups, and a target for being killed by rabid Hetero Supremacists with little concern from the public. That Gay Liberation generation waged a ceaseless, militant struggle for their liberation from the dominant Hetero Supremacy culture, creating a legacy which includes the freedom LGBTQ people enjoy today.
REMEMBER: As you attend PRIDE events in June, events created to celebrate the Stonewall Rebellion and the Gay Liberation movement, you will hear nothing or next to nothing about this social revolution which had international ramifications. In West Hollywood, PRIDE has been stolen from the community by the West Hollywood government and Chamber of Commerce. (Link to my essay in WEHOville.com “WEHO Takes Pride Hostage”) What once had been a vibrant grassroots commemoration, now, in very wealthy West Hollywood, that largely L.A. community-based celebration has been replaced by the hiring of a commercial event planner by the City of West Hollywood to produce a commercial PRIDE event divorced from the L.A. LGBTQ PRIDE celebration, a historic act of opportunism by West Hollywood which sees no larger sense of inclusion in, cooperation with, or responsibility for a Los Angeles LGBTQ community. Is that a delegitimizing act for WeHo PRIDE?
West Hollywood is more interested in your money than your historical consciousness or political activism. WeHo PRIDE has been turned into another commercial, bacchanalian party—pay your money, get your PRIDE. If this is news to you, you haven’t been paying attention. The West Hollywood establishment’s primary goal is to use PRIDE as the honey to lure outside-L.A. people to make WeHo a PRIDE holiday destination to spend cash at its new, expensive hotels, high-priced bars, high-end restaurants and trendy nightclubs, thereby making WeHo and its businesses wealthier still. The commemoration of a gay people’s social revolution that has transformed the lives of gay and lesbian people has been opportunistically tossed into a WeHo trash can.
Ideally, if I could have sprinkled Radical Faery dust over West Hollywood, WeHo would have realized that L.A. LGBTQ community unity was more important than money; it would have integrated itself into the L.A. PRIDE celebration constructively, forgoing its own WeHo PRIDE; and at the end of the L.A. PRIDE March on Hollywood Blvd. on June 12th, would have invited the marchers over to West Hollywood for socializing and celebratory partying, thereby everybody in the community wins, not just the agenda of the pale and already-wealthy—a people united can never be defeated.
Beginning this year, 2022, two very different PRIDE celebrations are happening in Los Angeles. They come from two different places in history, have two different guiding values systems, have two different stakeholders they are accountable to; have two different race and class demographics they must serve; one is large and one is extremely small. I could go on and on, but it is all bad news for the Los Angeles LGBTQ community. It is critically-important that PRIDE in L.A. looks like L.A. and represents the entirety of LGBTQ people in L.A. That is not presently happening.
The questions I have to politely ask gay people in L.A. are, as a community, are you embarrassed by what is happening to PRIDE in West Hollywood? Are you disgusted by what WeHo PRIDE has become? Let your LGBTQ political thoughts and emotions out of the closet. Express yourself, publicly. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely observed, silence is not neutral, silence equals acquiescence.
REMEMBER: The original, iconic, militant, grassroots, participatory Los Angeles PRIDE celebration, as contrasted to the WeHo PRIDE, has fled West Hollywood and returns to its 1970 Gay Liberation roots by organizing a march down Hollywood Blvd. in the heart of Hollywood, on Sunday, June 12th. The event starts at noon and participants should meet at Hollywood Blvd. and Cahuenga Blvd. at 10:30 a.m. Contact L.A. PRIDE and volunteer your help as part of grassroots organizing team.
Let me also suggest to the L.A. PRIDE organizing committee, it is important that you explain to the LA. LGBTQ community what motivated you to take the extraordinary step after several decades of pulling out of West Hollywood. There is a community need to know. Transparency adds clarity to the discussion. Did Black Lives Matters and related matters influence your decision. I hope so.
To tell the truth, L.A. PRIDE in 2022 smells mythical to me somehow. It’s as if something is moving in the soul of the Los Angeles LGBTQ community that is enabling it to have the possibility of reconnecting to community-based PRIDE again, with something important in our against-all-odds history and the incredible collective story that created a LGBTQ community that commands real pride. And it’s all FREE.
Let me make it clear, I am not saying we must go back in time to be relevant. That’s impossible; times and circumstances have changed. I am suggesting moving forward from the current status quo. L.A. PRIDE must keep one eye on where we came from and honor that history because that is the reason PRIDE was created in the first place and that story has fed the soul of the L.A. community for decades.
L.A. Pride must also keep the other eye on moving our history forward by creating a PRIDE celebration in Los Angeles that looks like the LGBTQ community here—with all its international flair and exquisite racial and cultural features on display; with all its socioeconomic classes welcomed and feeling like it’s their PRIDE too; with L.A.’s gay north meeting gay south and L.A.’s gay east meeting gay west; a L.A. PRIDE that says something powerful about our political/cultural awareness and who we are becoming that we can genuinely take pride in—not an anachronistic bubble defined by white entitlement and extreme wealth.
The 2022 Los Angeles PRIDE celebration has the potential to reconnect LGBTQ people again with the struggle and sacrifice of those who went before you, that liberated you, and made you whole. That generation created something new and alive and beautiful to replace what for generations before brought only pain and sorrow into our collective lives. Jai!
The Show Behind the KCET Cameras
To give you a glimpse of what GLF was up against in 1971, after the four gay men were seated on the set of “Current Events,” nothing happened. Lynn and other KCET program people were seen scurrying about backstage. After about a half-hour, Lynn filled us in on what was occurring. The hetero camera, sound and technical people were refusing to record the show. They were outraged that KCET had invited four “homosexuals” to be on the program and was treating us as normal people. They insisted that the only way they would record the show is if we had our faces blurred out or wore masks, one of the customary ways Hetero Supremacists shamed gay people. The gay men emphatically explained that we don’t do that anymore; we were no longer bothered by being ourselves in public. Finally, the head of the union had to be called in to tell the tech crew that they would be in violation of their contract with KCET if they persisted and ordered them back to work. It worked.
Twenty-five years ago, I loaned a bright, young gay man, on his way to party at PRIDE in WeHo, a copy of “Some Of Your Best Friends” by USC’s Ken Robinson, the very first Gay Liberation documentary made, largely here in L.A. in 1970-71. A week later, on returning the film, he angrily shouted, “Why hasn’t anybody ever told me about this history. This history is something I can be proud of.”
In honor of the deep longing of that bright, young gay man, on the occasion of the 2022 PRIDE month in Los Angeles, let me humbly say to you, LGBTQ people, you have a liberation history you can be proud of. It’s increasingly relevant to the political situation LGBTQ people find themselves in today. It’s important you stay awake and not let yourselves be distracted by shiny, glittery phenomenon signifying nothing.
Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., a pioneering Gay Liberationist, has been a frontlines community organizer continuously for over 50 years in Los Angeles and nationally. He is also a co-founder with Morris Kight of the Gay Community Services Center (now the LA LGBT Center), co-founder of the international Radical Faeries movement with Harry Hay, and a facilitator of intergenerational dialogues in L.A., among other gay community contributions.