Meet the Logo30: Jewel Thais-Williams

A health care activist for black and queer folks, she contains multitudes.

Every day during the month of June, we will be spotlighting our 2019 Logo30. This powerful series profiles ordinary and extraordinary people who show pride in unique and provocative ways. Visit the Logo30 homepage to learn more about the series.

Despite it being illegal in 1973 for women to tend bar in California, an entrepreneurial Jewel Thais-Williams bought a small bar at the corner of Pico and Norton Avenues in Los Angeles. That bar, Jewel’s Catch One (named for the practice of going out on the prowl to pick someone up), became more than a gathering place, more than the longest-running black-owned gay dance club in the nation. It became an institution, sitting alongside New York’s Paradise Garage and Chicago’s Warehouse as a queer cultural landmark, a temple to dance music and newfound sexual liberty.

“The Catch” drew entertainers and artists including Sammy Davis Jr., Chaka Khan, Sylvester, Weather Girls, and Rick James. The bar and Thais-Williams, 79, were the subjects of Jewel’s Catch One, a documentary exploring the position the club occupied in black and queer life in Los Angeles, and featuring interviews with club regulars Sharon Stone, Madonna, and Sandra Bernhard, as well as Thelma Houston, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Thea Austin, Jenifer Lewis, and Rep. Maxine Waters.

After a damaging experience with a culturally incompetent physician, Thais-Williams went back to school at age 60 and earned a Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Samra University. In 2001, she opened the Village Health Foundation, a non-profit focusing on nutrition and healthy living within the African American community. Thais-Williams also co-founded Rue’s House, the first housing facility in the United States to serve women with AIDS and their children.

Watch Logo’s full interview with Thais-Williams below.
 

Editorial director at Logo. Likes sunny spots with palm trees and drinks with umbrellas.
@matbreen