ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives

“Silver Lake Out Loud”: Revisiting The Black Cat Tavern Protest That Changed Everything

"Nobody has given us anything we haven't had to fight for."

Every Wednesday, we’ll be sharing short films that illuminate queer life. Welcome to #HumpdayShorts.

As Pride month wraps up, we remember that while the Stonewall Riots were a flashpoint in the evolution of LGBT rights, they were not the beginning of the movement. Two years before the first brick was thrown, another protest—one nearly 3,000 miles away—had an impact we’re still feeling today.

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On New Year’s Eve 1967, the Black Cat Tavern, a gay bar in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, was subject to a raid. Witnesses reported authorities used “deliberate and excessive force,” including mercilessly beating one patron in the head with a pool stick. It was hardly the first raid, but it sparked a riot in Silver Lake that engulfed adjoining bars—across the street at New Faces, officers knocked down the female owner and beat two bartenders unconscious.

In all, 14 customers were arrested.

Then, on February 11, 1967, between 300 and 600 demonstrators gathered outside the tavern to protest police brutality. Despite the presence of squadrons of armed policemen, it was a peaceful event—demonstrators were even careful not to litter or drop any leaflets on the ground.

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives

Ultimately two men arrested in the raid were convicted of “lewd conduct”—for kissing on New Year’s Eve. But their lawyers did something unusual for the times: They appealed, establishing a precedent of fighting such convictions rather than slinking back into fear and obscurity.

In a historical footnote, the group that sponsored the February 11 demonstration, Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE), went on to launch what would soon became the Advocate. The raid, and a subsequent incident at the Patch in 1968, also inspired the creation of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), which now has 222 congregations in 37 countries.

In 2008, the Black Cat was designated a historic monument by the city. Earlier this year, a special ceremony was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the raid and subsequent protest.

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This month, transportation app Lyft sponsored “Silver Lake Out Loud,” a short film directed by Cheryl Dunn that profiles Alexei Romanoff, who organized the 1967 Black Cat demonstration. “It was more than just a place to socialize, it was a place to be. Where we felt safe,” says Romanoff, 89.

Lyft

“Silver Lake Out Loud” highlights the critical story of how a community stood up against injustice and demonstrated the power of peaceful collective action. It’s a emotional piece of art, one that shares a piece of LGBT history that’s too often untaught.

Watch “Silver Lake Out Loud” below.
 

 

Editor in Chief of NewNowNext. Comic book enthusiast. Bounder and cad.
@ItsDanAvery