On November 7, 2008, the Black Cat Bar site (now "Le
at 3909 Sunset Boulevard was designated City of Los Angeles
Historic Cultural Monument #939.
What happened at the Black Cat in 1967?
On New Year's Eve 1966/1967 the celebration was in full swing, up to a
point: "The bar looked festive, colored balloons covered the
ceiling. There were three glittering Christmas trees. There were
also police officers. Eight of them. Informally dressed. One in a
bright red sweater. They drank beer at the bar. They played pool.
They might have been anyone." Midnight came. The Rhythm Queens sang "Auld Lang Syne," and
traditional kisses were exchanged.
This triggered a sudden outburst from the officers present. Without
identifying themselves they seized then arrested employees and patrons
alike. Fourteen in all. The short order cook tried to escape
through the back door. Two bartenders were dragged over the bar - the
same bar used to this day by Le Barcito. Several persons fell or were
pushed onto the same concrete floor you're likely standing on right now, then
dragged into waiting patrol cars.
Officers then raided the New Faces bar at 4001 Sunset. Lee Roy, the
female co-owner, was mistaken by police for a man in drag, struck and
hospitalized. Robert Haas, a 120-pound waiter, was dragged onto the
sidewalk. His jaw and temple were cracked and his spleen ruptured.
After being taken to the hospital he was booked for felony assault on a police
These cases sparked a tremendous amount of fear and anger in the gay
community. In 1967, bars were about the only place to gather in relative
safety. A legal defense fund was established, the media was contacted and
there was some television news coverage, though no coverage by the print media
other than the LA Free Press.
Six of the men arrested for exchanging kisses at the Black Cat were convicted
of lewd conduct and required to register as sex offenders for the rest of their
lives. Two (Charles Talley and Benny Baker - witnessed kissing other men
for anywhere from 3 to 5 seconds each)
appealed their convictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a
cert petition to the Court their attorney, Herbert Selwyn, argued for the first
time ever solely on the basis of equal protection under the law for
homosexuals. However the Court declined to hear the case.
On the night of February 11, 1967 three to six hundred persons took part in what was
likely the largest protest ever to be held in this country up to that point in
time by lesbian and gay people. Two years before the Stonewall Riots in New York City in June of 1969. The protesters marched in
front of the bars and held a rally in the Black Cat's parking lot.
Lillian Faderman, co-author of Gay L.A. has called this protest "the
crucial spark that ignited a whole movement."
PRIDE was a co-organizer of the Black Cat protest. When mainstream media
failed to cover either the raid or the protest PRIDE's newsletter editor,
Richard Mitch, realized the gay community needed a newspaper of its own.
In September of 1967 the PRIDE Newsletter became the Los Angeles Advocate, and
after PRIDE dissolved, simply the Advocate magazine.
Within the Los Angeles LGBT rights movement the Black Cat and New Faces protest
is part of a long chain of significant achievements which include the founding
of the Mattachine Society in 1950, ONE (now the ONE Archives) in 1953, Dr.
Evelyn Hooker's work during the 1950s, the Advocate in 1967, the Metropolitan
Community Church in 1968, and Christopher Street West (organizer of the annual
Pride Parade) in 1970.
Look around. Consider how history can be created in the most unlikely of
places. And remember the courage and pride of those who marched outside the
front doors in 1967.