L.A.’s Role in the LGBTQ Liberation Movement Takes the Spotlight in a New Doc

Director Gregorio Davila’s ’L.A. A Queer History’ tells the gripping story of the struggle for gay liberation in Los Angeles from the turn of the 20th century on

New York City may get the bulk of the attention during Pride month, but a new documentary celebrates the critical role L.A. played in the battle for LGBTQ rights.

Rolling back the clock all the way to the turn of the 20th century and chronicling the decades that followed, director Gregorio Davila’s L.A. A Queer History—which screens this weekend at the Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival—unspools a rich history of the movement using original footage from decades of demonstrations, interviews with activists who were on the frontlines, and narration from stars including Rosario Dawson and Steve Buscemi.

The film takes a hard look at police harassment of the LGBTQ community at a time when arrests were common and humiliation was used as a tool to keep people from expressing their sexuality. “It’s just the way that it was. There was no ‘out of the closet.’ You were just permanently in,” explains Davila.

It also reveals how Los Angeles activists were on the cutting edge of change. They fought to have the first L.A. Pride parade down Hollywood Boulevard back in 1970, a fight that brought in the ACLU and ended up with a win in court. “Los Angeles started Pride,” says Davila. “Now parades are held every year in cities across the globe.”

There were a number of other historical firsts in L.A. The documentary chronicles the launch of the first gay magazine, called ONE, back in 1953; the first PRIDE organization (Personal Rights through Defense and Education); and, in 1967, the largest demonstration in the U.S. against police brutalizing the LGBTQ community. On New Year’s Day that year, the LAPD conducted a sting at Silver Lake’s Black Cat Tavern, then a popular hangout for the gay community. After plainclothes LAPD officers infiltrated the bar, patrons were brutalized, and 14 people were arrested and charged with lewd conduct for same-sex kissing. More than a month later, protesters in Los Angeles grabbed picket signs and protested outside the bar, paving the way for the Stonewall Riots in New York.

“It’s important because it’s the first time people came out in the open and stood up in plain sight and said, ‘Yes I’m Gay or Lesbian and no I’m not ashamed. And I’m here to say that were are tired of being terrorized by police,’” Davila says.

In particular, the director hopes the movie educates younger generations about the hard-fought battles and how Los Angeles was a backdrop for change.

“The feedback received from Gen Z and Millennials has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive as many are not only unfamiliar with L.A.’s rich LGBT history,” says executive producer, Richard Xavier Corral. “L.A. A Queer History offers insight into the people, places and events that gave rise to the ictories that the LGBT community stands upon and continues to advance through the present moment.”

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