Stonewall Riots Grab The Spotlight From Black Cat Protests
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The story of LGBT rights in America often begins with the rioting and protests at New York's Stonewall Inn in 1969. But the country's first organized LGBT demonstration actually happened over two years before that in Los Angeles. From member station KPCC in LA, Leo Duran reports.
LEO DURAN, BYLINE: The story of the riot and protest at the Black Cat Tavern starts a half century ago. Eighty-year-old Alexei Romanoff was 30 at the time.
ALEXEI ROMANOFF: I have pictures of me back then. I thought I looked pretty good (laughter).
DURAN: But he still remembers what happened to his friends on New Year's Day 1967. The Black Cat was a gay bar. And inside, partiers were counting down to midnight.
ROMANOFF: Three, two, one.
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ROMANOFF: People instinctively went over, hugged and kissed each other.
DURAN: But the police was there, too - undercover.
ROMANOFF: Two males kissing each other was against the law. Police were grabbing them and tearing them apart.
DURAN: By dawn, more than a dozen people were arrested. Two of the men caught kissing eventually had to register as sex offenders. And the feelings of gay people like Romanoff?
ROMANOFF: Absolute anger. Once again, we're being picked on.
DURAN: So in the weeks afterwards, he helped organize the first documented protest for LGBT rights in America. It was February 11, 1967. More than 500 people gathered back outside of the Black Cat for a somber, serious march.
ROMANOFF: They were terrified. People would go by, roll their windows down in the cars and say, you should be ashamed of yourself.
DURAN: But it had a major impact. For example, the group that organized it was called Personal Rights in Defense and Education. And Romanoff says the acronym, PRIDE, was the first time that word was used as part of the gay rights struggle. The Black Cat tavern itself, however, didn't have nine lives. It closed just a few months afterwards. The space housed a string of other bars with other names since that time. Then, in 2012, a restaurant took it over, and it's called The Black Cat.
On the menu, dishes like organic koji chicken are listed next to elaborate cocktails.
All right, I think I'll get the Battle of New Orleans with bourbon, sugar, absinthe...
The return of the Black Cat name isn't a coincidence. The owner, Lindsay Kennedy, found out about the building's history when he was developing the restaurant. He's not LGBT himself, but he wanted to honor that past.
LINDSAY KENNEDY: We make it a point to educate our staff about the history of this place. It's part of our employee handbook.
DURAN: He was also able to find the only five pictures that exist from that 1967 protest. They're framed on the restaurant's walls. Just a small alternative newspaper was there to document that single night, and that's where the pictures came from. But the major newspapers in New York couldn't ignore the dayslong riots at Stonewall, so that event grabbed the spotlight in history. The Black Cat protest, however, is no longer being ignored. Last Saturday night, on the 50th anniversary, hundreds of people gathered back on the same block to recreate history.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: What do we want?
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Justice.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: When do we want it?
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now.
DURAN: LAPD officers and city officials, including the mayor, were there, too, applauding and cheering them on. Then, one of the celebration's speakers said to the crowd, it's time to redo that New Year's Eve.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: And let's have a 1967 kissin'.
DURAN: And there are no arrests - just cheers, smiles and pride.
For NPR News in Los Angeles, I'm Leo Duran.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story we say that the 1967 protest at the Black Cat tavern in Los Angeles was the country’s first organized LGBT demonstration. In fact, there had been earlier protests in the U.S., including the first “Annual Reminder” demonstration in Philadelphia, in 1965.]
(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND TRIBE SECTOR 9'S "TOKYO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.