Alternative Review of Gay L.A. by Ronald L. Tate
This is the first book which tries to encompass an entire history of gay life, the gay rights movement and influential pioneers who carried forth the struggle for equal rights and tolerance, all within the greater Los Angeles area. It is a work obviously requiring hundreds of hours to compose and interviewing countless contributors who lived the experience. The authors claim it is a history book based on the way the subject matter is presented.
I question the need to include initial chapters dealing with homosexuality and transgendered natives of early California and when the state was governed by Mexico. The book tries to cover too much territory. The early sexual history of California deserves a book of its own perhaps in the fields of sociology and/or anthropology. The danger in trying to be all inclusive is leaving out segments of the history and influential figures, who will feel slighted by the omissions.
There are many pages devoted to the early Hollywood stars, i.e., Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn. When reading such sensationalism, one wonders if he/she is reading a sensuous novel and then in succeeding chapters is brought back to a structured historical approach of L.A. gay life.
The authors go to excessive length to include every gay organization that ever existed or still exists. This includes obscure details as to the names of founding members and how brief so many of these organizations lived. Such tedious detail tries the reader when sifting through it all. It can be argued if not included here, then would such information be lost forever? One also sees the destructive disagreements and infighting taking place by so many of these political organizations. It was as if each person wanted his/her own organized group and if you did not completely agree, then go off and form your own. It makes one wonder if gays are not their own worst enemy. However, nothing ever came close in bringing the gay community together as the horrible AIDS crisis. Incredible contributions of talent, labor, money, blood, sweat and tears accomplished more from the outside attack of AIDS than all previous foes such as the homophobic LAPD.
The authors include alarming statements by Terry DeCrescenzo and her Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS). DeCrescenzo attacks the California Department of Social Services (DSS), strongly suggesting it had a personal vendetta against her group, when all she was doing was trying to serve gay foster children. She makes serious allegations of bias and a fishing expedition by the state agency. I worked as an investigator for that State agency at the time GLASS was under investigation. I just recently spoke to an investigating supervisor with DSS about the matter since I was not directly involved in the investigation. Complaints are filed against a licensing program such as GLASS before an investigator ever goes out on the case. Complaints usually come from children in the group homes or employees of the foster care agency. DSS is mandated by law to look into serious allegations of sexual abuse and neglect. I saw no evidence that DSS singled DeCrescenzo out for special treatment. I am concerned the authors presented all of DeCrescenzo’s statements as historical fact; that she was a victim of a state agency who was unhappy with transgendered children. Such comments on her part are sensationalism and not backed up with facts. The authors should have gone to DSS to interview staff and review the complaint documents which are largely public record.
The authors also make it appear that the first mayor of West Hollywood, Valerie Terrigno, was a victim of overzealous Federal prosecutors. Again, I see no attempt made by the authors to obtain information or conduct interviews with the federal government investigators. When one writes a book as historical fact, then efforts must be made to present more than just the “victim’s” side of the story.
All in all, the book is an invaluable reference source for future scholars and anyone wishing to relive a very exciting and tumultuous period in the gay history of greater Los Angeles. It becomes obvious that a follow-up book is needed to document the gay movement in the surrounding communities of Long Beach, Orange County, the Inland Empire, Palm Springs and San Diego and what effect they had on the gay movement in Los Angeles.