Review of the book "Gay L.A."

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This book covers a wide swath of history, from the early Indian inhabitants of the Los Angeles area, to the rise to political power of gay groups in the 1970’s, to their increasing influence on, and prominence in the media, in the 21st Century. Of necessity, the covering of each period requires selective reporting of events and personalities, and each period could probably be expanded into a separate monograph with much more detail.

This is particularly true of the sections describing police prosecutions and crackdowns in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is repeatedly described as “open” and free from hidebound “tradition”, thus attracting gays from more conservative parts of the country, where they could start a new life free of neighborhood prying. Yet this was concurrent with the Midwestern Puritanism of much of the population who had settled in L.A. and Southern California, and probably accounts for police homophobia, which lasted for so long. This is something that might be expanded upon in a future monograph.

The book covers pretty comprehensively the creation of the early homophile movement by Harry Hay, Don Slater, Dorr Legg, Jim Kepner, and all the others, the political and legal battles against censorship, e.g. of One Magazine, and police persecution. At one point, however, he mentions that Police Chief Ed Davis never reversed his anti-gay stance. This is incorrect. Davis actually did reverse his attitude, finally, and even became pro-gay. This is not mentioned.

There is a lot of material about the history of lesbian groups in L. A., previously unhighlighted, such as class and racial differences among them and the different types of bars and clubs they went to, progressing to their greater empowerment in the 1980’s and 90’s, and their closer relationship with gay men in the latter period as a result of the AIDS epidemic. It also highlights the rise of a more glamorous, stylish group known as the “lipstick lesbians.”

There is also very good, unprecedented coverage of the transgendered groups (covering transsexuals and transvestites), giving much information about particularly notable individuals amongst them.

The book is especially good in chronicling the rise of gay political groups in L.A., such as MECLA (Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles), and later, more radical groups, such as ACTUP/LA and their gradual wooing of mainstream and California politicians to a pro-gay stance both before and during the AIDS pandemic, and their rallying of support to defeat such anti-gay initiatives as the Briggs initiative of 1978, and the 1986 AIDS quarantine initiative of Lyndon Larouch. I think more might have been said about the “Queer Nation” group, its origins and program.

The chronology of cultural progress and influence on American society, especially so, from the 1970s on, the rise of gay clubs and discos, and the influence on fashion, is especially comprehensive and detailed. All in all, this is a landmark work, and should prove to be a permanent milestone in amongst histories of the gay movement in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

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