June 6, 2017 at 2:55 pm PST | by Vic Gerami
Alexei Romanoff, an LGBT immigrant who sparked a revolution

Alexei Romanoff, Grand Marshal 2017 LA Pride (Photo by Jon Viscott)

Alexei Romanoff could be called the Gloria Steinem of the LGBTQ movement.  His pioneering work and uncompromising insistence on full equality for LGBTQ people – and the rights of people with AIDS – has been almost unparalleled.  

The United States is an immigrant nation, successful because of its diversity and Romanoff exemplifies the American dream. Born in Ukraine, Romanoff immigrated to the United States during WWII and, by February of 1958, he had found his way to his forever home, Los Angeles. He became a pioneering local activist and a community organizer and an instrumental force behind the nation’s first large-scale LGBTQ protest.

Even before the Stonewall Riots, a vibrant gay rights movement – a resistance movement – had been born in Silver Lake. Following a New Year’s Eve celebration at a Silver Lake gay bar, undercover cops arrested fourteen people and cited them for “lewd conduct,” simply because they were kissing. On that night, Dec. 31, 1966, about a dozen undercover LAPD officers infiltrated The Black Cat and at the stroke of midnight, when people kissed – including a woman who dressed as a woman kissed her brother who was dressed in drag – patrons were arrested and their resulting resistance was met with a wild, bloody beating that injured dozens of people.

Weeks later, in February 1967, Romanoff helped organize protests outside the bar that drew dozens of people and inadvertently helping launch a more defiant gay rights movement that would spread across the United States. There had been protests before but this was much larger and the energy was very different. The resistance was born.

Romanoff drew an unprecedented number of protesters — one of the first mass protests in the United States to address police harassment of LGBTQ people — at the corner of Sunset and Hyperion. Romanoff’s efforts helped spark a revolution that made Los Angeles a haven for LGBTQ people.  A direct line can be drawn from that protest to the the formation of Christopher Street West and Los Angeles’ first Gay Pride Parade.

In the 1970s, Romanoff co-founded the Santa Monica Bay Coalition for Human Rights in response to the Anita Bryant/Briggs push for discrimination. The failed initiative would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California’s public schools. The Briggs Initiative was the first failure in a national movement to repeal gay rights ordinances, a movement that gained momentum after a successful campaign headed by Bryant and her organization Save Our Children in Dade County, Florida.

In 1983, Romanoff co-found Avatar Club Los Angeles, an organization that educates about safer-sex practices among people who practice Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism.

As an AIDS activist, Romanoff, in the early 1980s, fought for research funding and for the civil rights of people with AIDS. He has marched in every Christopher Street West Pride Parade since the first one, and has twice been the recipient of LA Pride’s Founding Father award (in 2008 and 2014).  Romanoff has also been honored by the Mayor and the Los Angeles City Council for his pioneering civil rights work.

He is, without a doubt, the perfect choice for this year’s LA Pride Grand Marshal. Christopher Street West, organizer of LA Pride, is going back to its roots with well-timed and appropriate changes and Romanoff’s selection is the emblematic of those changes.

#ResistMarch replaces the traditional parade and will start where LA Pride was born in 1970, at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Hollywood. It is an intersectional solidarity march in support of our hard-won human rights, both here at home and abroad.

Romanoff, 80, will be front and center at the #ResistMarch on Sunday, June 11. He joins a growing and impressive coalition of organizations and government bodies that kick off the march at 9 a.m. in Hollywood and walk to West Hollywood Park.

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