As LGBT people and allies around the world prepare to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the Los Angeles LGBT Center prepares for its own 50th anniversary, as well, another monumental moment in LGBT movement history occurred with the April 7 opening of the two-acre Anita May Rosenstein Campus on McCadden Place in Hollywood. Ironically, the first major gathering of out and proud LGBT people and allies occurred 49 years ago a few blocks north of the Campus with the kick-off of the first Christopher Street West Pride parade at McCadden and Hollywood Boulevard.
“We are immensely proud that the Anita May Rosenstein Campus allows us to greatly expand our services, especially to LGBT seniors and youth,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. “The Campus is proof that a committed group of people who have the audacity to dream big and work hard are capable of creating something the world has never seen, something that now stands as a testament to the fact that we will not turn back in our march toward full equality and humanity.”
(Photo courtesy the Los Angeles LGBT Center)
More than $141 million was raised by more than 350 capital campaign donors and a record-breaking 15 seven-figure gifts for the 2-acre Anita May Rosenstein Campus,
It was not an easy task, says Capital Campaign Chair David Bailey. “There was a feasibility study done and our advisors told us you’ll be lucky to raise between $18-20 million. They said, don’t’ stretch for any higher than that because it won’t happen. As time went on, everybody continued to give bigger and bigger amounts and it started with one million here, one million here, four million here, and before you know it, we’d raised $57 million in private funds.”
The project was conceived during a strategic planning process in late 2006 but the deal was finalized to buy the land from the State of California in 2011. “At the time, it was at the bottom of the real estate market and the political environment was a little more friendly towards us,” says Bailey. “The entire time, we have been concerned about what might happen to us, as far as federal funding – because you never know. They’ve got to pay for these tax cuts somehow and it’s going to come out of the most vulnerable. We’ve had obstacle after obstacle.
Capital Campaign Chair David Bailey (photo by Karen Ocamb)
“But I have to say this: a Higher Power was involved in the Center,” says Bailey. “When we bought the land, it was at the bottom of the market. We thought we could only raise $18-20 million – we raised $57 million. Add in the New Market Tax Credits, that frankly, we never even heard of – that was $9.5 million, which was the largest New Market Tax Credit issued last year in the entire United States. So it shot us to $67 million and we were able to afford it. But today, I don’t know if it would happen because escalating values of land in this area – the dirt here, which we paid $12.7 million for—would today be worth $30 million.”
It took four and half years but people saw the vision. “They gave because of the passion for what we do,” says Bailey. “They see the groundbreaking work we do. This is grassroots – 97% of our funds go back to the community. And we truly are the heart and soul of the LGBT community right here in Los Angeles.”
Crowd at the opening of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus across from The Village at Ed Gould Plaza (Photo by Getty for the Los Angeles LGBT Center)
The Campus—across from The Village at Ed Gould Plaza with its arts, cultural events and offices for the AIDS LifeCyle and other activities—includes 100 beds for homeless youth, a new Senior Community Center, Youth Drop-In Center and The Ariadne Getty Foundation Youth Academy, a huge kitchen plus expanded programming. Additionally, all administrative services are shifting from the four-story McDonald/Wright Building on Schrader Boulevard, transforming the main headquarters onto a health center. The second phase of development will include 99 units of affordable housing for seniors and 25 supportive housing apartments for youth. It is expected to open mid-2020.
Like lighting the fuse at the beginning of Mission Impossible, Anita May Rosenstein’s gift of $8 million through her foundation and the Wilbur D. May Foundation and the Anita and Arnold Rosenstein Family Foundation kicked off the giving.
Anita May Rosenstein interviewed by KPFK/IMRU’s Wayne Sampson (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
“Let’s be clear: this is not my Campus, it’s our Campus,” Rosenstein said at the opening. “Our Campus is a beacon of hope and inspiration for people around the world. It is a safe haven for youth experiencing homelessness, and it will become a unique experience for youth and seniors to live together and learn from each other.”
Ariadne Getty and August Getty (Photo by K Ocamb)
Ariadne Getty had personal reasons for contributing. “I have two gay children. When they came out, I started going to West Hollywood to educate myself and I realized there was a lot of work to do,” Getty tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I was lucky enough to go to a fundraiser and found Lorri Jean. She was talking about the Center and within a week, I came and did a tour and was blown away because I felt like I had come home.”
Army vet Tony Sadowski (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Army vet Tony Sadowski, 75, says he is excited by the Campus opening. He has been using the Center’s services since the Gay Community Services Center was first headquartered on Wilshire Blvd., co-founded in 1969 and led by Don Kilhefner, who became the volunteer Executive Director, Morris Kight, Jim Kepner, June Herrle, MSW, Martin Field, MD, John Plantania and Lee Hansen Sisson. The center sprung out of work organized in April 1971 by post-Stonewall Gay Liberation Front/LA founders Kilhefner, Kight and Plantania.
Three founders of GCSC on the front steps of the building on Wilshire Boulevard, circa 1974. Source: ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archive.
In those days, the community services at the drop-in center provided were pride by stating out loud in the name “GAY” when homosexuality was still illegal; provided legal help for servicemembers discharged for homosexuality, for anti- Vietnam War protesters, and for those arrested in police bar raids. They also held rap sessions, had an STD clinic for testing and shots; help for gay homeless in four “Liberation” houses; and in 1973, they helped found the Van Ness Recovery House and the Alcoholism Center for Women.
Kight lived at 1428 North McCadden, just south of Sunset Blvd, where his door was open welcoming visitors and Gay Liberation Front activists, and anyone interested in his “McCadden Place Collection” art work. That included the LGBT historical artifact – the “Fagots – Stay Out!” sign from Barney’s Beanery, which he told Making Gay History reporter Eric Marcus was “retrieved there in January 1970, by me.” (The sign was replaced several times—Rev. Troy Perry, who organized the protests and directly confronted homophobic owner Irwin Held, also has a “Fagots – Stay Out!” sign.)
“I want to indicate through example that I’m not afraid,” he says. “I don’t have any draperies or shades on the windows. I never have in any house I’ve ever lived in. Gays like openness. It’s a metaphor,” Kight told the LA Times in 1988.
The Times noted that: “At numerous functions over the years, politicians such as Mayor Bradley, Sam Yorty, Bella Abzug, Zev Yaroslavsky, Gray Davis, Chip Carter and Gore Vidal have all come to McCadden Place to pay their respects.”
Kight’s house on McCadden Place, which he moved into the mid-1970s, was also a staging area for the CSW Pride Parades on Hollywood Boulevard. That corner was the jumping off site of the first Pride Parade in 1970, organized by Kight and his fellow CSW co-founders Rev. Troy Perry and gay homeless activist, Rev. Bob Humphries.
McCadden served as a staging area for other marches and demonstrations, as well.
No on Proposition 6 demonstration on Hollywood Boulevard, 1978. Beginning in 1966, many LGBT protests took place on Hollywood Boulevard—often beginning at the corner of Las Palmas Avenue and McCadden Place—an important LGBT social gathering locus beginning in the 1950s. Source: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.
In 2003, after Kight’s death, Perry and Los Angeles City Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge dedicated the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place “Morris Kight Square.”
The intersection of McCadden Place and Hollywood Blvd. has been designated Morris Kight Square, honoring the co-founder of the world’s first street-closing gay pride parade on Sunday, June 28, 1970. (Photo by Devin Strecker) (Photo via onlyinhollywood.org)
Actor/comedian Jason Stuart also attended the opening of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus. He, too, has ties to the Center.
Jason Stuart (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
“I walked through the gate (for the Campus opening) and I started to get so emotional thinking, wow – I went to the Center for my first 12 Step meeting – Al Anon – and my first coming out stuff,” Stuart says. “I wanted to know what was it going to be like being an openly gay actor/comedian. What would I talk about? Who am I? Will I get any work? Where do I get my support? Then I started doing all these shows for the Life Works Mentoring. All these things, just the years flashed before my eyes thinking I never ever thought something like this would be there. There’s going to be a place for a lot of people that need a place to live and services.”
Stuart most recently played a white heterosexual Christian plantation owner in the film re-make of Birth of a Nation. But 25 years ago, in June 1993, he came out to great fanfare on the Geraldo Rivera Show.
By then, Stuart had public backup.
The American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in Dec. 1973; the Center got its non-profit classification in 1974; and in 1975, California finally decriminalized homosexuality through the Consenting Adult Sex Bill.
Two dozen supporters stand in front of the Gay Community Services Center, circa 1974. Courtesy of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.
The Center moved to 1220 North Highland Avenue in Hollywood in 1975 and changed its name to the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Services Center in 1980. The STD Clinic started seeing clients with strange dark Kaposi Sarcoma spots and a mysterious fatal flu in 1979, eventually housing what became AIDS Project Los Angeles and hosting Rep. Henry Waxman’s first congressional hearing on AIDS. By the late 1980s, Executive Director Torie Osborn, an activist/organizer, strongly backed ACT UP/LA.
By 1991, Los Angeles had emerged from the mythical step-sister status to San Francisco and New York. With the public political fundraising prowess of ANGLE raising $3.1 million in early money for then-dark horse Democratic presidential candidate Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a friend of ANGLE co-founder David Mixner and the almost three weeks of street protests in 1991 after Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the gay civil rights bill, AB 101, “gay power,” fueled by ACT UP and Queer Nation refused to politely cower in the closet. And much of the organizing for those political demonstrations took place at the Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center on Highland Ave and Osborn not only got arrested with others but helped fund the flatbed trucks and speaker systems for demonstrations.
Out and HIV-positive Judge Rand Schrader, who had volunteered at the Gay Center on Wilshire Blvd as a law student, helped open the new LA Gay & Lesbian Center in Dec. 1992, with ally/AIDS activist actress Judith Light lending some star-power. Schrader died of AIDS six months later; the City of Los Angeles re-named the street to Schrader Blvd. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
A symbol of that new power was the Center’s new headquarters. This is how LA Times reporter Bettina Boxall described the opening in a long piece on March 28, 1993:
“ON A RAINY SUNDAY LAST DECEMBER, A CROWD OF NEARLY A thousand people gathered around the corner from Frederick’s of Hollywood in front of a bland ’60s building. They were there to mark its transformation into something that could have barely been imagined three decades ago, a $7-million center for the gay men and lesbians of Greater Los Angeles. Nowhere else in the country is there an institution quite like it–nothing so big, so rich–dedicated to serving the social-service needs of gay people. A staff of more than 150 oversees everything from a youth shelter to artist-in-residence and mediation programs, serving thousands of clients a month. All the more ironic that the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center had bought this particular building for its new home. For it was here that the agency’s founders came 22 years ago to ask the startled bureaucrats of the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status, one of the first such requests ever made in the nation for an explicitly homosexual organization.
Now 1625 N. Hudson Ave. is claimed by gigantic gay pride banners. Impossible to ignore, the center is an apt metaphor for the local gay community, which is asserting itself as never before, defying cherished stereotypes and, in some ways, upstaging the traditional gay power centers of New York and San Francisco.”
The irony of purchasing the old IRS building is actually a bit more colorful. As Don Kilhefner tells it, when they first applied for non-profit incorporation status in 1971, IRS officials said the Center must not “advocate the practice of homosexuality or contend that homosexuality is normal” and “no avowed homosexuals” could service on the board. That was fine with them since they believed “homosexuality” was a government term. They were advocating consciousness raising, education and social services for “gay” people.
Outgoing Center Executive Director Torie Osborn and incoming Center Executive Director Lorri L. Jean (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
In 1993, the Center changed hands, with lawyer and former regional FEMA director Lorri L. Jean taking over as executive director. That included taking over the responsibility of fighting the AIDS crisis. Shortly after President Bill Clinton named Kristine Gebbie as the first AIDS Czar in June 1993, Gebbie visited the Center and got a tour from Jean and Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings.
AIDS Czar Kristine Gebbie with LA Gay & Lesbian Center executive director Lorrie Jean and Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings, with ANGLE and APLA Board members Diane Abbitt and Dr. Scott Hitt in background (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
The next year, Jean was looking for a signature event to be associated with the Center when young events consultant Dan Pallotta brought the idea for the California AIDS Ride to Jean and Development Director Joel Safranek. There was still no cure for AIDS nor any way to staunch the daily dying. The arduous seven-day, 560-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles gave ordinary people an opportunity to contribute money, time and their souls to a cause greater than themselves in remembrance of those they lost.
Here’s a good video about that first Tanqueray California AIDS Ride in 1994.
The return to West Hollywood in those first years was extraordinary.
Ron and Shelli Goodman, who lost their son Jeffrey to AIDS, lead the procession with a rider-less bike held up by people with HIV/AIDS. Some of the millions raised went to help fund programs at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Center, including medical care at its Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic.
Among those who rode the last 90 miles were actress Judith Light, Robert Desiderio, Jonathan Stoller and Herb Hamsher. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
By 2002, the AIDS Ride had raised millions but was mired in controversy. The event was eventually re-launched as the AIDS LifeCycle, with headquarters at 1125 N. McCadden Place. Lorri Jean participated, including in the now-famous Red Dress Day. Last year the event raised more than $16.6 million.
The next AIDS LifeCycle is happening between June 2-8.
At the opening of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus, Jean mentioned that Rep. Adam Schiff rode the entire 545 miles.
Lorri Jean, actress Joely Fisher, Rep. Adam Schiff (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
“I’m fortunate to represent a district with a large and vibrant LGBT community, and many of my constituents have received the highest quality care and services from the LA LGBT Center, one of the main beneficiaries of the ride,” Schiff said before his 2014 ride. “I have been to the Center, I have seen the amazing work they do every day, and I know they have been a lifeline to people living with HIV.”
Lily Tomlin (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
The AIDS Life/Cycle is but one of a slew of educational and cultural offices and venues headquartered at The Village, including the 200-seat Renberg Theatre and The Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center. Tomlin has been a strong supporter for years.
The Village at Ed Gould Plaza opens in June 1998 (Photo courtesy the Los Angeles LGBT Center)
The Village, Jean told the LA Times before its opening in 1998, is “a final piece in building a holistic gay and lesbian center,” noting that heretofore “We’ve always been focused on the more dire needs.” The Village complex cost about $6.7-million.
And from the early 1980s onward, the dire needs included at-risk and homeless LGBT youth, especially through their Jeff Griffith Youth Center on Santa Monica Blvd, established in 1995. While some youth found services through GLASS groups homes and the foster care system, there was little for youth who “aged out” of the system at age 18. The Youth Center focused on youth ages 18-24, providing three hot meals a day, showers, laundry facilities, lockers, and clothing, as well as HIV testing, educational help in getting a GED, and job hunting. The Youth Center moved to 1220 N. Highland where it provided 20 emergency shelter beds, thanks in part to help from the City of West Hollywood.
Inspiring and fighting for LGBT youth is also part of the mission. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Another dire need was the focus on the tragic injustice of homophobia faced by LGBT seniors who also became homelessness or were forced to go back into the closet to get care. The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center determined that there were an estimated 65,000 LGBT people age 65 and older living in Los Angeles.
For Jean, the dire situation became clearer and even more real when she met Alice Herman. When Herman’s partner of 45 years, Sylvia Purdue, died, she was left with a broken heart, two cats, two months rent and a car she was about to move in when the money ran out. Because she and Purdue were not allowed to marry, Herman had no access to her partner’s Social Security benefits, as happens in heterosexual marriages.
Jean and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force developed a joint project to call attention to the discrimination and lobby for legislation to remedy the inequity. Alice is featured in the Rock for Equality video.
The Center’s Alan Acosta had helped Herman get an apartment at Triangle Square, the affordable housing by built by nonprofit Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing (GLEH) in 2007. In 2014, GLEH and the Center merged, with the LA Times reporting that “[a]bout 70% of GLEH’s residents live at or near poverty level.”
“This is the first generation of people who were willing to be out,” Jean told The Times. “And many LGBT seniors are far poorer than people ever realize.”
Four years later, as the beams were going in place for the Anita May Rosenstein Campus, the weight – and the joy – of the responsibility of caring for so many in the LGBT community started to really sink in.
“As I stood in the midst of the construction site, surrounded by towering steel girders and watching donors sign the beam with such excitement, I realized that a number of us were on the verge of tears,” Jean told the Los Angeles Blade.
“We knew our Center was achieving another pioneering ‘first’ for our worldwide movement. It was as if the span of nearly 50 years of organizational history was condensed into that moment. For centuries, our people hid in the shadows. Then in 1971, the Center founders rented the first headquarters–an old clapboard house on Wilshire. They refused to hide, boldly putting our uncloseted name on the front for all to see (which some LGBTQ centers today are still afraid to do!),” she said. “Now we’re in the final stretch of constructing the Anita May Rosenstein Campus which, combined with the Village, will occupy more than a city block. Moreover, it sits visibly and proudly along of our nation’s most iconic boulevards: the famed Route 66. We were teary-eyed because we knew not only that we were witnessing history being made, but that we were a part of it making it possible.”
Lorri Jean and Anita May Rosenstein pose on a rooftop of a Campus building located at the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd, of Route 66 fame, and McCadden Place, a street that holds major LGBT history. (Photo courtesy the Los Angeles LGBT Center)
Jean was very proud of how many women stepped up, with Anita May Rosenstein taking a lead. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
And then on April 7, 2019, Rep. Adam Schiff, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, lead donor Anita May Rosenstein, David Bailey, Center Board co-chair and Capital Campaign Chair, LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, top donor Ariadne Getty, and LA City Councilmember David Ryu open the Anita May Rosenstein Campus. (Photo by Troy Masters)
Rep. Adam Schiff helped secure federal funding. “I was here on the night after the  election when hundreds of people gathered quite spontaneously to ask the most profound and worrying questions about what [Donald Trump’s election] means for the country, what it would mean for the community, what it would mean for all the hard-won progress towards marriage equality,” Schiff told the Los Angeles Blade.
Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean and Rep. Adam Schiff (Photo by Troy Masters)
“And this center, this beautiful new Campus is a testament that we march forward, that we will not be deterred,” Schiff said. “Our community stands united behind equality no matter who is in the Oval Office—we shall overcome. I think it’s just a wonderful celebration of what’s possible when people work together.”
Citycouncilmember Ryu addressing the crowd (Photo by Troy Masters)
LA City Councilmember David Ryu secured a $4.9 million grant from the City of Los Angeles and the City of West Hollywood committed to contributing over $2 million.
West Hollywood City Councilmembers John Heilman and John Duran with longtime Center Legal Services Director Roger Coggan. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Lead donor Anita May Rosenstein and longtime Center Boardmember LuAnn Boylan (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
“I’ve been on the board for 27 years,” Boylan told the Los Angeles Blade. “I stood on this side of the street when it was a parking lot looking across the street when we accomplished that thinking this is the apex of what we will do. I chaired the strategic planning committee that started about 11 ½ or 12 years ago when we started to envision that we needed to be doing more, in particular, toward the senior population in our community. I don’t think we had any idea that we were envisioning this. On the other hand, we were pretty puffed up about the fact that we had pulled off the Village and kind of felt invincible, like if we need to do it, we can do it and that’s it. And so here we are – $141 million dollars later, 180,000-plus square feet of service.
It’s a beautiful building. In the Trump era where everyone is expecting us to go back into the closet and to minimize our importance, we’re standing here saying that’s not going to happen. And this is (gets emotional) such a testament to the power of love and the power of commitment from all of our people and our allies. It’s just an amazing accomplishment.”
Killefer Flammang Architects Partners Wade Killefer, FAIA, and Barbara Flammang, AIA, with Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean (Photo Karen Ocamb)
“The Center’s leaders gave KFA and Leong Leong a clear vision: that the design of the new Anita May Rosenstein Campus must reflect the boldness, optimism, and absolute certainty of the Center’s mission to care for, champion, and celebrate LGBT individuals and families,” said KFA Partner Barbara Flammang, AIA, in a press release. “KFA is immensely proud to have participated in the creation of this historic new campus. We hope that the design and formal expression of these buildings and open, landscaped spaces contribute to the flourishing of the people who live in, work at, and visit this wonderful place.”
Chris Leong, Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, Dominic Leong, and Gabriel Burkett of Leong Leong design architects (Photo Karen Ocamb)
“The Anita May Rosenstein Campus is a new type of social infrastructure for the LGBTQ community that synthesizes social services and affordable housing into a porous urban campus,” Dominic Leong of Leong Leong said in a press release. “The architecture proactively interfaces with the city, while serving as a sanctuary for diversity. A series of internal courtyards create spaces of refuge within, while a new public plaza invites the community and the city to connect. The architecture is a mosaic of identities and programs rather than a singular iconic gesture.”
And a mosaic showed up for the opening.
Trans Chorus of Los Angeles performs at the opening of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Black AIDS Institute Founder and former CEO Phill Wilson (center) with friends (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur was happy to be there. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Project Angel Food Executive Director Richard Ayoub with longtime LGBT ally Joyly Fisher hung out. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
“Star Trek: Discovery” actor Wilson Cruz supported the Center’s Pedro Zamora Youth HIV Program in 1995 as the out teen star of “My So-Called Life” (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Tom E. Jones, Michaeljohn Horne and Board member Michael Lombardo after the Campus opening block party (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
While McCadden Place and Hollywood Blvd provided hope and pride in being out in the 1960s, McCadden Place at Santa Monica Blvd provides the historical avenue to today’s hope for freedom, equality and a real chance to pursue and embrace happiness. Life is Beautiful by the muralist artist Mr. Brainwash (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
April 18: this article has been updated and corrected from the original version.
50 years ago Atlanta’s nascent gay rights movement marched
“It was mostly about feeling good,” said Phil Lambert. “That we’re not a bunch of sick people. That we’re not the problem.”
ATLANTA, Ga. – This Sunday, exactly fifty years ago to the day on a bright Sunday morning, about a hundred brave gay and lesbian Atlantans from the Georgia Gay Liberation Front, unfurled a lavender colored banner made from a bedsheet with the intertwined symbols representing male + male, female + female with the a raised fist of defiance and the words ‘Gay Power’ emblazoned on it and they marched.
The group inched its way up Peachtree Street to a soundtrack of chants, kazoos and a tambourine.
Mindful that stepping off the sidewalks could get them arrested — the city of Atlanta had turned down their request for a permit and the police were closely watching for jay-walkers — the marchers stopped at every corner until they were given the crossing signal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the average estimated crowds in attendance at Atlanta Pride is upwards of 300,000 plus. But at the time the Journal-Constitution noted, even in the city that had just birthed the civil rights movement and was home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., LGBTQ rights was considered a radical issue that the Georgian liberal political establishment, including many Atlanta progressives, wanted to stay away from. At that time, gay sex was still illegal under state law, and the American Psychiatric Association characterized homosexuality as a mental illness.
For those GAGLF Atlantans who participated in that first pride march on June 27, 1971, the event was a turning point, a moment when, for the first time, they could publicly celebrate a part of themselves that society had long demanded they keep hidden.
“It was mostly about feeling good,” said Phil Lambert, a Vietnam veteran who was in attendance. “That we’re not a bunch of sick people. That we’re not the problem.”
Read the entire fascinating story: 50 years ago, Atlanta’s gay rights push took to street for first time
LGBTQ rainbow flag was born in San Francisco, but its history is disputed
On that day in June 1978, it felt as if the rainbow had always been a symbol for the LGBTQ community, it just hadn’t revealed itself yet
By August Bernadicou (with additional text and research by Chris Coats) | NEW YORK – Many enduring symbols that establish an instant understanding and define a diverse community are intrinsically linked with controversy, confusion, and ill-informed backstories dictated by vested interests and those who told the story loudest. The LGBTQ rainbow flag is no different.
While it was the work of many, the people who deserve credit the most have been minimized if not erased. Gilbert Baker, the self-titled “Creator,” screamed the story and now has a powerful estate behind his legacy. Before his death in 2017, Baker established himself as the complete authority on the LGBTQ rainbow flag. It was his story which he lived and became.
While there are disputed accounts on the flag’s origins, one thing that is not disputed is that the LGBTQ rainbow flag was born in San Francisco and made for the Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978.
For all of human history, rainbows have mystified and inspired. A greeting of light and serenity after the darkness and chaos of a storm. They have symbolized hope, peace, and the mysteries of existence. For a moment, we can see the invisible structure, the “body” of light, made visible. A secret revealed, then hidden again.
Though it may seem like a modern phenomenon, rainbow flags have waved throughout history. Their origin can be traced to at least the 15th Century. The German theologian, Thomas Müntzer, used a rainbow flag for his reformist preachings. In the 18th Century, the English-American revolutionary and author, Thomas Paine, advocated adopting the rainbow flag as a universal symbol for identifying neutral ships at sea.
Rainbow flags were flown by Buddhists in Sri Lanka in the late 19th Century as a unifying emblem of their faith. They also represent the Peruvian city of Cusco, are flown by Indians on January 31st to commemorate the passing of the spiritual leader Meher Baba, and since 1961, have represented members of international peace movements.
Now, the rainbow flag has become the symbol for the LGBTQ community, a community of different colors, backgrounds, and orientations united together, bringing light and joy to the world. A forever symbol of where they started, where they have come, and where they need to go. When many LGBTQ people see a rainbow flag flowing in the wind, they know they are safe and free.
While the upper class and tech interests rule the city now, in the 1960s and 70s, San Francisco was a wonderland for low and no-income artists. The counterculture’s mecca. By the mid-1970s, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that had once been a psychedelic playground of hippie art, culture, and music had fallen into disarray. Hard, dangerous drugs like heroin had replaced mind-expanding psychedelics. Young queers and artists needed a new home, and they found it in the Castro.
Lee Mentley (1948-2020) arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and quickly fell in with the oddball artist and performers in the Castro neighborhood, donning flamboyant, gender-fucked clothes, performing avant-garde theater, and creating their own clubhouses. He was on the Pride Planning Committee in 1978 and ran the Top Floor Gallery on the top floor of 330 Grove, which served as an early Gay Center in San Francisco.
Lynn Segerblom (Faerie Argyle Rainbow) was originally from the North Shore of Hawaii and moved to San Francisco where she attended art school at the Academy of Art. Her life changed when she found a new passion in tie-dye and rainbows in the early 1970s. Entrenched in the free-loving technicolor world of San Francisco, in 1976, Lynn legally changed her name to Faerie Argyle Rainbow. She joined the Angels of Light, a “free” performance art troupe where the members had to return to an alternative, hippie lifestyle and deny credit for their work.
Shortly after the original rainbow flags were flown for the last time, both Lynn and Lee moved out of San Francisco. Lee moved to Hawaii and Lynn moved to Japan. When they returned, they were shocked to see how their contribution to history was becoming a universal symbol. They remain passionate about defending their legacies and giving a voice to the mute.
LEE MENTLEY: “One day in 1978, Lynn came to 330 Grove with a couple of her friends, James McNamara and Robert Guttman, and said we should make rainbow flags for Gay Day to brighten up San Francisco City Hall and Civic Center because it’s all gray and cold in June. We thought that it sounded like a great idea.”
To get over the first hurdle, money, the young artists went to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of San Francisco, California, for help.
LEE: “There was no actual funding for it. We contacted Harvey Milk and another supervisor, and they asked the city if we could get a little funding. They found some leftover funds from the previous year’s hotel tax, and we got $1,000.”
LYNN SEGERBLOM: “I remember having a meeting where I presented the idea of making rainbow flags. I had some sketches. At that meeting, there was just a handful of us there, and I remember, and even my friend assured me, that Gilbert Baker was not at that meeting. I don’t know where he was, I didn’t keep track of him, but he was not at the meeting where I suggested rainbow flags. We decided, yes, rainbow flags sounded great.”
The committee approved the rainbow imagery and made the decision to make two massive 40’ x 60’ foot rainbow flags to be flown at the Civic Center along with 18 smaller rainbow flags designed by different, local artists, to line the reflecting pool putting rainbows into the grey sky.
For the two large flags, one would be an eight-color rainbow starting with pink and including turquoise and indigo in place of blue, and the other a re-envisioning of the American flag with rainbow stripes which became known as Faerie’s flag.
Gilbert Baker’s name on his memoir, Rainbow Warrior, it says “CREATOR OF THE RAINBOW FLAG,” leaving little debate that Gilbert claimed full ownership for the concept and design of the legendary symbol. He never denied Lynn or James MacNamara’s involvement in the flags’ construction and speaks briefly and fondly of them and their talents in that same book.
LEE: “We didn’t need one person saving our ass, and it certainly wouldn’t have been Gilbert Baker. He was no Betsy Ross. He was a very good promoter, and I give him all the credit in the world for making the rainbow flag go international. He did a great service, and he was a very talented, creative man, but he could never have done all of the work by himself; no one could have.
We never considered ownership. There was never this big ownership debate until Gilbert started it. Because AIDS hit us so fast after this, most of our leadership either went into HIV activism or died.”
LYNN: “The story is that a white gay man did all of this by himself, but, in fact, that is not true at all. He just promoted it. For that, though, he should be given great love.”
Making the two original rainbow flags was no easy feat. With a limited budget and limited resources, the group had to improvise and figure it out as they went along. While Lynn had dabbled in flags before, a project of this scope and importance was far beyond her comfort zone.
LEE: “The community donated the sewing machines we used. We asked people at the Center if anyone would like to volunteer. All sorts of people from all over the country helped us with the flags, over 100 people, which, to me, is an amazing story. That’s where it came from. It came from regular artists who wanted to have fun and make something pretty for gay people.”
LYNN: “The Rainbows Flags were hand-dyed cotton and eight colors. I made two different types. The one with just the stripes and then the American flag one, which I designed myself. There was a group of us that made them, James McNamara, Gilbert Baker, and myself. Originally they were my designs. I was a dyer by trade, and I had a dying studio at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove Street.”
LEE: “People would come and help as long as they could. Then, somebody else would come and help as long as they could. We opened up the second floor of 330 Grove to people who came to be in the Parade and march. People came in and made posters, banners and did art stuff.”
LYNN: “We made the flags on the roof because there was a drain up there. There was a wooden ladder that led up to the roof. The hot water had to be carried up to the roof because we didn’t have hot water up there. We heated it up on the stove in pots. We put the hot water in trash cans on the roof.”
LEE: “We had trash cans and two by fours, and we had to keep agitating the fabrics in the dye. Since they were in hot water, they had to be poked and agitated for hours.”
LYNN: “We had to constantly move the fabric in the dye, so the dye penetrated the fibers that weren’t clamped tight. We had to make sure there would be blue, and it wouldn’t just be white on white or white with a very murky, pale blue.
After they were washed and dyed, they went through the washer and dryer. Then, we ironed them. If the fabric stays out too long, once you take it out of the water, if it sits on itself even for just a few minutes, it starts to make shapes.”
LEE: “Lynn’s flag, the new American flag, was a similar rainbow, but it had stars in the corner. I have photographs of that flag flying at gay events in San Francisco at City Hall and Oakland.”
LYNN: “I always liked the American flag. I thought, oh, wouldn’t that be nice? I knew with some luck I could make it.”
LEE: “I thought the one with the stars was more interesting because it symbolized a new flag for the United States.”
LYNN: “For my American flag, I decided to flip the order of the colors, so pink was at the bottom and purple was at the top in an eight-color spectrum. That was intentional. I wanted them to be different.
I made the stars with wood blocks and clamps. I got the white fabric and washed it, and folded it a different way. When I was making it, it looked like a big sandwich. The bread would be the woodblocks, and the fabric was in between. We immersed the whole flag in dye and swished it around. I wasn’t sure if it would come out right because it was the first time I did that fold. I was lucky. It worked.
I sewed lamé stars into one stripe with leftover stars from my Angels of Light costumes. On one side of the blue stripe, there was a star with silver lamé, and on the other side, there was a star with gold lamé.
I got all these ideas because I worked with these mediums on a daily basis: paint, dye, fabric, and glitter.”
LEE: “We worked for weeks dying fabric, shrinking fabric, and sewing fabric.”
LYNN: “We worked on them for seven weeks. I was worried that we weren’t going to finish on time. We worked hard and long hours. Towards the end, we decided we didn’t have time to go to the laundromat, so we started rinsing them on the roof and wringing them dry. We also ran out of quarters. We draped them off of the Top Floor Gallery’s rafters, and they drip-dried. They looked great. They were beautiful.”
Until that day, the pink triangle, used by the Nazis to label homosexuals in their genocidal campaign, was the most commonly used symbol for the LGBTQ movement, a symbol in solidarity with our fallen ancestors. But the triangle came from a place of trauma, it was a reminder of the storm while the rainbow was the hope that came after. The promise of brighter days ahead.
On that day in June 1978, it felt as if the rainbow had always been a symbol for the LGBTQ community, it just hadn’t revealed itself yet.
LEE: “We went out, flew the flags, and blew everybody’s fucking minds. People were blown away. The flags were so beautiful. They were waving warriors. The biggest ones were 40’ by 60’ feet. The Parade marched through the flags to get to Civic Center. We instantly proclaimed that this was our symbol. It wasn’t planned. It was organic.”
LYNN: “It was just what I wanted: a touch of magic, a touch of glitter, and a little bit of Angels of Light.”
LEE: “We weren’t creating this huge symbol. We were decorating Civic Center. We weren’t thinking of marketing our entire futures. It was an art project.”
LYNN: “We looked at the rainbow flags as a work of art, and we wanted them to be beautiful and unique. After the Gay Parade, the flags were a big hit. People loved them. Everybody loved them.”
In the pre-technology world, people and property could just disappear. There were no surveillance cameras. Lynn didn’t even have a phone.
Even though no one could have known the flag would become an eternal symbol for a worldwide community, it was clear even then that they were a piece of history to be coveted.
In his memoir, Baker hypothesizes that the Rainbow American flag was stolen shortly after it was hung up on the front of the Gay Community Center for Gay Freedom Day in 1979. He suggests it might have been a construction crew working on the new symphony across the street and in a homophobic act, stole the flag and buried it in cement.
LEE: “Later in 1979 or 1980, you can find it somewhere in the minutes for a Pride Foundation meeting, Gilbert came to us and asked to borrow the two large flags, and we agreed. We never saw them again.”
LYNN: “I went to work one day at 330 Grove, and Gilbert came in and said that the two 40’ by 60’ flags had been stolen.”
Images published in the San Francisco Chronicle, videos of the march, and other widely distributed photographs only add to the mystery. They show both the classic rainbow flag of eight stripes and the American revision flying at the Civic Center on June 24, 1979 and not at the Gay Community Center.
As for the original eight-stripe flag, there are even fewer answers. In his memoir, Baker says that while they were taking down the flags from Civic Center, he was hit on the head on knocked out. “When I came to on the muddy ground,” he says “I saw people all around me hitting each other and screaming obscenities. They were fighting over the rainbow flags, pulling on them like a game of tug-of-war, tearing them.”
LYNN: “It would have taken more than one person to carry the flags. It took three people to carry one folded-up flag for the Parade, and we needed a van. They weighed a lot, and 330 Grove did not have an elevator. Whoever stole them had help—one person could not do it on their own.”
LYNN: “Before the rainbow flag missing, Gilbert came to one of my workshops. He wanted to watch me dying fabric all day and see how I did everything.
I was like, oh yeah, I’ll show you, come in.
I said, here, put some gloves on and do it with me.
He was like, oh, no, no, I don’t want to get my hands dirty.
He was only trying to figure out how I did the dying.”
LEE: “Gilbert went to these places like MoMa and told them these outrageous stories about how he made the rainbow flag all by himself. He said this about the flag he donated. When you look at it, you can tell that it was bought at a craft fair. It flat out wasn’t one of our flags. It was polyester.”
LYNN: “It was polyester, it wasn’t the same size, and it wasn’t hand-dyed. My flags were different. The rainbow flag at MoMa was a beautiful flag inside a frame, but it wasn’t an original, not from 1978, not even a piece from 1978. I was hoping, oh, my God, maybe this is a piece of it.”
LEE: “It wasn’t even the original colors. MoMa said they were original flags, but they weren’t. It was a commercially produced rainbow flag with a primary color rainbow. The plaque cited Gilbert donating it as an original flag.”
LYNN: “I read online that Gilbert Baker said he named me “Faerie Argyle Rainbow,” a complete lie. Bethany the Princess of Argyle named me. I chose the name Rainbow because I was known as a rainbow artist.”
LEE: “Even Lynn’s driver’s license said her name was “Faerie Argyle Rainbow.””
LYNN: “In 1976, I filled out a form at the DMV, and my name became Faerie Argyle Rainbow. Back then, they didn’t ask you for a birth certificate. The employee just said, “This is your name now,” and gave me a driver’s license that said Faerie Argyle Rainbow.
It all sounds crazy now, but back then, it wasn’t.”
LEE: “I had my arguments and fights with Gilbert Baker because he claims he came up with the rainbow flag. If you go through all of his different interviews, you see that his story changes over and over and over again. He even said Harvey Milk came to him and asked him to create a symbol for the movement. No—I read that, and no such thing happened.”
LYNN: “Just look at his interviews. His takes on what the colors in the rainbow flag mean are all in his head. The rainbow represents everyone, no matter what gender or race you are; that’s how I looked at it. Rainbows are in nature and beautiful. People love them, and I love them. I knew they would be great color healing.
Gilbert assigning meaning to each color is ridiculous. I think anyone could make up what each color means. If I wanted to, I could do the same. It wasn’t what I was thinking. I was thinking that rainbows encompass everybody, the whole group, unity.”
LEE: “I have tried to convince people that the rainbow flags were made with tax-payer dollars. We made them as a non-profit.
Not even Gilbert owns them. I have always thought that anyone who sells anything rainbow should give a portion of the profits to homeless gay youth. We need to take care of our own kind because no one does. The whole concept of taking care of gay people has disappeared.”
August Bernadicou is a 27-year-old gay historian and the President of the LGBTQ History Project Inc. Chris Coats is an editor and producer.
Together, they produce the QueerCore Podcast and will shortly be releasing an episode that is the definitive story on the rainbow flag featuring Lee Mentley, Lynn Segerblom, and Adrian Brooks.
August Bernadicou is presenting a Pride event in NYC this year that all folks are cordially invited to attend- its virtual;
Here is the link for the event: https://www.lgbtqhp.org/pride-protest
Anti-LGBTQ activist Judith Reisman dies at age 86
There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles
Editor’s note: Judith Ann Reisman was a vocal opponent of women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and known for her criticism and condemnation of the work in sexual studies of Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Reisman, a prominent conservative, has been referred to as the “founder of the modern anti-Kinsey movement.” New York-based LGBTQ journalist, activist and blogger Joe Jervis covered her for over a decade on his widely popular blogsite Joe.My.God.
By Joe Jervis | Longtime JMG readers will recall Reisman’s anti-LGBT claims as a regular feature here going back a decade or so. There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles:
We know that pedophilia, which was the original Greek they say it’s ‘love of’ but of course it isn’t, it’s ‘lust for’ boys. And there’s a strong, clear, cross-cultural, historical reality, people don’t want to do deal with, but the propaganda has been loud and strong to deny the fact, the aim of homosexual males and now increasingly females is not to have sex with other old guys and get married but to obtain sex with as many boys as possible. That’s the reality.
There was the time she called for a class action suit against groups that advocate for safer sex:
The reality is that condoms are manufactured and approved every day for natural, vaginal sex, not anal “sex.” They are not effectively designed to protect from disease those people who engage in sodomy. Such a lawsuit should target the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Planned Parenthood and a myriad of teachers and school systems, too many to count, that have taught that anal “sex” (traditionally termed “sodomy” or “buggery” under British-based legal codes) as not so different than natural coitus. Due to the lies that have told, people who practiced sodomy are under the tragically mistaken notion that a condom is effective protection from disease.
There was the time she went to Jamaica to advocate for keeping homosexuality criminalized:
American Religious Right leaders Mat Staver and Judith Reisman are scheduled to be featured speakers at a conference in Jamaica this weekend hosted by a group that has been working to preserve the country’s criminal ban on consensual gay sex. The annual conference, hosted by the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, will focus on how “[c]ontemporary society has become increasingly hostile to the traditional definitions of marriage and family” and Staver.
There was the time she blamed the demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on a rise in reported sexual assaults in the military:
Why is the best-kept military secret that most soldierly sexual assaults are now definitively homo, not heterosexual, male-on-male sexual exploitation? While men are statistically more loathe to report their sexual victimization than are women, 10,700 male soldiers, sailors and airmen in 2010 actually reported their sexual assaults. What this means is not totally clear, since men are cannot technically be raped, despite the term being regularly used in the recent hearings on the matter.
There was the time she compared activists against school bullying to Hitler Youth:
Both the GLSEN youth and the Hitler Youth were trained to be revolutionary leaders of the brave new world order. GLSEN school clubs and their teacher sponsor/trainers are now funded by major corporations and by some state funds. GLESN’s Day of Silence and “GAY ALLY!” pledge cards for kindergartners and other children (left) are direct assaults on traditional parental, American values. German children’s literature historians document Hitler’s pioneering ban of both the Ten Commandments and biblical stories from Nazi school texts in favor of coarse and violent tales that ridiculed religious believers and their values.
There was the time she was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League:
Holocaust analogies generate headlines and get attention, they do little in the service of truth, history or memory. When [Peter] LaBarbera and Reisman suggest that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are “demonizing [Christians] like the Nazis used to do to the Jews,” they undermine the historical truth of the Holocaust as a singular event in human history that led to the murder of six million Jews and millions of others. Holocaust comparisons are deeply offensive and trivialize and distort the history and meaning of the Holocaust.
And let’s close with this notation from Rational Wiki:
Reisman is a supporter of Scott Lively and his completely insane screed, The Pink Swastika. She has claimed that she believes that a homosexual movement in Germany gave rise to the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. She enthusiastically and unconditionally endorses criminalization of homosexuality, despite the fact that homosexuals were were one of the Nazis’ target groups for annihilation. Reisman has claimed that the homosexuals employ recruitment techniques that rival those of the United States Marine Corps to transform innocent children into raving homosexuals.
Reisman, passed away on Friday, April 9, 2021, two days before her 86th birthday. From the magazine of the far-right John Birch Society:
Like Judith the Biblical heroine, Dr. Reisman was fearless and stood against the great powers of the world in our time. When her countrymen were ready to surrender to the mighty Assyrian army, the Biblical Judith, trusting in God, walked into the enemy camp — and walked out with the head of Holofernes, the Assyrian general, thus saving her people. Likewise, Judith Reisman repeatedly, over the past several decades, strode into many hostile enemy camps around the world — colleges, universities, legislative bodies, media outlets — to speak truth to power and to expose vile works of darkness.
Joseph “Joe” Jervis is an American blogger and writer based out of New York City. He is the author of Joe.My.God., a personal blog which, since he first posted on April 27, 2004, has primarily covered LGBT news and opinion.
The preceding article was originally published at Joe.My.God and republished by permission.
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