Wednesday, November 19, 2014

New Film Tells L.A.’s LGBT History Like Never Before

The LGBT movement’s tremendous legal advances in the last few years have many actively working to ensure that this progress continues. “What’s left after marriage?” is certainly not the right question when too many in our community -- particularly trans people -- still face high levels of discrimination, violence, and economic barriers.  As LGBTQ people, we’re in a critical time of reflection on where we’ve been, how we got to where we are, and decide where we want to go.

Enter “LA: A Queer History” -- a new documentary focusing on pivotal moments and trailblazers in Los Angeles LGBT history from the 20th century to the present: the gay and lesbian pioneers who made Hollywood; the Los Angeles Police Department’s persecution of LGBT people in the mid-century; the organizations and leaders credited with launching the modern LGBT movement; the AIDS epidemic; and Prop 8 (the California amendment passed in 2008 that banned marriage for gay couples until it was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2013).

To weave this history together, director Gregorio Davila and producer Mario Novoa (disclosure: both friends of mine) interviewed several important gay and lesbian figures who are now in their 70s to late 80s.

However, “L.A.: A Queer History” is not yet complete.  The filmmakers are now raising funds on Indiegogo to complete a final round of interviews as well as post-production for the film, which has received a certificate of recognition from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.  Davila and Novoa used their own funds to get the ball rolling and document the stories from these trailblazers while they’re still with us. Now they need to raise $10,000 by December 16 to make the film a reality.
I spoke with Gregorio about the film, with a particular interest in seeing how his film would include LGBT people of color and trans folks as a whole, given how these communities are too often excluded and marginalized.

(For interested folks in L.A., don’t miss upcoming fundraising events on November 21 and 25)

BP: Why this film now? What’s it’s significance for L.A.’s LGBTQ community and the LGBT community nationally?

Jeanne Cordova, founder of The Lesbian Tide 
Most consider New York City’s Stonewall Riots of 1969 to be the birth of the Gay civil rights movement. But there have been activists, artists and innovators in L.A. since the turn of the 20th century. These pioneers paved the way for the Stonewall Riots and for us all. There would be no Hollywood if it wasn't for the Gays and Lesbians who helped create it. L.A. sprouted the first long standing Gay rights organization: The Mattachine Society, the first openly Gay positive magazine: ONE Magazine, the first Gay school: the ONE Institute of Homophile studies, the first Gay church: The Metropolitan Community Church, the first ever organized protest against police injustice towards Homosexuals at the Black Cat Tavern in 1967 (two years prior to Stonewall), and the first ever Gay pride parade, just to name a few.

Los Angeles has always been at the forefront of LGBTQ liberation, preservation and culture. It's time these people were recognized for their contribution to not only our community, and our city but to the world as a whole.

BP: LGBT people of color, as I know you’re aware, don’t only face discrimination and prejudice because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, but also because of our race and ethnicity. Experiencing racism within the LGBT community is far from being an unfamiliar experience--and our role in LGBT history is too often whitewashed. How do you address this in your film?

GD:Before West Hollywood became a city in 1984, it was even then notorious for being racist. The most popular bar was Studio One, whose owner’s policy was to require three pieces of ID for any person of color who tried to get in. When they started to bring those pieces they would then find another reason to discriminate against them, and so on. This is how the Queer Latino Pride Movement in L.A. was born, resulting in not only Latino bars and organizations  but also the first African American Gay bar, Catch One. As Latinos ourselves, it was very important to Mario and I to include this piece of history.

L.A. A Queer History, fundraising promo from L.A. A Queer History on Vimeo.

BP: You’ve mentioned your focus is on gay and lesbian history. Does your film also include trans people (who, of course, can also identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian and queer)?  

GD: We plan on showing clips from the second piece of media on "transexuals," which was shot in L.A. in the late 60's by filmmaker and activist Pat Rocco. The piece is called Changes and features a transgender woman talking about her transition. We are in the process of trying to locate her and fleshing out this segment in general.

BP: Who have you interviewed so far?

GD: Prof. Chris Freeman, Nancy Valverde, William Mann (author), Dennis Bell (Bob Mizer Foundation), Don Kilhenfer, Troy Perry, Jeanne Cordova, Joey Terrill, Tom Jacobson (playwright), Ivy Bottini, John D'Amico, Pat Rocco, Alexei Romanoff, Roland Palencia, Mark Thompson. And more still in the works…

BP: I’m very confident you’ll get the funds necessary to complete the film, so I won’t say “if”: WHEN and where will audiences be able to see “LA: A Queer History”?

GD:We're hoping to have it completed by March 2015 in time for film festival season. After a festival run we hope for a theatrical release and eventually online streaming by the end of next year. To keep up to date on screenings you can follow us on our social media:

Twitter: @QueerLa

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