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Silver Lake gay bar wins historic designation

November 7, 2008 |  3:20 pm

Black_cat1 The Black Cat, a bar in Silver Lake that was home to the gay rights movement in Los Angeles, was named a historic-cultural monument today.

The bar was the site of a police raid and subsequent protests in 1967, predating the Stonewall riots in New York City by two years.

Today's City Council vote comes on the heels of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, which Californians narrowly passed Tuesday.

"With Prop. 8, we took five steps backward, but the Black Cat gives us the perspective that we’ve taken 50 steps forward since 1967," Wes Joe, a Silver Lake resident who nominated the bar for monument status, said at Friday’s council meeting in Van Nuys.

"This was a watershed event that has gone unnoticed in American history," council President Eric Garcetti, whose district includes the Black Cat, said of the police raid and protests at bar 41 years ago. In 1967, just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, when patrons exchanged celebratory embraces and kisses, plainclothes Los Angeles Police Department officers beat and arrested 14 patrons and bartenders, as well as two other people from a nearby bar.

Two of the men arrested for kissing another man that night were convicted under state law and registered as sex offenders.

The men appealed, asserting the right of equal protection under the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept their case. Two months after the raid, hundreds protested in front of the bar, carrying signs that read "Peace in Silver Lake," "No More Abuse of Our Rights and Dignity" and "Abolish Arbitrary Arrests."

Today, the bar at Sunset Junction is known as Le Barcito, a small stucco building with a purple facade that still bears the original sign of a smiling, black-and-white cat. On Saturday, the neighborhood will again hold gay rights protests — this time to show opposition to Proposition 8.

—Joanna Lin

Photo: the Black Cat