Being an uppity queer is a Los Angeles tradition.
Life magazine documented Los Angeles’ uppity queerness in its classic 1964 article “Homosexuality in America.” The piece included an interview with Los Angeles Police Department inspector James Fisk who described the “antihomosexual drive” the LAPD was waging. According to Fisk, gays had an agenda: to create a “fruit world.”
“The pervert is no longer as secretive as he was,” Fisk told Life. “He’s aggressive and his aggressiveness is getting worse.”
The L.A. populace’s general attitude towards “fruit” reflected Fisk’s. Queers faced hate even in places that are now L.A.’s most vibrant gayborhoods. A notorious sign that hung in West Hollywood’s Barney’s Beanery exemplifies this well. Its verbiage expressed both a contempt for queers and proper spelling: FAGOTS – STAY OUT.
While the Stonewall riots are often hailed as the start of the modern queer lib movement, raging fruits were asserting their right to be in L.A. bars, basements, churches, parks, and donut shops years before the Big Apple exploded.
Queers fought this hatred in quintessentially Los Angelean ways. Their struggle to cobble a fruit world, or at least a fruit metropolis, can be mapped from the Valley to the harbor. In fact, L.A. was the site of several uprisings and protests that predate the historic Stonewall riots, a series of 1969 brawls during which New York queers bashed back following a police-led raid of a popular Greenwich Village bar. While the Stonewall riots are often hailed as the start of the modern queer lib movement, raging fruits were asserting their right to be in L.A. bars, basements, churches, parks, and donut shops years before the Big Apple exploded.
L.A. is the golden home of America’s queer rights movement.
One flower-powered – and under-celebrated – moment in L.A.’s history of queer resistance has roots in Wilmington. In 1961, this harbor community became home to the nation’s first Wienerschnitzel. Six years later, it welcomed The Patch, a queer dance bar opened by former Taco Bell employee Lee Glaze. Glaze, whose mop earned him the nickname the Blonde Darling, drew people to The Patch with his wit, one-liners, and keen grin. Glaze adored drag shows, a form of entertainment that violated a city ban against “masquerading,” the practice of wearing clothing and accessories not associated with one’s assigned gender. In personal photographs, a beaming Glaze often appears surrounded by grinning drag queens donning beehive hairdos, operatic eyeliner, and kitten-heeled pumps.
Despite The Patch’s location on the outskirts of L.A., police harassed Glaze. The police commission ordered him not to host drag shows. They told him to kick out guys who danced with guys and dudes who goosed dudes. They required him to let only one patron at a time to use the john.
Like many queer barkeeps of the time, Glaze encouraged all of these prohibited activities. He also developed a signal to warn patrons when the fuzz arrived. According to one account, when Glaze spotted vice cops setting foot in The Patch, he played “God Save the Queen” on the jukebox. According to another account, Glaze shouted the words.
On August 17, 1968, undercover cops who’d infiltrated The Patch observed one man patting another’s rump. Cops arrested the two men. The arrests touched a patriotic nerve; patrons cried, “We’re Americans!” and political sparks flew. The outcry morphed into political theater, as well as an exercise in high camp.
Glaze organized his remaining patrons into a flower power militia. They caravanned towards the police station, but first, the men stopped at a florist’s. There, they purchased ammo: carnations, roses, daisies, gladioli, and mums. Toting swollen bouquets, the men stormed the LAPD’s Harbor Station.
The flower power militia caravanned towards the police station but stopped stopped first at a florist’s. There, the men purchased ammo: carnations, roses, daisies, gladioli, and mums.
Glaze approached the desk officer on duty. He announced, “We’re here to get our sisters out!”
“What are your sisters’ names?” asked the officer.
“Tony Valdez and Bill Hasting.”
Glaze announced that he would also be taking out an injunction against the Bolshoi Ballet since it, too, encouraged men to dance with men.
The officer called for backup.
Glaze bailed out his sisters, and the Harbor Station police watched this floral act of political rebellion in a daze.
This small and sweet-smelling protest cemented a precedent: that LA queers would not go quietly, or odorlessly, to jail for being themselves. Queers would come out en masse to support their SoCal sisters. Queers would be seen, queers were American, and queers were a political bloc capable of exercising political power, capable of engaging with the state in unique ways. Queer were here to aggressively cobble a world of fruit, and they would start with flowers.
All images appear courtesy of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.