A mix of emotions filled the Black Cat tavern on Sunset Boulevard Wednesday afternoon as leaders of the LGBTQ community gathered to honor some of their own and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Los Angeles magazine The Advocate.
The magazine produced five covers for the 50th that included community leaders, Neil Patrick Harris and supermodel Jenny Shimizu, among others. The celebration continues at a gala event being held Thursday evening.
“As much as I worry about our country, and we have a lot to worry about now, it’s stories like the Black Cat that give me hope,” said The Advocate’s editor in chief Lucas Grindley. “What this story tells me is that each of us matters. What we do matters. And as big as our challenge is, it can be changed.”
The Advocate, which produces a bi-monthly magazine and also a news site for the LGBTQ community, was born out of a protest that took place just outside the Black Cat 50 years ago. Los Angeles police officers beat patrons of the restaurant and arrested others the night of Dec. 31, 1966, at a time when something such as same-sex kissing was illegal. Two months later, protesters held a demonstration to call the police out on the brutal attack, resulting in a newsletter for the community that evolved into the current day Advocate.
“I remember being in college at Oklahoma University and kind of sneaking issues of The Advocate so I could look at them and I felt connected. I thought, there’s an outside world who understands who I am and it was because of the Advocate,” said 13th council district councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents neighborhoods such as Silver Lake and Echo Park.
Although the luncheon was largely celebratory, it followed news earlier in the day that a gunman opened fire on a Congressional baseball practice, injuring five. It led to calls for gun safety from several of the luncheon’s speakers, including the councilman.
“All of these messages from our House of Representatives and our Senate that are all about our thoughts and prayers are with you are going to ring hollow unless and until we have real gun safety legislation in the United States,” O’Farrell said. “And I’ll tell you something if we don’t get a handle on this, it’s going to bring this country to its knees.”
The thought was echoed by Reverend Troy Perry, who started the Metropolitan Community Church for the LGBTQ community and was honored at the luncheon with the hero award. Perry declared “gun violence has to stop in this country.”
The reverend took out the first ad for his church in the Advocate when the publication was only nine months old and he reflected on the steps made for the movement specifically out of Silver Lake, which includes activist Morris Kight and gay rights organization Mattachine Society.
“There’s so much history in the city. It’s unbelievable,” Perry said. “There’s something in the water here and we started so many early organizations here and how thankful I am that I’ve lived to see my city council member, who is a gay man, here today.”
Robin Tyler, of the comedy team Harrison & Tyler, added a little levity to the event when she received her hero award. The comedian is also a plaintiff in the California case for marriage equality.
“You cannot be a comic or an artist without being free,” Tyler said. “If Michelangelo had been straight, the Sisteen Chapel would have been wall-papered. So you have to tell the truth.”
As a new generation of activists emerges, their tools of choice for spreading awareness or simply connecting with others have changed.
Both recipients of the innovator award have used YouTube to find their voice.
“I’m just now realizing today that YouTube was to me what The Advocate was and is to so many other people,” said Connor Franta, one of the innovator recipients, and a YouTube vlogger. “YouTube was a platform I could connect and see other people in the community and I could feel less alone, which is what the Advocate’s been doing for an amazing 50 years.”
“I am child of the internet in many, many ways,” said Kat Blaque, who also has her own YouTube channel, which she started as a means of documenting her life and also self-expression.
“YouTube for me is always this sort of cathartic place for me to come just to say what was on my mind,” Blaque continued.
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