LA vs NY: When It Comes to Protests, Who Throws Down Better?

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In the unending coastal war between New York and L.A., the protests can often serve as a powerful battleground. In today’s political atmosphere, we owe a lot to the protestors who came before us and showed us how dissent was done. A commemorative event honoring the persecution of a group of gay men gathered at Silver Lake’s The Black Cat (still alive and kicking) for New Year’s Eve—December 31, 1966—brings to light the fundamental contrast between each coast’s form of protest: one likes to be calm and the other raucous. But back to the incident at The Black Cat. As ’66 became ’67, a group of plainclothes policemen ruined all the revelry with arrests that were peppered with violence, apprehending several of those “caught in the act” (a.k.a. being affectionate with one another) and subsequently charged them with the crime of lewd conduct.

Though January 1, 1967 may have been a loss for those men who were forced to register as sex offenders for their homosexuality (which truly does seem barbaric in hindsight), the group would have its vengeance about a month and a half later on February 11. It was then that upwards of two hundred protesters gathered outside The Black Cat to demonstrate in a nonviolent way by waving signs and passing out pamphlets. Organized by Personal Rights in Defense and Education (the fitting acronym being PRIDE), this protest was among the first official ones advocating for gay rights in the United States. In this regard, L.A., and the west coast in general, has NYC beat. They’re always ahead of the curve when it comes to progressiveness.

Two years later, of course, a vaguely similar incident at now epically historical Greenwich Village bar Stonewall Inn would transpire when police raided the bar on a whim in the wee hours of June 28, 1969. Because the ’60s were still a time when being gay was considered a psychiatric condition in the DSM (it wouldn’t be removed from the manual until 1973), it was often only the Stonewall Inn that would turn a blind eye to homosexual, transgender and drag queen “antics,” and this was chiefly because it was run by the mafia at the time, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t give a fuck who its clientele is so long as they pay cash. Unlike the raid at The Black Cat, however, the one at Stonewall Inn prompted immediate riots (none of this waiting over a month business) that lasted for several weeks in total. This bombastic and, shall we say, non-peaceful response resulted in the formation of two gay activist organizations six months later, as well as the first Gay Pride March in NYC the following year on, what else, June 28.

Some synonyms for peaceful are “passive” or “quiet.” On this front, one must objectively admit that New Yorkers are better at getting their cry for immediate change across in a much more aggressive way, even if it takes them a hair longer to get on the band wagon than Californians. Because New Yorkers favor a more radical approach to protesting, perhaps believing that peaceful vibes aren’t necessarily going to speak the volumes they need it to, the Stonewall Inn riots were more effective. But maybe it was, in part, the vanilla protest prompted by The Black Cat New Year’s Eve incident that got the ball rolling for the gay community of New York.

About The Author

Genna Rivieccio received her BA in screenwriting from Loyola Marymount University. She has received a number of festival recognitions for her screenplays from The Indie Gathering, Austin Film Festival and writemovies.com. She later transitioned to literature after moving to New York and published her first novel, She’s Lost Control (Lulu, 2011), and started a literary quarterly called, The Opiate. Rivieccio’s work has also appeared on thosethatthis, The Toast and PopMatters. She runs the pop culture blog, Culled Culture, www.culledculture.com.

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