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social sciences

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Los Angeles  
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The modern gay civil rights movement may be said to have been born in Los Angeles with the formation of the Mattachine Society and ONE, Inc. in the early 1950s. The glbtq history of the city, now the U.S.'s second largest metropolis, is replete with other cultural, social, and political firsts, with the largest, the best-funded, the longest-lived, and at times the most visible and influential of publications, protests, legal accomplishments, cultural influences, and social and religious organizations.

Los Angeles, along with San Francisco and New York, has been at the very center of the American glbtq movement for equality. Currently, groups are attempting to increase the involvement of racial and ethnic minorities within the city's glbtq communities.

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Maturing of a City

Until the late twentieth century Los Angeles was often satirized as a place of indolent sunshine, home to a second-rate art form and cult religions. It received scant serious attention when cultural histories were written about U.S. cities. All of this changed when motion pictures became perhaps the most influential art form internationally, when alternative religions came to the forefront, and when it no longer seemed merely hedonistic and mind numbing to enjoy living and working in the beneficent southern California climate.

Los Angeles has been famously described as a hundred suburbs in search of a city. While this description is often used to deplore the urban sprawl that characterizes southern California, it can be read more positively as highlighting the great variety of lifestyles and urban spaces available in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Los Angeles is the largest urban center among the numerous towns and cities of southern California, many of them contiguous to Los Angeles or each other, and many of them with their own glbtq histories and communities. These include San Diego and San Pedro with naval bases, past and present, and Oceanside and Twentynine Palms with Marine Corps bases. Members of the armed services, often young men away from home for the first time and available for at least limited homosexual relationships, frequently played a role in the Los Angeles cruising scene and in the sexual lives of Los Angeles residents.

The largely resort towns of Palm Springs, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, and Santa Monica have also had significant cultural lives of their own, particularly Laguna and its artists' community and beach and bars. The Santa Monica Canyon area (partly in Los Angeles) has always held an enclave of gay and lesbian creative persons such as Austrian émigré screenwriter Salka Viertel, the British émigré philosopher Gerald Heard, the British émigré writers Christopher Isherwood and Gavin Lambert, Isherwood's artist lover Don Bachardy, and many others involved in motion pictures and other arts.

As Los Angeles has grown into the nation's second largest metropolis, it has become one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the world. It has also matured socially and politically, and has become home to vibrant glbtq communities.

Earliest "Gay Marriage": 1781--1850

Los Angeles was founded on September 4, 1781 by pobladores (townspeople) of various ethnic and racial mixtures sent from Mexico, including twenty-six persons of African descent. The beginning of southern California glbtq history is mixed in--and often hidden within--the histories of the dominant communities.

For example, Francisco Palóu's Life of Father Serra (who spread Catholicism to California in the eighteenth century by establishing missions), published in Mexico in 1787, recounts an instance of Native Americans near Mission Santa Barbara "caught in the act of committing the nefarious sin."

Palóu termed a male cross dresser a joya (jewel) and noted that when joyas were caught having sex with a man, "they were duly punished for this crime, but not with the severity it properly deserved. When they were rebuked for such an enormous crime, the layman answered that the Joya was his wife!" Although Palóu records this report with amazement bordering on incredulity, the same-sex pairing of the Native Americans might be said to constitute the earliest gay marriages in California.

Life of the social elites during the Mexican period revolved around ranchos and town houses maintained in Los Angeles by rancho owners. Some of these owners were bachelors who gave lavish parties, wore elaborate finery, and, in several cases, were said not to be interested in the attentions of women.

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Two photographs by Angela Brinskele:
Top: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa marching in the 2006 Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade.
Above: The McDonald/Wright Building of the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles.

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