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WeHo Became A Gay Mecca. Here’s The History Behind That (And Other Headlines)

Two people with light skin tones walk down a sidewalk looking away from the camera. Next to them is art for Micky's, a gay club. It has an illutration of a muscular man and wavy rainbow pride colors.
West Hollywood has been a hub of the LGBTQ+ community in Los Angeles for decades, but it's also been riddled with issues around exclusivity and became known as a "boystown."
(Samanta Helou Hernandez
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A night out on Santa Monica Boulevard in WeHo is almost a right of passage for us queer folks in L.A.

I remember my first time in 2012. I was amazed to see how folks expressed joy — some in drag, others in simple clothing — while hearing Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” blast throughout The Abbey. It was a moment for me: a then-not out gay guy.

For the LGBTQ+ community, these spaces are sacred because there aren’t that many places to call our own. But WeHo wasn’t always the gay mecca it is now.

The gays go west

The history of how West Hollywood became a queer (and non-queer at this point) destination dates back to the Prohibition era. During the “Pansy Craze” in the late 1920s, LGBTQ+ people gathered at speakeasies mostly in the Hollywood area. It was illegal to drink back then, but it was also illegal to be gay. (Private, consensual gay sex was illegal in California until 1976. Damn.) So folks gathered at venues where they could be more free and perform in drag, away from the police and the public.

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Eventually openly gay bars popped up in Hollywood, like Jimmy’s Backyard and B.B.B.’s Cellar. But the discriminatory rhetoric about the queer community coupled with the aggression of the L.A. Police Department led people to find other areas of the city to gather.

At the time, West Hollywood wasn’t even an official city when LGBTQ+ folks started hanging out there more often. It was an unincorporated area of the county where the LAPD had no jurisdiction (L.A. County Sheriff’s Department was — and still is — the police oversight of that area).

A lot more queer spots — hotels, bars and other businesses — started to open up in WeHo, so much so that entrepreneur and gay bar owner Bob Damran created gay guides in the mid 1960s. But this gay-friendly area had its own discriminatory practices. People of color and women were often turned away, sometimes just for wearing the “wrong shoes.”

My colleague Caitlin Hernández explores more about the history of West Hollywood in a story that published today. It’s a part of a year-long series of coverage called Queer LA. We also joined them for a history tour of Hollywood and West Hollywood for our How to L.A. podcast — check it out here!

We’re here to help curious Angelenos connect with others, discover the new, navigate the confusing, and even drive some change along the way.

More News

(After you stop hitting snooze)

  • In response to Mayor Karen Bass's Inside Safe program, a new advocacy coalition of has cropped up that's calling itself "Inside Starving." They say promises made about the program to move unhoused people off the streets are not being kept.
  • Los Angeles teachers ratified a new contract with higher pay and smaller classrooms. This follows a strike by school staff in March for which educators stopped work to support.  
  • L.A. is gonna stay cool this week, folks. And we may even see a little more drizzle. Check out your weekly weather report here
  • The Lakers came from behind in the fourth quarter to win last night's game against the Golden State Warriors. L.A.'s team takes a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. (Los Angeles Times)
  • The beleaguered Orange County Power Authority hired a new interim CEO after the previous one was criticized for mismanagement of funds, among other things. But, as my colleague Jill Replogle reports, the OCPA remains on shaky ground.
  • *At LAist we will always bring you the news freely, but occasionally we do include links to other publications that may be behind a paywall. Thank you for understanding! 

  • This is probably a surprise to no one, but there are not a lot of young homeowners, aged 25 to 35, in this state. The percentage of people age 35 to 45 who own a home is also plummeting. In fact, a new study finds that it takes longer to own a home in California compared to other states, even New York.
  • Heads up: if you are enrolled in Medi-Cal, make sure your contact information is up to date, otherwise you could lose your coverage. Public service messaging will soon start, reminding people to update info. Here’s what you need to know
  • The state is allocating $5 million toward the training of bilingual teachers in Asian languages. It’s for new and current teachers, who may be able to get a small scholarship and take classes for free.

Wait! One More Thing...

Read This If You're Thinking Of Adopting A Doggo

A man stands against an exterior wall in blue jeans and a blue zip-up hoodie, wearing a black baseball cap. He has white hair and glasses. He is holding the leash of a German Shepherd.
Bob Cheslow, a volunteer at Westside German Shepherd Rescue, with Fiona, one of the dogs they rescued
(Ryanne Mena)
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First, I have to give a shout out to the parents out there because I’m just a dog dad and, phew, sometimes it’s not easy! Yes, my Terrier mutt Bigotes was cute as a puppy, but he was (and still is) a handful, and I’m not even talking about the vet bills.

I’m always hearing people saying they’re curious to adopt a fur baby, but haven’t really had first-hand experience with it. Lucky them: we now have a guide to help folks understand the adoption process, costs and possible questions associated with it. LAist’s Ryanne Mena spoke to experts about how to humanely adopt dogs and provides some financial resources. And if you’re looking to volunteer, we have that info, too.

Forward the guide to that friend who wants to be a doggo’s human!

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