Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
Dec 21st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Gay Santa Cruz: Then and Now

John_LairdAs we prepare to celebrate this year’s Gay Pride, now the largest annual political gathering in Santa Cruz County, it’s hard to believe that the first marches in the mid-1970s required security to protect the gutsy few out Santa Cruzans who walked down Pacific Avenue.

It was a different time locally and nationally.  Locally in the late 1970s, the University enrollment was at just over 5,000, Downtown Santa Cruz was dead after six, the Miss California Pageant would still call Santa Cruz home for another few years, and the Board of Supervisors and City Council had conservative majorities.

Across the country it was illegal to be gay in most states. The movie Milk showed police hassling San Francisco gay bar customers. At the time I was elected to the Santa Cruz City Council 30 years ago this coming November, there were about 10 openly gay elected officials throughout the United States.

The first public stirrings of the local gay community happened at both UCSC and Cabrillo College. Lesbian and gay counseling and support groups were organized.

The first Gay Pride celebration was in 1975; with the struggle to get a Gay Pride resolution passed at the Board of Supervisors a major public controversy. The first actual parade happened in 1976, and in the first years the parade brought out anti-gay demonstrators.

A long organizing campaign against the 1978 “Briggs Initiative” to outlaw openly gay teachers led to CUDBI—the Community United Against the Briggs Initiative. Gay beach volleyball began shortly thereafter.

The undercover arrest of gay men entrapped by Capitola police officers in 1980, and the subsequent publishing of the names and home addresses of those arrested in local newspapers, led to more than 200 people protesting the actions at a Capitola City Council meeting.

Santa Cruz county was the first county in the nation to adopt gay non-discrimination for its own employees in 1975, and the City of Santa Cruz and Metropolitan Transit district’s domestic partners benefits programs were among the first in the nation in the mid-1980s. I had my own 15 minutes of fame as one of the first three openly gay mayors elected in the United States in 1983.

Gay bars were an integral part of the culture in this time. The Dragon Moon, Mona’s Gorilla Lounge, the Blue Lagoon, Faces, and others were among the few places gay men and women could meet openly in public.

The HIV epidemic shook the local and national gay community. The Santa Cruz AIDS Project was a local response to the epidemic and at one point had as many as 600 regular volunteers. Lesbians and gay men, who had struggled over issues of equity in the 1970s, were bound together by the epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.

Fast-forwarding to now, there are no exclusive gay bars left in the area. We have two openly gay school board members now, but there has been no fanfare because it is not as unique as it once would have been. Our County Clerk and Board of Supervisors were in the forefront of the fight for marriage equality.

There’s not a walk of life in Santa Cruz County that doesn’t have an open LGBT person somewhere in its organization. There are hundreds of children of gay parents in the county.

And while it was a few hearty activists that organized gay pride in the early years, the Diversity Center—a thriving center of the LGBT community—has taken on the responsibility for making sure the celebration happens each year, and gets credit for making it happen whether it makes money or not.

I love to tell the story of a few years ago at the parade where I was getting ready to ride in an open convertible as the area’s state legislator.  A few contingents ahead of me was the medical marijuana float with a giant joint puffing smoke as the float went down the street. The sheriff and his top deputies had been placed near that float in the parade’s order—and they walked back and asked if they could march by me during the parade.

It was the perfect circle. Thirty years ago, security had to protect the parade in more difficult times. Thirty years later, I had become the safe port in the political storm. That’s progress. There will be a lot to celebrate this year.


John Laird is a former mayor of Santa Cruz, and a former member of the California legislature. He now serves in Gov. Brown’s Cabinet as Secretary of Natural Resources.

Comments (3)Add Comment
...
written by Merlin Spillers, July 08, 2011
Your article was sent to us by a friend as we now live in Tucson. It brought back so many happy memories of our years in Santa Cruz. Before moving there we weren't active at all in the LGBT community and when we moved there we just dived right in. It really enriched our lives and taught us a lot about how to live. We moved there in 1987 so missed the early bad years. We are glad that the community center is still going strong!
...
written by Jo Kenny, June 04, 2011
What a great walk down memory lane, John. I remember doing security in those early days--it was easy to distract the religious right folks with a nice long kiss between two of us. We actually got them to walk a block ahead of the parade one year doing that. What fun!!
...
written by Joe E, May 26, 2011
Nice summary, John! Just one quibble -- the Capitola bathroom busts mostly were not gay men, they were "straight" men looking for gay sex. I think that's an important distinction to be clear on! (And one, I remember hearing, was a young man who was pretty much innocently entrapped.) But it was fun to read a pleasant retrospective of local LGBT history.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Is This a Dream?

A beginner’s guide to understanding and exploring the uncanny world of lucid dreams

 

Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

2014 is almost over. Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Jewish Festival of Light, Hanukkah, begins. We are in our last week of Sag and last two weeks of December. Sunday, Dec. 21 is winter Solstice, as the sun enters Capricorn (3:30 p.m. for the west coast). Soon after, the Capricorn new moon occurs (5:36 p.m. for the west coast)—the last new moon of 2014. Sunday morning Uranus in Aries (revolution, revelation) is stationary direct (retro since July 22). Uranus/Aries create things new and needed to anchor the new culture and civilization (Aquarius). We will see revolutionary change in 2015. Capricorn new moon, building-the-personality seed thought, is, “Let ambition rule and let the door to initiation and freedom stand wide (open).” Capricorn is a gate—where matter returns to spirit. But the gate is unseen until the Ajna Center (third eye), Diamond Light of Direction, opens. Winter solstice is the longest day of darkness of the year. The sun’s rays resting at the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) symbolize the Christ (soul’s) light piercing the heart of the Earth, remaining there for three days, till Holy Night (midnight Thursday morning). Then the sun’s light begins to rise. It is the birth of the new light (holy child) for the world. A deep calm and stillness pervades the world.The entire planet is revivified, re-spiritualized. All hearts beating reflect this Light. And so throughout the Earth there’s a radiant “impress” (impressions, pictures) given to humanity of the World Mother and her Child. The star Sirius (love/direction) and the constellation Virgo the mother shines above. For gift giving, give to those in need. Give and give and then give some more. This creates the new template of giving and sharing for the new world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Stocking Stuffers

The men behind the women of the Kinsey Sicks Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet explain their own special brand of ‘dragtivism,’ and their holiday show at the Rio
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Tramonti Pizza

Why there’s no such thing as too much Italian food in Seabright

 

Guitar or surfboard?

Guitar. The closest thing I ever came to surfing was sliding down a rock hill. Charlie Tweddle, Santa Cruz, Hats and Music

 

Fortino Winery’s Intriguing Charbono

At the opening celebration of the new Santa Clara Wine Trail in August, one of the wineries we visited was Fortino. This is where I first tasted their intriguing estate-grown Charbono—a varietal that is one of the rarest in California, with only 80 acres grown statewide.

 

Beyond the Jar

How Tabitha Stroup has built her rapidly expanding jam empire