Out & About :: The History of Gay LA
Have you ever wondered where the term ’Lipstick Lesbian’ came from? Perhaps you’d like to know the location of the bathhouse where closeted Hollywood stars from the past met to satisfy their urges? What about the tragic outcome of the transsexual solicited by Eddie Murphy? Did you know that one of the first gay movement meetings was held not in West Hollywood - known in LA as "BoysTown" - but the much sleepier east-side neighborhood of Silverlake?
If you’ve ever found yourself pondering the history of gay LA - or in need of cocktail-party-homo-trivia - you’ll love the highly entertaining and hugely informative Out & About Tour.
Having made its Hollywood debut around Halloween 2009, the gay-centric Out & About Tour escorts "pink" participants (and our interested friends and families) through West Hollywood, making its way to downtown Los Angeles, with pokes into the nearby Echo Park and Silverlake areas. Throughout the trip, tour-goers learn about the history of gay Los Angeles - things that happened long before many of us ever stepped foot in LA (or, in some cases, were even born!) - through important and entertaining facts and stories... and perhaps a Mimosa!
Always up for expanding our base of knowledge EDGE got a firsthand look at the tour, along with an interview with Out & About founder, Jim Anzide, who also served as the tour guide. Far from your typically boring history lesson, Anzide has effectively created a three-hour excursion that not only leaves participants with a bit more knowledge about the city’s - and their - gay roots, but also leaves them entertained.
Inspired by politics... and traffic!
After the emotional rollercoaster following the 2008 Presidential election and Proposition 8 debacle (the voters of California narrowly passed a law taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry), Anzide realized how much recent political events "just changed people’s lives, because we were fighting for our very existence as homosexuals." And then there was the infamous - and always challenging - LA traffic.
"It was January of (2009) and I was literally sitting at an intersection in Hollywood, and found myself looking at a Starline tour bus, a Hollywood Star bus, and the hearse that does the Hollywood Death tour. I just looked around and said ’Why don’t the gays have their own fucking tour?’ I was so angry at that point; I felt like gays were being mistreated in every way, shape and form."
The idea for a tour focused entirely on gay history in Los Angeles may have been born at a Hollywood intersection, but Anzide was still skeptical about making it a reality.
"I thought maybe there wasn’t enough gay information in Los Angeles but then I was blown away by the sheer amount of it. We barely scratch the surface in a three-hour tour."
One source that proved invaluable was the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, which is located on the University of Southern California campus and the largest research library and archive devoted to the concerns of the LGBT community.
"It’s unreal. (The Archives) literally have all the memorabilia, like the FAGOTS STAY OUT sign - misspelling and all! - from Barney’s Beanery, notes from the first Mattachine meeting at Harry Hay’s house, anything and everything you can imagine is there."
Another important artifact housed at ONE is the original Damron guides, written by Bob Damron. Anzide told EDGE that when he was doing research for the tour, he discovered that Damron was shocked at how far those guides have come since their creation.
"When you see the evolution of something like that, where it was really underground secret society stuff, and now it’s one of the biggest, well-published gay travel books in the world, but it started out as like a matchbook-size, secret little pocketbook, and you could hope that the cops wouldn’t find it if you got picked up."
Anzide dove into the research and found more than he ever could have imagined; he likened launching the first tour last fall as giving birth to a child.
"I literally did the research from January  straight through. I’m always reading stuff, but the bulk of it was done over nine months. It was a real gay pregnancy and we birthed it on Halloween."
Next page :: More gay history... and cocktails!
From then until now...
Alongside the oodles of historical facts and little-known landmarks (the street where Cary Grant and Randolph Scott shared a home as ’bachelors?’) on the tour, Anzide wanted to feature the current gay community, so that the tour focused not only on the past, but current gay culture as well. One way he does this is through stops in El Pueblo in downtown LA - where the city was born - as well as places like The Other Side in Silverlake, which is one of the last piano bars still in operation. Not only do these stops allow tour-goers to enjoy a cocktail at the bar, but allow for great interaction as well. Some of the regulars (including Michael, who assisted Anzide on the tour that day) even provide a bit of entertainment, taking to the mic and belting out a song or two.
Anzide is aware of the risk that local businesses took in letting the Out & About tour make a stop and come through their establishments. "The Other Side is thrilled, and (guests on the tour get to see) the clientele that hangs out on a Saturday and Sunday. We didn’t want it to be like a petting zoo, like, ’Here are the octogenarian gays that have been here since 1968!’ [laughs] Everyone was totally amendable to it."
As the news spreads about the tour, Anzide is ready to embrace (and be embraced by) other local businesses.
"We’re always looking for new businesses and new friends in all the pocket neighborhoods that [the LGBT community] go to."
Like any thriving business, Anzide is always looking to the future and is already implementing changes based on guest feedback and financial feasibility. For example, the double-decker bus that was originally used for the tour has been replaced by an air-conditioned bus with comfortable seats, a video screen, and a space intimate enough for Anzide to effectively quiz participants on information presented during the tour- with candy prizes for offering the correct answers. The quiz is a small part of a terrific group camaraderie felt throughout the tour- a testament to the fact that Anzide has tapped into something that links the past to the present, helping to bring the gay community closer.
A recent addition to the Out & About Tour is the Sun-Gay Brunch, headed off - in appropriate celebratory fashion - with appetizers and mimosas at Mexico Restaurante y Barra in West Hollywood. Other bits of food and drink throughout the tour help the juicy Golden Age of Hollywood gossip go down easy.
"The Sun-Gay Brunches are just the beginning of some of the upcoming changes," Anzide said. "Towards the end of 2010, we’ll split into Hollywood, downtown and Silverlake, and keep those separate. Surprisingly, West Hollywood doesn’t really demand that sort of thing. It actually has the least amount of history than any part of the city, which is kind of bizarre because it’s like the gay mecca."
And why not take advantage of being in Hollywood, where more than a few celebrities have a connection to the gay community?
"We are also going to start a Celebrity tours in March, as well... [the tour will include] an LGBT celebrity or friend/ally of the community, and the proceeds will go to a charity of their choosing. [Those tours will also include a Q&A with the celebrity, as well."
While Out & About Tours is still in its infancy, there are surprises to be had not only by the participants on the tour but by Anzide himself.
"One thing that continues to surprise me is how little everyone knows; [people] who have been in the community for so long. I am always surprised by that. I don’t want that to sound [like I’m an expert]; I was in the same place. I thought I knew a lot about the city and then once I opened my mind it was like, ’Wow! I really knew nothing about all of this history.’"
The overall message, however, is that the Out & About Tour is not just a way to kill three hours on a Sunday afternoon; bigger things have been known to happen.
"The other part," Anzide shared about the surprises, "is how overwhelmed and changed people feel by it. I get comments days after the tour like, ’I couldn’t stop thinking about this particular part, and it really sort of fascinated me to do something more and find out more about our culture and the city.’ That’s always a great thing."