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50 years ago the first major gay rights demonstration happened in Silver Lake

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A police raid at the Black Cat Tavern led to protests outside the gay bar

Protesters assembled below the Black Cat sign Photos courtesy USC Digital Library

This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the nation’s first major public demonstrations in support of gay rights. A predecessor to the famous Stonewall riots two years later, protests outside of the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake helped to ignite the modern LGBT movement.

In honor of the anniversary, we’ve rounded up a few photos of the protests, which were staged in response to a police raid of the bar six weeks earlier. On New Year’s Eve, undercover officers arrested 14 patrons of the tavern, one of a number of gay bars that lined Sunset Boulevard at the time.

As Wehoville notes, two of those arrested were eventually convicted of lewd conduct. An appeal failed to make it before the Supreme Court, but the attorney in the case established an important precedent of appealing such decisions under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Protesters in front of the Black Cat
Protesters opposed police tactics targeting homosexuals.
Romanoff estimates between 300 and 600 people gathered to protest.
Protester with sign outside of Black Cat

On February 11, protesters gathered outside the tavern to protest police antagonism, harassment, and violence toward the city’s LGBT community. Witness accounts indicate the demonstration was peaceful, if a little tense. One participant, Alexei Romanoff, told Wehoville that protesters were careful not to drop any leaflets on the ground or any other items that police could use against them as evidence.

A large group of protesters holding signs on Sunset
The protest predated the Stonewall riots by a little over two years.

As these photos show, the protests drew a good-sized crowd, given the taboo nature of homosexuality during the era. In 2008, the city designated the Black Cat, now reopened as a gastropub under the same name, as a historic-cultural monument. On Sunday, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area, is hosting a rally in the building’s parking lot to commemorate the event.

“It wasn’t that long ago that people like me were targeted by the police for being true to ourselves. Lives were ruined, and a whole class of people were marginalized,” O’Farrell said