L.A.’s trademark industries - entertainment, fashion, art, design and cuisine, among others - have been magnets for creative gay and lesbian trendsetters for more than a century. And by their sheer numbers and substantial influence, these pioneering men and women have left a permanent, positive and gay-friendly legacy on L.A.’s culture, political climate and sense of community.
L.A.’s gay scene goes back to before Christopher Isherwood wrote about it in A Single Man (reborn as the 2009 Tom Ford movie). That story was set in the 1960s, when there was a Stonewall-style riot in L.A., two years before Stonewall. The Advocate magazine was born here, as were America’s first gay church and synagogue (Metropolitan Community Church and Beth Chayim Chadashim). The first ongoing gay rights group in the nation, The Mattachine Society, was founded in L.A. And, if you know PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) supporters, you can thank L.A. for them, too.
Outfest, the LGBT film festival that takes place each July, is L.A.’s largest and longest-running film festival of any kind. The Celebration Theatre in Hollywood specializes in gay-themed productions, and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles has set national standards since 1979. Starline Tours offers a new LGBT itinerary to help visitors savor the best of gay L.A.
LGBT life in this region of more than 15 million people continues to be as diverse and dynamic as Los Angeles itself. In fact, there is not just one gay neighborhood in this glittering metropolis: They dot the region. You could spend an entire week just exploring the wonderful gay and lesbian enclaves throughout the city. L.A.’s original gay neighborhood is Silver Lake, where trendsetters mix with one of America’s most ethnically diverse populations in hip clubs and friendly bars. Browse for star-worthy leather goods at Dean or museum-quality barware at Bar Keeper; or try out restaurants like Forage, the Kitchen for comfort food done right, sausages at Berlin Currywurst, or L.A.’s favorite Cuban guava-cream cheese pastry at Café Tropical.
After dark, Akbar is a den of alt-cool, gay but straight-friendly, with Moroccan-inspired décor, a jukebox filled with hip-again oldies, theme nights, and a dance floor. Up Hyperion Avenue, rock with the go-go boys at busy MJ’s or enjoy drag acts from Chico’s Angels to Jackie Beat as they camp it up at the Cavern Club Theatre, inside Casita del Campo Mexican restaurant.
And, of course, there’s West Hollywood, aka WeHo - an independent city within Los Angeles - where fully 50 percent of the resident population identify as gay or lesbian. “Boys Town” along Santa Monica Boulevard is the disco-beating heart of gay Southern California. Here, L.A.’s Gay PRIDE Parade and festival takes place each June. (In fact, the term PRIDE was coined in L.A., an acronym of Personal Rights In Defense and Education.) Later in the year, half a million costumed revelers gather for the annual Halloween Costume Carnaval along Santa Monica Boulevard. The rest of the year, it’s busy day and night with cafés, gyms, restaurants, bars and dance clubs.
An evening in WeHo might start over margaritas and mingling at Marix Tex-Mex restaurant — barely more than a covered patio but always a big gay party. For something more upscale, ramble down the Boulevard to chichi Eleven or Revolver video bar, or dance to the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of Rage or Micky’s. Not your scene? How about Legendary Bingo hosted by drag queens at Hamburger Mary’s?
Then there’s The Abbey, a world unto itself. What started as a simple coffee shop has grown into practically an empire of flavored martinis served by an eye-catching staff in a quirky indoor-outdoor setting.
Between Hollywood and West Hollywood lies the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the most extensive collection of art in the Western U.S. In seven buildings on 22 manicured acres on the Miracle Mile, right next door to the “only-in-L.A.” La Brea Tar Pits, visitors can experience the works of such groundbreaking gay and lesbian artists as Marcel Duchamp, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Annie Leibovitz, Catherine Opie, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, to name just a few. In 2012, the J. Paul Getty Museum and LACMA jointly acquired to complete archives of pioneering and controversial gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
From LACMA, it’s just a short jaunt over the hill to Studio City, gay hub of the San Fernando Valley. Oil Can Harry’s is an institution (since 1968) for country music and retro disco nights. New this year to the Valley is the upscale Rain nightclub, which offers fresh entertainment every night and features a world-class, Cuban-inspired menu by two renowned celebrity chefs.
If attending a world-class performance is on your agenda, the offerings at the stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, or the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood are sure to please. How about an evening watching the stars under the stars? The world-famous Hollywood Bowl won’t disappoint.
Finally, what’s a trip to L.A. without the beach? Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica has been a gay hangout since Isherwood and his kind lived just up the nearby canyon. A few miles down the coast in Venice Beach, Roosterfish has been serving honest drinks at honest prices on Venice’s chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
To access for more tips on visiting gay-friendly LA, visit discoverLosAngeles.com/gayLA.