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Black Cat Shows Protest Makes Progress

Black Cat Shows Protest Makes Progress

Black Cat
From left: Alexei Romanoff with unidentified Los Angeles police officer and Mayor Eric Garcetti at the Black Cat anniversary rally

The man who organized a protest 50 years ago against police brutality was thanked publicly by police.

The LGBT movement celebrated one of its most important moments on Saturday, marking 50 years since protesters risked their safety and stood up to police brutality in Los Angeles.

"It started right here," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, noting the protest at the Black Cat Tavern came two years before the Stonewall Inn would become a touchpoint in history for LGBT rights.

One of the men who organized the protest 50 years ago in the Silver Lake neighborhood, Alexei Romanoff, made a triumphant appearance on stage before a cheering crowd assembled outside the Black Cat Tavern.

"What do we want?" he yelled to the crowd.

"Justice!"

"When do we want it?" he asked.

"Now!"

And with that, Romanoff concluded, "The spirit is still here. And I'm depending on all of you to go on and carry this forward."

Romanoff seemed in wonder that during the event a police officer had shook his hand to say thank you. It was a stark change from 50 years before, when police beat and arrested LGBT people caught kissing at midnight on New Year's Eve in the gay club. Undercover officers had waited for that exact moment because it was illegal for people of the same sex to kiss for more than a few seconds.

"All the advances we have made, it's by our own tugging," Romanoff told the crowd, celebrating that "today I am married to the man that I love."

Police brutality is by no means an issue only of the past. It is renewed in headlines as protests by Black Lives Matter -- a movement founded in part by queer women of color -- has called attention to unfair treatment. Transgender people still face aggression from police all over the country. The commemoration of the Black Cat protest, though, was a moment to mark an advance, with police at one point joining Romanoff on stage to clasp hands.

Two out police officers -- a reality unimaginable 50 years ago -- spoke to the crowd, putting the changes on display.

Another symbol of the lasting change caused by the Black Cat protest is The Advocate, which was founded as the newsletter of the protest group.

"We were founded 50 years ago as a newsletter for a movement," said editor in chief Lucas Grindley, "as a newsletter founded by the very people who organized and who marched from the Black Cat. I am editor of their magazine because protest works. I'm here because of those Americans."

Speakers for the rally were numerous, including the mayor, and the out city councilman who organized the event, Mitch O'Farrell. Also present was the first out elected citywide official, comptroller Ron Galperin. He stood hand in hand on stage with his husband. More than once during the event, rallygoers kissed each other in protest, doing publicly what would've been illegal in that same location 50 years earlier.

Celebrities came out for the event, including some of the cast of Queer as Folk -- Peter Paige, Scott Lowell, and Michelle Clunie -- actors Darryl Stephens and Wilson Cruz, comedian Alec Mapa, and Scandal actor Guillermo Diaz.

Many of the speakers called for a renewed solidarity with Black Lives Matter, with Muslims, with immigrants, and with transgender people. There was a moment for Standing Rock, as well, reminding the audience that Native-Americans are among the marginalized. Through it all, there was the specter of Donald Trump as president.

Robin Tyler, the 75-year-old plaintiff in the California marriage case that predates Proposition 8, was on stage with her wife and summed up the resilience of the crowd.

"You know, we're survivors," she told them. "We've survived mental institutions, we've survived penal institutions, we've survived behavior modification. We've survived our children being taken from us. We've survived our parents throwing us out of our houses. We've survived losing everybody to AIDS. We've survived everything. And we sure as hell will be able to survive Donald fucking Trump."

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