Retorts: The long road to acceptance

GAY RIGHTS demonstration. A lot has changed in the last 50 years (Flickr/Dani Oliver).

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

– Martin Luther King

For a lot of us who have been around a bit, the current gear-grinding over the issue of displaying the rainbow flag of gay pride in the lobby of the Garden Grove City Hall represents not so much a resurgence of bias, but an awareness of the pace of progress.

At recent meetings of the council, tempers grew hot on the matter – entirely symbolic – of whether a sexual minority, or any minority for that matter – had a claim on specific representation on public property.

That’s an interesting question, and some hesitance to open up a potential series of requests from worthy causes for flags in the hall shouldn’t necessarily be seen as backward-thinking.

However, as has been pointed out, Garden Grove has a long and sometimes embarrassing history with its gay community. In many ways it parallels the progress of same-sex Americans in going from ostracism to relative acceptance into the typical pattern of 21st century life.

Starting in the Sixties, Garden Grove Boulevard became ground zero for bars that catered to gays and lesbians. Estimates of the number of such establishments range from six to 30, but whatever the number, they were very much in the public eye. The fact they were in generally low-rent establishments, and often near adult bookstores contributed to the sense among much of the straight population that all that stuff was unsavory and possibly illegal.

It’s true that the GGPD made a practice of patrolling – some might call it persecuting – such places as DOK West, or the Happy Hour, or (later) The Frat House. A police sergeant told me how it was done.

A young officer was garbed in an open-throated colorful shirt and sent into such a place undercover. If a patron made sexual advances, that was grounds for an arrest. Gays called it entrapment, while the police called it enforcement of the law.

There was truth on both sides. The purpose of the undercover cop’s plunging neckline was to invite erotic attention, and there were people in such places who pushed, bent or leapfrogged over the laws against public … stuff.

At the same time, there was an epidemic of prostitution – including transvestite streetwalkers – along the Boulevard, all of which combined to create the sense that the city’s signature street was morally and legally out of control.

Now look at how much things have changed. Enlightened attitudes – brought on in part by gay pride protests and political organizing – have transformed the landscape.

The bars – some with blacked-out windows – existed because there were few places where gay people could meet without the threat of insult or injury. There’s just one left today because the need for sanctuary has declined.

Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and openly gay candidates contend, often with success, for high public office. Bao Nguyen, a gay man, served as Garden Grove’s mayor from 2014-2016.

The whole matter of flag policies, tangled up with private views touching on sexual identity, religion and political considerations, will come back to the city council next Tuesday.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, some controversy will remain. But so should a sense of how much progress has been made, and how much can still be made in tolerance, support and understanding of the other person’s point of view.


Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesdays.







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