How Do You Spell Oppression?

lap-_2-1st-banner.jpgEven today, my SpellCheck tells me to change “UGLA” to “ugly.” And, it used to be worse! Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s first acronym was “UGA,” Uptown Gay Alliance. (SpellCheck’s suggestion? “ugh.”) Well, what can you do?

Lesbian activist Saundra Tignor brought the “L” word to the table in 1985, two years after Bobby Brown’s murder on North Figueroa in Los Angeles triggered the founding of UGA by Highland Park Realtor Gus DiClairo, owner of Uptown Properties. (Uptown is still doing business at 5317 N. Figueroa, Los Angeles, CA and is owned by UGLA member Eric Toro.) Saundra went on to co-found “ULOAH,” United Lesbians of African Heritage, but, I digress.

Bobby was a 24-year-old gay man who would walk the short distance between the only two gay bars in Northeast LA, Bon Mot and Tykes, located a few doors above and below Avenue 41 on North Figueroa. Local gang members discovered they could target these men, especially after learning that Northeast Division LAPD made these kinds of crime a very low priority for investigation.

lap-2001-1st-banner.jpgDetectives summoned to Bobby’s murder scene asked, “Did he come out of the fag bar?” Outraged, Gus put out an alert to the neighborhood demanding a meeting with the LAPD over it’s conduct of the murder investigation and with the help of the Los Angeles Human Rights Commission, a meeting ensued. Unfortunately, the investigation went nowhere and the murder has never been solved. It’s lasting legacy is UGLA, whose “… primary goals are to provide a support system for gay men and lesbians (in Northeast Los Angeles) and education for individuals and the community-at-large on the true nature of homosexuality.”

With the advent of the AIDS epidemic in 1980, UGLA members began raising money to help pay for food and rent for some of its members who were fighting HIV. Grassroot gay and lesbian support for these Northeast area residents was the only type of help available in those early years.

Then in 1989, UGLA began it’s support for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which was the effort of UGLA member Michael Weinstein. He recognized the need for care for those fighting HIV on this side of town and instituted Chris Brownlie hospice in Elysian Park, the first AIDS Hospice in Los Angeles County.

In 1990, UGLA began its most visible project, a fundraiser named “Uptown Cabaret.” Cabaret ran for 16 years utilizing local venues such as Highland Park Ebell Club, Friendship Hall, Autry Museum, Occidental College, and Eagle Rock’s 20th Century Women’s Club.

lap-2008-gay-heroes-high.jpgBy 1993, an LAPD Assistant Police Chief was the keynote speaker at UGLA’s 10th Anniversary celebration at the Los Angeles Music Center and the LAPD was actively recruiting openly gay and lesbian officers across Los Angeles. In Northeast LA, gay men and lesbians were becoming more open and were actively involved in all facets of community life. UGLA began its 13-year affiliation with Cal-Trans’ Adopt-a-Highway program by maintaining two miles of Interstate 5, northbound, from Fletcher Drive on-ramp to Los Feliz Boulevard off-ramp.

In 1996, UGLA began its charitable Matching Funds program and to date has given over $250,000. to community 501(c) 3 organizations.

In 2001, UGLA marched for the first time as a contingent in the Northeast Holiday Parade. That same year, through the good offices of then LA City Councilmember Nick Pacheco, UGLA hung it’s first Gay/Lesbian Pride banner in front of Council District 14 office on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock commemorating Los Angeles’ June Pride month. However, vandals had other ideas. They continually defaced, slashed and stole four banners, leaving their final taunt on the steps of Eagle Rock City hall denouncing “Pacheco the Fag.”

Hate phone calls to UGLA President Carl Johnson resulted in several hate crime reports. Outraged, community service organizations, institutions and individuals rallied to the defense of UGLA issuing strongly worded denunciations and equally strong words of support. UGLA members provided a 24-hour protective vigil for the banner at the Council office.

By 2008, A city-wide poster campaign announcing “Gay Heroes,” which includes the picture of UGLA member octogenarian Florian Novak, resulted in a bus stop poster near the corners of York Boulevard and North Figueroa. The poster has not been defaced or vandalized.

carl-matthes.jpgAnd now, as you may know, the gay and lesbian community is again under attack by right-wing extremists through Proposition 8 on the November ballot. UGLA is hoping to inform Northeast LA residents to this discriminatory and hateful proposed California Constitutional amendment.

But, that’s enough for now. In my next article I will chronicle UGLA’s efforts around same-sex marriage and Equality for All, while seeking your support to defeat Proposition 8.

by Carl Matthes

Carl Matthes is a native of Los Angeles and has lived in Eagle Rock for over 40 years. He is a former president and a current Board member of Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He is a former columnist and a current advisor to the Lesbian News, the oldest lesbian publication in America. He was editor of the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) newsletter and a former GLAAD National Board member. He has also been a Board member of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Photos courtesy of Arthur Macbeth

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