UGLA: 30 Years of Grassroot’s Activism

ugla bannerFounded in 1983, 2013 marks the 30th Anniversary of Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance (UGLA).

UGLA’s 30th will be celebrated on April 14 with Richard Bass, an UGLA Founder, as MC and UGLA member Rita-Jane Baird, Superior Court Commissioner (Retired), installing the 30th Board of Directors, Carl Johnson, Tom Johnson, Carl Matthes, Paul McDermott, Joan Potter, Ken Salzman, and David Singleman.

Headquartered in Northeast Los Angeles (NELA), “UGLA is a charitable and educational public service organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service. Its primary goals are to provide a support system for gay men and lesbians and education for individuals and the community-at-large on the true nature of homosexuality. UGLA supports charitable projects and institutions, thereby enhancing all NELA and the greater Los Angeles area.”

UGLA’s 1983 newsletter “Uptown Gaze” reported,

Bobby Brown, 24, a well-known young gay man, was twice assaulted and finally killed this past Wednesday evening, March 31, 1983, as he was leaving our local gay bar, The Bon Mot, at Ave 41 and Figueroa St. This attack represents the second murder in our gay community within the last two years. The first murder victim was Richard Lee, who was assaulted and killed at the corner of Ave 43 and Figueroa on November 14, 1981. No suspects in that case have ever been brought to trial.

Bobby was first attacked around 10:30 in the evening by two men described as young Latinos in their early 20s thought to be members of a local gang. During the first attack, witnesses described Bobby as being on the ground with a shotgun pointed at his mouth. These witnesses, Tom Walters and his lover David, were shot at when they walked onto Ave 41.

ugla slashed bannerBobby escaped, robbed of his money, jewelry and keys. Tom and his lover had to crawl back into the bar to avoid being shot. The police were called, who arrived, took the report, and, according to witnesses, made no investigation. Witnesses also reported the police as questioning whether or not the victims had come out of “that fag bar.”

Bobby stayed in the bar to phone his lover, to inform him what had occurred, and to calm down. He was offered a ride by David Maxwell. Shortly after midnight, the two men left the bar. When they turned onto Avenue 41, they were met by one of the gang members, who opened fire. Bobby was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the thigh. He was pronounced dead at the scene. David was wounded in the leg and is in stable condition at County USC Medical Center.”

(As was later learned, local gang members discovered they could easily target these men for robbery. Additionally, the LAPD made these crimes a low priority for investigation.)

Outraged at the inactivity of the police, Highland Park Realtor Gus DiClairo, owner of Uptown Properties, put out an alert in the neighborhood demanding a meeting with the LAPD over its conduct of the investigation and, with the help of the Los Angeles Human Rights Commission’s legendary gay rights activist Morris Kight, a meeting ensued. From this meeting UGLA was formed. The investigation went nowhere and Bobby’s murder has never been solved.

With the advent of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-80s, UGLA members began raising money to help some of its members who were fighting HIV. Grassroot gay and lesbian support for these NELA residents was the only type of help available in those early years. In addition, UGLA’s tree planting, clean-up and beautification projects multiplied. UGLA participated in the planning of and volunteering at Christopher Street West parades. Money was raised through member donations and garage sales.

In 1988, UGLA’s 5th Anniversary was held in Highland Hall on N. Figueroa with LAPD Captain Noel Cunningham as keynote speaker.

Then in 1989, in addition to raising the profile of gay men and lesbians in NELA through grassroots activism, UGLA began supporting AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) which was the effort of UGLA member Michael Weinstein. Michael instituted Chris Brownlie hospice in Elysian Park, the first AIDS Hospice in Los Angeles County.

In 1990, UGLA began its most visible annual fundraising project, “Uptown Cabaret.” Cabaret ran for 16 years utilizing venues such as Highland Park Ebell Club, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Ramona Hall, Autry Museum, Occidental College, and Eagle Rock’s 20th Century Women’s Club. That same year, UGLA’s grassroots activism complimented Xavier Becerra’s first political campaign where he won NELA’s 59th Assembly District election.

Later, in 1992, Becerra continued to build strong support from NELA’s lgbt community in his successful campaign for U.S. Congress.

In 1993, UGLA’s 10th Anniversary celebration was held at the Los Angeles Music Center with LAPD Commander Keith Bushey as keynote speaker. The LAPD was actively recruiting openly gay and lesbian officers. UGLA began its 13-year affiliation with Cal-Trans’ Adopt-a-Highway program by maintaining two miles of Interstate 5, northbound, from Fletcher Dr. on-ramp to Los Feliz Blvd.

ugla archivesIn 1994, Antonio Villaraigosa came to UGLA with his campaign for California 45th Dsitrict Assembly seat. The LGBT community was an early and strong supporter of his campaign. Also, in 1994 open lesbian Jackie Goldberg was elected to the Los Angeles City Council from District 13. In 2000, she was elected to Villaraigosa’s seat in the 45th District.

In 1996, UGLA received the estate of UGLA member Bill Bailey and began its charitable Matching Funds program. To date, including Community Grants and support for NELA community organizations, UGLA has given away over $300,000. Grassroots activism by openly gay men and lesbians permeated all facets of NELA community life.

In 2001, UGLA marched for the first time as a contingent in the NELA 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 Blvd. 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 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.

By 2008, a city-wide poster campaign announcing “Gay Heroes,” which included the picture of UGLA member octogenarian Florian Novak, resulted in posters at bus stops in NELA. The posters were not defaced or vandalized.

That same year, UGLA hosted a Marriage Mixer and five UGLA couples were married by Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar and openly gay Superior Court Judge Zeke Zeidler.

In 2009 and 2011, UGLA created and sponsored NELA Pride Day with the help of Eagle Rock Plaza.

In March 2013, UGLA turned over records and memorabilia to ONE Institute, national gay and lesbian archives, for preservation and safe keeping.

carl matthesAt the April 14 installation, certificates commending UGLA on it’s 30th Anniversary will be presented by Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, 51st District Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar.

UGLA members, in addition to being long-term members and officers of NEDC, have been part of the successful visibility and national coming-out campaign the LGBT community instituted since the early ‘80s.

We are very proud to be carrying out and honoring UGLA’s mission.

Carl Matthes

Friday, 30 March 2013

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