LGBT Rights Movement: The Patch Raid and Flower Power Protest

The Patch was a gay bar that opened in April 1968 on the Pacific Coast Highway in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA [1].

Gay Rights Movement In 1960s America. Photo: Timetoast.com.

In the midst of the LGBT rights movement, The Patch was raided in August 1968 by Los Angeles police officers after a four-month-long battle within the community. Patrons responded to the raid by protesting in what became known as the 1968 Flower Power Protest against the Los Angeles Police [2]. This marked an important moment of the gay rights movement as “one of the first sites of resistance against police harassment of gay meeting places and establishments” [3].

The Patch Raid and Flower Power Protest Against the Los Angeles Police Department

The Patch, formerly located at 610 W. Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: The Los Angeles Advocate, July 1968, page 19.

Because The Patch offered live music and allowed men to dance together, it became one of the most popular gay bars in Los Angeles once it opened in 1968. However, the police commission opposed many of the bar’s policies, and while they did not make arrests, they frequently visited to ensure patrons followed the law, ticketed parked cars, and refused to arrest bystanders who harassed patrons outside [4]. The local PTA and musician’s union also protested the bar, with tension in the community consistently building [5].  

LAPD checks IDs outside of The Patch, August 1968. Photo: Box Turtle Bulletin.

According to The Los Angeles Advocate, a local activist newsletter, the building tension “came to a head” on August 17, 1968, when officers entered the bar to begin checking IDs, which frequently resulted in patrons scattering from gay bars to avoid arrest or humiliation [6]. The owner of The Patch, Lee Glaze, however, encouraged patrons to resist intimidation from the police. “It’s not against the law to be a homosexual,” he said, “and it’s not a crime to be in a gay bar” [7]. The officers ultimately made two arrests for “lewd conduct.” But at Glaze’s urging, the remaining crowd of 250 stayed at the bar [7]. This marked the first act of resistance associated with this event.

Owner of The Patch, Lee Glaze. Photo: Box Turtle Bulletin.

Historians have been careful to note that with only two arrests made, this was not a full police raid as sometimes occurred at gay bars during this period, and that patrons did not leave after the arrests was already significant. But once the bar closed for the evening, Glaze bought all of the flowers from one of his patron’s flower shops, and invited the crowd to join him in taking them to the Los Angeles Police Department in protest, where the two patrons had been detained after their arrest [7].

Flower Power Protest of LAPD by patrons of The Patch, August 1968. Photo: Box Turtle Bulletin.

During the 1960s, flowers were frequently used as a means of peacefully protesting, and became known as Flower Power protests. Flowers were used as a symbol of peace during this act of resistance, and functioned as a site of usable memory [8]. By using flowers to protest the LAPD, patrons of The Patch peacefully protested their harassment and arrests, marking a second act of resistance against their treatment. By refusing to leave the bar after the raid and also protesting the police department, the patrons of The Patch demonstrated two acts of resistance.

A group of the Flower Power protesters from The Patch, pictured above at the LAPD Harbor Station after the two detainees had been released. August 1968. Photo: Press-Telegram.

The Patch and Gay Collective Memory

How is The Patch remembered? In short, it is seemingly forgotten in the gay collective memory of the United States. This is not altogether surprising, as Michael Schudson writes, “Distortion is inevitable. Memory is distortion since memory is invariably and inevitably selective” [9].

Today, one of the most iconic events of the modern LGBT rights movement in the United States is the Stonewall Inn riots of June 1969. In gay collective memory, the Stonewall riots are regarded as the turning point for gay liberation and are commemorated annually with pride parades in cities throughout the country [10]. But what about the important milestones and acts of gay resistance before Stonewall, including The Patch?

“Gay is Good” slogan created by gay rights activist Frank Kameny in 1968. Photo: “Gay Influence.”

While claims about Stonewall’s revolutionary importance continue, historians of sexuality have challenged the institutionalization of Stonewall, noting that the riots at the Stonewall Inn did not mark the first police raid, the first act of gay resistance against police, or the first instance of political organizing for gay interests [10]. Other events, such as The Patch raid and protest, have “failed to achieve the mythic stature of Stonewall and indeed have been virtually forgotten” [10].

At the time of The Patch raid and its subsequent protest, several other major acts of gay resistance and protest had occurred in response to police raids throughout the country. In San Francisco, significant raids took place at a New Year’s Ball in January 1965 and Compton’s Cafeteria in August 1966, and in Los Angeles, at The Black Cat in January 1967 [10]. These events, in addition to The Patch, seem to have been forgotten in the shadow of Stonewall’s annual pride commemorations.

Applying Barbie Zelizer’s [11] “Premises for Collective Remembering,” gay collective memory has been unpredictable in that it is not necessarily logical that The Patch has been forgotten, and it is difficult to determine why The Patch has become less significant. One can also see a rearrangement of time in gay collective memory with what Zelizer calls collapsing commemoration, in that Stonewall has come to represent a celebration of the acts of gay activism that came before it, including The Patch. While commemoration of Stonewall through pride parades is particular, it is also universal as it commemorates all acts of gay resistance and liberation, which again includes The Patch. The claims about Stonewall’s centrality to the movement also demonstrate the partiality and selectivity of memory: this one act could not liberate every individual represented by the LGBT rights movement in the United States, and its success is an achievement of the activism and events that came before it. If gay collective memory is a “mosaic,” as Zelizer suggests collective memories are, Stonewall and The Patch are each pieces of that dynamic mosaic.

Pride March on Christopher Street, New York, 1970. Photo: Time Out New York.

Armstrong and Crage offer a fascinating analysis of what they call “The Myth of Stonewall,” arguing that Stonewall’s successful commemoration was based on its mnemonic capacity and resonance in New York and other cities, and that this led to its institutionalization, rendering it “an achievement of gay liberation rather than an account of its origins” [11].

Though the gay collective memory at large has forgotten The Patch, it is an important site of memory for the Metropolitan Community Church. After being present for the night of The Patch raid and protest, Rev. Troy Perry cites his experience as part of his inspiration for founding a church that was welcoming of the LGBTQ community, which has spread throughout the world today [12] [13].

The LGBT rights movement continues to benefit from the annual commemorations of Stonewall, but celebration of this one event forgets The Patch and other specific, significant acts of the movement that came before Stonewall. While Stonewall and The Patch live on in the memory of individuals for whom these events have great personal significance, Armstrong and Crage’s argument offers a compelling explanation for the reasons The Patch Raid and Flower Power Protest have been forgotten in gay collective memory.

Pride Parade in New York City, 2010s. Photo: Time Out New York.

[1] The Box Turtle Bulletin. http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2015/08/page/2.

[2] Ibid.

[2] Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons. L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. 2006.

[3] ‘Patch’ Fights Three-Way Battle. The Los Angeles Advocate (August 1968): 3, 25.

[4] The Box Turtle Bulletin. http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2015/08/page/2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ‘Patch’ Fights Three-Way Battle. The Los Angeles Advocate (August 1968): 3, 25.

[8] “Processual Flower,” 1968 in American Memory. https://1968inmemory.web.unc.edu/2018/04/processual-flower/.

[9] Schudson, Michael. “Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,” Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past. Eds. Daniel L. Schacter et al. (1995), 346-364.

[10] Armstrong, Elizabeth A. and Suzanna M. Crage. Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth. American Sociological Review, 2006, Vol. 71, October. 724-751.

[11] Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-239.

[12] Founders Metropolitan Community Church. http://www.mccla.org/about-us/our-history/.

[13] Perry, Troy. “UFMCC Celebrates 30 Year Anniversary,” Whosoeverhttp://whosoever.org/v3i2/ufmcc.html.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Elizabeth A. and Suzanna M. Crage. Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth. American Sociological Review, 2006, Vol. 71, October. 724-751.

Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons. L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. 2006.

Founders Metropolitan Community Church. http://www.mccla.org/about-us/our-history/.

“‘Patch’ Fights Three-Way Battle,” The Los Angeles Advocate (August 1968): 3, 25.

Perry, Troy. “UFMCC Celebrates 30 Year Anniversary,” Whosoeverhttp://whosoever.org/v3i2/ufmcc.html.

“Processual Flower,” 1968 in American Memory. https://1968inmemory.web.unc.edu/2018/04/processual-flower/.

Schudson, Michael. “Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,” Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past. Eds. Daniel L. Schacter et al. (1995), 346-364.

The Box Turtle Bulletin. http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2015/08/page/2.

Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-239.

Morningside Park Protest at Columbia

              In April of 1968, Columbia University made history when it revolted against the University’s institutionalized racism for its construction of Morningside Park. The school was planning to build the park in the Harlem and Morningside Heights neighborhoods, which consisted mostly of black and Puerto Ricans. Columbia’s reputation made it acceptable for many to overlook the idea that in order to expand the university they would have to infringe upon the territory of nearby black neighborhoods [4].

[5] Plans for the Morningside Gym.

 Although, the administration at Columbia hoped that the park would integrate the Harlem community, the preceding decade of construction resulted in more than seven thousand Harlemites being evicted from their homes [4]. The proposed benefits for the Harlem community fell short when the planned expansion eliminated a significant portion of the residents. The Students’ Afro-American Society (SAS) consulted with multiple members of the Harlem community and saw the proposed structure as a broader representation of control over land and as symbol of the existing racism. Within the 2.1-acre gymnasium, no contact would be made between Columbia students and Harlem residents, as Harlem residents had a different entry (in the bottom of the hill). This design sparked controversy because it suggested a community segregation endorsed by the school [1].

[4] Harlem residents support black students.
For members of the Harlem community, Morningside Park had various meanings. Some people referred to it as “the only place you could go to get mugged,” while for others it was a representation of a land untouchable to authority and white institutions [4]. Because of Columbia’s location in the city, it had not been able to acquire recreational facilities that other university’s like Harvard and Yale had, so President Grayson Kirk asked the Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to buy 2.1 acres of the land in Morningside Park [4]. Kirk and the administration hoped that the construction would be profitable for University admissions and enhance its relationship with the neighboring communities.
[4] A view of the excavation of Morningside Park and West Harlem from Columbia (April 1, 1968).
In a poor attempt to endorse the gymnasium to the Harlem community, the university’s publication Columbia College Today suggested that the gym would “positively affect the park by making it into an interracial meeting place full of activity and a safe place in which to play again”[4]. The publication’s subliminal racist rhetoric suggested that as long as only community members of only black and Puerto Rican descent used the park, it would be unsafe.
[2] Front page of The Morningside Citizen Newsletter.
The addition of “interracial meeting place” gave the impression that safety can only be attained when white people came into the mix [4]. By the mid 1960’s strong opposition from community members for the construction peaked as the Civil Rights and Black Power movements gained momentum. By analyzing the gym’s controversy amidst the historical events that were occurring during that year, one can understand the significant role it played for students at the time. The planned infrastructure became a symbol of the overseas events that were occurring, such as the Vietnam War. Black demonstrators protesting the construction referred to the building as “Gym Crow” to suggest its racist nature. Along with this campus organization, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) also became heavily involved in the protests.
[4] SAS marches through Hamilton Hall (April 30, 1968).
The University’s privileged position in gaining territory did not sit well with student protestors who saw the Columbia on a power-hungry mission to subjugate the vulnerable communities of Harlem and Morningside Heights [2]. SDS leader Mark Rudd, states “…the gym was also symbolic of the whole way in which the University faces the community—its exploitation of the community…” [2]. Many of the student protestors summed up that spring of 1968 as a fight over power. Lead by the SDS and SAS organizations, the protests escalated on April 23 when several hundred students gathered at the sundial while others went to Morningside Park to remove the fence surrounding the gymnasium [3]. Other protestors occupied various buildings on campus, and prevented the dean of the college from leaving his office.

For six days, demonstrations went on around the campus until Kirk involved the New York City police who arrested more than 700 people [3]. The protests were brought to an end, but many members of the faculty along with the students went on strike and the university was shut down for the rest of the semester [3].

We see the goal of the student movement not as the creation of an eventual power base, involving all students around all their concerns, radical and otherwise, which is a very old conception of what we’re up to, but rather, building a radical force which raises issues for other constituencies—young people, workers, others—which will eventually be picked up on to create a broader, solider revolutionary movement.

-Mark Rudd (SDS leader)

What began as a project to enhance Columbia’s aesthetics turned into a battle of power and race, indicative of the troubling year of 1968. The protests that went on that year did serve to give black students a voice and change the hierarchy of power within the institution. The planned construction of the gym became a symbol and testament that white institutions can be stopped by social movements, such as Black Power. On the fifty-year commemoration of the protests, Columbia finally recognized the importance of the rebel students in the history of the school and the nation. This serves to show memory’s partiality; the event is retrospectively analyzed years later for its impact and consequences, but lacks the emotional turmoil that encompassed that time period. To commemorate the site, a tree was planted by Friends of Morningside Park in the construction site where they gym would have been [3]. Since the construction of the gym was a reminder of the racism and social unrest at the time, the planting of a tree on that site can symbolize the restoring of the land. It will also become a place in which people visit or pass through and see the planted tree, possibly without being aware of the history behind the site. In this way, the memory of the Morningside protest has been distanced from the actual location in which it occurred.

 

Works Cited

[1] Slonecker, Blake. “Oxford Journals.” The Columbia Coalition: African Americans, New Leftists, and Counterculture at the Columbia University Protest of 1968, vol. 41, no. 4.

[2] Carriere, Micheal. “Fighting the War against Blight: Columbia University, Morningside Heights, Inc., and Counterinsurgent Urban Renewal.” Journal of Planning History, vol. 10, no. 1, 2010, pp. 5–29., doi:10.1177/1538513210392882

[3] “Columbia University 1968 | History.” Columbia University 1968 RSS, www.columbia1968.com/history/

[4] Bradley, Stefan M. Harlem vs. Columbia University: Black Student Power in the Late 1960s. University of Illinois Press, 2012

[5] “NYC That Never Was: A Gym in Morningside Park Sparks 1968 Columbia University Protests and Shutdown.” Untapped Cities, 9 Oct. 2013, untappedcities.com/2013/10/08/nyc-that-never-was-gym-morningside-park-sparks-1968-columbia-university-protests-shutdown/

[6] RealAgentOfSHIELD. “Columbia University Protests of 1968.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Jan. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTnaEc4ZPys