LONG BEACH – More than 50 years before California legalized gay marriage, Los Angeles had a municipal ordinance that prohibited same-sex couples from dancing together in public.
Openly prejudiced, blatantly unfair, unrestrained in its malice and clearly unconstitutional, the ordinance asserted that widely accepted and absolutely victimless behavior was a criminal act when practiced by certain people.
The Los Angeles Police Department gave teeth to this flimsy proposition by deploying its vice squads to regularly monitor dance floors in selected bars, restaurants and sites of special events throughout the city. Tactics varied, sometimes using undercover spies, other times assembling over-the-top shows of force. But the objective was clear — Ensure that every pair of people who were on the dance floor shaking their moneymakers were genitally qualified to make babies.
At the time the ordinance was passed — July 2, 1958 — it’s unclear if Lee Glaze, a 20-year-old high school dropout, was aware of it. But more than 10 years later, Glaze was aware of the ordinance — and steadfastly fought against it.
Glaze owned a popular Wilmington bar called The Patch, and had a good eye for spotting the law enforcement personnel trying to mingle among his clientele, a good strategy for notifying his patrons, and a great sense of humor. At the first sign of the undercover cops at The Patch, Glaze would shout out the phrase that had become his well-known warning: “God save the queen!”
The royal reference and sexual nuance in Glaze’s alert were indicative of his big personality, but a very small part of the contributions that qualify him as a gay-rights pioneer.
The most historically noteworthy of his exploits came in 1968, when Glaze led a nonviolent rebellion against continued Los Angeles police harassment at The Patch, which had recently risen to the point that two of his patrons were arrested. Perhaps the best way to emphasize the rare bravery of Glaze’s public assertion of personal dignity and police misconduct is to point out that he organized the demonstration outside The Patch a full 10 months before the Stonewall Inn riots in New York City.
Stonewall, the shortened name by which it is best known, was a spontaneous series of violent demonstrations by gay people and drag queens against a raid by New York City police. For many people, the national consciousness on gay rights started at Stonewall, but it wasn’t the dawn of the civil rights movement. Glaze’s courage shows the struggle for equality was born before Stonewall.
“Lee was brave enough to step forward,” said Michael Oliveira, an archivist with ONE Archives at the USC Libraries. “His contributions led to the growth and progress in gay rights that we are all enjoying today.” Glaze’s personal papers at the ONE Archives.
‘HARASSED OUT OF SCHOOL’
Born Jan. 13, 1938, Glaze lived in Paramount with his mother, stepfather and brother and was already out of the closet as a teenager. He attended Paramount High School, but dropped out in 1956.
“Lee was harassed out of school,” asserts David Hensley, 75, a former classmate. “Lee said he had a teacher who would harass him almost daily in class, which made it open season for the students to harass Lee.
“One day the teacher told Lee to stand up and try to walk like a man. So Lee got up and sashayed around the room, opened the classroom door and never came back.”
Glaze got a job at a Taco Bell in Long Beach, eventually becoming the restaurant’s first branch manager. That success was a foreshadowing of sorts for a more defining role as owner of The Patch, but by the time he opened the bar in 1967, Glaze had already distinguished himself among his friends. For one thing, he had earned a nickname, “The Blond Darling,” for his gold locks. He was also known for a campy sense of humor and an affinity for drag shows.
“Lee had a wit and charm and one-liners that were considered camp,” Hensley said. “He always had something humorous and witty to say. It’s sort of a lost talent.”
NOT AFRAID OF THE POLICE
Glaze had been warned by the Los Angeles police that if he wanted his gay bar to stay in business, he should not admit drag queens, and should also prohibit men from dancing together. Also, only one person at a time was allowed in the bathrooms.
Three undercover vice officers were working The Patch on the night of Aug. 17, 1968, which resulted in the arrest of two men who were charged with lewd conduct.
A former Southern Pentecostal minister named Troy Perry was at The Patch that night and was among the those who witnessed the arrest. Perry said that they were falsely arrested. He said the two men had only been talking to each other, that one of them slapped the other on the butt.
When the arrested men were taken to the police department’s Harbor Station and jailed, Glaze announced to the unhappy crowd that The Patch would post bail. Accompanied by about a dozen patrons, he went to a nearby flower shop that one of them owned, and bought every gladiola, mum, carnation, rose and daisy in the place.
GAY FLOWER POWER
It was 3 a.m. when the demonstrators arrived at Harbor Station, but nearly a half-century later, Perry had no problem recalling the huge bouquets that spilled over their arms as they paraded through the facility.
“When we arrived at the police station, Lee told the officer at the desk, ‘We’re here to get our sisters out.’” Perry said. “The officer asked, ‘What are your sisters’ names?’ When Lee said, ‘Tony Valdez and Bill Hasting,’ the officer had this surprised look on his face and called for backup.”
Six hours passed before the two men were released.
While they waited, the demonstrators staged a “flower power protest,” said Perry, noting that the activity further flummoxed the cops.
“They didn’t know what to do with all the gay men waiting in the lobby,” Perry said.
The silliness Glaze brought to their night in the police station didn’t distract Perry from the importance of the underlying message, which he took very much to heart.
“Lee showed me you don’t have to be afraid of the police,” Perry said. “Once that happened, it encouraged me to become a gay activist.”
Two months later, Perry tapped into his ministerial roots and started the renowned Metropolitan Community Church — possibly the world’s first LGBT-embracing church — in his Huntington Park apartment. In the interim, the church moved to Silver Lake and in 2012 it celebrated its 45th anniversary.
“Lee deserves tremendous credit for standing up for his patrons,” Oliveira said. “If you operate a bar, you want to protect your patrons or they won’t come back.”
Glaze left the bar business in the late 1970s and worked as an interior decorator for Lloyd’s of Long Beach, a furniture store on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls.
Over the years, Glaze worked as an interior decorator consultant and painted murals at Miller Children’s Hospital. Glaze also was a presence at the annual Long Beach Pride Parade.
Glaze wore flamboyant outfits covered in hundreds of glittering sequins and rhinestones and zoomed down Ocean Boulevard in his electric wheelchair. He used the motorized chair because arthritis had weakened Glaze’s knees.
“Lee had his own entry in the Long Beach Pride Parade,” said San Pedro resident Daryl Laris, 66, who knew Glaze. “He would navigate his chair back and forth across the street, waving and talking with people. Being in the parade made him a star all over again.”
Glaze died Nov. 22, 2013, at Guardian Rehabilitation Hospital, a nursing home in Los Angeles’ Mid-Wilshire District, said Ed Winter with the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. An autopsy wasn’t performed, Winter said.
Glaze had been living for several years at Triangle Square, a gay and lesbian elder housing facility in Hollywood. He was 75.
Oliveira said today’s achievements in equality for gays wouldn’t have been accomplished if Glaze had not shown leadership at The Patch.
“That event might seem insignificant today, but it isn’t,” Oliveira said. “Each event added to the other, and together the accumulation are steps toward equality.”