Growing up in Garden Grove, I always knew there were gay bars in the city, but it wasn’t until later that I realized how gay Garden Grove actually was. Over the course of four decades, there were more than 30 different establishments catering to the LGBTQ+ community. There were numerous bars and restaurants that dotted Garden Grove Boulevard, and Orange County’s first LGBTQ+ center was located in the city.
Today, the only remnant of the once vibrant queer community is a single bar, the Frat House, but the history remains.
One would think that with such an active queer community that the city must have been very open and accepting. That was, and still is, far from the case.
Ignoring Gay Pride Flag
On May 14, 2019, the city had an opportunity to begin healing decades old wounds and make up for past transgressions against the LGBTQ community and residents. Councilwoman Kim Nguyen wanted to make a simple gesture and add a city council agenda item to display the gay pride flag inside City Hall. The fact that her fellow city council members would not allow it to even be put on the agenda based on the “lack of a flag policy” and the hypotheticals of people wanting to fly a Communist flag or, as council member Phat Bui stated, “a Muslim flag,” was thinly veiled homophobia.
Ignoring LGBTQ community
The same type of unfounded and, frankly, hysterical “where does it stop” arguments, have been used against the LGBTQ+ and marginalized minorities for decades. The council member from District 1, John O’Neil, called the issue divisive. Celebrating diversity and inclusiveness is not divisive, but trying to silence and hide a segment of the population because of who they are certainly is!
Last year, the Garden Grove City Council issued a proclamation declaring June as “LGBT Pride Month.” While I agree this is progress for the city of Garden Grove, I believe that declaring June as LGBT Pride Month without displaying the flag is the city saying, You can exist, but we don’t want you to be visible.
History of gay harassment
In 1964, LGBTQ+ establishments started popping up along the main thoroughfare of Garden Grove Boulevard. As soon as they opened, the bar owners and patrons suffered incessant harassment at the hands of the city and the Garden Grove Police Department. One of the earliest examples of this is the 1968 court case People v. Mesa.
It details the systematic harassment the police department used for entrapment of homosexuals sanctioned by the City of Garden Grove. These court documents explain, in detail, how a Garden Grove vice officer, Officer Ricketts, went into The Mug, a local gay bar, and solicited sex with a bar patron named Gilbert Arnold Mesa. Once Mesa consented to the officer’s sexual advances the officer led him outside and arrested him for lewd conduct based only on his willingness to have consensual sex with another man. Mesa was later convicted in court by the city and its attorneys.
Police persecute gay community
These type of sting operations continued well into the 70s. After a rash of over 40 arrests in 1974, just five years after the Stonewall Riots, the queer community in Garden Grove said, Enough. On September 7th, 1964, more than 500 people took to the streets and marched a mile and a half from DOK West, a popular bar located at Haster Street and Garden Grove Boulevard, to Garden Grove City Hall demanding to be treated equally. This was Orange County’s Stonewall moment.
Orange County Center vandalized
The 1980s also proved to be a trying time for the queer community in the city. Orange County’s first LGBTQ+ Center, at the time named the Gay Community Center of Orange County and located on Euclid Street, was repeatedly vandalized. Bricks and rocks were thrown through the windows and several arson attempts were made to the Center. Instead of the city taking action to fight against or to prevent the vandalism and arson attempts, the Center was simply told to remove their sign to avoid further destruction and harassment. The sign remained.
The Center did eventually move to another location further down Garden Grove Boulevard. Shortly after they moved, their old location was firebombed.
There wasn’t just inaction and institutionalized homophobia by the city but. In 1983, there were actual calls of violence by sitting a city council member. When discussing the gay community Garden Grove Councilman Raymond Littrel said, “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it is a duck. Shoot it.”
In 1985, the City of Garden Grove lost a federal lawsuit brought against it by the owners of Mac’s Landing, a local gay bar. The lawsuit alleged that police consistently harassed and intimidated patrons by sitting in the parking lot all day long and taking pictures of people entering and leaving the establishment eventually forcing the bar to close. The courts found this to be true and awarded the bar owners $110,000. The city, of course, appealed this decision.
As Harvey Milk once said, “It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”