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The hidden history of queer Chicanos in LA

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There's a rich LGBT history in L.A., but with few stories involving people of color. Those stories are in the spotlight at L.A.'s MOCA Pacific Design Center.

Pacific Standard Time is a collaboration between museums, galleries, arts organizations and more throughout Southern California.

Organized by the Getty Museum, this year's theme features work that connects Los Angeles with Latin America.

KPCC will be featuring many of the exhibits throughout the run.

The history of LGBT people in Los Angeles is incredibly rich.

In 1950, activist Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society to fight for gay rights. The nation's first large-scale and documented protests happened here in 1967 at the Black Cat Tavern. And the Metropolitan Community Church, the nation's first LGBT-inclusive congregation, began holding services in 1968.

But less is known about the history of LGBT people of color during these same years.

"In many ways we're only starting to understand the breadth of queer history in Los Angeles," says David Evans Frantz, curator at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at USC.

Those stories are in the spotlight at "Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.," now on exhibition at MOCA Pacific Design Center.

"These works have not found their way into collections and archives," says Frantz. "They mostly resided with family members and friends and lovers waiting for someone to come along to show interest and dig into the histories."

Only now is there dedicated scholarship and research to this field, adds co-curator Ondine Chavoya, professor of art and Latino/a history at Williams College.

"There wasn't a critical mass of historians doing this work asking these questions, and interested in these communities and their intersections with broader queer history," he says.

Here is a sampling of what's on display:

Photographer Laura Aguilar

Portraits from the series, "Plush Ponies" by photographer Laura Aguilar, c1990s. These images are on display at "Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A."
Laura Aguilar, ONE Archives at USC Libraries
Portraits from the series, "Plush Ponies" by photographer Laura Aguilar, c1990s. These images are on display at "Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A."


Chavoya: Laura Aguilar is a photographer here in Los Angeles. This is from her Plush Pony series, a documentary photo series that she staged on-site [in the early 90s] at a lesbian bar in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles. She created a studio in the bar to document and create these portraits of these queer communities that formed there. ... It meant at this time, there were still brown lesbian bars that one could go to. This bar no longer exists as a result of gentrification as we've lost so many of our gay friendly and queer spaces. 

T-shirts by Joey Terrill

[NOTE: This next piece contains offensive language]

On display is also a t-shirt from the artist Joey Terrill. On the front are two derogatory terms in Spanish for gays and lesbians. Next to it is this photo from when they were originally worn.

Participants in the Christopher Street West Pride parade wearing Joey Terrill’s "malflora" and "maricón" T-shirts, June 1976. This picture and one of the shirts is on display at the exhibit, "Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A."
Teddy Sandoval, ONE Archives at USC Libraries
Participants in the Christopher Street West Pride parade wearing Joey Terrill’s "malflora" and "maricón" T-shirts, June 1976. This picture and one of the shirts is on display at the exhibit, "Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A."


Chavoya: This is a photograph from the Christopher Street West gay pride parade in 1976 with Joey Terrill, the artist himself, and a group of friends wearing these t-shirts in the gay pride parade. It's working to reclaim these pejorative terms in Spanish. This is also very much about creating a space for Chicanos in these early gay pride parades in L.A. 



Frantz: One of the reasons this works to the cultural history of the moment is that the bar Studio One, which was the most-known gay disco in the 1970s in Los Angeles, was often protested for discrimination against black and brown men and women. It often required these individuals to have three forms of identification to get into the bar. It also speaks to racism within the gay community at the time and the kind of dire need for artists and community members to create space for queer Chicanos.

The window displays of Mundo Meza

A photograph of a window display at Maxfield Bleu in West Hollywood, c. early 1980s, created by artist Mundo Meza in collaboration with Simon Doonan.
Pat Meza, ONE Archives at USC Libraries
A photograph of a window display at Maxfield Bleu in West Hollywood, c. early 1980s, created by artist Mundo Meza in collaboration with Simon Doonan.

Mundo Meza was a renowned, central figure for queer Chicanos in the 1970s and 80s before passing from complications to HIV.

He frequently collaborated with Simon Doonan on a series of window displays for the store Maxfield Bleu in West Hollywood, sometimes with grotesque or risqué imagery like taxidermy animal heads on mannequin bodies.

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