Saturday, July 13, 2024

Downtown L.A. corner designated a historic landmark for LGBTQ+ community

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Amid a heated nationwide debate about gay and transgender rights, the Los Angeles City Council has designated a corner in downtown Los Angeles as a historic landmark for the LGBTQ+ community.

The council voted unanimously Wednesday to designate the intersection of 2nd and Main streets as “Cooper Do-nuts/Nancy Valverde Square.”

Cooper Do-nuts, whose first location was on that corner, was known as a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community during the 1950s and ’60s. Nancy Valverde, who frequented the doughnut shop, was arrested and harassed by police starting in the late 1940s for wearing gender nonconforming clothing, in violation of a city ordinance.

Keith Evans, a descendant of the Cooper Do-Nuts founder, said at the council meeting that the shop was a special place for Angelenos.

“It was a place where people could be their authentic selves without fear or judgment or prejudice,” he said.

The shops’ gay and gender nonconforming clientele were routinely harassed by Los Angeles police officers. According to some accounts, the business was the site of a protest in May 1959 when patrons threw trash, doughnuts and coffee at police attempting to arrest drag queens, gay men and sex workers.

The incident is known as one of the first open acts of LGBTQ+ resistance against police abuse in the U.S., predating the more well-known protests at the 1967 Black Cat tavern in Los Angeles and the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York.

However, there are debates whether the Cooper Do-nuts Riot actually happened or where they occurred. According to the New York Times, the family behind Cooper Do-nuts can’t confirm the event took place there.

The Los Angeles Police Department often arrested Valverde on allegations of violating a city ordinance — designated as 5022 — which prohibited men and women from wearing gender nonconforming clothing.

In a law library, Valverde found legal rulings that said it was unlawful to make it a crime for a woman to wear masculine clothing and used them in her court defense. According to the council’s motion, she led the way to ending laws that targeted the LGBTQ+ community.

Tony Hoover, treasurer of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, said designating the intersection has been his passion project for 2½ years and that L.A. has been slow in recognizing such important sites and people.

“This motion is about two things: It’s about Cooper Do-Nuts being basically a safe haven for people of that time period that were victims of 5022 but also for Nancy Valverde, taking the courage to champion her own defense,” Hoover said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the council delayed a vote to designate the 4th Street home of Morris Kight, an influential LGBTQ+ right’s activist, as a historic-cultural monument.

Kight co-founded the Christopher Street West Gay Pride Parade, the West Coast’s first gay pride parade and celebration, and the Gay Liberation Front. Kight also co-founded the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, now known as the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez asked for a 60-day vote delay to allow for the home, located at 1822 W. 4th St., to be purchased, as well as time for departments to analyze whether the site is viable for new housing to be developed.

The council’s decision took place as the Human Rights Center, the largest LGBTQ+ rights organization in the U.S., declared Tuesday a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people across the country.

This year, Tennessee passed legislation targeting drag performances; multiple states, including Kansas, passed legislation restricting transgender people from using bathrooms associated with their gender identity; and in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

In Glendale, people protested outside a Glendale Unified School District board meeting Tuesday over how the students are taught about gender and sexuality. In North Hollywood, parents rallied on Friday against a Pride Day assembly outside Saticoy Elementary School, where a transgender teacher’s Pride flag was burned.

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