“San Diego Gay Bar History”

A Look Back

Amos Lassen

.Filmmaker Paul Detwiler looks at the history of the San Diego gay bars in his new documentary. It is a story that seems to be the same in other urban areas in the US in the recent past.

The film begins after World War II when San Diego was a major naval and military base, and even though heterosexual serviceman couldn’t wait to rush back home to their families, gay men and women were enjoying the freedom they had begun to experience away from traditional family lives and they did not want to leave the area. 

Homosexuality was illegal then and being ‘found out’ could literally ruin your lives, but between 1950’s and the 1960’s there were 25 gay bars in the City. Detwiler mixes archival footage with interviews of bar patrons and owners from that time who shared that everyone used a fake ‘bar’ name so they were not exposed, they all had a great deal of fun despite the legal restrictions.  For many people, the gay bars then were an entrance into the hidden LGBT community.

In the 1970’s gay bars were everywhere in the city but none of them were owned by gay men or women because  they were unable to obtain liquor licenses having thought of as degenerates.

In the 80s the LGBT community was devastated by the AIDS pandemic and gay bars were the only places where it was possible to raise funds for the victims and their treatments.  This is a very emotional part of the documentary in which  several AIDS survivors talk about the loss of life deeply affected the bar community and beyond.

The importance and role of the bars was evolving and part of LGBT liberation was the arrival of the internet that would affect the community. Now it sad to see the scene of the closing night of Numbers one of the City’s gay clubs being packed and mourned by the same people who did not support it until the end. After a 20-year run, it was over. The bars are part of LGBT history that might be forgotten all too soon.

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