“A LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM”— Fifty Years of “The Advocate”


Fifty Years of “The Advocate”

Amos Lassen

There was a time when “The Advocate” was  our only acc4ss to learning about LGBT life and we eagerly awaited each issue. However, in the last few years, it has become a slick magazine with very little in it. The demise of the LGBT national magazine began when Here Media decided to control what we read. They two owners were soon in trouble and the magazine was sold and ever since has been trying to make a comeback. “A Long Road to Freedom” looks at the fifty year history of the magazine and in just under two hours, it attempts to touch on nearly every major event and milestone in the LGBTQ+ rights movement from 1967 to present day. We have had quite a history making it difficult to choose what gets included and how and the results are uneven and it seems like the film assumes that we know our history so it glosses over some important issues while it rehashes others. Major headlines like the Stonewall riots in 1969 or the Moscone—Milk assassinations in 1978 get relatively little attention, even though both were major rallying points for the community. By contrast, the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the role that advocacy groups like ACT UP played in education and medical treatment are explored in detail are one of the most intriguing portions of the documentary.

Writer/director William Clift gives us many notable figures and advocates from throughout the movement’s history. In selecting what to include, the issues of relevance and runtime were certainly important and considered. While some stories enrich the larger historical narrative, others are more personal or rambling. 

Perhaps creating a limited series might have been a better idea. Yet, matters of visibility and inclusivity are discussions as important within the LGBTQ+ movement as they are outside of it, and Clift handles them as gracefully as possible. Several LGTBQ activists are featured in the predominantly white cast and this draws attention to the added discrimination that people of color can face beyond the judgements made based on their sexual orientation alone. Clift also mentions on how the trans community was finally included in the movement.

Actress Laverne Cox narrates the film. We sense the struggle with an uneven approach to such a broad history and this is an important and worthy subject. The film gives its audience firsthand accounts and never-before-seen archival footage and imagery of the watershed moments in our history— everything from the Black Cat Riots, Stonewall, the disco sexual revolution, the AIDS crisis, marriage equality, and the trans movement to the present day. The documentary began as an opportunity to record more information about The Black Cat Tavern, which was an LGBT bar located at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset Junction neighborhood of the Silver Lake district in Los Angeles. The raid of the bar and the subsequent horrific beatings from the LAPD officers came before the Sunset Strip curfew riots, the movement in Los Angeles which grew from the event, and Stonewall.

“The Black Cat raid predated Stonewall by two years,” said the film’s producer David Millbern. “Stonewall was in ’69, and not too many people know that the grassroots gay rights movement really started in Los Angeles in ’67 at The Black Cat.”

“The Advocate” was founded two years before the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, an incident that is generally credited as the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement. “The Advocate” was at The Black Cat during the raids and documented the incident though no one else would. The documentary touches upon this and gives us the rich pieces of history that don’t often get talked about in schools. The film employs the help of The Advocate archives, Here TV, (who invested funding in the film), and many LGBTQ civil rights leaders who were present during this significant events. The documentary has ended up becoming a complete documentation of the LGBTQ history of the last 50 years because of this.

We have interviews from notable figures, such as Ricky Martin, Caitlyn Jenner, and Margaret Cho, and engaging first-hand accounts from key individuals such as Cleve Jones, Thomas K. Duane, and Ivy Bottini. The documentary not only educates its viewers; it also captures the attention of the audience with a message that encourages the celebration of achievements and serves as a call to action in the current political landscape.

We  learn about some of the earliest activists of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. These activists are still around to fight for the rights of not only the LGBTQ community but for the rights of all marginalized members of society. These same individuals are featured in the movie at Black Lives Matter protests and urging others to come together to help support and fight for equality for everyone.

“Many people have gone above and beyond to fight for what is right, risking their lives and making countless sacrifices for the next generation to one day have a better life. The film artfully reveals how the community has come a long way and also reminds us that we still have a long way to go.”

The documentary, narrated by Laverne Cox and with music by Melissa Etheridge, premiered on July 19th at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater benefiting Outfest Los Angeles and will be shown on Here TV after the festival run followed by a 20-city theatrical release.

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