Views & Voices

Arrested for a New Year’s Kiss


Tonight, after you finish the countdown, commemorate the moment with a tribute to what happened December 31, 1966. At the stroke of midnight, make sure you kiss your spouse or partner “on the mouth for three to five seconds.”

The men and women at Silver Lake’s Black Cat, a small gay bar, were awaiting that magical moment — that second where men and women around the world make that declaration of love to enter the new year.

The seconds ticked to zero, and like millions of others, the couples at the Black Cat locked lips and welcomed 1967.

At that moment, at least eight plainclothes officers emerged from the crowd and began viciously beating and arresting the kissing couples. As these kisses constituted criminal “lewd conduct,” the arrests and the raid on the bar were seen as legal.

The officers refused to identify themselves as the violence escalated and they began ripping holiday decorations from the walls. A bartender was dragged by the police over and across the bar through broken shards of glass. A customer had his head bashed into a jukebox and was then arrested.

Nearby, at the New Faces bar, similar attacks and arrests were occurring.

When the female co-owner and asked police for identification, she was mistaken for a man in drag (another arrestable offense) and pistol whipped so badly that she had to be hospitalized.

Robert Haas, a 120-pound waiter came from the back of the bar to help. He was dragged into the street and beaten so severely that his jaw was broken and his spleen ruptured. He was then booked and charged for felony assault against a police officer before being taken to Los Angeles County General Hospital for treatment.

Six Black Cat kissers were tried and convicted of “lewd or dissolute conduct in a public place”, which consisted of male couples hugging and kissing. According to the police report, one couple had “kissed on the mouth for three to five seconds.”

Two years prior to the Stonewall Uprising, these events energized the LGBT community to begin fighting back. They raised money for a legal defense fund and successfully fought the police and the charges in the courts. Additionally, they were able to get some of the mainstream media on their side.

The telling of our stories in a public forum helped turn the tide for San Francisco to finally elect someone like Harvey Milk to public office.

As we enter 2012, spend some time being grateful for the enormous strides we’ve made – specifically in 2011. But don’t forget that we have a long way to go. Keep telling your stories as we move ahead and keep talking about equality.

Happy New Year!

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