Cara “C” Dolim sat speechless as a group of acquaintances discussed the validity of bisexuality.
“Could someone be attracted equally to both men and women?” they wondered aloud on that evening nearly a decade ago. Dolim chose not to speak up at the time, but watched as the group didn’t take long to agree that sexuality had to be one or the other: gay or straight. You either liked men or you liked women. There was no in between.
“I’m pansexual, so where do I fit in?” says Dolim, a longtime Long Beach resident and gender non-binary visual artist. “Do you know what I mean? I feel like we shouldn’t segregate it in any kind of way. It’s about intersectionality.”
That’s part of the reason why Dolim, along with their partner Vince Gutierrez, founded Queer Mondays LBC, a monthly queer showcase at Que Sera. The night of music and art is where they emphatically accept and include all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, every shade and gradient in the rainbow.
Since February, Queer Mondays has brought together dozens of local queer-identified or allied musical acts as well as performance and visual artists from Los Angeles, Orange County and the Bay area.
Monday’s event on Oct. 8 will be a variety show of queer and allied artists curated by Dirty Patti, a Long Beach character and event curator. The night will feature performances by Trap Girl, Sunny War, The Sad Girls, Argument and Dirty Merlin (GRN+GLD), with performance art by Ellen Warkentine and Danielle Kaufman. Long Beach experimental film photographer Yourintimatenoise will showcase her artwork, along with a Red Roof Vinyl pop-up shop.
Queer Mondays LBC is part of a larger movement that aims to provide a platform for non-heteronormative creatives, such as L.A.-based nights like Queerspace LA, Queer as Punk and Gay Guts.
“My experience is, we have Broadway and we have all those bars and a lot of space there,” Dolim says. “But beyond go-go dancers, I haven’t seen anyone else doing anything else [performance-wise]. I haven’t really seen a platform except for when our friends have shows or something like that, but nothing regularly. And this is my experience, just being on Broadway. That’s our area, and we need more space.”
“I feel the same way,” adds Gutierrez, a Bay area native and musician. “I moved to Long Beach in 2014 and really haven’t seen that side of the queer community as far as performance art and queer bands go.”
Where are the queer spaces?
Que Sera is several blocks north of the Broadway “gayborhood,” but it has deep roots in Long Beach’s queer history. Tucked in an unassuming block where Cherry Avenue meets Seventh Street, Que Sera first opened its doors as a lesbian bar in March 1975. It was a time when few lesbian establishments existed in the city, compared to the bevy of bars around town that served gay men.
Adorned with couches and a fireplace, Que Sera back then functioned as a classy lounge for largely professional women to meet and mingle. The bar is also credited for helping launch the career of singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge.
Business from these professional women slowed over the decades and new ownership in the late ‘90s worked to drop the bar’s “lesbian” reputation. Today, Que Sera is one of Long Beach’s most popular dive-bar venues, with events dedicated to everything from hip hop to jazz to industrial music.
The late Ellen Ward—one of the original founders and longtime owner of Que Sera—recalled during an interview for the LGBTQ History Project with the Historical Society of Long Beach in 2012 that the bar was frequently visited by Vice officers who tried to intimidate the female patrons.
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Long Beach Police Department was notorious for entrapping members of the LGBTQ community, particularly gay men in bars and at “cruise spots” where they frequently linked up to have sex. The Long Beach Museum of Art and the bluffs between Gaviota and Redondo avenues were among those places.
“Back then, the only place to meet people was cruising areas or the bars,” says Mikey Davis, who moved to Long Beach in the late ‘80s and has worked as a bartender at the now-defunct gay country western bar Floyd’s as well as Ripples.
“There was no mixing of social groups. There were no apps. Bars were always called ‘the church’ because that’s where you’d go and that’s how you’d connect, the same way you’d go to a Catholic church to go and connect with your kind.”
Perhaps because of this reason—that bars primarily functioned as a place to meet potential partners of a sexual or romantic nature—the majority of gay establishments in Long Beach were tightly segregated up until the late ‘90s. Most of them, such as The Mineshaft, which still stands, strictly served gay men, while few in between catered to drag queens or lesbians.
“Most of the gay bars in the ‘80s and ‘90s discriminated against women,” Davis says. “They did not let lesbians in. There were also other bars that did not let drag queens in for a long time. There was a lesbian bar on Broadway called Le Chat where men were not allowed. There were stories of men getting beat up for being in that bar or trying to get in.”
This type of outright discrimination no longer visibly exists in Long Beach nightlife, and most gay bars are now “mixed” spaces where anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can enter and enjoy a drink.
However, LGBTQ spaces, not just in Long Beach, continue to be dominated by gay men, says Porter Gilberg, executive director of The LGBTQ Center Long Beach.
“Historically in Long Beach and throughout the U.S., female spaces have had challenges just existing,” Gilberg says. “There is, I believe, a tension in most bars that continue to be male spaces, which can create issues of representation or a safer space for women and trans people.”
A Progressive History
Historically, Long Beach has long been progressive and open-minded toward its queer residents. It was one of the first cities in the country to fight workplace and housing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. In 2006, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Long Beach City Council adopted a resolution endorsing same-sex marriage. Last year, the city’s openly gay mayor got engaged to his longtime boyfriend in a proposal that was shared on their official social media accounts.
There are several theories as to how Long Beach originally became a hub for the LGBTQ community. Back in the ‘60s, bars such as Oceana Club (now Ripples) and the Commodore received large flocks of gay people from the greater Los Angeles area.
“There’s a lot of different kind of theories,” Julie Bartolotto, executive director of the Historical Society of Long Beach and co-chair of HSLB’s LGBTQ History Project, said. “One is about gentrification and Long Beach being out by the sea, and then white flight happening at a time when there were gay and lesbian folks who could buy real estate in the area. Having the navy here is definitely one of the theories.”
Although Long Beach is widely considered gay-friendly, Dolim of Queer Mondays says it’s still important to have more designated spaces for LGBTQ people to congregate. Tolerating queer individuals and couples is not equivalent to welcoming and accepting them.
“I just think that when people say, ‘Oh, you’re accepted everywhere,’ it’s like yeah, but I’m still living in a world that’s made for straight people,” Dolim says, “not in a world that’s made for queers.”
Dolim and Gutierrez say they plan to continue providing a safe, all-inclusive platform for queer artists and allies — every second Monday of the month at Que Sera.
“The ultimate goal is that everyone live in peace and harmony and everyone would accept each other for who they are,” Gutierrez says. “The term ‘queer’ in my mind is all inclusive in general. I feel like that’s the first step to an all-inclusive society.”
For more information on Queer Mondays LBC, visit @queermondayslbc on Instagram or their Facebook page. For more information on the Historical Society of Long Beach’s LGBTQ Project from 2012, visit www.hslb.org.