Locals on when they first felt accepted in L.A.

Written by
Nico Lang

These out Angelenos share where they first discovered community within the city.

Gaby Dunn, financial advisor and comedian

Photograph: Courtesy Robyn Van Swank

I was lucky to find community initially through—shock of all shocks—entertainment. I made it a point to go to the queer comedy shows and queer networking events. That’s how I found Autostraddle, a gay lifestyle website, and its employees. I never got into the WeHo scene, and instead I cocooned myself in a community of queer and trans women on the Eastside.

Then, last summer, I joined a Varsity Gay League kickball team and met a bunch of gay men who I’d almost forgotten existed. We were not a very good team so it became more about laughing on the sidelines and talking about music or the differences between dating apps. Some of these men are now among my closest friends. Although we’re similar, their experiences are also different and something I needed to be around. Especially in these scary political times, it’s more important than ever that all facets of the LGBTQ community have each other’s backs, hang out, and validate each other. It’s easy in L.A. to isolate to just “your” group, even within such a marginalized community, so the best part for me has been to get out of my bubble, kick a ball, and embrace and celebrate the entire LGBTQ spectrum.

Ralph Bruneau, marriage and family therapist

Photograph: Courtesy John Fry/Tank’s Takes

Eagle L.A. is home to me. The Pulse massacre was so devastating because gay bars have always held a safe and special place in our community. Nightlife is where I found, and still find, family. The Eagle is the center.

I moved to Los Angeles from New York decades ago, fleeing my Manhattan life when many of my friends and co-workers in the leather and theater communities were becoming ill and dying of AIDS. I escaped to L.A. to find a new life and new hope, but I left behind what remained of my pack.

Life got increasingly small, more isolated and lonely until I got sober and my life changed. Sobriety led me back to my beginnings of community—nightlife and the leather bar scene in Los Angeles. The Eagle L.A. and my club, Avatar L.A., are the places where I feel most safe, and consequently, most free. In 2017, I was chosen as International Mr. Leather. During my title year I traveled 118,000 miles in 43 weekends out of 52 to bring our community to the world.

My pack has gotten astonishingly large, but home and community are right here, in Los Angeles.

Jasika Nicole, actor and illustrator

Photograph: Courtesy Robin Roemer

As an introvert, I’ve always relied on the internet to find friends and queer community, even before social media was a thing. When I first moved to NYC in the early 2000s, I would scour Craigslist looking for like-minded individuals to befriend before Myspace imprinted its twinkling-star cursor on my life.

Once I got married (to someone I met on Myspace!), I assumed that my days of making friends online were over, but L.A. proved to be a very tricky city for us to navigate. This place requires deliberateness and intention. You don’t just accidentally run into your future BFFs on these streets—you must actively seek them out and hold on for dear life.

It was my wife, Claire, who suggested I reach out to Brittani Nichols, a funny, queer POC comedian we had been following on Twitter. Although I was out of practice and felt shy, I worked up the nerve to DM her, explaining that we were new-ish to the city and looking for queer friends. Brittani promptly invited us to Diablo in Silver Lake for tacos and those shockingly delicious micheladas with the popsicles in them. After we passed muster, we were introduced to her whole friendom—dozens of brilliant, talented folks of all genders. In the past four years, we have partied, camped, had weddings and babies, played basketball, and made an award-winning feature film together.

Can you believe I have Twitter to thank?

Elliot Fletcher, actor

Photograph: Courtesy Luke Fontana

When I came out, I felt the immediate need to be surrounded by other LGBTQ people. But unfortunately, I was not allowed into the spaces I had heard would be the most accepting—such as bars designated for queer and trans folks—because I was under 21.

So as a lot of young queer people do, I took to the internet. I found YouTube videos to learn more about my community and found friends my age through Tumblr and Instagram. Some of my new friends were close enough that I could meet them in person. Others were scattered all around the United States, while a few were from different countries. While it was nice to have these connections, these weren’t people I could see every day—or even every week.

I was still somewhat on my own, surrounded by people who couldn’t fully grasp what I was going through. Luckily, my parents found a local LGBTQ support group that met every month and we started to attend. Within that first meeting, I had made eight friends. One was a young, ambitious athlete who was struggling to get to play on the correct team. Another was a shy artist and theatre nerd who hadn’t told anyone other than close friends and family they were trans; they were still in high school, the same grade as me. This was in 2013, when the group was small. Now over 40 LGBTQ kids show up with their families to every meeting.

Being able to meet other young adults like me changed everything. I was finally able to speak my fears and my hopes. And I was able to hear and see that my life could be exactly what I thought it should be. It was the ultimate affirmation.

If you’re a young adult looking for someone to talk to, the Los Angeles LGBT Center provides a comprehensive guide to local support groups.

NiK Kacy, gender-neutral footwear designer

Photograph: Courtesy Vivi Rama

While playing “Truth or Dare” with friends in college, I inadvertently came out. A friend asked me if I’d “ever thought about kissing a girl,” and I blurted out the truth.

From that moment on, I began a lifelong journey of finding my “queer tribe.” In the Los Angeles of the late ’90s, my tribe hung out in lesbian coffeehouses and gay bars in the city. I was a regular at Little Frida’s, a coffeehouse across the street from what is now the Five Guys in West Hollywood, and a lesbian bar called Normandie Room a few doors down. Called “The Norm” by regulars, the bar’s motto was: “No homophobes. No heterophobes. No assholes.”

The Normandie’s nickname couldn’t have been more appropriate. These two longtime staples of West Hollywood queer life were my version of Cheers, where everybody knew my name. They were my first glimpse into what it meant to be part of the queer community. When Frida’s closed for the evening, I’d walk across the street to the Normandie and play pool with my newfound friends.

Like many lesbian-owned spaces in the city, neither of those businesses are still open. Little Frida’s closed around 1999, and the Normandie followed almost exactly a decade later. However, the family we built survived. Today I identify as nonbinary and nearly everyone in my LGBTQ tribe is somehow connected to those early experiences of finding people like me. I’m so proud to have established my queer roots the way I did and so grateful to be able to continue my journey as an advocate for my community.

Zach Stafford, editor-in-chief of The Advocate

Photograph: Courtesy Zach Stafford

I hated Los Angeles when I moved here in 2017.

I hated how no one seemed to walk on the sidewalks and cars reigned supreme. I hated that the only gay bar I knew was the Abbey. And I hated how lonely it all made me feel.

I decided to move to DTLA because it reminded me most of an urban city. People walked on sidewalks to get to where they need to go and the diversity of types of people was a cut above many places I’d been to in the city when it came to race or gender or class.

Oh, and whew, was it gay—gay in every way I needed: from bars like Precinct and Redline to the ever-growing amount of LGBTQ folks moving Downtown to live.

And for the first time in my life, the tiles on my Grindr app were filled with people who looked more like me—the son of a white mother and a black father—than the blond twinks I’d grown accustomed to in Chicago. While Grindr was initially designed for hooking up, I was able to use it to do something bigger: connect with men of all shades, sizes and colors.

Through that connection, I came to understand what it really meant to be a citizen of Los Angeles. Joseph stopped me at a warehouse party to say we had chatted on Grindr, but I never responded. At drinks a few days later, we bonded over queer art and being people of color moving through a white world. And through our friendship, he made me realize that the city isn’t just about Santa Monica Boulevard or living in your car. Living here is about letting your gaze—or at least, your Grindr account—journey to places outside of the Hollywood Dream.

When you do, you get to see the angels that lend Los Angeles its name aren’t just white. They look like all of us.

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