Venice honors an LGBTQ heritage that almost slipped away
By Christina Campodonico
Last May’s sudden demise of Roosterfish — a no-frills Abbot Kinney Boulevard institution for 37 years and, at the time, the only true gay bar west of the 405 — felt like the end of an era for many in the Westside’s LGBTQ community.
Roosterfish had been a haven during hostile times compounded by the AIDS crisis, and later a down-to-earth neighborhood holdout in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. “Here, we could be ourselves,” a longtime regular told The Argonaut. “It’s not just a bar; it’s our family of choice,” offered another.
And that could have been the end of the story, but two Venice locals decided they wouldn’t let the legacy of Roosterfish die quietly. In only a month’s time, digital marketing consultant Grant Turck and restaurateur Daniel Samakow organized the inaugural Venice Pride, a weekend of gay-friendly events celebrating the LGBTQ community’s local roots.
Turck, now president of the newly incorporated nonprofit Venice Pride, had a little more like 363 days to plan this year’s Venice Pride Sign Lighting & Block Party, as well as the backing of a 12-member board of local entrepreneurs, artists, tech workers and marketing professionals.
The second installment promises to be even more eventful than the first, with parties and other activities spanning the weekend, but begins by honoring the past: namely the late Bill Rosendahl, who in 2005 became the first openly gay man to win a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
At 10 a.m. Thursday (June 1), Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin will dedicate the section of Venice Beach between Park and Breeze avenues to the memory of Rosendahl. They’ll also christen the Brooks Avenue Lifeguard Tower — now painted in rainbow colors by Venice artist Patrick Marston and husband Michael Brunt — as the Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower for the remainder of spring and summer.
That particular stretch of beach was chosen for a special reason.
“It’s rooted in the history of Venice,” says Turck, citing a 1972 article in The Lesbian Tide that he uncovered at USC’s One Archives, the largest repository of LGBTQ materials in the world. “In that issue there was an article called ‘Gay Beach: Pro’s & Con’s’ [sic], and in that article there were directions to the ‘gay beach.’” Those directions: “Santa Monica Freeway, south on Lincoln to Brooks, right on Brooks to the beach.”
“That’s why we chose the Brooks Avenue Lifeguard Tower as the Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower,” says Turck, “and that’s why we chose Park to Breeze Avenue to be the Bill Rosendahl Memorial Beach now.”
Weekend festivities begin Friday night with the relighting of the Venice Sign in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple — the rainbow colors of pride. A surprise celebrity guest (last year it was Gigi Gorgeous) throws the switch at 5 p.m., with DJ Victor Rodriguez of Bears in Space providing beats for a block party-style celebration.
Friday’s gathering also honors victims of last June’s terror attack at the Pulse gay bar and nightclub in Orlando. Photographs and short biographies of the 49 people who were killed, which resident Joel Shields originally assembled and displayed in the sand along a stretch of Ocean Front Walk just north of Park Avenue last year, will be affixed to the 24 columns that line Windward Avenue.
“That’s kind of our way in which we’re holding up those people and remembering what happened last year and not forgetting about it,” says Turck.
Exhibitors lining Windward will include the Los Angeles Rams — a sponsor of Venice Pride and, in doing so, the first NFL team to sponsor an LGBT pride event, according to the Los Angeles Blade. Last year, the Venice Chamber of Commerce lit the Venice Sign in blue and gold to honor the Rams’ return to L. A.
Also, the city will present the 2017 Bill Rosendahl Pioneer of the Year Award to Stacy and Erik Drageset of Mar Vista, the parents of a 10-year-old transgender girl and authors of the children’s book “‘Pink is a Girl Color’… And Other Silly Things People Say,” which encourages positive self-expression outside of traditional gender expectations.
The celebration continues with fabulously themed after parties.
Funk/soul band Puscie Jones Revue performs during a “Queer as Funk” after party from 9:30 p.m. to close at The Townhouse & Del Monte Speakeasy (52 Windward Ave.) with a $10 cover charge benefitting Venice Pride.
The Birdcage, which took up Roosterfish’s mantle as the Westside’s only dedicated gay bar when it opened this April on the top floor of The Victorian (2640 Main St.), flexes its muscles with a “Gaywatch” dance party from 11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. — also with $10 cover benefiting Venice Pride.
The Canal Club (2025 Pacific), co-owned by Samakow, is also throwing a “Dogtown Down and Dirty” after party (ticket sales close at 11 p.m.).
Saturday is about sexual health awareness and community service.
From 8:30 to 11 a.m., Venice Pride and Heal the Bay are teaming up for a beach cleanup on Venice Beach.
“It’s something you don’t see in a lot of pride celebrations. You see a lot of partying and celebrating, but you don’t really often see the LGBT community giving back to the community,” says Turck. “We felt that doing that beach cleanup event was a way we could give back to the community and give back to the county in a positive way.”
Following the beach cleanup, HIV/AIDS advocacy group APAIT and Venice Pride throw a “Status is Sexy Pride Extravaganza” from 1 to 5 p.m. on the Muscle Beach Stage, showcasing local artists, activists and celebrities from the LGBTQ community as well as dancing, singing, spoken word and drag performances. Featured acts include YouTube stars Duy and Justin Amigo of the singing duo DNJA, DJ BreezyEZ, gender fluid vocalist Reki, and pop R&B ensemble Echo V. There will also be free rapid HIV testing during the event.
Turck hopes that this weekend’s activities and the Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower will not only bring the local LGBTQ community together and honor Venice’s queer past, but also serve as a symbol of hope for gay people around the world, especially those who are politically or religiously oppressed.
“Commemorating Venice’s history of inclusion, individuality and diversity is the heart of Venice Pride,” says Turck. “I hope it will stand as a shining beacon of acceptance.”
Visit venicepride.org for event details, tickets, updates and to register for Saturday’s beach cleanup.