I first came to Santa Cruz in the summer of 1974 with some friends to attend the Amazon Women’s Music Festival. I was delighted to be walking around with all these beautiful women in the mountains, with my little dog, Frijoles, who everyone wanted to pet. That’s where I met my future girlfriend, Erica. It was dyke heaven.
In the 1970s queer people across the County met in coffee houses, books stores, bars, concerts, softball fields, and houses. They lived together in communal houses. Among the community, these places were known as “The Bay Street House,” “Belmont Circle House,” or the “National Street house.” Two of the earliest bars in the Santa Cruz area were Mona’s Gorilla Bar Lounge near Dominican Hospital (current location of Moe’s Alley) and the “141 Club” near the Boardwalk.
People ask me where I got my passion for working for the Diversity Center and supporting LGBTQ+ people today. Well I learned about the power of people gathering together for a cause when I marched with Cesar Chavez for farmworkers’ rights in 1970. It touched my soul.
A lot of my identity (in college in the late 1970s) was kind of sports affiliated. Of course softball, and soccer. Those were the ways I found community initially… Lesbians, we were all hanging around the PE building and the men were hanging around the arts.
“A Gay Evening in May” was an annual fundraising and social event at the Civic Auditorium that began in 1985 and continued for many years. The proceeds from the event benefited the Santa Cruz AIDS Project (SCAP). In the 1990s people gathered at the Dakota, Saturn Cafe, the Crepe Place (former lesbian hangout place), and Club Caution.
“AGEM (A Gay Evening in May) and Pride were the two big times our community got together to celebrate. We needed those celebrations.”
I think because there have been so many pioneers here in Santa Cruz doing the work throughout the 70s and 80s to make sure there is safe space to be visible (as queer), I arrived here in the early 90s and was one of the early beneficiaries. I was able to go to Herland bookstore...that it could exist because of pioneering work.
Once upon a time in the not so distant past, we had a feminist utopia in our own backyard, known as Herland: The WanderGround. Fierce babes with piercings and tattoos conjured amazing vegan feasts named after Goddesses, such as the Ukimochi sandwich, Xena’s Nachos, and Hippy KooLady. Herland was filled with stories, songs, archetypes, and images that celebrate the Divine Feminine of all genders, colors, shapes, and sizes. Here was a place to dream of ancient women who did not apologize, to discover community, and feel empowered to create a difference.
Kayla Garnet Rose
When I turned my bar (Norma Jeans/Francos in Castroville) gay (in the early 1990s), everyone thought this was something new, drag queens and guys dressing in drag… Chinatown (in Salinas) back in the day was a community of bars… It’s where most of the Mexican bars were and the drag queens that worked in the fields… Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays they would hang out inside the bars in drag… The drag queens in Salinas have been there since the 60s, probably even earlier. It was nothing new.