Public chimes in on Sacramento LGBTQ history efforts

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday April 19, 2024
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Preservationists Sean de Courcy, left, Henry Feuss, and Claire Flynn discussed getting the public's involvement in determining Sacramento's LGBTQ history during an April 18 meeting. Photo: John Ferrannini
Preservationists Sean de Courcy, left, Henry Feuss, and Claire Flynn discussed getting the public's involvement in determining Sacramento's LGBTQ history during an April 18 meeting. Photo: John Ferrannini

While some community members were a little skeptical about the prospect of an LGBTQ historic district in Sacramento, many expressed their desire to see the role queer people played in the River City's past be told. During an April 18 meeting, preservationists asked members of the community to help them learn more about the state capital's queer history as they work on a historic context statement.

Sacramento's LGBTQ neighborhood is known as Lavender Heights and is centered in midtown around 20th and K streets.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, preservationists are working on a survey of potentially historic buildings and sites in the area as well as the statement, which will help determine "if there is a potential historic district around Lavender Heights or not," according to Henry Feuss, a historic preservation planner with the city of Sacramento.

About 50 people showed up to the meeting at First United Methodist Church at 2100 J Street, in Lavender Heights, and about two blocks from the 20th and K intersection at which are located three of the city's six LGBTQ nightlife spots.

Feuss was joined in hosting the event by Sean de Courcy, the preservation director for the city of Sacramento. De Courcy said that the effort started when he was approached by Sacramento City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, a straight ally whose district includes Lavender Heights, with the idea of making the area a historic district.

"The councilmember said, 'Sean, we're going to create a district in Lavender Heights,'" he recalled. "I said, 'That's not how it works. We need to tell the history — a thematic historic context statement — as we did at the time with the African American Experience Project."

(Valenzuela told the B.A.R. that she had asked the city's preservationists "about potentially making Lavender Heights a historic landmark.")

The African American Experience Project tells the story of Sacramento's Black community and is the blueprint for the current LGBTQ+ Historic Experience Project, as it is formally known. The project collected historic documents and oral histories, and included both a historic context statement and a historic property evaluation.

De Courcy stressed that more can come out of the project than whether a district is officially designated.

"Many of the younger generation had no idea where the Black Panther Party headquarters in Oak Park was because now it's a housing project," he said. "The next thing we're going to do is put a plaque on the site. It may not be a building, or a district, but a form of commemoration so people who don't pick up a book can learn."

Claire Flynn was hired as a consultant on the project. She said she has never faced pressure from public officials to elevate one narrative over another in her work.

"No one has ever told me what to include," she said. "No one has ever directed me, other than you all, when we go to these meetings and someone says 'you got that wrong.'"

Patrick Riordan, a gay man who attended the meeting, said that "trans people absolutely deserve to be included in this historic context statement."

In response to concerns the historic narrative would focus on cisgender, white gay men, Flynn assured the public that the transgender community and people of color would be included.

"We're going to talk about it — all the way back to Native American times," she said.

It's too early to say, however, how much space in the report will be designated for particular constituencies of the LGBTQ community, since that depends on the public's participation, she added.

Public questions district route

The district idea was met with some skepticism because, as the B.A.R. previously reported, the area's LGBTQ history is spread not only across the city of Sacramento, but also West Sacramento, which is across the Sacramento River in Yolo County.

"I see a broader scale, a broader history, that did not happen in those boundaries," said former Democratic state Assemblymember Dennis Mangers, who came out as gay after leaving the Legislature. "Many of these things happened around the Capitol [building], not around Lavender Heights."

Mangers said he moved to Sacramento full time after leaving the Assembly in 1980, where he had represented an Orange County district. He told the B.A.R. he helped to found the Sacramento Gay Men's Chorus and CAP-PAC, an AIDS epidemic-era political action committee.

"I'm here to find out the scope of the city's efforts," he told the B.A.R. He asked de Courcy if they are bound to Lavender Heights, per se.

Answered de Courcy, "It will go where the research leads. ... It may extend beyond those boundaries, if the history leads us there. You have to know the story before you start identifying the places and the sites that tell those stories. We're hopeful there's a historic district, but we're not bound by that map."

Former longtime Sacramento County Sheriff John Misterly had kept gay bars and bathhouses from opening in his jurisdiction; ergo, in the era when homosexuality was a criminal offense, many of these establishments were in neighboring West Sacramento. It wasn't until 1977 that the Mercantile Saloon was the first gay bar to open in the Lavender Heights area, at 1928 L Street.

Feuss said that in the event the report finds evidence that would support a historic district in West Sacramento, anyone can propose that idea to the State Office of Historic Preservation or to the National Park Service.

Attendee Riordan said, "I think that there's some concern in this idea of a district."

"If we're only looking for a constituted space that's going to meet criteria, including an age standard, we might be setting ourselves up for failure," he said. "I wonder if there are other vehicles with which we can identify or look at Lavender Heights, as a cultural district or something else."

Nonetheless, a significant change to the scope of the project would require the support of Phil Pluckebaum, Valenzuela's successor on the City Council, de Courcy said. Though she is still a member of the body, she lost her reelection bid last month and will leave when her term finishes at the end of the year.

First draft to coincide with Pride Month

The preservationists have an ambitious schedule and are going to be providing stipends to people who want to participate. There's $10,000 available total, de Courcy said, "to reimburse members of the public for their participation."

"Things are changing. People like to get paid, and they should get paid," he said. People who would like to participate can assist in research, go through archives, submit oral histories, provide access to their personal archives, and look at buildings across the city.

"These stipends can be for any amount, but over $600 and the government will take one-third to half of it, so we like to limit the amount so the tax issue is off the table," de Courcy said.

Feuss said the current timetable is to have a first draft of the historic context statement completed in "a month and a half, to coincide with Pride Month" in June. Then there will be another community meeting and a revision.

De Courcy said that it was the job of everyone who attended to tell those who hadn't, but should, so they can come to the next meeting.

"There are people you don't see in the room who should be in the room, and you know who they are," de Courcy said.

Among those not at the meeting were Terry Sidie, a gay man who owns Faces nightclub in Lavender Heights, and TJ Bruce, a gay man who owns three businesses in the same area, The Depot, Sacramento Badlands, and Roscoes. Since last year, Bruce has managed San Francisco Badlands in the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood.

Bruce told the B.A.R. he is "bummed" to have missed it but was not in Sacramento at the time. Sidie did not return a request for comment.

Enrique Manjarrez, a gay man who attended the meeting, said he thinks it's a great idea to tell the story of the city's LGBTQ history — district or no district.

"We need to focus on passing our history down to the next generation," he said. "As a Latino, I very much know what it is to pass down oral history from one generation to another, so let's write it down."

Ivy Kelso, a bi woman, said she attended as a way of getting more involved in the community as she faces discrimination, not specifying her particular experience.

"I don't want to be afraid or ashamed anymore of an innate part of my identity that is not wrong or bad," she said. "I want to embrace who I am and be joyful and accepting of myself and my fellow queers. That starts with finding queer communities and finding ways to be involved."

Anyone who'd like to participate in the historic context process can email

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