Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Documenting Fullerton's LGBT History

It's interesting how you can live most of your life in a community and know so little of its history.  I've lived most of my life in Fullerton, California and I'd always considered it a sort of sleepy, ordinary, suburban town where nothing all that important happened (aside from Leo Fender).  I don't think this anymore, but I did for a long time.  Part of my ignorance had to do with how history is constructed and remembered (or forgotten).  In towns like Fullerton, not many people bother to research or document local history.  It tends to get deposited in dusty library archives, old newspaper microfilm, and in the memories and ephemera stored in houses and the public library.

Through a series of complex and strange circumstances, I've found myself taking a great interest in diving into those dusty archives and telling the stories most have forgotten, or never learned…about segregated schools, about exploitation of Mexican Americans, exclusion of African Americans, about the KKK, about protest and social change that came very slowly, and continues to come.

Recently, as a result of a documentary I'm working on, I've begun diving into the history of Fullerton (and Orange County's) LGBT community.  This is another part of the history of my town that is not widely known or well-documented in any official capacity.  But here's why it matters: Fullerton, California, this sleepy suburban town, produced the most anti-LGBT politician in US history: State Senator John Briggs.  In 1978, Briggs proposed a proposition that would have made it legal for public schools to fire teachers for being gay.

This is a tremendously important historical fact which raises all kinds of interesting questions like: What was the social/political/religious climate in Fullerton in 1978 that would have made such a thing possible?  What other local politicians and leaders proposed discriminatory measures like this?  It's deeply embarrassing and uncomfortable to think about but it's also deeply important because it's true.  It really happened.  

My film is about an art exhibit in support of marriage equality and the LGBT community, but it is also about local history, specifically local LGBT history.  I feel inspired to tell these previously untold stories because so far no one's bothered to tell them.  At least not in the form of a documentary film.   How is it that a straight guy like me, who grew up in a conservative church in Fullerton, ended up making a documentary about art and local LGBT history and social change?  I don't know, but its happening and I'm excited to be working on it, because it's all true.  

Here's a clip from the film-in-progress in which I discuss a timeline installation I made of Orange County LGBT history:


  1. In addition to Sen. Briggs, Fullerton is also responsible for Congressman Bill Dannemeyer, who, at the height of the AIDS crisis, proposed reopening the internment camp at Manzanar to quarantine those with HIV.
    A few years ago at a conference, I met a gay couple who owned a gay bar in Fullerton in the 80s near the train station. I believe it was called Tracks.

  2. I was hoping for more info in your video about Fullerton's LGBT history. I'm sure this community has some interesting stories!