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REVIEW: 'San Diego's Gay Bar History' is an important, eye-opening LGBT documentary

“San Diego's Gay Bar History” will make its world premiere at FilmOut's San Diego LGBT Film Festival on Sunday, June 10, 2018.
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“San Diego's Gay Bar History"

The history of San Diego’s LGBT community is explored in Paul Detwiler’s “San Diego's Gay Bar History.”

From The Sky Room at the top of The Cortez Hotel to the closing of Numbers to the renovations at The Brass Rail (now The Rail), this documentary covers over 60-years of San Diego’s LGBT night life.

Today, everyone can go out on the weekend, go dancing at Rich’s or Urban Mo’s, catch a drag show starring The Divas or the Dreamgirls, but things weren’t always unbound.

America’s Finest City’s LGBT community can trace its roots back to the clubs of yesteryear; activism, community organizations, and functions formed inside these clubs which led the way to Pride, AIDS awareness, and ultimately equal rights.

Often times these bars were listed in a printed community directory, most notably The San Diego Son, a precursor to today's SDPIX Magazine.

The younger generation may not realize as they sip their beverages in the front window at Mo’s that men would get arrested for being gay or wearing female clothing; it was considered lewd conduct. Undercover cops would scope out these establishments and arrest people if they touched or kissed, the Union-Tribune would then post names and addresses in the paper the next day as a form of public shaming. And that was as early as 1966.

Many community leaders are featured in this informative and essential movie including Bridget Wilson, Richard “Omar” Lowery, Big Mike, Nicole Murray Ramirez, Papa Tony, Susan Jester, Benny Cartwright, Morgan Hurley and many others.

The lesbian community had its own unique nightclub history beginning with Diablos and later The Flame and today, “the only dedicated women and lesbian bar still remaining in California," Gossip Grill.

Drag made a big impact in the 70’s too, whole revues were produced by clubs at the time and they drew in enormous crowds. Then, “The Ball Express” on Pacific Coast Highway became like the Studio 54 of the west coast. Gay nightlife seemed like it couldn’t be stopped. But a decade later that would all tragically change.

One of the most emotional parts in the film is when it turns its focus on the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s. As devastating as it was, it also brought the entire community together to help itself when hospitals, family members, and misinformed friends did not. “I don’t know where we’d be without drag queens and lesbians,” says former nightclub owner Dave Coppini in the film. 

There are many personal stories and vintage clips contained in “San Diego Gay Bar History.” It is a momentous archive of San Diego's queer history while at the same time documenting its survival in times of legal persecution, discrimination, AIDS and finally an economic downswing.  

 “San Diego's Gay Bar History” should be seen by everyone, it's a love letter to San Diego's LGBT community, but more importantly it serves as a reminder of how far we have come while honoring those who dedicated their lives to bring us where we are today. 

“San Diego's Gay Bar History” will make its world premiere at FilmOut's San Diego LGBT Film Festival on Sunday, June 10, 2018. Get your tickets HERE