Deborah Johnson and Zandra Rólon, Discrimination Case, 1984

Posted by James Waller on June 26, 2019

Happy Pride! As we end this series on California LGBTQ Upstanders, I encourage each of you to continue to learn and follow the history of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The fight for social and legal equality for LGBTQ people is on-going and ultimately reflects on our values as a people and a nation by determining who among us deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

In July of 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Johnson. This monumental law banned segregation in public places on the grounds of race, religion, or national origin, and it barred employers and labor unions from discriminating based on race, religion, national origin, or gender. While states across the nation enacted laws that extended these protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBTQ people still have to fight to receive equal treatment under the law.

3120512033_1e04679a21_zLos Angeles has been a key battleground in the fight for LGBTQ equality. The incident we are learning about today happened in downtown LA at 1925 Olympic Boulevard, the site of the former Papa Choux Restaurant, on Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s birthday in 1983. Two LGBTQ upstanders, denied the right to dine in the private romantic booths the restaurant reserved for only mixed sex couples, took their discrimination battle all the way to the California Appellate Court in an effort to be treated like any other individuals out for a romantic dining experience.

Eric Marcus, host of the Making Gay History podcast sat down with Deborah Johnson and Zandra Rólon in 1991 to discuss this historic case argued in court by feminist lawyer Gloria Allred. In additon to exploring the discrimination that the pair faced at Papa Choux, this interview also sheds some light on how the intersectionality of race and sexual identity often compound the struggle for equity and inclusion for LGBTQ people of color.

“So I had heard about the discrimination that my grandfather had to go through and… But never did it happen, never did it happen to me. And I had never been told that I couldn’t do something or have something or be somewhere or because of who I was or the color of my skin. And I … How dare you! How dare you!”

Zandra Rólon (1991)

 

Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World

Listen to the podcast twice. On the first listen, take notes on what stands out to you. Listen to the podcast again to find ideas that you can use to in response to the Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World strategy. I share my answers with you below.

  1. Text-to-Text: How do the ideas in this podcast remind you of another podcast or text (story, book, movie, song, etc)?
  2. Text-to-Self: How do the ideas in this podcast relate to your own life, ideas, and experiences?
  3. Text-to-World: How do the ideas in this podcast relate to the larger world—past, present and future.

 

The news articles and additional primary sources from this history are remarkable. Take a look at them in the supplemental materials from Making Gay History.

My Thoughts:

1. Text-to-Text: How do the ideas in this podcast remind you of another podcast or text (story, book, movie, song, etc)?

What I just heard reminds me of (story/book/movie/song) because...

Johnson and Rólon’s story reminds me of the “Sip In”, organized by the Mattachine Society in 1966 to highlight the discrimination that homosexuals experienced by bars in New York City.

The ideas in this podcast are similar to the ideas in ...because…

The two remind me of each other because each situation involves LGBTQ people fighting for the right to be treated like any other customer in a public establishment serving food and/or drink.

The ideas in this podcast are different than the ideas in ... because…

The “Sip In” was a planned act of civil disobedience orchestrated by three white men, covered by some media outlets, who stated that they were homosexuals, before trying to order, in an attempt to get a negative response from the establishment. The Papa Choux incident was two lesbian women of color minding their own business on a romantic night out. When confronted with discrimination, they decided to act on their own and filed a law suit.

 

2. Text-to-Self: How do the ideas in this podcast relate to your own life, ideas, and experiences?

What I just heard reminds me of the time when I…

was 15 and in a car driving with a group of friends to Sun Valley, Idaho, on my first ski trip. We got hungry along the way and stopped at a restaurant to grab a meal before continuing on our route from Portland, Oregon. We were seated at a booth by the hostess, however, no one ever came to serve us. Our group consisted of three Koreans, two whites and myself. We waited awhile and one of us even called out, saying that we were ready to order. We were heard, but the waitress ignored us and did not come take our order. We waited a few more minutes, decided that we were not wanted and went somewhere else.

We were young and did not want to cause any trouble, however, we were all very conscious about the racism we had just experienced. We continued on with our trip and wrote it off to “Idaho” as if it was just to be expected.

I agree with/understand what I just heard because in my own life...

I have come to understand that one has to speak up and speak out in order to be heard and make change. I am much more vocal now when I find myself confronting racism and homophobia. On more than one occasion in more than one bar in West Hollywood during the 80s and 90s, I, also, experienced the kind of racist treatment like that mentioned by Johnson and Rólon regarding Studio One. It was common place. To be honest, at the time, I really just wanted to "go out", and I suffered through the discrimination for the sake of the party. Hmmm…

 

3. Text-to-World: How do the ideas in this podcast relate to the larger world—past, present and future.

What I just heard makes me think about (event from today related to my own community, nation or world) because...

While our nation waits on the Senate’s decision on the Equality Act, LGBTQ people around the country are still being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Depending on the state one lives in, his/her/their rights(s) to fair, respectable treatment may not be enforced or expected. Even though, the Johnson and Rólon case was 35 years ago, we are still fighting the same battles.

What I just heard makes me wonder about the future because...

In some places in our country, it seems we are going backwards on issues of discrimination. There are headline-making cases of businesses refusing services to LGBTQ couples for wedding cake orders or catering wedding receptions. The Civil Rights Act became law in 1964 and 55 years later we are still debating whether or not all people deserve to be treated/served with respect. What is wrong with our country? Our people?

 

Your Turn...

What connections did you make to this podcast episode? Share your thoughts below.

 

This ends our June series, but we encourage you to continue the learning! We've just touched the surface of what is possible in deepening our understanding of the "role and contributions" of LGBTQ Americans (as cited in the FAIR Education Act). A big thank you to James Waller for being our guide on this journey, to Eric Marcus of Making Gay History for giving us permission to do this blog-based exploration, and to ONE Archives for being our partner in this work. 

Here are some final ideas for further exploration of the history and how to bring it to your students:

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Topics: Upstander, LGBTQ

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