5.9k Share this
FRESNO, Calif. — The 1969 “Stonewall Riots” are seen as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Stonewall Inn customers in New York City stood up against police raids sparking activism and awareness. But the push for equality began long before that.

“In the 60s, all this in Fresno was mostly agriculture,” said El Daña. “Being raised out on the farm, I thought I was the only one that was gay….I felt kind of alone.”

El Daña is one of Central Valley’s first male impersonators, better known today as “drag kings.” She’d lip-sync to Tom Jones, Ritchie Valens, Glen Campbell at gay bars in the Central Valley, drawing crowds from San Francisco and Los Angeles. But her shows began years after she discovered gay bars even existed.

“When I first went to the Orange Ogre, I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” she said. “My face was in awe, my eyes got big, because I’m like, I’m not the only one!”

The Orange Ogre and other gay bars in Fresno were safe spaces for LGBTQ+ members.

“You could be yourself. You can make friends, make acquaintances and and if you just wanted to go sit there and have a drink, nobody bothered you,” said El Daña

Although gay bars were considered a refuge, customers were not fully safe from homophobia.

“One time, it got really bad. The bartenders and all the guys that were in there said ‘there’s some guys outside that want to cause problems. Who’s going to go outside to straighten them out?’ So, the truck drivers got a good beating and never came back again. They found out that gay men can be just as men like them.”

It would be years before the LGBTQ community could truly live life out in the open. But that didn’t stop them from connecting with each other.

“You either went out to the bars, you went to house parties, or you left town or somewhere else. Usually, up to the city and that was the connections that you can make,” said Bill Welzenbach.

Bill Welzenbach met his late partner, Bob, at a bar in Bakersfield in the 1950s.

“We met and boom, that was it. It was kind of like love at first sight,” he said.

Together, they bought a home in Fresno about 10 years later.

“I don’t know how the hell we got it. They didn’t loan to two men or to women,” said Welzenbach.

Welzenbach never came out to his family or friends, but he says they knew.

“I remember the first time that wherever we walked down a public street, and we’re arm and arm with the Castro district, the first time we were out there. That was really a big thrill. We didn’t do anything to cover it up but we were overt about it. That’s the way you had to be.”

October is LGBTQ History Month and the ABC Owned Television stations are highlighting the people, events, and places that helped launch the LGBTQ rights movement, the fight for long-lasting change. For more stories like this one, click here.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.

Source: ABC7

5.9k Share this
You May Also Like
Expressway shooting: Tow truck driver Anthony Tillman found guilty in I-88 road rage murder of Eduardo Munoz

Expressway shooting: Tow truck driver Anthony Tillman found guilty in I-88 road rage murder of Eduardo Munoz

OAK BROOK, Ill. (WLS) — A tow truck driver has been found…

A flashy display: Violent thunderstorms signal a dramatic end to the mini-heatwave

A flashy display: Violent thunderstorms signal a dramatic end to the mini-heatwave…
3-year-old boy hit and killed by school bus in Cary identified as Samuel Huddleston

3-year-old boy hit and killed by school bus in Cary identified as Samuel Huddleston

CARY, Ill. (CBS) — A 3-year-old boy who was hit and killed…

Disney Launches LGBTQ Clothing Line for Children and Older, Donating Profits to LGBTQ Groups

As it continues to wage war against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education…

Chuck Edwards Unseats Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina’s 11 District

North Carolina State Sen. Chuck Edwards (R) unseated Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC)…
Zara Tindall joined a slew of A-listers as she attended the annual Tusk Ball 2022 at the Natural History Museum in central London

Zara Tindall joins brother Peter Phillips at Tusk Ball

Siblings night out! Zara Tindall is elegant in a lilac and grey…

Johnny Depp trial: Former friend of Amber Heard testifies to seeing injuries to scalp, nose and lip

Amber Heard’s former best friend Rocky Pennington gave testimony via pre-taped video…
UIC grad student Daniel Sotelo remains missing after girlfriend was found dead; his father holds onto faith

UIC grad student Daniel Sotelo remains missing after girlfriend was found dead; his father holds onto faith

CHICAGO (CBS) — Daniel Sotelo was days away from graduating from the…