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12 January 2012

Clarabelle (18?? - ? ) pioneer activist

Clarabelle, who lived full-time as female, was the "queen mother” of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill, an informal position co-ordinating homosexuals, queens, communists and bohemians. She had a dozen lieutenants, one of whom monitored the so-called Fruit Tank, the jail for queers.

During the 1933 ‘Milk Strike’ when mothers of the poor and unemployed protested that large amounts of milk were poured down the storm drains to keep the price up, and the police were beating heads bloody, Harry Hay the future homophile pioneer threw a brick and dislodged a policeman from his horse. Sympathizers rushed him away, and to Clarabelle’s for hiding.

Bunker Hill was in the way of downtown development and by the 1960s, against local resistance, it was all removed: 396 buildings were destroyed and 11,000 residents displaced, the hill was flattened and sold for a song to developers.
  • Harry Hay and Will Roscoe. Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996: 37,52.
  • Edward W. Soja. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1996: 213.
  • Leslie Feinberg. “Young Harry Hay and the Wobblies”. Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series, part 31 Workers World, Apr 14, 2005.

 This snippet of history was almost lost, surviving merely as an anecdote by Harry Hay.  Here are some of the books that do not mention Clarabelle: Gay LA; Lavender Los Angeles; Bohemian Los Angeles; How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States.  The next generation of trans activists in Los Angeles, Virginia Prince and Ed Wood, if they knew about her, did not mention her.

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