A massive archive of LGBTQ materials in Los Angeles is bringing attention to some of the oldest gay organizations in the United States: Gay motorcycle clubs. The ONE Archives at the University of Southern California offer a detailed glimpse into their history, existence, and importance.
Gay motorcycle clubs came into existence in America during the 1950s, at a time when homosexuality was illegal and widely ostracized. These clubs offered men a sanctuary where they could comfortably gather in groups without fear of persecution. According to the ONE Archives, Los Angeles had some 20 gay motorcycle clubs by the end of the 1970s, the most popular of which hosted as many as 400 men at their annual parties.
Like any good motorcycle club, activities could range from rides and charity events to drinking and camaraderie. They served as welcoming places to gather with brethren and forget the stresses of the outside world.
USC’s archive features materials dating back to the 1940s, including letters written by motorcycle club members, rare event flyers, and hundreds of photos. The collection of slides and film photographs provides a detailed look back at the bikes, events, and even the patches worn in clubs like the Satyrs (founded in 1954), Blue Max, and Oedipus.
As gay motorcycle clubs grew, so did their efforts in the fight for gay rights. For example, they publicly championed gay rights in LA in the 1970s and promoted safe sex during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.
The ONE Archives, located at 909 W. Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, is the largest repository of LGBTQ materials in the world (an ever-growing digital collection is also available for perusal). The collection is an invaluable resource for research and study, but its significance to the community goes far beyond that.
“ONE isn’t an archive; it’s a cultural institution,” says Joseph Hawkins, director of the ONE Archives. People come here to find a great deal more than just historical documents.”