Jewel Thais-Williams: A Queer Activist, Club Owner, and Revolutionary
In 1973, Jewel Thais-Williams founded Catch One, the first Black gay disco in Los Angeles. From a 2018 profile in The Advocate:
Three very distinct groups came to her [first] club at different times: White people would come during the day, blue-collar blacks in the evening, then late at night, LGBTs of color. But as time went on, the straight white people started to stick around later and later, until they ended up partying with the gays. The boundaries of age, gender, color, and sexuality would eventually disappear. In the words of Thais-Williams: “It was kind of a miracle, really.”
It was clear, though, that queer people of color needed a specific haven of their own. There were other gay discos in Los Angeles, like the famous Studio One, but even though gay was OK in those spaces, black still was not. Even women were often turned away at the doors, leaving LGBT people of color still in search of a haven where they could safely be themselves.
They got their answer in 1973, when Thais-Williams opened Catch One. Unlike her first club, Catch One’s intention was gay from the start. It became so much more. In its prime, Catch One’s attendance swelled to 1,300 a night and included celebrities like Madonna, Sharon Stone, and Janet Jackson.
As the climate of the world shifted, Catch One changed too, but over the staggering 42 years it was open, it always remained a safe and inclusive place for the black LGBT community