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Gay bar in West Palm Beach seeking historic designation

H.G. Roosters wants to preserve its important LGBTQ past
H.G. Rooster's wants to preserve its important LGBTQ past
Posted at 6:49 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 18:49:46-05

RAW VIDEO: H.G. Roosters' past, present, and the future of rebuilding

RAW VIDEO: H.G. Roosters' past, present, and the future of rebuilding.

H.G. Roosters, the LBGTQ bar that had to close its doors because of a fire in May, is launching an effort to preserve its history.

AJ Wasson, the owner of H.G. Roosters, is asking the city of West Palm Beach for a historic designation for his bar for two reasons.

"They had a few challenges from a zoning and building standpoint where is actually where historic preservation comes in to benefit them," said Friederike Mittner, city of West Palm Beach historic preservation planner.

The preservation allows Roosters variances during reconstruction and tax exemptions for improvements. But it would also preserve the significant history for LGBTQ's in the Palm Beaches.

"It's the oldest gay bar in the state of Florida," said Julie Seaver, executive director of Compass.

Opening as a gay bar in 1965 serving as a haven for closeted gays.

"They couldn't be openly gay because they'd be ostracized by the community," Wasson said.

And to avoid hate crimes and harassment, they moved the entrance from the very busy Belvedere Road.

"So Gene put the side door in [near the back]," said Wasson.

"When you walked to Roosters, you'd be harassed from people driving by people driving by, and things would be thrown at you," said Rick Rose, a Palm Beach historian and author.

"That also points to the historic nature of the windows. In a way, it provided a certain sense of security perhaps," Wasson said.

"It was our safe space, a safe haven for LGBT folks to gather and socialize and pray and mourn the loss during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and early 90s," Seaver said.

"It's a great historical site. This is not an opportunity for every building," Mittner said.

"The legacy of this building goes back to the mid-sixties, which is the same as the Stone Wall Inn in New York," Wasson pointed out.

Stone Wall is where the gay rights movement began.

"Police were raiding bars because they were gay," Seaver said.

This then led to riots in New York.

"We've never been just a business. We are a part of the community," Wasson said.

"[Roosters] has raised money for countless organizations," Rose said.

"We want to highlight the contributions to the community from a philanthropic standpoint and obviously a social justice cause," Mittner said.

"We don't want this to be apart of history that is gone. We want to keep Roosters," Wasson said.

To get the historical designation, there are a few more hurdles they have to jump. First, they have to go before the historical board on Feb. 23. Then in March and April, they go in front of city commissioners where the measure is expected to pass.

With the local designation, they will be joining around 50 other historical sites in West Palm Beach.