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KPBS Explores San Diego's Gay Bar History

Documentary premieres June 14 at 9 p.m. on KPBS-TV

More than 135 gay bars have operated in San Diego County since World War II, providing sanctuary for LGBTQ+ people to discover themselves and form community. In June, KPBS explores the historical importance and impact of San Diego’s gay bar culture.

“San Diego’s Gay Bar History,” a documentary by Paul Detwiler, traces the development of the gay bar as a community institution in San Diego. It premieres Thursday, June 14 at 9 p.m. on KPBS-TV with an encore Monday, June 18 on KPBS 2. The documentary examines the role bars have played across four major time periods: before the birth of the modern gay rights movement (1969), during the 1970’s, during the AIDS epidemic (1981-1990’s), and up to present day.

“Gay bars have been foundational institutions for the community for several generations of LGBTQ+ people,” says Detwiler. “Every person can tell you about the first gay bar they entered. These bars cut across many social dimensions and for a long time were the only spaces to create community, so their cultural importance cannot be understated. We want to tell these stories for those interested in discovering lesser-known but unique and significant contributions that queer San Diego has made to the city, and to the social and cultural history of California.


Through archival photographs, historic footage and interviews with bar owners, bartenders and prominent community members, “San Diego’s Gay Bar History” provides a glimpse into the rich history of its gay culture. Detwiler hopes the audience will take away two important messages from the film: “For the general public, we would like them to appreciate and build understanding about the LGBTQ+ community here in San Diego. For LGBTQ+ people, we would like to begin a cross-generational dialogue about what their gay/queer spaces mean to them and to stimulate the community to help them document their history within the San Diego region.”

“We chose to help fund Paul's project because of our commitment to telling all of San Diego's stories,” said John Decker, KPBS’ director of programming. “We believe that all members of our community deserve an opportunity to speak and share their experiences. Doing so makes us stronger.”

“San Diego’s Gay Bar History” is one of seven projects selected from the 2016-2017 KPBS Explore local content project request for proposals. The KPBS Explore local content project launched in 2012 as a way to create more local programming and solicit content through a competitive proposal process. The project aims to collaborate with local producers on ideas for programs and series that reflect our diverse and dynamic community and allow audiences to connect over shared experiences.

KPBS Media Contact

Heather Milne Barger, (619) 594-4985