After the last black-owned gay club in Los Angeles, Catch One, closed its doors for good, a man who goes by the name of 14K took it upon himself to create a place for the club’s displaced patrons to come together.
“With the club closing and having a place of my own, I like to come together socially with my friends and have a happy place with no drama, where we can eat, drink, [and] have fun,” 14K tells the blog Broadly.
For over two decades, 14K has served as a father figure to many gay black men in LA. "We have really good discussions when we're in the house with my friends, about life and what's going on," he says. On the weekends, 14K opens his house to the city's gay residents. Queens, transexuals, guys on the down low―anyone can come as long as they bring a bottle of liquor. Like a gay Oprah, he talks to younger guys about accepting their truth.
14K knows this journey. He grew up in 1960s Los Angeles, living with his siblings and mother. His mom worked as a Baptist minister; for decades, 14K operated on the down low and dated women. (He has multiple children with three different women.) In the 1990s, he came out, stopped sleeping with women, and married a man.
They divorced 15 years ago, but 14K has remained active in the city's party circuit. Many men know 14K from Catch One, the city's last black-owned gay club, where he worked the door for 27 years. After the bar closed last year, 14K's home turned into the city's unofficial club and community center for black gay LA. Since 14K moved into the house 15 years ago, he has painted the walls yellow and decorated with white (real) fur rugs, a miniature Eiffel tower, and a fountain that he keeps at the entryway. In a cabinet, he stores a collection of clown statues.
For the past year, punk photographer Alexis Gross has been shooting 14K's house parties. Gross may seem like an odd photographer to shoot 14K―she's best known for shooting Juggalos and Vans ads―but last year a punk promoter started renting out the Catch One space. Once a month, punks mingled with Los Angeles's black gay residents, and Gross worked the door alongside 14K. "We were stuck together," 14K explains. They dealt with unruly customers―assholes that 14K often responded to with humor. "He was making me crack the fuck up," Gross says. Many nights, they listened to a homeless man who claimed to have 17 babies with nine different women, bragging that most of the kids were "crack babies." "I would never tell anybody that I had crack babies," 14K says.
Last month, I went with Gross to watch her shoot portraits of 14K and talk to him about the history of Catch One, the time he got ran over by a cop, and why his 87-year-old Baptist mom loves drag queens.
BROADLY: How did you start working at Catch One?
14K: I used to hang at the door with a friend of mine. He was taking tickets, and one day he couldn't show up. I ended up taking tickets, and they ended up hiring me. From there I went from taking tickets to security, from security to management.
Why was the club important?
We hired our own in the community. We became friends and family. We hung out. We did things with the owner when we first started. She would do big, major Christmas parties.
Why did they sell the business?
A lot of black people don't put money back into [black] business. The club was falling apart, and she did what she could, but it's a lot of rent. The new people came in and just weaved out the whole club: knocked down walls, just made it look so much better.
Do you love that your house occasionally functions as the new gay community center?
With the club closing and having a place of my own, I like to come together socially with my friends and have a happy place with no drama, where we can eat, drink, [and] have fun.
Do you try to teach that to younger guys?
Yes, anybody coming by here. I like the young people that stop lying around, trying to smoke the weed. I never got high a day of my life. I drink on occasion, [but] I'm not a drunk. I have so much liquor, I would be a drunk if I drank it everyday. I try to teach them to get up, make something of themselves, go to school, get a job, get what you want out of life, and be honest with people. Don't be taken with people.