Jewel Thais-Williams is a community-driven activist who owned the Catch One, the first gay, black discotheque in America.
During her formative years, Jewel felt that she would never escape the poverty she was born into, and she took the sparse and low paying opportunities that society gifted her. After her family moved to California, she slowly realized that she had to forge her own path.
While working at a small market on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, Jewel would look across the street and see the future spot of the Catch One. In 1973, she chalked up the courage to do what very few black lesbians at that time did, become a business owner. Even though she bought the bar four years after the Stonewall Riots, the event that kick-started gay liberation, the gay scene was still predominately underground and same-sex dancing was illegal. The Catch One quickly cracked the surface when queers of all stripes learned that a bar in Central Los Angeles was owned by a black lesbian. Within a span of ten years, Jewel’s Catch One became the most diverse and successful club of its kind.
Now that Jewel had built a community, she turned her eyes to nurturing it. In 1987, Jewel co-founded the Minority AIDS Project which helps blacks and Hispanics affected by the disorder. In 1989, after seeing the worst of AIDS, Jewel decided that she needed to take her work further by co-founding Rue’ House, the first housing facility for minority women with AIDS and their children in America.
At 81 years old, Jewel is still directed by her heart and follows her passion by volunteering at the Village Health Foundation, another nonprofit she founded, which provides affordable, safe and effective health care treatment.
Episode Four of the QueerCore Podcast is all about how someone who was too dark, too queer and heard no at every corner overcame her systematic disadvantage and became a central, Central Los Angeles figure. Jewel Thais-Williams has always pounded the pavement and ain’t done stomping!
READ THE PODCAST INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT AT THE LGBTQ HISTORY PROJECT