Pride Blog Post Header 1

Mon, May 01, 2023

Oscar Paz

Oscar Paz - Education & Outreach Manager

Then & Now: LGBTQ+ Gathering Spaces

Santa Cruz County's history parallels the national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender movement. For decades, many locals impacted the national rights movement that directly influenced the LGBT communities across the central coast. Throughout the years, Santa Cruz County has embraced progressiveness by welcoming change and inclusivity. As a result, this foundation has led to many positive outcomes.

One success was the practice of going out to gather in places as a community. In the MAH’s first online exhibition, Queer Santa Cruz: Stories of the LGBTQ+ Community in Santa Cruz County, there is a section dedicated to the history of these unique Gathering Places. From the Amazons Women’s Musical Festival in the mountains to the bars around farm fields in Castroville and Salinas, where drag queens would hang out after the work week.


Kayla Garnet Rose, PhD

Another celebrated utopia was Herland: The WanderGround, a feminist lesbian bookstore and coffee shop in downtown Santa Cruz owned by Kayla Garnet Rose, Ph.D. Fierce Babes would serve vegan treats named after Goddesses while people gathered to discover and dream as a community. This year, Herland has inspired the programming we hope to bring to your community.

We are thrilled to welcome back Santa Cruz Pride: Waves of Pride. On June 4th, join us as we celebrate the legacy of our trailblazers and the stories of gathering as a community. In addition, the MAH will host Pride Family Day, which includes free admission. Stop by and participate in the art activity inspired by the Dream Box Kayla made in 2004.

To welcome Pride this year, we invited Kayla for an interview. We discussed her upbringing, life in Santa Cruz, and her hopes and dreams for the future of gathering places.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?

I had a multicultural upbringing. My father is Italian, my mother is Swedish, they met in Greece. A year later, they married. My brother was born in Rome, then my family emigrated to the United States. I was born in Washington DC, in 1966. I lived in Virginia until I was seven, moved to Luxembourg for elementary school, and later attended boarding school in Dover, England. My parents moved back to America in 1981. I went to Walt Whitman High School in Maryland, then Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In 1987, my college roommate asked me to visit Santa Cruz. That first week, I pierced my nose, met the mother of my child, and bought a tarot deck. All changed my life.

Growing up, my parents were always sex-positive, although in an abstract way. I remember erotica books left on the coffee table that celebrated a multitude of experiences. It seemed quite natural to embrace bisexuality as a teen. My parents have been solid supporters of all of my partners, and have always welcomed to the table my friends, lovers, and allies. They are the epitome of graciousness and diplomacy.

What were gathering places like during your adolescent years?

As a teenager living in suburban Bethesda in the early ‘80s, you were lucky if you had a cousin with an air-conditioned car for the occasional trip to White Flint Mall, or maybe a Grateful Dead show. Shy and introverted, I preferred to hunker down with a book rather than socialize in the cafeteria. Mostly, I hung out after school in the art department with the queer alumni, making ceramics and eating junk food.

College was a different story. First of all, you could walk everywhere. Then there were an array of places to gather, both on campus or downtown - weekly LBQ groups, rallies for Take Back the Night, dance parties, and oh so many delicious cafés. We had three gay bars in Santa Cruz, plus San Jose and San Francisco were close by, offering leather clubs, burlesque, and street fairs catering to every fancy. Line dancing at The Blue Lagoon was one of my favorite Sunday afternoon activities, or piling up in a car and driving down to Franco Norma Jean’s in Castroville.


How was Herland born?

I came out as a radical feminist lesbian during my first year at Wesleyan, I joined the Womanist House co-op and became part of the Iahu collective, our feminist newspaper. It was an intense time of questioning gender, sexuality, race, class, politics, values, and identity. I felt fierce and fabulous. I loved every minute of it.

A bunch of classmates went to New Haven to visit Golden Threads Bookstore. I remember walking in, the pine bookcases, the fresh scent, shelves lined with stories… by women, for women, about women. I spent hours entranced. I bought a book of poems by Alice Walker and a tiny silver Venus, both of which I still have. I was enchanted. I just knew this was what I wanted. I figured I’d get my master's degree, teach women’s studies, retire, and open a bookstore. Instead, it was the other way around.

After graduating in 1989, I worked at Aries Arts, a New Age store in Capitola Village for about three years. I remember hearing Ani DiFranco sing, “You have your whole life to do something, and that’s not very long.” I began taking business classes through Cabrillo College and met my business partner shortly thereafter. We found a location, began to do the labor, and Herland was born nine months later, in May of 1993, with three planets in Gemini.

Where does the name come from?

In the summer of 1987, Cabrillo College was offering a class in Feminist Utopias. This boggled my mind. I had read many dystopias as a youth, some of the few books offered in English at the Luxembourg airport, a traditional family outing. I gobbled up that booklist. Utopia refers to an imagined place or no place. What did Dorothy mean as she clicked her ruby red heels and said, “There’s no place like home” three times? What does utopia mean to you?

The name comes from two books, Herland written in 1915 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She describes a place discovered by three male aviators to an all-female society, who then bring back ideas of sustainability, biodiversity, and equality. Our motto was, “A Feminist Utopia in Your Own Home Town.” After being so angry during my college days, I realized it was not sustainable. The whole focus of Herland was love, celebration, and acceptance, which is sustainable. Herland was a gathering place to recharge, inspire, heal, to feel at home.

The Wanderground was written by Sally Miller Gearhart in 1978 and described a community that bridged differences between an all-female and a patriarchal society. One detail I loved was that all the houses were built on books. When we moved to 1014 Cedar Street in 1999, I wanted to change the name to be more inclusive. While no longer having the cafe, we expanded and were honored to host over fifty artists on consignment. Our motto changed to “ Keep Your Business in Your Community, Keep Your Community in Business.”


How would you describe Herland?

Inviting. Beautiful. Scrumptious. A sanctuary. Sturdy bookcases that my business partner and I built ourselves, creamy lace curtains, thriving green plants, deep purple carpeting in the bookstore that matched the linoleum in the café, and of course, the glittering disco ball.

Clean, well-lit, and sustainable. Herland served fresh, healthy, organic, vegetarian, and vegan fare for six years. The librarians next door came over every day for a place to breathe. Colorful batiks, body-positive statuary, inspiring posters, evocative prints. People spent hours just taking it all in. There were descriptive cards for symbols, recommendations, and usages - Herland was always an education, part museum, part art gallery. We rented alternative videos, carried women’s music, and sold thousands of bumper stickers and Pride pins. Labryes, goddess jewelry, rainbow commitment rings, little pink and black triangle single earrings, and Pride flags galore.

And books… Feminist Nonfiction, Women’s Herstory, Lesbian Mysteries, Trans Science Fiction, Xena Fan Fiction. Fertility, artificial insemination, menopause, first periods. How to get pregnant, not get pregnant, and what to do when pregnant. A Grrls Rule section. Women’s Spirituality, including a huge assortment of tarot cards. Information for recovering from rape, sexual abuse, and gaslighting. References for coming out or transitioning, whether to parents, peers, or career. Have I mentioned sexuality? Saucy poems, sublime erotica, many a one-handed reading. So much yumminess.

Herland was much like KZSC’s Breakfast in Bed: Music by Women for Everyone. Herland was the place to gather together, to garner resources, and to feel validated, loved, and accepted. The café hosted rotating monthly art shows with receptions, regular Open Michelle Nights that welcomed Sister Spit, as well as Drag King shows. The bookstore hosted book signings, poetry slams, awareness workshops, and “Pleasure Wear'' parties. Herland sponsored dances at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center as well as producing four Annual Lesbian New Year's Eve Ball at the Chaminade.

What I loved most about Herland and will always treasure were the people and all their stories. I love a good story. Our diverse customers came from all over to find a safe haven, a tavern of sorts, a place to regroup, and share a laugh over coffee, before going back out to change the world. Our fabulous staff and dedicated volunteers, the eclectic artists and the like-minded vendors, simply being a part of the greater network of Santa Cruz and conscious people everywhere, this was what I always hold, what made it all worthwhile.

When did Herland close?

After the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center bought our building in 1998, Herland moved to 1014 Cedar Street. Shortly thereafter, a chain bookstore moved in around the corner. This and 9/11 had disastrous results on small businesses as a whole. I organized the Santa Cruz Booksellers Guild, and we created events for awareness, and cooperation at its best. Nonetheless, independent bookstores started closing left and right.

I realized I was just not making it as a single mom. I put the bookstore up for sale. A couple of weeks before the lease ended, the buyer had to pull out. I closed the store in December of 2004 and donated most of the books to UCSC and Monterey Peninsula College, the inventory, and fixtures to a few local stores. In a few short months, I enrolled at Twin Lakes College and went from retail therapy to hypnotherapy.

Macrocosm, microcosm. When Herland opened, there were 150 feminist bookstores, last heard there are 13. In 1993, we had fourteen independent bookstores in Santa Cruz County. Today, we have Bookshop Santa Cruz, Bad Animal, and Two Birds.


How did the MAH acquire the Herland Dream Box?

I made a series of altars made from shadow boxes scored at the flea market, collage materials from queer magazines, and a plethora of tiny objects for a final art show after Herland closed entitled, Sacred Spaces in Small Places: Shadow Boxes, Spirit Shelves and Altar-Egos at the Diversity Center for two months in 2005.

Sacred Spaces in Small Places spoke to the need to incorporate the spiritual in both our daily lives and in the mundane world by transforming everyday items into altars for meditation, reflection, and rejuvenation. Throughout history and across differing religious beliefs, altars have acted as a way to focus intentions, honor ancestors, affirm values & beliefs, and our connection to the divine.

Sacred Spaces in Small Places held a space for the viewer to bring conscious transformation into their lives. The pieces served as a reminder of one's goals and activated both conscious and subconscious wisdom to achieve those aims through the use of visual symbols combined with affirmations. Spice cabinets, mantels, crates, and other household items were first painted, then bedazzled with a variety of found objects ranging from feathers and shells to gems and jewels, and mismatched earrings. Pagan blessings, goddess chants, and queer positive prayers are framed by collaged borders that draw upon the diversity of our community as a source of strength and inspiration.

Afterward, I gave the Dream Box to my friend Melissa, who subsequently gifted it to the MAH. It was first a part of the Infinite Other Exhibition (Oct 2018 – Mar 2019) created by artists Monica Canilao and Xara Thustra (MCXT).


How can we continue to honor and celebrate our identity, history, and legacy?

After 9/11, the City of Rotterdam gifted New York City a million daffodil bulbs, as a symbol of peace. For the following three years, Herland gave out thousands of daffodil bulbs every September 11th along with stickers, “Bulbs not Bombs.” Now whenever I see daffodils, I think about spreading those seeds of peace, seeds of change, and seeds of love.

I was deeply grieved when Herland closed. It was a loss of my identity - who was I if not the bookstore owner? It was a loss to the community - where do we gather now? Where do we find our queer culture - songs, books, images, all the ways to celebrate.

Over the years since Herland closed, I’ve noticed my artists and vendors popping up in local stores, Queer Happy Hour at the Rush Inn, and all the ways those seeds have sprouted. To honor and celebrate our queer identity, history, and legacy simply continue to be you. The most YOU you can be. Just the FAQs - Fabulous, Authentic, Queer.

Blessed Be.