Pioneering Gay Activist Pat Rocco (1934–2018)

November 12, 2018

Pat Rocco will be greatly missed. He documented the LGBTQ movement in Los Angeles and Hawaii. He provided shelter and opportunities for LGBTQ people and people in need in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Hawaii. He was a driving force in the resumption of the Christopher Street West Pride Parade in Los Angeles after it was suspended in 1973; and expanded the event to include a multi-day pride festival. Rocco greeted people with a smile and warm embrace. He was a natural entertainer and activist.

He was born in 1934 in Brooklyn, New York, and as a child, sang to entertain his family and friends. After his family relocated to Southern California, he was featured on a Pasadena radio station KWKW and later recorded an album of devotional music. He toured the country with Marge and Gower Champion and appeared as a member of the "Top Twenty" on the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. He went on to photograph and film soft-core male erotica.

In Los Angeles, he documented the LGBTQ rights movement in film and photographs. His photographs and stories appeared in newspapers from San Francisco to San Diego. Rocco contributed to the community through numerous endeavors including the founding of SPREE (Society of Pat Rocco Enlightened Enthusiasts), which became a home for aspiring entertainers, playwrights, and directors. 

Rocco's activism went beyond documenting the LGBTQ movement. He participated in the Democratic Party to bring equal recognition to the lives of LGBTQ people. He championed placement of the first float from the LGBTQ community in the Hollywood Santa Land parade. He organized events to raise money including for those that were arrested at the Mark IV "slave auction" and he organized a memorial tribute to Harvey Milk and George Moscone. 

In the early 1980s, he and his partner David Kirk Ghee moved to Hawaii where they operated a number of businesses including movie theaters, a video rental shop, a restaurant, and a thrift store. Rocco never stopped working for LGBTQ rights, campaigning for progressive candidates in Hawaii. The couple recently returned to Southern California. 

ONE Archives mourns the passing of Pat Rocco, who passed away on November 8, 2018.  To learn more about Pat Rocco's life and legacy, read on for more information about his collections at the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Hundreds of his photographs are also available through the USC Digital Library


Image: (Top) Pat Rocco filming in the Angeles National Forest. Photo by James L. Prestridge, 1972.