Ellen Ward was on the cutting edge of the gay liberation movement; in 1975, she and her partners created the famous Que Sera with ambiance and good music on Seventh Street in Long Beach. Ward was an advocate for safe gathering places for lesbians, and bars were one of those important spaces.
Born in 1937 to a Catholic family in Los Angeles, Ward eventually settled in the Long Beach area where she brought her joyous energy, bold spirit, and generous leadership to the LGBTQ community and beyond. In high school, she first discovered her identity playing softball. Soon she was sneaking out with a doctored identification card (making her older), dressing in cords and argyle, and heading to gay bars in Los Angeles. Ward’s love for organized sports activities led her to a degree in Recreation/Education at CSULB.
At her first professional job in Artesia, she was director of Parks and Recreation by age 22. She was one of the very few women in that position state-wide. She moved around in management positions in city governments, retiring as Superintendent of Recreation in Santa Ana in 1990. Ward’s leadership, sense of justice, and commitment to the LGBTQ community spilled out in multiple arenas, but one of her most notable contributions was making Que Sera a safe place for lesbians and queer people.
Ward’s commitment to safe spaces for the community meant that Que Sera was more than a bar. “I did a lot of programming at the Que that most bars didn’t do,” she said. “I did trips, I did gay plays, ball games. I took people to the races. We’d go to Angels games, we’d go to Dodger games.” “I was very supportive of the early days of Lambda [Democratic Club] in Long Beach. I used to have them have fundraisers at my bar, to raise money and send people to conferences.”
“Everybody was struggling. I went to their banquets and bought a table. I supported them any way possible. I’d give them a Saturday night and let them collect the door. I never took anything off for overhead like some of the bars did.” Police harassment in gay bars and police entrapment stings spurred her into politics. She joined the ground-breaking Gay Business Alliance. Ward was also devoted to the LGBTQ Center in Long Beach, serving on the board for many years. At one time, AIDS took the lives of more than one-half of the board. Action was needed, so she founded AIDS Walk Long Beach and was Executive Director for nine years.
She worked on Patty Moore’s attempt to be the first lesbian elected to LB City Council. In 2000, she won a seat on the Signal Hill City Council, serving for twelve years, two as mayor. In 2008, Ward and her partner of 18 years, Pat Crosby, were one of the first to take advantage of the marriage window in California, another trailblazing choice. In 2011 and 2012, she was integral in raising funds for the Historical Society of Long Beach’s LGBT History Project and exhibition, “Coming Out in Long Beach.”
Ellen Ward was recognized in many ways. Among them, she was the Lambda Democratic Club Woman of the Year, Grand Marshall for the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade, and in Long Beach’s Harvey Milk Park. Upon her death, a candlelight vigil of remembrance was held at Harvey Milk Park; still working for the community after her death, she asked for donations to The Center instead of flowers.
Thank you, Ellen Ward.