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Long Beach Pride parade, festival returns as the LGBTQ nonprofit turns 40

The popular Long Beach Pride Festival & Parade will return to the city’s downtown this weekend — with this year’s event also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the nonprofit that started it all.

The festival will take place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 5-6, in Marina Green Park, while the iconic parade will travel along Ocean Boulevard on Sunday morning. The festival will feature life performers at multiple stages, drag shows, family-friendly and senior zones, and plenty of other entertaining and educational activities.

The annual celebration traces its origins to October 1983, when Bob Crow, Judith Doyle and Marylin Barlow founded 1983 as Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Inc., the nonprofit that would organize the city’s inaugural pride parade and festival the following summer.

In 2020, the nonprofit changed its name to Long Beach Pride to be more inclusive of everyone within the LGBTQ community.

Now, 40 years after its founding, Pride has changed in more ways than just its name — but its significance to LGBTQ people and the city remains just as large.

“(It went from) a very short parade to one of the biggest events in Long Beach,” Long Beach Pride co-president Elsa Martinez said in a Friday, July 28, interview, “that brings the community together — and has done so for all these years.”

Pride’s legacy, importance

The inaugural Pride Month was held in June 1970 to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. That seminal event in the fight for LGBTQ equality, which began at the Stonewall Inn, was largely led by drag queens, and transgender and gender nonconforming folks — and was a response to over-policing of gay spaces.

Stonewall fundamentally altered “the nature of LGBTQ+ activism” in America, according to the Library of Congress, and it sparked a city and national gay rights movement. Every year since, June has marked the celebration of LGBTQ pride.

The Long Beach Pride founders, meanwhile, thought that the city’s LGBTQ community was vibrant enough to warrant a celebration of its own — separate from Los Angeles’s nearby celebration, which had already been underway for 14 years by that point.

But at the same time, LGBTQ folks around the world were grappling with the early ’80s outbreak of AIDS — which the U.S. government largely ignored because it predominately impacted gay people.

Before there was Pride — a singular, shared space for people with different identities to come together — the LGBTQ community was fragmented. But the AIDS crisis and the dangers it posed to the entire community, both health-wise and in terms of societal acceptance, necessitated collaborative action.

Anti-LGBTQ people used the AIDS epidemic to fuel violent homophobic rhetoric and further ostracize LGBTQ folks from mainstream society. The disease has killed more than 330,000 gay and bisexual men since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Not talking about these issues is what leads to the continued genocide of LGBT people that was happening at the time due to the federal government turning a blind eye to the HIV/AIDS crisis in those early days,” Kathryn Perkins, an associate professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach, said in a Friday interview, “because it just affected primarily queer people.”

But with Pride’s inception, in Long Beach and other parts of the country, the LGBTQ community had a way to make their voices heard.

“Prior to the HIV-AIDS crisis, there wasn’t a lot of unification between the LGBT community,” Perkins said. “It took extreme hardship, where our lives and our health care were not taken seriously, for there to be a real unification, even though the HIV/AIDS crisis doesn’t directly impact lesbians as much as other members of the community.”

Just two years after the first Long Beach Pride parade, the nonprofit helped organize opposition to Proposition 64 — a state ballot initiative that would have put AIDS back on the list of communicable diseases. Opponents feared that would cause HIV-positive folks to lose their jobs and would force them into quarantine.



“Long Beach Pride was involved in raising visibility and helping to push against it,” Perkins said, “and was successful.”

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure, 71% to 29%. Long Beach Pride, meanwhile, named the concept of “No on Prop. 64” as the grand marshal of its 1986 parade.

Members of Long Beach Pride also participated in the 1987 March on Washington — which was among the largest LGBTQ rallies in history aimed at bringing awareness to the AIDS epidemic. It resulted in the first national coverage of ACT UP, a group that advocated for people with AIDS, and was the first time Cleve Jones’s NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was publicly displayed.

“We actually don’t see the acronym LGBT come about until the ’90s and it’s in the wake of all of this HIV/AIDS activism,” Perkins said. “The HIV/AIDS struggle was not just one that is sad and tragic, but also one that, by necessity, brought the disparate parts of the LGBTQ community together in resistance and really unified a community to build strong political alliances.”

Pride in the 21st century

The LGBTQ community needed to continue strengthening its political power into the mid-2000s, as the fight over marriage equality accelerated, particularly in California when Proposition 8 was introduced in 2008. Long Beach Pride, Perkins said, advocated against the ballot measure, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in California, and helped register voters around the region.

Prop. 8 narrowly passed — though a federal court invalidated it in 2010.

That ruling was among several victories the community saw in the 2010s: Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned laws banning sexual intimacy among those who are gay. The repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Rising public support for marriage equality. And then, in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges — which gave same-sex unions constitutional protection.

Gone were the days that forged older generations of LGBTQ people – police raids on gay bars, bigotry fueled by the AIDS epidemic and government-sponsored discrimination, such as the Defense of Marriage Act.

Long Beach Pride, for its part, became a mainstream party, bounding from just 5,000 attendees at the first parade to around 40,000 by 1999, with those numbers even higher today, around six figures.

But even with changes, Pride never strayed far from its protesting roots, which were on full display at last year’s event and are sure to be again this year.

That’s because the LGBTQ community is now facing something of a political backlash nationally, with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation spiking dramatically in recent years.

Since 2022, in fact, a slew of Republican-backed anti-gay and anti-transgender legislation has come under consideration, or has already been enacted, in statehouses nationwide.

This year alone, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a record 520 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in various state legislatures — 220 of which specifically target transgender and non-binary people.

Seventy bills —which ban gender-affirming care for trans kids, allow students to be misgendered, target drag performances, facilitate discrimination against LGBTQ people and censor LGBTQ curriculum — have already been enacted as of May, the HRC said.

Hate crimes are also on the rise, according to HRC. Since January, 15 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed by violent means — the majority of whom were Black trans women.

California isn’t immune to rising anti-gay and trans sentiment.

Hate crimes driven by homophobia and racism resulted in a 33% surge in reported incidents in 2022, according to a report the state Attorney General’s office released earlier this year. Attacks on members of the LGBTQ population based on gender identity also rose 38%, the report said.

“In a way, that is haunting and disturbing,” said Perkins, who is trans, “there are a lot of parallels between what it was like for our community in the ’80s and what it’s like for communities today, in the sense that we are being scapegoated and treated as a threat, and a sense that we are a sort of moral contagion.

“Pride is just as necessary today as it was then,” Perkins added, “(because) it creates a space where we can push back against these narratives of fear.”

And perhaps more importantly, Perkins added, Pride is a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ community — a weekend of envisioning what life could be like all the time.

Pride weekend

Pride, Perkins said, nurtures a much-needed sense of togetherness for LGBTQ folks while celebrating their lives.

“For me, going to my first Pride Parade in Austin in 2010 was the first time that I had been around trans people my entire life and it was just such a powerful thing,” Perkins said. “It helps us just sort of not feel such a deep sense of despair.

“It provides a sense of optimism,” the professot added, “and a sense that even if it’s really bad now, we’ve survived difficult times in the past, and we will get through it (again).”

Optimism and joy will once again be on display this weekend.

Pride will kick off with a free Friday afternoon festival for teens at at Rainbow Lagoon Park, 400 E. Shoreline Drive. Teenage members of the LGBTQ community can gather in a safe space and enjoy music, dancing and various activities.

The Long Beach Pride festival will take over Marina Green Park, 386 E Shoreline Drive, on Saturday and Sunday.

More than two dozen performers will entertain the crowds across four stages. Drag superstars, such as Mayhem Miller and Honey Davenport, will peform at the Drag Dome — a new feature this year.

Like any good festival, there will also be tons of food and vendors.

And there will even be special areas for families and seniors, respectively, to have fun.

Sunday morning, meanwhile, is reserved for the iconic parade, which is free to watch. Thousands of LGBTQ people and allies, decked in all manner of rainbow-colored garb and waving Pride flags, are expected to gather along Ocean Boulevard to view the procession. Among those serving as various grand marshals will be Mayor Rex Richardson, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Mary Jane Girls and drag queen Valentina.

For Martinez, Long Beach Pride’s co-president, this year’s event is even for more meaningful because of the attacks on the LGBTQ community.

“It just makes me want to be more visible,” Martinez said Friday. “I also want to bring my queer sisters, my drag queens, my trans friends and children — this is what families in our community look like.

“We’re just very excited to have everyone come out and support it,” Martinez added. “Coming out and buying a ticket helps us to support our whole community.”

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Source: Orange County Register

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