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Q&A: Bob Crow reflects on 40 years of Long Beach Pride

Bob Crow is a Long Beach LGBTQ legend.

He, along with Judith Doyle and Marylin Barlow, founded Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Inc. — now simply known as Long Beach Pride — in 1983. The nonprofit then organized the city’s inaugural pride parade and festival the following year.



The trio launched what, over the past four decades, has become one of the largest LGBTQ Pride celebrations in the country. Crow himself was actively involved in organizing the festival until last year, when he decided to finally take a break to tend to his health issues.

Crow, now 77, is the last of the original Long Beach Pride founders. Barlow and Doyle died in 2015 and 2022, respectively. But Crow has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and is currently undergoing experimental treatment — but he’s committed to supporting Long Beach Pride for as long as he can.

We sat down with Crow at his Long Beach home on Wednesday, July 26, to learn more about his life. Here’s what he had to say.

How’s your health?

I have stage four lung cancer. I was diagnosed in 2018. I’ve had two surgeries, two (rounds of) chemotherapy, radiation and immune therapy. I’m in a trial (treatment) now. It’s more or less to get them research — if it makes me live another year longer, (maybe) it’ll do some good for somebody else.

Talk to me about your early life. Where’d you grow up?

(I grew up in) Alabama — Jasper, Gadsden, Tuscaloosa and Mobile. I didn’t really come out until after I moved down to Mobile because there were no gay bars in those small towns. I wasn’t sure about it. You know, you get to that stage where you know what turns you on, but (question) if its right or wrong.

Why did you decide to leave the South?

Well, I had moved to Mobile and I had met several boyfriends. I had one I was with for a pretty long time. We broke up, then I started dating this other guy. He wanted to move either here (California) or to Miami. I had been to Miami several times — it was more like Mobile, so (I said) I suppose it’s California.

How different was the gay scene in Long Beach compared to Alabama?

We had three or four gay bars. But mostly they were private clubs, so you had to be a member to get in there. They were open 24 hours a day; you could do whatever you wanted in there — they didn’t care. It was no surprise to me. (My boyfriend and I) broke up pretty quick after we moved here. After we broke up, I met other people in Long Beach and started learning about gay life.

All the time I was in Mobile, I worked in the floral industry. The floral industry out here was more parties, that’s the way they made their money. I ran two shops — they were already failing when I took over, there was really no chance to save them. I basically stayed until they locked the doors.

How did the idea of a Pride celebration in Long Beach come about?

There was a bar that I liked to go to called Sam’s Place — which is now the Brit — and Marylin Barlow was managing that for her girlfriend. The person that had the bar next to them, the Mineshaft, went behind them and bought up their lease. So they were out the door.

But we hemmed and hawed around, tried to make a living. There was a guy who owned The Executive Suite, and we all went to work with him there. We’d go in there in the morning, clean the bar, open it at noon and stay there until the next bartenders came. I went to bartending school and that’s how I got into making drinks.

Marylin had been talking to (Fred Kovelle, owner of The Executive Suite) about taking it over and making it gay or lesbian. He was straight and he took a chance with it. So all of us kids, we went in there for a week and cleaned the place up. Marylin (persuaded Kovelle) to give out drinks for free until a certain point. When he finally agreed, we had the best turnout the bar had ever had and he was real happy with us.

As time went on, he kind of attached to me for some reason — I don’t know why, maybe he thought I was butch — but he liked to beautify the bar and I liked stuff like that too. As (the bar) grew, (Kovelle) noticed one bar in town was having a picnic in the park with dancing and free beer. Me and him were sitting there drinking there one night after the bar had closed down, and he said he wanted to do something for the gay community — maybe a picnic in the park or something.

They’d already had the third or fourth gay Pride in Los Angeles, but we didn’t have that. So I was watching those parades and I said, over two-thirds or more of the floats are from Long Beach. Why don’t we do one in our own city?

(Kovelle) gave me a grant to start with. I got Judi (Judith Doyle) involved, then we put the word out to a lot of people to come to a meeting at The Executive Suite. So we met every Wednesday afternoon upstairs at the bar — and in less than a year, we had a festival.

What were some challenges to putting on that first Pride festival in 1984?

There were some hitches with the city. They were trying not to let us have a parade — we were trying to get it as a march so we wouldn’t have to pay all the fees, but they said: “No, you’re a parade. A march is spontaneous.”

The city manager at the time and other city councilors decided we would have to pay $40,000 to get it going. So Fred had a friend in the real estate business; they both brought all the cash they could get and went to the city manager’s office, plopped it on his desk, and said, “There’s your money.”

We had one person on the City Council who never voted against us. The lady that was in charge of special events, she would call us and tell us when they were going to vote (on items related to the festival). If you fill up a room full of gay people, they’re gonna vote your way. If its a room full of straight people, they’ll vote their way.

It (eventually) got easier — but it was never easy. You get one thing cleared up and then something else happens. When it really got good was when (former Long Beach Mayor) Beverly O’Neill got in there and (former mayor) Bob Foster.

Tell me about your role in organizing Long Beach Pride celebrations over the years.

Most of the time, I worked building the festival. And I would work for 24 hours a day three or four days before the event, and that day of the event I would go home and go to bed. I’d be there Sunday morning, but I had to rest some time of the day. There were 25 or 30 board members that gave their all into it.

How do you feel about how Long Beach Pride has changed over the years?

Somewhere along the line, they decided we were going to have to make a change because it used to be in (May or) June — but you had San Diego, us, and (LA) Pall in the three weeks. And people didn’t realize that for the past 19 years, it was cold and rainy. We used to sell thousands of T-shirts, then they started selling jackets because it was so cold.

We were the only ones who took Pride out of Pride Month (June) but were still successful. Now Palm Springs and Arizona do theirs in October because it gets so hot out there. So there were several that grew out of that.

What does the 40th anniversary of Long Beach Pride mean to you?

At least I lived to the 40th. I might not make it to 41 — but even with me being sick, I still want to support them in any way I can.

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Source: Orange County Register

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