Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gains and Strains for the LGBT Community

Gains and Strains for the LGBT Community

While people’s conceptions of Long Beach have often times formed beneath the giant shadow of neighboring Los Angeles or through the rap lyrics of famous former gangsters, the formation of a relatively new conception of the city is beginning to take hold.  It’s a conception that encompasses all walks of life that populate or visit the concrete jungles and beachside villas of this diverse metropolis.  Emphasizing the importance of openness and acceptance, one of the most significant results of this new conception has been the securing of Long Beach among the latest up and coming LGBT-friendly cities in the nation.
            The distinguishing of Long Beach’s LGBT population from its overbearing neighbors West Hollywood and Los Angeles is a notable accomplishment, however, many challenges still await the community.  Ishmael Morales, Director of Health Services at The Center Long Beach, previously lived and worked at the LGBT center in West Hollywood.  He came to work for The Center after becoming inspired to advocate for AIDS Awareness among the homosexual Latino population of the city.  In the four years he has spent working at The Center, Morales says the number of free AIDS tests administered has gone from 48 to 140 per month.  “In terms of the city, people are less ignorant regarding HIV,” he says.
            Serving over 21,000 people each year and functioning as the “central core of the Greater Long Beach LGBT communities,” The Center offers countless resources ranging from legal justice information to cultural and social activities.  However, with a limited staff and the larger Los Angeles population harboring more of a target audience, Morales admits The Center is often left “fighting for little grants and donations… the four or five other HIV organizations in Long Beach are all fighting for access to funds leftover from the L.A. Health Department, the state and the federal government.” 
            Although Long Beach has had its share of setbacks, Morales says it’s the “small town masked as a big city” mentality that has helped solidify the presence of the LGBT community in recent years.  He concedes that while the small town aspect of the city does have its downsides, such as making it more difficult to uphold a pristine reputation among the tight-knit social circles, the pros of something as simple as “not having to see people double-take when I mention my partner at the coffee shop,” are well worth the cons. 
            Like Morales, The Silver Fox bar manager Gonzalo Gonzales Jr. feels Long Beach’s “down to earth, family-oriented” openness among the local gay population provides a nice alternative to the “shadiness” of Los Angeles.  The Silver Fox, which according to it’s website was “established in 1981 by Ron Waddell and John Schinnerer as Southern California’s first video entertainment club,” attracts large crowds of regulars daily due to its charismatic bartenders, drink specials, and enthusiastic karaoke singers.

Besides the interesting perks that come along with being a bartender at a popular gay bar, Gonzales enjoys his establishment’s commitment to community involvement.  “We have a lot of LGBT affiliated fundraisers, like with St. Mary’s [Medical Center] and different DJ’s who come in weekly. Every year, my boss spends months collecting for the Toys for Tots fundraiser.”
For many people of the LGBT community, moving to Long Beach was not only a physical change of scenery, but a much-needed life transition.  Floyd Linzie, 24, moved from suburban Northern California to Long Beach over a year ago to pursue a degree in dance at CSULB.  While he acknowledges Northern California can be very liberal, his hometown of Santa Rosa still has many conservative people. 
With his feminine attributes and unique fashion choices, he felt “being openly gay and Black made me stand out like a sore thumb. Here, it’s different, I love it.”  While Linzie loves Long Beach, he feels “just because it’s gay friendly, doesn’t mean I can necessarily walk around and hold hands with a boyfriend. There’s still hate in the world, and there’s still work to be done.”
As recently as late summer and early fall of 2011, multiple reports of gay bashing that resulted in several victims being beaten and injured on Broadway Avenue stirred up many mixed emotions among the community at large.  Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and various city councilmen asked the Long Beach Police Department to come into The Center to participate in a public forum.  “The room was filled with people asking questions and getting answers.  The same thing could have happened in L.A., but here we dealt with it in positive, intimate way.” 
While Long Beach continues to face violence and hate similar to any other city, it’s the way in which the community is beginning to confront these issues that sets it apart and makes it a more desirable place to live for all residents.

The Center Long Beach is located at 2017 East Fourth Street and is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and welcomes everyone. For more information call (562) 434-4455.  The Silver Fox is located at 411 Redondo Avenue and is open Monday through Friday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and weekends 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. 

By Sofia Yassine

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