Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Long Beach Takes Pride in LGBT Community

Long Beach Takes Pride in LGBT Community

Long Beach is quickly becoming known for being one of the gay-friendliest cities in California and the entire United States. Long Beach has always been one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. and the city has undergone many changes to accommodate and welcome the gay community.

The city of Long Beach has a number of businesses and organizations that cater to the LGBT audience. Even Cal State Long Beach has programs and clubs run by students in hopes of creating a more visible and welcoming atmosphere for LGBT students.

Long Beach has been steadily building a foundation to support members of the LGBT community since the mid-80s. One of the most valuable places for members of the community to receive information on programs and services is The Center located on Fourth Street, which serves as the gay and lesbian resource center of central Long Beach.

The Center is open six days a week and provides information on a range of subjects including HIV testing, art shows, diversity training and outreach to the LGBT community in Long Beach. The Center also includes an LGBT library, information on voter registration, mental health support groups and a hate crime hotline.  
The Center is run by private donations only, meaning it is completely dependent on the community itself to survive. It’s a situation where the community gets exactly what it puts into a situation. Without the support of the LGBT community, resources like The Center would not be available.

As we move toward the spring season, the event of the year is on the horizon. Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Week will take place on May 19 and 20 with many different musical and comedy acts taking place in addition to a two-day festival and parade. Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc. was founded in 1983 in order to build awareness and promote a greater sense of self-worth within the LGBT community that was quickly growing in southern California and Long Beach in particular.

Danny Perez, a fourth psychology student at CSULB who attends Long Beach Pride every year in addition to the CSULB events stressed the importance of visibility and internal support within the community. Perez also coordinates an open-mic session every year at CSULB during National Coming Out Week.

“Basically, we ask whoever to just come up and tell their story, read poems and just have people announcing that they’re gay and they’re here for everyone.”
CSULB has made many strides in the past few years towards creating a more visible LGBT presence.

Long Beach residents have celebrated Pride since 1984 and while students could easily partake in some of the city-wide activities, there was no visibility on campus. CSULB finally began celebrating National Coming Out Week in October 2006.

Student Life and Development Advisor Matt Cabrera says it was students who started the movement.

“There were some students who wanted to bring a little more visibility to the LGBT community and visibility to the LGBT Student Resource Center in addition to spreading the word and information that there is a National Coming Out Day that is celebrated in our nation,” Cabrera said.

Each year, the LGBT Student Resource Center, in conjunction with the Gay Straight Alliance on campus, has organized week-long events and activities in celebration of National Coming Out Day.

The student groups also hold events during the spring as a part of Diversity Week, which coincides with Long Beach Pride. At the end of the semester, CSULB also holds Lavender Graduation, a separate ceremony that LGBT students and allies may participate in.

National Coming Out Day co-chair Maria Carmen Hinayon oversees the Diversity Week activities at CSULB and is also an active participant in many Long Beach Pride activities. Hinayon, a transgender student, stresses the importance of students having an outlet to express themselves freely and openly and to celebrate with other students and community members who have experienced the same struggles during Pride Week.

“It’s not easy to be a student in general,” Hinayon says. “It’s even harder to be a gay or transgender student. I think Long Beach Pride is an encouragement. It’s a time to say ‘Hang in there, it’s gonna be fine, we’re gonna finish, we’re gonna be great, we’re gonna do great things.’”

The entire Long Beach community has come a long way in creating a larger LGBT presence and spreading awareness and increasing visibility. Their influence will only continue to grow in years to come.

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