Thursday, March 8, 2012

Why is Long Beach So Gay?

            From gay bars and nightclubs to a gay community center and a gay pride parade, Long Beach is the hub of the gay lifestyle in southern California.
            It’s not surprising when considering the city’s atmosphere of diversity and tolerance toward the gay community.
            It's attractive to many gays because it is a diverse community, there are several art and culture venues, an accessible nightlife, resources, a beach, parks, coffee houses and restaurants,” Zamna Avila, a gay reporter living in Long Beach, said in an email.
“Plus, life seems a bit more relaxed in Long Beach as opposed to Los Angeles.”
In addition, there are a variety of social clubs and groups geared toward the homosexual community, Avila said. Not only can the city’s tolerance be attributed to the great diversity, but also to the city’s physical location and its history.
“I think it has something to do with the working class history, and the Navy, because the diversity of people involved in local industries made tolerance a practical necessity,” Daniel Brezenoff, legislative director for Long Beach city councilman Robert Garcia, said in an email.
“Also, being a Port city means people from all over the world pass through, again making tolerance the pragmatic stance.”
Over half of the city’s population consists of ethnicities other than white as of 2010, and Hispanics comprise over 40 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Other ethnic groups that represent Long Beach are Asians, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans, according to the Census.
Among these ethnicities there are doubtless many gays, which has given Long Beach notoriety. The Advocate magazine, a periodical touting the gay lifestyle, listed the city of Long Beach as the 14th gayest city in 2012, citing the size of their gay pride parade as a major factor in Long Beach’s ranking.
With all of this diversity in the city, one could think that the city took active measures to encourage it, but this hasn’t been the case.
“There's never been, to my knowledge, a conscious, official attempt to do so, but the benefit of LGBT tourism and new residents is sometimes explicitly recognized in policy initiatives,” Brezenoff said. “For example, the Equal Benefits Ordinance, or the City's official opposition to Proposition 8.”
So while the city didn’t do anything initially to attract them at first, recent actions like the foregoing ones weren’t meant to attract the homosexual community to Long Beach, but “both policies recognized that progressive legislation could have that effect, and that that would be a good thing for the City,” Brezenoff said.
Furthermore, since Long Beach’s gay community is so active in the city, they have an active and involved gay community center, called The Center.
The Center, which has been around since 1977, provides “social and support services for the greater Long Beach LGBTQ community,” Porter Gilberg, the center’s administrative director, said. LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer.
“We have…mental health counseling, a youth program, free rapid HIV testing…workshops and seminars, a film festival every year, a speaker series, a community library, so we do a lot of things,” Gilberg said.
Yet although the gay community enjoys relative peace in Long Beach, especially as their opponents are “fading”, according to Brezenoff, they still face some challenges.
“Like any other city in California, LGBT people do not have equal protection under the law in terms of federal marriage recognition, and… we are always challenged to create a more inclusive community for everyone,” Gilberg said.
Besides the issues of marriage equality, there is another, more imminent threat-hate crimes. According to Brezenoff, the Long Beach city council has been discussing the issue of recent hate crimes during their meetings.
A recent hate crime against gays happened outside of The Center in October, Gilberg stated. Two men, believed by their assailants to be homosexual, were assaulted and the attackers were later arrested, Gilberg said.
In order to confront the issue, especially after incidents in the summer, The Center helped organize a “unity rally” and has worked with the city government to create a “hate crimes advisory group to…create solutions to better educate the community about hate crimes and create more inclusive and welcoming communities,” Gilberg remarked.
Additionally, The Center has more immediate means of dealing with hate crimes.
“We…offer a 24-hour hate-crime hotline, for which I am the responder, so we provide direct services to victims of hate crimes,” Gilberg said.
by Leonardo Poareo 



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