There were a couple of major news stories in California that impacted the gay community right before this year’s 33rd annual Long Beach Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, May 22nd. While they celebrated the parade’s theme of Solidarity through Pride, those events also put a spotlight on the continuing importance of solidarity.
There were lots of events going on all weekend, including a festival both days featuring live musical entertainment. There revelers could dance the day and night away in different dance tents with something for everyone- Country, Urban Soul, Fiesta Caliente, and the two polar opposites, a Family Fun Zone and a Leather tent for the fetish crowd.
Attendance of some 80,000 was anticipated. It is the third largest gay pride parade in the country. The parade takes place on Ocean Blvd., and you can see the ocean peeking between the buildings as the parade passes by.
The ever popular Dykes on Bikes
My wife and I have been making an annual trek to the parade for many years now. It has become a tradition for us to attend a swing party in Long Beach the night before, then we head to a friend’s house right on Ocean Blvd. We can sit on their lawn and watch the parade, or go upstairs for a bird’s eye view. Last year Kris, who is bisexual, marched in the parade with the AmBi organization.
While today it is a mainstream family friendly event, in the beginning, the parade organizers faced outright hostility from city officials. As one city councilman put it; “I don’t want a bunch of queers in the trees.” On Ocean Blvd, though, it is mostly palm trees, and they are notoriously difficult to climb.
An inclusive event for the whole family
The first couple of parades were scary for the participants. Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Pride president Judith Doyle wore a bullet proof vest in the parade after she received death threats. Some in the crowd threw eggs at people marching.
The Long Beach Police have a long ugly history of harassing the gay community, but that has gotten a little better. It is still a problem though. A Superior Court judge, just a few days before this year’s parade, chastised the Long Beach Police Department for their sting operations against gay men in public restrooms. The judge threw out the case against the 50 year old man, stating that the evidence led him to believe that the LBPD “harbored animus toward homosexuals in its undercover investigations of lewd conduct.” The judge further stated that the prosecution’s legal strategy “only finds support in the rhetoric of homophobia that seeks to portray homosexual men as sexual deviants and pedophiles.” Noting that the evidence indicated that the police were lying when they claimed their investigations were a result of citizen complaints, the judge said “The arbitrary enforcement of the law as seen in this case undermines the credibility of our legal system, eroding public confidence in our ability to achieve just results.”
The Dr. Bronner Soap float keeping things clean
And while things are much better in California, despite the setbacks in other conservative states in a furious backlash to the progress the gay community has made, there was still the puzzling event of the night before the parade in San Diego when the Gay Men’s Chorus came out to sing the national anthem at the Padre’s game. Instead of their singing, a woman’s voice singing the anthem played. It may have been a mistake by the DJ, as claimed, but it is also disturbing that the obviously humiliated 100 men of the Gay Men’s Chorus were taunted by the crowd as they left the field. To be honest, having worked in a sound booth for live events, I know that mistakes do happen. It is what you do about them that matters, and letting the audio play was just plain incompetence.
So all of that was the backdrop for this year’s parade, but no one’s spirits seemed dampened in the slightest. It was maybe not quite as joyful as the parade right after the Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality, but still pretty joyful. Especially right there at the beginning, when the parade led off with a number of newly married couples. In fact, they were just married by the Long Beach City Clerk right before the parade in a mass wedding ceremony.
There are just a handful of actual floats. It is mostly the marching members of different gay groups, and supporting politicians and local businesses. When things do get colorful, they get very colorful, with all the colors of the rainbow.
This parade is not quite as crazy and crowded as the West Hollywood parade, and maybe not quite as organized. As one person commented, “It is a two hour parade that they manage to squeeze into three hours”. There can be long lulls between the various groups. Still, it is a fun social outing, and an important opportunity to show support to the LGBTQ community.