Monday, June 17, 2024

Long Beach LGBTQ district takes step forward toward fruition—and why that matters

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Initially presented as an idea two years ago, the creation of a formally sanctioned Long Beach LGBTQ district along the Broadway Corridor has taken a major step forward, with councilmembers unanimously approving a strategic plan that will guide the City and planners on how to make the district a tangible, explorable space.

The strategic plan for the Long Beach LGBTQ district released—and what that means for the future of the space

“The new LGBTQ cultural district will serve as an important symbol of inclusivity, pride and love in our community,” stated Vice Mayor Cindy Allen, who has long been a queer ally and advocate. “The Broadway corridor is rich with history, and we are proud to recognize this area as a longstanding and important place for the [queer community] to gather and organize.”

So what, exactly, will the Long Beach LGBTQ district be? How will it be designed if at all? What will be featured if anything?

After a two-year span of community outreach—outlined below—the Long Beach city council unanimously approved a formal plan that will oversee how to answer those very questions, a document that was guided by the community through outreach. It includes everything from pedestrian scale lighting to make the corridor as a whole more welcoming to gateway signage.

And just how is this to all be funded?

A portion of the initial improvements will be funded by $2.5 million in Measure A funds that were initially approved as part of the Elevate ‘28 Infrastructure Investment Plan—though that won’t fund it entirely: the City acknowledged that “completion of this initial phase, as well as future phases, will require additional funding through grants or directed appropriations from state and federal partners.”

“The Strategic Improvement Plan for the new LGBTQ+ Cultural District reflects the vision of the community,” stated Christopher Koontz, Community Development Department Director. “The new District will help connect residents and visitors to the cultural and historical significance of the LGBTQ+ community in the city, support the historic LGBTQ+ businesses and institutions in the area, and invest in public improvements along the Broadway corridor to help ensure the LGBTQ+ community continues to thrive.”

long beach LGBTQ district
The original footprint of the Long Beach LGBTQ district (outlined in dark blue) was expanded after community outreach had shown residents didn’t agree with it. Courtesy of City of Long Beach.

The steps that led toward the creation of a Long Beach LGBTQ district

In June of 2022, the Long Beach City Council unanimously approved a recommendation brought forth by then-Mayor and current Congressman Robert Garcia and co-sponsored by Allen to allow City staff to look into the creation of a queer district.

The following year led to a preliminary vision plan for the district, a bold take on a neighborhood that often has its history shrouded or kept from peeking eyes—and that is something both recognized by queers themselves, who feel a queer district should offer ways to learn about the city’s queer past, and their allies.

And it’s a beautiful thing to see a city document actively advertise that, first and foremost, queer history should be at the epicenter of a queer district. Yes, of course, the many physical things—like upgrading lighting a la West Hollywood’s stretch of Santa Monica or Nollendorfplatz in Berlin—are important, yes; even needed in many senses as such upgrades also create an uptick in safety.

But let’s not forget that history.

Other cities have such spaces—but that doesn’t make the Long Beach LGBTQ district any less important

In Chicago, it’s sentimentally called “Boystown” but formally dubbed Northalsted. In Montreal, it’s The Village. In San Jose, it’s called the QMunity District. And when it comes to Long Beach, it’s been lovingly called “The Gayborhood” by visitors and residents alike for decades. Some have also called it “Rainbow Row.” Others have just called it “The Neighborhood with All the Gay Bars.”

There was, however, no sanctioned, From-City-Hall designation for the stretch of Broadway between Junipero and Alamitos Avenues up until this point. But matter how the dubbing is designated, one thing is clear: That stretch is an essential part of the city’s cultural fabric—and it serves as the main thrust behind the City of Long Beach taking steps toward formally designating the space.

From bars acting as funeral spaces to queer people collectively moving into a neighborhood in order to provide comfort and safety, the Broadway Corridor has long been the home of Long Beach’s LGBTQ+ community—and the fact that our city is formally recognizing the importance of that space is a sign of both evolution and empathy.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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