Long Beach Pride 2016 Had Its Faults, But the Party Was Still Fierce

Southern California’s premiere queer celebration raged this weekend, bringing advocacy to the So Cal queer community, and reminding everyone that nobody parties harder than the LGBTQ community.

Established in 1983, Long Beach Pride has hosted a parade or festival every year since 1984 in hopes of raising local LGBTQ awareness and pride, donating funds raised to LGBT and local charities. Since ’84, Long Beach Pride has grown from a humble march to a full blown event that draws more than 80,000 people to Long Beach with even more events in businesses all over the city, celebrating our beautiful and diverse LGBTQ community, history, and identities.

This years festival goers noted how Pride was way more packed on Sunday than Saturday, most likely because of the annual parade which is an integral part of the festivities. Not only does it celebrate and center local queer organizations and community members, it commemorates a pivotal moment for LGBTQ Rights: the June 1969 Stonewall Riots, an incident where LGBTQ community members fought back against homophobic NYPD officers who constantly harassed and jailed people hanging out at gay spaces for their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender presentation.

Arriving to the festival Sunday afternoon was a mess. Traffic was severely congested and it took over 30 minutes just to get to the end of a short dead end road, only to learn that all parking was full! I drove around all over Downtown Long Beach hoping to find a spot, and started believing that the closest thing I would have to a pride celebration this year would be driving around in a hot car listening to RVIVR while frantically eyeing anything remotely close to a space or glowing break light on a parked vehicle. After an hour, a free spot opened up just as I was losing hope. Hallelujah!

By the time I finally made the trek down to the festival and paid my $25 admission at the main gate, the sun was blazing, but that wasn’t stopping anyone from getting totally shit faced and dancing like their life depended on it. Old friends ran at eachother, hugging in the street in random reunions that became a hallmark of the event. As I walked down Linden, an inflated condom rolled by like a tumbleweed while giggling drunk lesbians stumbled over gay elders and gossiping drag queens: a queer intergenerational moment rare outside of an event like pride. In that moment I remembered why the romanticism of Pride persists, even for the jaded.

In addition to multiple DJs at multiple dance tents scattered around the festival, Pride boasted a few bands featuring queer members over the weekend. Saturday featured OC queer riot pop sweethearts WASI opening up the night of singers and DJ’s like DEJ Loaf. Sunday brought headliners Neon Trees, as well as openers like Ricky Rebel who played his own brand of pop rock, outfitted with a full band and back up dancers, who played a mix of originals and even a David Bowie song. Most people came to dance, camping out at dance tents for the entire day and moving their bodies for hours, continually gyrating as day turned to evening. A mix of tents offered something for everyone. Country, Dance, Fiesta Caliente, Urban Soul, a Family Fun Zone, and of course the Leather Tent where LGBTQ folks could celebrate and explore everything the leather and BDSM fetish community has to offer. Our crew waited about 30 minutes in line, once inside we had the option to check out a motley collection of toys and everyday items, be tied up by queer rope slingers, and even get whipped under giant purple banners boasting the Leather communities 3 guiding principals: trust, honor, and respect.

Long Beach Pride is special because of its diversity. Not just in its celebration of a multitude of LGBT identities and subcultures, but because it draws a more racially and economically diverse crowd than other Southern California pride events like West LA Pride which has drawn criticism from local LGBTQ community members who allege it has sold out and abandoned its radical roots, even referring to it as “Gay Coachella.” Long Beach Pride was definitely the only place in So Cal this weekend where festival goers could share a smuggled in tall can while shaking it to a DJ playing a Maná remix, enjoy the classic choral styling’s of the LA Trans Chorus, and smoke cigars with bears juxtaposed between leather daddy whippings and the fresh breeze of the marina.
The theme for this year’s pride was “Solidarity Through Pride.” Inspiring yet curious, since each person I asked working the event had no clue where the money being raised was going, or what charities were chosen. Given the current political moment, I was really hoping to see and hear more active solidarity with trans rights organizations, especially in the wake of North Carolina’s HB2 and the activism that has followed, and Familia’s Santa Ana hunger strike to end queer and trans deportations. Additionally, the $25 admission price was way too high for many community members, especially LGBTQ young adults who deserve an accessible space to celebrate their identities and be welcomed into the community. Many Pride celebrations in big cities opt to make Pride admission free in efforts to remain accessible and stay in line with Pride’s radical roots. With people willingly double-fisting $10 Bud Light Lime-a-ritas’s I think something could be worked out.

As I left the festival, some local queer kids approached me for my ticket stub in efforts of sneaking in to enjoy the last moments of dancing with their peers. As I handed it over, I remembered my first Long Beach Pride nearly a decade earlier, primarily the impact of being in a space where even though I still felt like an outsider as a punk, I wasn’t scared of getting my ass kicked for being queer and had the chance to bear witness to and engage with a huge community that stretched much farther than the 3 or 4 queer punks I knew in Orange County. Even though I still feel like an outsider to mainstream LGBTQ culture, its nice to be surrounded by others who can relate to intimate parts of my identity, an experience that many could never understand. If Long Beach Pride isn’t interested in negotiating the ticket price to make it more accessible, hopefully they’ll leave more loosely patrolled cracks in the fence so the youth who so desperately need access to a place like Pride can celebrate, even if its just for the last hour. 

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