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LGBT History Project: "Coming Out in Long Beach"

by Randy Hope
Thursday Feb 21, 2013

Everyone is invited to join in the celebration for the LGBT History Project at the Historical Society of Long Beach (HSLB, as a yearlong exhibit entitled "Coming Out in Long Beach" opens this month. The exhibit is set to highlight the struggle for equal rights and the tremendous contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Long Beach. More importantly, the HSLB provides a permanent home-a record of the individual and collective contributions along the journey for equality- for future generations to come.

The HSLB set forth on the major endeavor to preserve and present the history of the city's LGBT community last summer, convening with a steering committee to oversee the completion of an exhibit that includes the compilation of oral histories and the production of a video documentary. "Since then organizers have secured a title sponsor for the project-Mercedes Benz Long Beach-to help put the materials together and to preserve them for future use," says Julie Bartolotto, executive director of the HSLB.

Bartolotto co-chairs the steering committee along with Marsha Naify, former President of the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club. The committee includes a broad representation from the LGBT community, as well as staff and board members from the HSLB. Included on the committee are present and past board members from Long Beach Pride, The Center, Lambda Democratic Club and the Imperial Court. "Our goal is to understand how the LGBT community was formed in Long Beach," said Bartolotto.

According to Dr. Kaye Briegel, project historian, the project is poised to demonstrate that Long Beach is significant to the overall narrative of the national struggle for rights of the LGBT community. "Events and issues in Long Beach are often overshadowed by those that take place in Los Angeles," Briegel notes. "I believe this project will help show that Long Beach had a large role in expanding LGBT rights."

Bartolotto says a wide variety of items have been collected, specifically she notes, there are many banners and buttons from Pride Parades gone by. Some of the pieces also on the preservation list are from a time when the city council tried to block the festivities, which has come to be one of the largest annual celebrations in the city.

One of the many rare finds on hand is a flyer from when Harvey Milk came to speak in Long Beach during the height of his political career, just prior to his assassination. "When Harvey Milk came to speak in Long Beach, it inspired and gave roots for the Lambda Democratic Club, which went on to fight for the
greater LGBT rights for the community," Bartolotto explains.

Those rights are documented and included in the collection of ordinances and photos from major organizations, sports teams, rallies and other events that have conspired throughout the years. Each thread a part of the fabric that makes up the close knit LGBT Long Beach community.

"Before we had very little to represent LGBT history in Long Beach, but now the community has a much more complete backstory from the items collected from everyone for the LGBT History Project," Bartolotto continues. "One of the goals of the project is to create a place where people can come to utilize the materials we have compiled and to do research," she says.

"We are still in the planning stages," said Naify. "One of our main goals is to make this an inclusive project. We have set up a facebook page and we welcome comments. The result will be an important milestone for our community and I am very excited to be a part of it."

One of the first items collected for display was one of Melissa Etheridge's gold records. Early in her career Etheridge performed at the Que Sera and Executive Suite, both local lesbian bars. Other pieces in the display include documents related to the controversy surrounding the first Pride Parade
and Festival in the city, along with photos and articles about the struggle for domestic partnership registration and other landmark issues brought before city council.

Etheridge will make an appearance at the official unveiling of the project, which is set to take place during the LGBT History Project Kickoff Gala on Saturday, February 23 at the Historical Society of Long Beach, located at 4260 Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach.

For more information about the LGBT History Project Kick-off Gala, contact the HSLB at 562.424.2220, or connect with the LGBT History Project on Facebook at LongBeachLGBTHistoryProject or tweet @LB_LGBTHistory. To donate historically valuable materials, contact Letticia Montoya at

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