Jewels is receiving a key to the city, the first drag queen to ever receive that honor in Long Beach. For the countless amount of queer kids, allies, organizations and neighbors in Long Beach for whom Jewels has saved in one way or another—and that includes me—the honor is long overdue.
The lives of some queer kids can oftentimes be removed from their roots, especially if they’re from a small town: You come out, you leave to find a place more welcoming and, before you even know it, your roots seem further and further away from where you are, whom you’ve become and where you hope to be.
There was a moment when my family, facing an odd in-between times during the Easter holiday, didn’t really have a place to celebrate. With their kids out of the house, including me—my adopted home of Long Beach was eons away from my Big Bear birthplace—my mother reached out to me.
I told her that my Easter was a bit untraditional, but that they were completely welcomed. I walked my city to celebrate and to raise money. And I did this because I walked with drag queens, who had instilled in me the idea that being queer was also being a part of a community. In turn, being a part of a community meant giving back. It was the annual Easter Walk, where regular folk, elaborate hats and queens always in elaborate outfits and wannabe queens wishing they had the talent to be elaborate, traipsed down Broadway in a bar crawl to raise money for brothers and sisters living with HIV.
It was an invitation I never expected to give my family. But my mother, my father and my grandmother showed up, ready to day drink with Les Gays. It was the spring of 2013, the last year Hamburger Mary’s would be at its Broadway and Alamitos Avenue location and one of the last years my mom would ever be able to walk that kind of distance.
As is tradition, it began at Mary’s with Jewels leading the famed Brunchettes drag show. Jewels was decked out in a way that would induce jealousy between Mary and Baby Jesus: white hat adorned with an impossible amount of colored eggs, flowers, and decorations fit for a queen.
My mom immediately lamented: “Had I have known, Brian, I would have worn my best hat!”
My mom was genuinely distressed at being left out of the festivities. While her hair remained bare and unembellished with accoutrements for the head, she had no shortage of gasps. “Ohhh”s and “Ahhh”s accompanied a constant commentary regarding the beauty of every hat worn by every single drag queen. She pointed out details, touches of flair and overall beauty. Perhaps most importantly, she noted the exuberance and happiness each of the wearers exuded.
Jewels, unbeknownst to my mom, was listening quite intently. Shortly after compliment #693 fell from my mother’s mouth, Jewels approached.
“Well aren’t you just gorgeous?” she said. “Y’know, this crown weighs heavy and it’s exhausting. Would you allow me the honor of wearing my hat for the day?”
It had been a long while since I had seen my mom’s face brighten the way it did. It was the first year she needed to carry around oxygen and the last year she would be able to get around without much assistance. It was, unbeknownst to me, the beginning of her quick decline before passing four years later. And there was Jewels, who had somehow eradicated everything my family was facing at that time—even for briefest of moments—by placing a hat on my mom’s head.
It was one of a thousand moments that Jewels excused herself in order to uplift a complete stranger.
“Long Beach is my home—that sounds so ordinary but it’s not,” Jewels said. “There’s something really comforting about being able to invest in a place because it’s your home. And this isn’t to say it’s always been perfect. The greater Southern California drag show circuit—whether Palm Springs, Orange County or West Hollywood—has seen huge growth as well and helped to pay those bills. Over the years, we’ve seen enormous positive and inclusive change. And that struggle still continues.”
For those within the LGBTQ community, Jewels is not just a staple for the gay boys running around her but an essential cog of the entire city. When she talks of hosting gigs outside of the city, it was all in the name of creating a better Long Beach, mentioning her anchor city everywhere she went, representing Long Beach’s gay community as one that is its own. More, it was about creating a better understanding of those within our community who were largely dismissed.
“To be trans or queer in the early days wasn’t always met with open arms, even in the drag community,” Jewels said. “The gay community is anything but perfect—even in the drag world, we have things we still need to better ourselves on.”
Long before it became woke, Jewels was welcoming the trans and drag king community (like Dragula winner Landon Cider) into both clubs and performance even when the larger, more popular scenes, including Drag Race, were not so open to the idea.
Long before Long Beach became cool, Jewels harnessed a nighttime scene that was, for the most part, disparate and lacking vibrancy for queers.
Long before it became common for drag queens to be part-time philanthropists, Jewels eschewed a paycheck many times because she knew it benefitted her community more than her, constantly offering her energy and presence if it meant lifting up Long Beach.
This is why she is receiving a key to the city, an honor shared by “sports icons, civil rights activists, and other exemplary leaders from across our city, and it’s time to recognize an incredible philanthropist and artist within the LGBTQ community,” in the words of Mayor Robert Garcia.
“I’ve called this loving, little stretch of beach my home for over 20 years and I wouldn’t change a thing,” Jewels said. “I’m not just proud of my city but I’m proud of my community, as we both continue to grow bigger and better together.”
Nah, we’re proud of you, Jewels.
Jewels will be given her key in a small ceremony at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 5 p.m. in the council chambers, located at 411 W. Ocean Blvd.
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