Even though LGBTQ Pride Month is widely celebrated in June, Long Beach has developed a reputation for kicking it off early with a festival that’s historically been held in May. But for a second year in a row, Long Beach Pride—the city’s oldest and largest pride celebration—has pushed back its annual parade to the summer, which came as a disappointment to some in the queer community who look forward to the early festivities.
But it turns out Long Beach will have a celebration in May after all. Next weekend, from May 19 to May 21, a new queer pride event will debut in Long Beach with three full days of celebrations, including a multi-stage music festival.
The new festival, the Long Beach Proud! Fest, is presented by LB Living—a local lifestyle publication and events organization—and Councilmember Cindy Allen.
The festival will take place in various locations but will be centralized in Long Beach’s historic “gayborhood,” which is the stretch of the Broadway corridor roughly between Redondo Avenue and Orange Street. Long Beach Pride, conversely, typically takes place in Downtown.
LB Living founder Sal Flores said the choice to bring their new pride event to the gayborhood was to support and honor the historic area. Last year, the city took steps to formalize the area into an LGBTQ cultural district.
“There’s no reason why we couldn’t have our own pride event in our own backyard,” Flores said. “In a way, it’s about taking back our streets, taking back our neighborhood and being proud of it.”
The first Long Beach Pride was launched in 1984, but in its nearly 40-year reign, the organization in charge of the annual celebration has seen its share of controversies. Critics, including some former Pride executives, said the demands of putting on an enormous festival and parade have led to the organization fumbling in recent years to meet its stated mission of serving the city’s LGBTQ community.
Nevertheless, last year’s event—the first since the pandemic hiatus—drew enormous crowds and an outpouring of support for the LGBTQ community to Ocean Boulevard.
Flores, a gay man, said he and many within the queer community have felt disappointed by the continued commercialization of major pride festivals in the region, with festivals often charging upwards of $100 to attend. (Long Beach Pride has generally cost between $50-$60). The consequence, Flores said, ultimately pushes out young, lower-income queer individuals who look to these major events for community and inclusion.
“My first pride in Long Beach was in 2003. And it was the first time I held my boyfriend’s hand in public,” Flores said.
Now, with the most recent attacks on queer and trans rights across the country, Flores says there’s an even greater urgency to create a safe and accessible environment to celebrate.
“Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced and our own youth cannot afford to go to our own prides? That is not OK,” he said. “So that’s what really pushed me to do this.”
To that end, Long Beach Proud! Fest is free and open to the public. Flores is expecting a turnout of over 10,000 people—the biggest event LB Living has organized yet.
“I think it’s time to bring back Pride to what it should always be about, which is community,” Flores said.
In conjunction with the new festival, Long Beach Proud! Fest has also launched what they are calling the “Proud Project,” an annual initiative designed to help support Long Beach’s historic queer neighborhoods. With support from Councilmember Allen, the first project will see about 50 trees planted along the Broadway corridor.
“Whether it’s fixing the bathrooms at Bixby Park, planting trees, putting up new flags, whatever, it’s something that is going to benefit the greater community that lives in that neighborhood,” Flores said.
Those who’d like to support the effort may purchase special $20 wristbands. These wristbands will offer wearers discounts and other special promotions from participating queer businesses through May 15-28. (Click here to see what businesses are participating.)
The festival kicks off Friday with Night Out: Eat. Play. Shop—a block-party-meets-bar-crawl style event. Businesses along Broadway between Junipero Avenue and Orange Street will be throwing open their doors with special promotions, live music and entertainment, including drag performances from 5 to 10 p.m. With the goal of supporting local queer businesses, Flores intends to bring Night Out back on a quarterly basis, similar to other popular community events like First Fridays in Bixby Knolls.
The main event on Saturday, May 20 will take over Bixby Park and surrounding streets to host a large music festival from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Spread across three stages, 18 queer musical acts and DJs are slated to perform. Guests will also have the chance to meet and see performances from 18 drag queens and kings, including “RuPaul’s Drag Race” finalists Delta Work and Mayhem Miller.
Saturday’s event is happening in tandem with Beach Streets, so attendees can expect a steady stream of bikes as well as various exhibitions and art installations. The area will also feature a variety of food stalls and beer gardens from local businesses.
Long Beach Proud! Fest closes out on Sunday with the Big Gay Beach Takeover from noon to 6 p.m. at the rainbow lifeguard tower on the beach at 11th Place. There will be live DJs, a lounge, a food truck and an art installation.
Guests are encouraged to enter the Shantay 1K, dress up in drag and race along the shoreline. Proceeds from the Shantay 1K will benefit the AIDS Food Store. Click here to sign up for the run.
Attendees are also encouraged to bring food, drinks (non-alcoholic) or snacks to give out to other guests.
“Hopefully it will get people to smile and feel included,” Flores said.
Long Beach Proud! Fest will run from Friday, May 19 through Sunday, May 21. Click here for more information.