A much-anticipated new mural honoring the LGBTQ+ community was unveiled Saturday at Bixby Park, where community leaders and members of the public celebrated the hard work that went into the months-long project and the anti-hate messaging behind it.
The new mural titled “Long Beach Embrace” is a vibrant, hand-painted piece on cloth that was installed on the south-facing wall of the Bixby Park Community Center.
About 20 feet tall and 19 feet wide, the massive work depicts two people embraced in a hug. A closer inspection of the mural reveals collage-like scenes of people, movements and landmarks important to Long Beach’s LGBTQ+ history. They include recreations of early protests for gay rights in the city, the enormous quilted rainbow flag that makes appearances at the annual Pride parade, and an AIDS patient being cared for by a health care worker.
There are also nods to famous gay and lesbian bars in the city such as Que Sera, Executive Suite and Ripples, the first gay bar in Long Beach that closed in 2019.
Local Mexican-American and queer artist Myisha Arellano was commissioned to create the mural by LA. vs Hate, a new anti-hate organization created by the county in response to increasing hate crimes here and around the country. Arellano spent two months getting input from the community about what themes and concepts the mural should include. She then spent a month painting the new piece, the largest she says she’s done in Long Beach.
“I just want people to know that this piece is a little visual reminder that you’re always in community, even when you may feel a little alone,” she said during the unveiling.
Arellano’s mural is one of five that are being erected in LA County over the next few months as part of LA vs. Hate’s “Summer of Solidarity” campaign, which is using art as a vehicle to combat hate through visual representations of love, diversity and inclusion.
“Where we have put up these murals around the county is in places where we know people have experienced hate … and in those places, we want to make sure we leave a clear sign that we, the community, do not accept hate,” said Robin Toma, the Executive Director of the LA County Commission on Human Relations, which is the government organization behind LA vs. Hate.
In June, LA vs. Hate unveiled a mural honoring the Jewish community in Los Angeles’ Pico-Robertson neighborhood after the recent shootings of two Orthodox Jewish men. Though not part of the “Summer of Solidarity” campaign, in 2021, LA vs. Hate dedicated a new mural in Cerritos to a 70-year-old Filipino man who was assaulted for his race while taking a walk in a park with his wife.
Most recent police data by the Long Beach Police Department shows a rise in hate crimes this year, with the most frequently targeted groups being LGBTQ+ people and Black people. And, nationwide, The Marshall Project published FBI data showing that the LGBTQ+ community had seen the second largest increase in hate crimes across all groups (up by 70%) from 2020 to 2021, the most recent year hate crime statistics were broadly available.
Frankie Aguilar, a guest speaker during the unveiling, talked about the yearslong harassment his neighbors inflicted upon him as a gay man in Los Angeles.
“I was in fear every day,” he said. “Walking in every day, walking out to the trash. It got to the point where they were making comments in front of my family while they were visiting.”
Failed efforts to get help from his landlord prompted Aguilar to reach out to LA vs. Hate through the “211” call center. The organization was able to help Aguilar find a new place to live in Long Beach and pursue legal action.
“The mural, it means a lot to me knowing we’re all coming together, regardless of whatever your sexual orientation is. I feel at home in Long Beach,” Aguilar said.
Councilmember Cindy Allen, who represents District 2, was one of several local officials to speak during the event. As a mother to her queer daughter, she spoke about how important it is to provide community to those who may not receive it at home and urged others to stay vigilant against rising hate crimes in and out of the city.
“We need each other more than ever,” she said. “The mural is a clear indication to everyone who visits this park that hate against the LGBT community is unacceptable here in Long Beach. It will not be tolerated.”
Other local representatives who spoke included Ellie Perez, Interim Executive Director of the LGBTQ Center Long Beach, and Dr. Jessica Schumer from the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services. Stepping in for local officials who were unable to attend were LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s Legislative Deputy Nick Holden, Mayor Rex Richardson’s Communications Deputy Dorian Bonner and Rep. Robert Garcia’s District Director Jack Cunningham.
Breaking up some of the speakers were drag performances by two local icons: drag queens Sabreena and Envi. Sabreena is a longtime member of the International Imperial Court of Long Beach and also serves on the board of directors for the AIDS Food Store of Long Beach.
Envi, a drag entertainer and makeup and hair artist, is a beloved figure in Long Beach who is best known for her performances impersonating Janet Jackson.