Edging toward its sixth birthday this May, Harvey Milk Promenade Park & Equality Plaza has become a special place for both LGBTQ members and their allies throughout Long Beach: It hosts Trans Visibility Day annually, was the healing place for hundreds following the tragic events at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and acts as the nation’s first park dedicated to the slain gay rights leader.
But beyond these broad, national and statewide recognitions, one of its most Long Beach-centric ideals is its annual honoring of LGBTQ leaders here in Long Beach.
From those who have passed to those who are still carrying the torch in terms of creating progress for the community here in Long Beach, these queers get their name on a plaque that joins the others who have been given the same honor over the years.
Its first year honored nine Long Beach leaders:
- Bob Crow—co-founder and co-president of Pride
- Ray Lowen—founding member of The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach
- Patty Moore—former chair and assistant director of The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach
- Michael Noll—the first openly gay councilmember for the City of Signal Hill
- Frank Rubio—former president Pride
- Ellen Ward—former executive director of the AIDS Walk
- Pastor Michael Cole—founder of Christ’s Chapel Long Beach and AIDS Food Store
- Ellen “Mary” Martinez—25-year member of Pride
- Jean Harris—former executive director of California Alliance for Pride and Equality
Since then, many more have been honored—and this year is no different.
The Harvey Milk Park Equality Plaza Selection Committee gathers to review nominations—the nomination process is open until Friday, March 29 at 5 p.m. for those interested in nominating someone they know—and select individuals that have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to advance rights, recognition and progress for the LGBTQ community in Long Beach.
“The selection committee calls on the public to help it identify local LGBTQ leaders who inspire and create change in their own lives and their own communities,” said Ron Sylvester, chair of the committee. “Engagement with the local community, city leaders and others is critical to fulfilling a shared vision for great optimism and hope, including honoring Harvey Milk.”
Sylvester and others note that the space can be seen as “sacred”—and for many queers, they are right: Within Equality Plaza, in front of the names of those honored each year, sits a stained concrete box with “SOAP” written on it. Mimicking the now-famous soapbox that Milk himself would often use to exercise his freedom of speech, the box is meant to encourage park visitors to exercise their forms of expression in the spirit of Milk.
And for the entire committee overseeing those whose names join those of both Milk and local queer pioneers, it is to be emphasized that one’s definition of “leadership” is broad—and nominators are encouraged to think outside the (soap)box.
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