The Importance of Nominating & Honoring LGBTQ Leaders Each Year at Long Beach’s Harvey Milk Park

Photos by Brian Addison.

Edging toward its fifth 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.

It’s first year honored nine Long Beach legends:

  • 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 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 CA 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 (HMPEPC) gathers to review nominations—the nomination process is open until Thursday, March 29, at 5PM 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.

“Equality Plaza is a public space that represents a lasting tribute to the local LGBTQ heroes, trailblazers, activists, leaders, and neighbors who have demonstrated or do exceptional work to advance its community in Long Beach,” said Raúl Añorve, Chair for the HMPEPC.

Añorve noted that the space can be seen as “sacred”—and for many queers, he is right: within Equality Plaza, in front of the names of those honored each year, sits a stained concrete box with “SOAP” written on it sits. 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 whose name joins that 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.

“The local LGBTQ community is very diverse,” Añorve said. “Not all leaders are elected officials or executive directors of non-profits. We are teachers, artists, volunteers, bar owners, philanthropists, lawyers—and the list goes on. Like Harvey, our committee believes our leaders are part of something larger, and wants to continue to create a special space that will inspire others.”

Harvey Milk Promenade Park & Equality Plaza is located at 195 E 3rd St.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.