Jeremy Rochas, a 24-year-old lifeguard who helped paint a prominent lifeguard tower in bright rainbow colors in honor of Long Beach Pride last year, stood with tears in his eyes Wednesday evening near the same tower, now burned beyond recognition.
It was an emotional experience, first at the thought that someone burned it down deliberately in a hate crime—and now standing amid roughly 100 community leaders and residents who gathered in solidarity of the LGBTQ community, promising to rebuild.
“It truly is amazing,” said Rochas, who is gay. “It makes me feel so welcome, so wanted here.”
Wednesday’s gathering at the tower, located in Alamitos Beach near 12th Place, included Mayor Robert Garcia, Councilwoman Cindy Allen and Angel Macias, founder and CEO of California Families in Focus, among other leaders.
“It is hurtful,” said Garcia, who is the city’s first openly gay mayor. “It is angering and it is sad to see folks cause destruction in our community.”
The city will restore the tower, he said: “The gayer, the better.”
The tower burned down in the early hours of Tuesday morning, in what many believe was a targeted attack on the LGBTQ community.
The tower was the only one painted in the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ Pride flag—and the only one to burn down in the past 70 years, if not ever, according to Marine Safety Chief Gonzalo Medina.
The incident is currently under investigation by the Long Beach Fire Department.
Alan Jones, sporting a black leather cap emblazoned with the California bear and a rainbow pin inscribed with “LGBTQ Elder,” said he was disgusted with what he also feels confident was a deliberate attack.
“It’s just unbelievable that this would be targeted,” the 60-year-old said.
Jones, who left his native North Carolina at age 17 but still speaks with a slight Southern twang, said despite his strong suspicion that the fire was an act of hate, it hasn’t changed his view of Long Beach as an inclusive, welcoming city.
“This is a loving community,” he said “The love outweighs the hate.”
Carlos Torres, the new director of The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, said the tower’s destruction only serves to reinforce the center’s mandate.
“Since our inception, our job has been to make sure that our community has the resources it needs to thrive,” Torres said. “It just validates that what we do is not only important, but necessary.”
Marine Safety Chief Medina promised that the tower would be rebuilt by June.
“This tower will be brought back,” Medina said. “And it will be here in time for Pride.”
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