Letter: Reflecting on LGBTQ Heritage & Culture Month

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On this 50th anniversary of our nation’s first Pride march, June 2020 has been a remarkable month for the LGBTQ community, both in Laguna Beach and our nation. As we wrap up Laguna Beach LGBTQ Heritage & Culture Month, we are feeling inspired and encouraged by progress, while understanding there is still more work to do.

Nationally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is no longer acceptable to discriminate against employees just because of who they love or how they identify. Did you realize before last week it was legal to fire someone in 29 states just for being gay or transgender?

This is a huge milestone for progress to be sure, however, the patchwork nature of basic protections still leaves millions subject to discrimination. Did you know that LGBTQ American citizens can still legally be denied housing, credit, education, public services, federally funded programs, and jury service? A comprehensive federal LGBTQ non-discrimination law titled The Equality Act has recenlty passed in the House, but not yet in the Senate.

Meanwhile back in our little beach town, did you know that the very first statewide legal precedent to protect LGBTQ citizens’ right to serve on a jury was the ruling by longtime Laguna Beach resident Justice William Bedsworth?

There is so much more rich history associated with Laguna Beach’s gay community. Did you know that the first openly gay mayor in America was Robert (Bob) Gentry, a former trailblazing Laguna Beach City Council member and resounding voice for those affected during the HIV/AIDS crisis? Did you know that the very first openly gay presidential candidate in a major political party actually wasn’t Pete Buttigieg, but rather long time Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger?

Over the last month, we have been so inspired by the number of residents and businesses that have taken us up on our offer to raise the rainbow flag. We safely delivered and raised over 50 flags around town. Here are two fun facts. First, the majority of requests came from allies. And second, Arch Beach Heights wins the unofficial award for raising the most flags. I wonder if there is any connection to affectionately being referred to as “The Swish Alps” back in the day.

The real joy of delivering all of these flags has been hearing so many touching and inspiring stories (like from Justice Bedsworth). We heard from so many businesses and residents, students to seniors, that seeing the flags around town have provided a sense of being seen, safe, celebrated, honored, and belonging. This is precisely why the Laguna Beach LGBTQ Heritage & Culture Alliance exists.

Our wonderful affiliate, Laguna Beach Pride 365, the official nonprofit organizer of Laguna Beach Pride annual festival and community outreach year round, has safely reimagined this year’s events by partnering with gaytravel.com for VirtualPride on Sunday, June 28. Show your pride and support by joining the event on virtualpride.com or by using the hashtag #VirtualPride on Twitter.

Chris Tebbutt

Laguna Beach LGBTQ Heritage & Culture Alliance

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