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    Rich Archbold: Long Beach Pride parade, festival –and the P-T — have come a long way
    • July 30, 2023

    More than 100,000 people have gathered in Long Beach in recent years to celebrate Pride with a weekend parade and festival, and a similar number is expected next week.

    That makes Pride one of the largest events in the city, second only to the three-day Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

    But it hasn’t always been that way.

    When the founders of the Long Beach Pride nonprofit, which is now 40 years old, proposed throwing a parade and festival in 1984, public officials and residents resisted — often with open hostility.

    Vanessa Romain, a longtime LGBTQ community leader, said a man with a loudspeaker would drive by her house in a small truck, yelling, “Vanessa, you’re going to die.”

    One member of the City Council member used rude language to express his opposition to the LGBTQ celebration.

    Before the second-annual event in 1985, Judi Doyle, one of Long Beach Pride’s founders, received a death threat and was asked by public officials to wear a bulletproof vest if she marched in the parade. Doyle, then president of the organization, said the threat was chilling.

    She donned a bulletproof vest — but no bullets were fired.

    Some people, though, threw eggs at parade participants, she said.

    After the first parade, religious fundamentalists routinely attended City Council meetings to oppose the parade and festival.

    There were demands to make gay/lesbian leaders pay for police supervision and other city services during theevent. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of the organizers, saying that the same services had been provided at less or no cost to promoters of other events. The ACLU won its case in court.

    During those early years, meanwhile, the Press-Telegram was also hearing from readers who were unhappy with our coverage of the parade and LGBTQ issues in general.

    I was managing editor at the time. Larry Allison was executive editor.

    Together, and with the staff, we had discussions about covering the LGBTQ community and how it had to be fair and as complete as possible.

    We also wanted to refrain from photos showing participants dressed in too-revealing attire, being a family newspaper and all. There was, however, a bit of disagreement on this with some editors, who felt that since this was a public parade, we should show whatever was going on — no matter what.

    Three years earlier, in 1981, we produced an in-depth, special report on the gay community in Long Beach. Written and researched by reporter Candy Cooper over a four-month period, her stories talked about how the gay community was growing in numbers and influence in Long Beach and was “beginning to change the fabric of this city.”

    But the report also said that a large percentage of the gay population was still “largely closeted and quite discreet.”

    In that series of stories, gay and lesbian people talked about harassment from police, who denied the accusations. Some police officers even denied that there was a gay community in Long Beach then.

    Other gay issues and voting blocs were also discussed. Some politicians said they didn’t know whether gay support was an asset or a liability.

    Cooper’s reporting also dealt with gay and lesbian lifestyles being as diverse as the community at large.

    Our coverage of the first parade in 1984 consisted of a main story and two photos on the front page of our then Local News section. The headlines read: “Gay Pride event — a first for LB; Organizers call it ‘historic.’”

    One photo showed marchers displaying posters of famous Americans who were considered gay. The other showed gay fathers forming a marching contingent. Participants marched down Ocean Boulevard in a parade that lasted about 30 minutes, with most of the 2,500 or so lining the parade route during a drizzle, cheering marchers as they paraded by.

    A man bearing a Bible taunted parade watchers with the admonition, “God hates homosexuals.”

    The story ended with Judi Doyle telling people entering the festival grounds to hold on to the other half of their torn ticket.

    “This is history,” she said.

    Our coverage of the second parade in 1985 consisted of a main story with two photos, again on the front of the Local News section but with a teaser box on Page 1 referring readers to the story inside.

    The headline read: “Pride, prejudice displayed at parade.” The photos showed pom-pom boys leading the Great American Yankees Freedom Band, and another showed two men on a motorcycle, one of them bare-chested.

    The second parade drew an estimated 5,000 spectators, and anticipated confrontations between pro- and anti-gay factions didn’t materialize. At one intersection, marchers were put to the test by a group of angry, placard-wielding protesters, with one banner reading, “Perverts on Parade, What next?”

    One parade participant told foes of the activities: “We aren’t here to confront anyone. We’re just here to stand up and say, ‘we’re Christians. We’re just human beings like you. And we’re proud of ourselves.’”

    The third parade in 1986, was the one that made the front page.

    The headline read: “7,000 line route of march to cheer Gay Pride Parade.” The main photo showed “Emperor Boom Boom,” a fabulously dressed man with an entourage and balloons. A second photo showed spectators on an Ocean Boulevard balcony razzing anti-gay demonstrators.

    Despite what we thought was fair and thoughtful coverage in those first three years, we still offended some readers. More than 200, in fact, were so offended that they canceled their subscriptions.

    Some members of the gay and lesbian community were offended, too — but for different reasons. They complained to us that our coverage was one dimensional and didn’t get at the real issues facing them. They also said we were not portraying them as real people with feelings, hopes and dreams like everyone else.

    Our daily coverage started to change.

    We did more stories on issues affecting the LGBTQ community. We did human interest stories more often and not just in special reports. In 2003, the Press-Telegram had a story on that year’s Pride festival with the headline, “Gay Pride Parade Has Come a Long Way.”

    I thought then that the headline could just as easily have read, “Press-Telegram Comes a Long Way.”

    ​ Orange County Register