Big dance crowd

A big crowd dances under the lights at last year's Gay Pride Festival.

For years, the Long Beach Gay Pride Festival was known for two things — great headliners on the music stages, and a chance for gay and lesbian couples to openly show affection towards one another.

Now in its 36th year, things have changed at the festival, according to Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc. President Denise Newman said. Long Beach and California are much more accepting of gay couples in public, and that's good. But top entertainment is getting more expensive, and that's not so good.

"Once upon a time, there was no place we could go and enjoy each other, so that was the festival," Newman said. "These days, it's not unusual, or uncomfortable, for girls to walk down Second Street holding hands."

For a good portion of the festival's existence, it essentially was a music festival, Newman said, with some vendors and a chance to walk around openly. Now, attendees want more.

In the last decade, the festival has hosted area's for the teen-aged LGBTQ population, and there were experiments with children's areas.

"We're shrinking the festival footprint this year," Newman said. "We want it more family oriented — that's what people have told us they want. We'll have some games of skill, just more elements… We want to try to appeal with everyone."

One sign of that shift in attendees is the relationship with the city, Newman added. Where meetings between city officials and law enforcement used to take hours going over problems, "now the meetings are over in 20 or 20 minutes," she said.

The family emphasis doesn't mean the entertainment is going away, though. To start climbing back up the ladder of performers' talent levels, Gay Pride has two major corporate sponsors this year. This is the first time major corporations will have a presence at the festival, Newman said.

Nissan North America Inc. has come aboard to sponsor the Nissan Stage by combining what was the Main Stage and the Urban Soul Stage. Anheuser-Busch also has become part of the festival, rebranding the Fiesta Caliente Stage as the Estrella Jalisco Stage.

"We know that most people are looking for a big name," Newman said. "So now we will be taking it to the sponsors to bring it along. My dream is to go after someone like Bruno Mars. That would be awesome."

Finances in general continue to be an issue, Newman said, much like any other event or organization. A couple of years ago, new city rules required paid staff for things like handling money, pouring beer, security and more, where volunteers had shouldered much of that workload in the past. Those added expenses eliminated grants to Long Beach LGBTQ organizations that had been available in earlier years.

Other expenses continue to rise as well, Newman said. 

"We'd like to build the grant program back again," she said. "But everything from minimum wage to gas to insurance keeps getting more expensive. There are many things we try to do to give back to the community, like giving away (festival) tickets and more."

According to the group's website, Long Beach Pride "has become the 3rd largest in the nation, now attracting over 80,000 participants over the two-day celebration. More than 200 marching groups and floats comprise the parade entries since 1995, representing various religious, human service, governmental and social organizations." It is the second largest special event in Long Beach, with only the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach counting more participants.

For more information, history and tickets to the festival, go to longbeachpride.com.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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