Long Beach unveils new Pride Lifeguard Tower

Long Beach unveiled its new Pride Lifeguard Tower on Thursday evening, June 10, less than three months after the original tower burned down in what investigators say may have been an act of arson.

About 250 people, many waving Pride flags, gathered on the sand between 12th and 13th places to celebrate the new tower, which honors the LGBTQ community.

The moment, which local leaders marked with calls for equality, came at a time of added significance for the LGBTQ community: The city welcomed the rainbow tower in the middle of Pride Month and two days before the fifth anniversary of the Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando, Florida, that left 50 people dead. This is also the second year in a row Long Beach, a city that has long prided itself on being LGBTQ friendly, will forgo an in-person Pride parade because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The unveiling also came amid multiple recent initiatives across Los Angeles County to both celebrate and provide services to the LGBTQ community.

A giant rainbow flag lays next to the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

Rainbow-colored lights adorning the Montclair City Council Chambers on Monday, June 7, 2021, are in recognition of LGBTQ+ June Pride Month, declared in a proclamation by the City Council. The LED lights are actually inside the chambers at the bottom of each window. They will glow through the month of June. (Photo courtesy City of Montclair)

Lifeguards install the American flag on the new pride lifeguard tower as Mayor Robert Garcia looks on in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

A crowd gathers for the opening of the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

People arrive for the opening of the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

Visitors cross under a colorful balloon arch for the opening of the pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

Lifeguards tear off a tarp to unveil the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

Mayor Robert Garcia poses for a photo with Jesus Trujillo after unveiling the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

Kristine Diehl of Long Beach poses for a selfie before the unveiling of the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

Mayor Robert Garcia walks up the steps of the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilwoman Cindy Allen open the doors of the new pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The tower, located on the beach below 12th Place, replaces another one that was destroyed by fire. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

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Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, in remarks before the unveiling, tied the moment to a broader fight for social justice, at a time when hate crimes have risen and there’s been a renewed focus on systemic discrimination.

“It’s an important moment for us also to remember that the fight for equality and equity and justice is not just our own with our community,” Garcia, the city’s first openly gay mayor, told the crowd, “but it is work that we have to share and a struggle that we share with so many other communities, which is why I love seeing all the support for the diversity and beauty of what our community really stands for.”

Councilwoman Cindy Allen, whose Second District includes the beach where the tower is located, announced plans to ask the Human Relations Commission to convene a community process to erect a plaque with the story of the tower.

Long Beach’s original Pride Lifeguard Tower was painted in rainbow colors by LGBTQ lifeguards last June to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade, which was held in New York City on June 28, 1970.

Allen also said she would ask the Coastal Commission to consider installing a permanent access path for people in wheelchairs to be able to come out to the tower and a concrete pad for events that take place by it.

Earlier in the day, Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin, the first openly gay official elected to a citywide office in L.A., released an online resource hub for the city’s LGBTQ community. National data showed that LGBTQ households faced more employment losses and had to deal with serious financial problems, including food insecurity, at much higher rates than other households during the coronavirus pandemic, Galperin said.

And on Monday, June 14, residents will paint a lifeguard tower in Hermosa Beach in rainbow colors. L.A. County, which owns the tower, gave permission to have the tower painted through the summer after a loca teen suggested it to County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office. The teen, Izzy Bacallao, came up with the idea after the Long Beach tower burned down.

“The burning of the Long Beach Pride Tower was not only devastating to me, being a trans/queer adolescent,” Bacallao, who identifies as nonbinary, said in a written statement when the Hermosa Pride tower was announced last month, “but it also hurt other queer people and our allies within the South Bay community.”

The last two years have been particularly difficult for the LGBTQ community, according to national data.

In 2019, there were 1,195 reports nationwide of hate crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation, with another 198 based on their gender identity, according to the FBI. Those figures marked a 42% and 262% increase, respectively, since 2017, according to the Justice Department. And in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 37 transgender and gender-non-conforming people were killed through November, the most on record.

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Long Beach’s original Pride Lifeguard Tower, meanwhile, went up in flames around midnight on March 23. A probe into what caused the fire is ongoing, but investigators with the Long Beach Fire Department have classified the case as arson.

One day after the incident, more than 100 people gathered at the site to show their support of the LGBTQ community.

Garcia, who said he believed the fire was a hate crime, vowed shortly after the blaze to rebuild the tower “bigger, better and gayer.”

The new tower cost $55,000, a city spokeswoman said.

Jeremy Rocha, a lifeguard in Long Beach who helped paint both the original tower and its replacement, said he’d never been prouder to be part of an organization that embraced inclusivity.

“The amount of strength in our community is unmatched,” he said. “This tragedy has brought us closer together, but it has also made us stronger.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

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