Russ Thompson is gay, and proud of it. Still, Thompson had qualms last year when he learned that homosexual leaders in Long Beach were planning a gay-pride parade down busy Ocean Boulevard.
"I was a little skeptical about gay citizens marching down the street," Thompson, 32, recalled recently. "For gays, Long Beach has been a relatively happy, relatively peaceful place. I really didn't understand the necessity of such a public display."
Despite his misgivings, Thompson attended the parade, watching as other homosexuals bearing placards and banners marched past him through a veil of rain. As he stood there, Thompson wept, and his doubts began to ebb.
"I'm not typically a flag-waver for a cause, but sometimes flags need to be waved," said Thompson, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at USC. "It changed my attitude. And I'm sure I'm not alone."
He's not alone.
Many homosexuals in Long Beach, who historically have steered clear of activism, in recent years have begun to reject their low-profile approach to civic affairs and carve a more visible niche in the city's political landscape.
More Serious About Politics
While still less vocal than their counterparts in such gay meccas as San Francisco and West Hollywood, homosexuals in Long Beach--estimated to number between 30,000 and 50,000 out of the city's population of 380,000--are emerging as serious political players.
Most recently, gays and lesbians have captured the public spotlight during a prolonged battle with Long Beach officials and conservative Christian groups over plans for a second gay-pride parade and festival, to be held this weekend at Shoreline Aquatic Park.
There are other signs that the city's homosexual population is experiencing a political coming of age.
Doors to the area's power brokers, shut tight to gays and lesbians less than a decade ago, have begun to creak open, according to Rob Kramme, president of the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club, a largely homosexual political group with 200 members.
"When the club was founded eight years ago, not a single council member or area legislator would sit down across the table from an openly gay man or lesbian and talk to them about the political struggle," Kramme said. "But now we have candidates for public office coming to speak to our club around election time, quite openly courting our vote. As politicians realize, we have money and we have numbers."
In recent years, several gays have been appointed to city commissions and committees. Planning Commissioner Richard Gaylord, who is gay, made a bid for a council seat in 1982, finishing a respectable second in a five-candidate field to incumbent Eunice Sato. And a handful of local gays and lesbians attended the 1984 Democratic National Convention as delegates.
Finally, many gay leaders are planning a push for a municipal non-discrimination ordinance. They maintain that such legislation, which has been approved in eight California cities including Los Angeles, Laguna Beach and West Hollywood, is needed because of Gov. George Deukmejian's veto last year of Assembly bill 1, which would have established a statewide non-discrimination law for homosexuals.
"Politicians need to wake up and see that we are a viable force in the community," said Patty Moore, co-owner of a gay dance club and an active participant in local political circles. "I see in the very near future, if not the next election, that a gay will be on the council."
Despite such confidence, and the political strides gays and lesbians have made in Long Beach, there exists a formidable wall of opposition to their efforts.
Vocal and well-organized church groups have banded together to block what they maintain is an effort by homosexuals to take control of the city.
"Their goal is to make Long Beach another San Francisco," said Pastor Donald Richardson of the Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach. "They want to make it a capital for homosexuality. They're chipping away, and they're going right at the heart of our community."
Scores of local religious leaders have formed the Long Beach Coalition for Traditional Values to make sure their voices are heard--and heeded--in the city's political dialogue. Ultimately, the coalition hopes to scour the community of any influence by the city's gays and lesbians. Leaders of the group say they plan to politicize the gay issue, supporting council candidates who embrace their views during the 1986 races.
Group Targets Moral Issues
Craig Garbe, employed full time as chairman of the coalition, said the group began forming in January and now draws on more than 60,000 Long Beach church members, including mostly evangelical Christians and Baptists, for support. The coalition is also against abortion, the proliferation of alcohol and pornography.
Garbe, 28, said the organization is associated with the California Coalition for Traditional Values, one of the groups that worked to defeat statewide gay rights legislation last year.
As Garbe sees it, the battle has just begun.