First published in the Oct. 16 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
The snacks and rainbow wristbands, face masks and flags were nice, but the good company was most likely better.
A few dozen local residents enjoyed an early evening at Adams Square Mini Park on Monday, where together — young or old, member or ally, out or perhaps not quite — they observed National Coming Out Day, in the glow of the Diversity Tree exhibit from the Gas Station display space. Attendees used the moment to catch up, introduce themselves or simply relax in the company of their community, the LGBTQIA community.
“I never thought I would see the day,” said Seth Anicich, who has lived mostly in Glendale since attending Glendale High School as a 10th-grader in the 1990s. “I think community is the most important thing anywhere. It’s having friends, feeling accepted, feeling appreciated and wanted. It all goes into that.”
The moment stood in contrast to Anicich’s teenage years, when he moved in with his mother and started at a new school where his peers seemed determined to out him as gay. Worse was the bullying and the outside pressure to defy his sexual orientation. The fact that now there could be a quiet and public queer gathering without incident in a Glendale park, to him, represented progress.
“Not as fast as I would like, but it’s changing,” he said of the Jewel City. “In the ’90s, it was a very homophobic community. When I was young, I thought I was the only gay kid in Glendale.”
GlendaleOUT, a grassroots LGBTQIA organization, put together this event on Monday, doing what it does best — bring people together for an easygoing event, where they can meet and network with each other and learn more about the area’s queer community. The Diversity Tree exhibit complemented the gathering well, and the local cafe KAFN Coffee stayed open a little later than usual to ensure that attendees across the street had their caffeine.
For Linda Esquivel, a Glendale resident since she was 11, the gathering was the sort of thing she wishes had existed when she was 16 at Glendale High and came out as bisexual, only to not be taken seriously. To complicate matters, she explained, her family was and remains observant Roman Catholics.
“I would have felt a lot more at peace with what I was going through, in coming to terms with what I liked and didn’t like in people,” she said. “In terms of my religious and political views, they were also changing a lot.”
“I feel a lot more accepted than I ever have,” Esquivel said.
To hear Alicia Harris, a government teacher at Crescenta Valley High School who advises the school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, talk about it, the movement may have a bright future. After Glendale Unified School District’s high schools had for years hosted various offshoots of the gay-straight alliance clubs, its middle schools and even elementary schools have started developing them. These clubs continue to be heavily student-driven, Harris said, and they are broadening their advocacy.
“They’re embracing, much more, the particular identities,” she explained. “They don’t just want the rainbow flag, but the trans flag or the bi flag, for example.”
Anicich said he has a niece at GHS now and he’s been encouraged by her various dispatches on the school’s culture of support for the LGBTQIA community.
“I’m very proud of the kids today,” he said. “They’re just taking a stand for themselves and forcing everyone to come to terms with their existence.”
Joining the group on Monday was state Sen. Anthony Portantino, complete with a rainbow-patterned button-up and happy to talk to anyone about his late brother, who once published the San Diego-based Gay and Lesbian Times. He recalled to the group how his brother, Michael, was ostracized and teased for being gay, but ultimately found love and support from their mother at home.
Locally, Portantino also recalled how decades ago, a CVHS teacher once was apparently disciplined after offering support and assistance to a queer student who was being bullied.
“The teacher was punished for being sensitive to a gay student,” he said. “Now, flash forward to 30 years; the football team put the Pride Flag on their helmets? That’s progress.”
Utilizing his trademark dry levity, Portantino ultimately addressed the group in a way that observed both the occasion and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s great to see everybody” — with emphasis — “out,” he said.