Pride Month Helps Energize Glendale LGBTQIA Group

Passerby outside of the Glendale Galleria visit a pop-up tent for glendaleOUT in June. The LGBTQIA organization hopes to continue momentum from Pride Month advocacy and activism to be more of a year-round practice.

After observing Pride Month with enjoyment and putting aside the disappointment of last year’s pandemic-caused festival cancellation, glendaleOUT — the city’s grassroots LGBTQIA organization — is setting its sights on what happens the rest of the year.

The organization and its members had a busy June. They staged a number of “pop-ups” outside of the Glendale Galleria, where passersby could show support or inquire about the group and its cause. In conjunction with the city’s Library, Arts and Culture Department, it produced a number of presentations and videos in observance of the month. The organization, using its “fairy ambassadors,” made contact with a number of businesses and entities to build a network of support. And on the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Dave’s on Broadway hosted the group and an LGBTQIA audience for the first in what could become a series of weekly gatherings.

“We had a great year,” said Grey James, founder of GlendaleOUT. “A lot of people showed up and they delivered, and I’m really happy about that.”

Through the swath of events and outreach last month — dubbed Jewel City Pride and hashtagged at #QueeringGlendale — glendaleOUT and its members aimed to develop the local LGBTQIA community’s participation in city life and garner additional support and alliances from residents and organizations. June’s significance as Pride Month makes it the natural time to boost the level of outreach and celebration, but glendaleOUT’s goal is to establish a continued activism.

As organization member Johnny Donovan explained it, “You’re gay 365 days of the year, so having that activism the rest of the year is important as well.”

“We have had some amazing milestones,” Donovan added, noting a prominent display of alliance within the Glendale Galleria and the number of programs presented in conjunction with the public library. “There’s lots of things that the city has done to support the queer community here in Glendale.”

Through the library, glendaleOUT members hosted an ‘80s-style “Queering Glendale Talk Show” and also provided a number of giveaways for patrons. The library interviewed Donovan about the organization’s efforts this month and also developed a number of its own programs — rainbow art kits for younger children, a series of Teen G.E.N. (Glendale Empowerment Now) talks, a summer reading challenge and a drag queen story time.

GlendaleOUT member Josh Coen produced a zine, titled CAMP, that compiled artwork and testimony from the local LGBTQIA community that reflected in particular on the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. That zine is available as a PDF for $6 or $15 for a printed copy via the group’s website, glendaleout.org.

As part of its demonstration of support for Pride Month, City Hall was lit up in pride colors throughout June. Glendale’s Library, Arts and Culture Department also developed and hosted a large number of Pride Month activities during the month.

The Glendale City Council issued a proclamation of support at one of its meetings, where glendaleOUT also recognized Mayor Paula Devine as its first “Crown Jewel” of Pride Month for her longtime support of the cause. City Hall was additionally emblazoned in the movement’s rainbow colors at night, and the Alex Theatre invited people to use fabrics and other materials to decorate its front gate in Pride Month colors.

“It is important that we embrace each other’s differences,” said Devine, who drew from her experience as a teacher in supporting LGBTQIA activism, “and advocate for one another and be mindful of our words and our actions, as every word and action affects others.”

Members and allies of glendaleOUT agree that the city has not always been particularly friendly toward the LGBTQIA community and appreciate the social progress that has been achieved in more recent years.

“On one hand, I would say as you look at the national landscape that Glendale would parallel that. Glendale-La Crescenta is definitely aligned with the national narrative of more awareness and commitment to inclusivity,” observed Alicia Harris, a longtime Crescenta Valley High School government teacher who serves as the informal liaison between glendaleOUT and the local school district. “What’s also fascinating is how behind Glendale was — in a way, Glendale was kind of catching up. It’s been the fourth-largest city in L.A. County and there was no LGBTQ organization? There was no gay bar? They just didn’t exist, and that was weird for a city this size.”

This social conservatism may not be particularly surprising within the Jewel City’s historic context — Glendale is presently reckoning with its past reputation as a sundown town that had exclusionary housing practices toward Black people and other minorities. It was also reputed to be a hub of Ku Klux Klan activity within the past century and was also briefly identified as the location of the American Nazi Party’s West Coast office.

“Its history is not glorious in terms of inclusivity,” Harris said of Glendale.

James acknowledged that some consider public presentations of solidarity to be more for show than demonstrating real support for the community. That said, he added that he felt this came with Glendale’s need to play “catch up.”

“I consider Glendale [to be in] ‘Queer 101,’” he explained, “so from my point of view, I’m looking at it as starting with the basics and each year adding a layer and adding another layer and putting Glendale through this process.”

For activists, one such layer is the creation of a “queer-friendly” and “queer-safe” space for local residents that Glendale continues to lack. James said glendaleOUT is in talks with Dave’s on Broadway, which hosted the Stonewall anniversary night, to host a night for the LGBTQIA community each week to open that window.

To showcase its support of Pride Month and LGBTQIA causes, the Alex Theatre made available its main gates to be decorated in pride colors in June.

“It brought out the slightly older generation, but bar culture is very important to the queer community and specifically to that generation,” James explained. “When there weren’t queer-friendly spaces, bars were the only places to congregate, connect and exist as themselves.”

That being said, bars can’t be the only space. The Glendale Unified School District, after all, has an enrollment of 25,000-plus students, and most of the schools have some sort of GSA club — the initials can stand for the traditional Gay-Straight Alliance or the more contemporary Gender Sexuality Alliance.

“Whenever you talk to the GSA students, they talk about having a safe space,” James said.

In fact, many of the pop-up patrons who took interest and even donated were children out with their families in June. GlendaleOUT members remarked at how familiar young people are with the concepts and vocabulary of the modern LGBTQIA movement — a greater awareness than the group members might have had when they were younger.

“I was worried that we’d go out there and not get much interaction or get negative interaction, but it’s been heartwarming to see the outpouring of support from the community,” said Yali Bitan, who helped host the pop-ups; Bitan noted there were a handful of negative responses, but “other than that, we had so many people come out — queer people and allies — from within Glendale and out, young people and old, people of all kinds of ethnicities — just a very diverse group of supporters.”

Bitan, who is nonbinary, said their initial impression of the city as a Glendale Community College student was that it was pretty conservative — walking around in even partial drag garnered funny or hostile looks, they said.

“If you were visibly queer on campus, people would just stare bullets at you,” Bitan said. “A lot of us had experiences in classes where a professor or student said homophobic or transphobic things and no one batted an eye about it. It was very [much] felt that we lived in an environment that wasn’t friendly to us, and that sucks.”

But Bitan said they appreciated the progress that a group like GlendaleOUT was making for the community. An older gay man who visited the pop-up remarked that he’d never thought he’d seen activism like this in Glendale, Bitan recalled.

“That just made me so happy because we literally made someone’s dream a reality,” they said, “and that’s very exciting.”

Harris, the teacher, said she’d observed similar reactions throughout June.

“One of the most amazing things about working with glendaleOUT is older gay people saying, ‘Holy [cow], there are more gay people here?’” she said. “I don’t know if that’s a direct quote said to me, but that’s certainly the sentiment.”

The group aims to continue to build its roots here, seek out opportunities to educate fellow residents and community members, and build up its own community. During the council meeting earlier in June, it was hinted that a Pride Parade may yet happen here in Glendale.

“I don’t know that it has to be this time of year — it can be at any time of year,” Councilman Dan Brotman told glendaleOUT’s representative that night. “Whenever you can pull it off, I think you can be confident that the city of Glendale will be 100% behind you and support you in the process.”

True to the sentiment of ensuring activism lasts all year, glendaleOUT posted this update on social media Thursday: “It’s July 1 and we’re still queer!”