(Chelcee Bunkley pictured above third from the right with representatives from the Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Center)
Long Beach Pride: a time of year everyone (and sometimes their mothers) are waiting for.
My name is Chelcee Bunkley. I’m 22 years old and although I’m still young, I think I can now call myself a seasoned veteran of Pride.
This year marked my fourth time at the event. Some people might ask why? Isn’t it the same event every year? Yes, it is, but every year has a different energy to it.
I remember my first time going to Pride in 2009. I was 19 and had no clue what I was getting myself into. I actually had a really terrible time. I was alone with no friends in the city, as I had just moved to Long Beach from Moreno Valley—an inland empire city about an hour and 20 minutes northeast of the city.
It was hard for me seeing all the girls in couples and all the groups of friends partying, while it seemed I was the only single person in the crowd. It was a learning experience and I must say that since then, I have really grown to love Pride.
I can’t speak for everyone, and it’s very hard to pinpoint, but this year seemed to have a different air of unity and togetherness. I’ve heard some people skeptical of the event, complaining that it’s a bad representation of the community or it’s just another reason for people to get drunk, but I respectfully disagree and have to say that Pride is one of the funnest, most best enjoyed times in my year. There are three reasons why: the city, the people and the good vibes.
Where I grew up in Moreno Valley there was no apparent “gay scene.” Of course, there are gay people who live there but they don’t really get together like the gay community does in Long Beach. So for me, coming from places that only tolerated parts of me, to a place where people are embracing me as a whole and where they even have a Pride event at all– that means a lot to me. It was only when I came to Long Beach that I felt like I could be myself and not hide at all.
My first impression of Long Beach came only from gangster rap I had heard and I was under the impression that I would be shot just walking down the street, but to actually arrive and live in the city, I discovered how untrue all of that is. In many ways, I actually feel safer in Long Beach than anywhere else I’ve lived.
People come from all around to experience Long Beach Pride every year. I’ve met people from Texas, Utah, San Diego, Oregon and I’m sure there are even more people from much farther out who know that Long Beach Pride is the place to be. I’ve heard many people who’ve said LB Pride is better than Los Angeles Pride.
Something I think everyone would notice is that there is no lack of diversity once you walk into the festival. All kinds of people are around, tall, short, big, small, disabled, people of all colors– everybody. And as a plus, it was a breathe of fresh air to see a lot of more masculine women especially in a world where lesbians are frequently spewing out things like “NO BUTCHES!” and feminine men in a world where all the guys seem to be after “real men” as if it was a crime to be a little different from the norm. And I know others may have had opposite experiences, but everyone I spoke to was really nice to me and I was actually expecting a different outcome, but it just goes to prove that Long Beach Pride seems to have a good influence on people. It’s hard to explain the energy that fills the air during pride weekend.
Maybe its all the rainbows that are strung up all over the city letting you know that it’s your time and that more people supported you than you initially thought .or maybe it’s the new, excited faces you see around. Maybe it’s the weekend events and the thought that you will meet all these new people and have a great time, despite anything that may be troubling you at home or at work.
Maybe it’s that feeling that you can finally get away for a while and stop being a workaholic or a full-time student. And maybe its a mix of a lot of other things people feel, but the only way I can really describe it is to say that, at least for me, it’s more than just a party and it’s more than just an excuse to drink or get high or whatever else the typical skeptic likes to think. It’s a total experience, where self-expression is personified by every single person who attends it.
Some major complaints I have would be that the price to get in is a total outrage, the food is overpriced, it was hot enough to give me an outline of my sunglasses around my eyes, if you don’t like to drink, dance, shop, or hit on people there isn’t a whole lot to do and at least three fights broke out this year.
But despite all that, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. I’m sure if we protest enough we can get the price lowered on the tickets, we can beat the heat by offering free water, and we can join the Pride committee to help come up with more things to do other than just be consumers.
Instead of thinking about it as, “Pride is this way and always will be,” it could be thought about as, “There’s room to grow.” I personally like to think of growth because that way there’s nowhere to go but up. And believe me, Pride can only get better from here, which is saying a lot since its one of the best times of the year in Long Beach.
This year was the 3oth anniversary of Pride in Long Beach. For more information about Pride, go to www.longbeachpride.com.