There was a lot to celebrate last month. Festivities surrounding LGBTQ+ pride were even more jubilant this June as pandemic restrictions relaxed and COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. Multiple Pride events popped up across San Bernardino County, and even in its historically conservative mountain communities. A portion of the June sales at Lulubelle’s Coffee House and Bakery in Running Springs went to the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the 2nd Annual Pride Boat Parade in Lake Arrowhead (hosted by Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+, formerly Gay Lake Arrowhead) was even bigger and better than the first. However, there remain many battles in the struggle for equality, both on the mountain and around the country.
In the highest courts in the land, the rights of LGBTQ+ people are still fought over. The Equality Act, which would be, according to Philip Elliot of Time Magazine, “ … the most sweeping rewrite of civil rights laws since the 1960s, would offer protections for fair access to housing, education and even jury service without regard to sexuality or gender. But the legislation is stuck in the Senate.”
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of continued discrimination against same-sex couples who desire to foster children. According to Adam Liptak of The New York Times, “The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that a Catholic social services agency in Philadelphia could defy city rules and refuse to work with same-sex couples who apply to take in foster children. The decision, in the latest clash between anti-discrimination principles and claims of conscience, was a setback for gay rights and further evidence that religious groups almost always prevail in the current court.”
In San Bernardino County, official city pride celebrations took place, though some were more successful than others. Redlands celebrated their third annual Pride Month, helmed by Councilwoman Denise Davis, who is the city’s first council member to identify openly as LGBTQ+. According to Jennifer Iyer of Redlands Daily Facts, Davis stated at the city’s June 1 meeting, “‘The LGBTQ community in Redlands is resilient, growing and vibrant, and it’s great to see more intentional spaces and acts of inclusion from church groups to Facebook groups to high school clubs and (University of Redlands) events.”
The city of Montclair declared June 2021 as its first official LGBTQ+ Pride Month, but not without some controversy regarding performative allyship. In an article by Steve Scauzillo of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the presence of Councilman Benjamin Lopez was the factor that soured what should have been a joyous occasion. Scauzillo wrote, “Mayor John Dutrey presented the proclamation recognizing Pride Month to the Rev. Maggie Burbank of the Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a gay-affirming denomination and congregation. However, the reverend was a last-minute substitution after gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary members from LGBTQ+ groups from in and around the city refused to accept it.”
The reason why so many of Montclair’s own LGBTQ+ community chose not to accept the Pride Month proclamation had to do directly with Councilman Lopez’ previous harmful rhetoric. According to Scauzillo, “Many who spoke Monday objected to the presence of Councilman Benjamin Lopez, saying his past anti-LGBTQ stand on behalf of the conservative Traditional Values Coalition were [sic] offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. Lopez, elected in November, spoke on numerous occasions from 2003 to 2013 before the state Legislature and in media reports against gay rights, same-sex marriage, the teaching of contributions from gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans in California public schools, and protections for transgender individuals.”
Change Is in the Mountain Air
In response to a query by Mountain Progressive Review, LGBTQ+ residents of the San Bernardino Mountains shared their experiences and expressed their perspectives on local acceptance and representation:
“Well, I’ve been here for twenty years now. When I was younger, being gay was not accepted anywhere on the mountain, it seemed. There were several occasions I was bullied and my life threatened by locals. Those people are long gone. But back in 2008, with Prop 8, it gave many people a license, in a sense, the justification they needed to fuel their hate and bigotry. I remember walking down my street and just about every house had a sign to demonize the marriage of LGBT people. Isolated and scared is how I felt living here on the mountain. Now, there is still progress to be made, but we have much more love and support on the mountain within the communities.”Daniel Richard Bittner
“The mountain history of the LGBT+ community is largely just about doing our best to hide until fairly recently. Even now it’s not wonderful, the mountain is just finally at about a 50/50 split on LGBT+ acceptance and at least largely livable and there’s a number of safe and accepting businesses.”Charlotte Lenhardt
“I moved up here in 2016, I hung my pride flag, and never looked back. My street is quiet, and though I have conservative neighbors, they all waved hello. I have dogs, cute ones, and they win everyone over with their wags and winks. The big storm helped bring us even closer as neighbors. Many are older. I helped with snow shoveling. I may not resemble your typical LGBTQ+, but injustice affects us all. And with establishments (LuluBelle’s, Spade and Spatula, Akasha, Black Dog Shoppe, and Dogwood Tavern) opening up and showing support, we are building a more inclusive community. We have long to go, of course, but it is important to celebrate these monumental steps.”Enrique Flores
When approached by Mountain Progressive Review, Michelle DiGiovanni shared the steps that she and her husband have been taking to support LGBTQ+ members of the San Bernardino Mountains via their business, Lulubelle’s Coffee House and Bakery.
“My husband and I, when we opened Lulubelles, we wanted this to be a really inclusive place. We wanted everybody to feel welcome, no matter what. We have a really diverse staff here and we have a lot of family members who are also diverse, and we wanted everyone to feel included, and I think living on the mountain, there are certain people who feel excluded and not safe in certain situations or establishments, and I think with everything going on in the last four years and with COVID, it got worse. So we really wanted to push for everyone to feel included.”Michelle DiGiovanni
In addition to donating a portion of June’s proceeds to the National Center for Transgender Equality, the couple hosted a Pride Month event on June 13 at their establishment. When asked about the outcome of the event, DiGiovanni said, “I think it went great! We had a really strong turnout, we had people coming all the way from Long Beach, so it was really fun. We had a great time and got to meet a lot of people … I think it’s something that people want to come back to because they know we’re allies.”
Lulubelle’s has been vocally supportive of the LGBTQ+ community since they opened, including hanging Pride flags and banners on their building. While many mountain residents and visitors have reacted positively, not all of the reactions have been favorable. DiGiovanni stated that they have received hate emails and social media messages, bad Yelp reviews, and they have even experienced individuals confronting staff over the display of support for the LGBTQ+ community. But at the end of the day, DiGiovanni is adamant that any backlash Lulubelle’s has faced is ultimately worth it, especially in contrast to what LGBTQ+ people often face in their daily lives.
“Some days are challenging, but I don’t face that [hate] every day in my life, but others do, and it has really been an eye-opener for me. And that is the tiniest, tiniest peek into what people face on a daily basis, and it pulls at your heart.”Michelle DiGiovanni
On June 26, Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ hosted the 2nd Annual Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ Pride Boat Parade & Village Celebration. Organizer Wesley Lynn (who is also the creator/administrator of the Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ Facebook page) helped bring the first Pride boat parade to Lake Arrowhead last year, just before the state closed down due to the pandemic.
When Lynn and his husband moved up to the area five years ago, Lynn noted how hard it was for LGBTQ+ people to find each other. “You would hear about the gay people, but they were sort of ghosts,” he laughed. More seriously, he added,
“After a few years, I think I started it last year, I was just like, no one else is going to do anything, so maybe I should just try, see if we could put something together. I don’t remember if we did gay night first at the bar or the parade, but I want to say we started the gay night first at Dogwood in Blue Jay, and it ended up being one of their busiest nights. We were really happy about it, so we decided to start having it once a month, and then, I think we got through two of them, and then quarantine happened, so that kind of put a pause on our momentum.”Wesley Lynn
Ahead of the LGBTQ+ Pride Boat Parade, Lynn contacted all the businesses in Lake Arrowhead Village. “I reached out to all the businesses in the village because I wanted to let them know, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening, like it or not!’” Some of those businesses eagerly participated and even donated to the event. The Lakefront Tap Room Bar and Kitchen donated champagne, Mirage Picnics gave away two picnic dates, Herzog Aesthetics donated a gift card for laser services as a prize, and Lake Arrowhead Brewing Company not only created a custom Pride Month glitter beer for them but also donated a supply for passengers on the big boat.
With quarantine restrictions greatly diminished, this year’s boat parade had 46 boats participating (the first parade last year saw around 33) and renowned drag artist, Jewels of Long Beach, presided over the festivities. Lynn is excited about the growing participation in the community “The event [boat parade] was a smash,” he said, “Very positive! It was so much fun. It’s going to be bigger and better next time. The Dogwood Tavern was absolutely packed!” With the aid of community contributions, two prizes were awarded after the boat parade—one for ‘Most Inspiring’ and one for the ‘Gayest’ boat.
Mountain Pride 365
Pride celebrations are only part of Lynn’s long-term hopes for more inclusion and acceptance in the mountain communities. “There are a lot of allies up here,” he said, “But there’s a lot of intolerance.” Lynn is especially motivated to connect LGBTQ+ locals to each other.
“We love the people of this community, but we did notice the gays were still kinda scared to be fully ‘out’ and comfortable being totally themselves … I would love to see different groups get together and do fun things, and get to know each other better. It’s hard to meet people when you’re older unless you’re in school … I also want everyone in Southern California to know that they can come up here for Pride, and buy a home up here, and be fine.”Wesley Lynn
Dogwood Tavern in conjunction with Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ plans to throw monthly Pride nights beginning in August. Additionally, Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ has officially petitioned for nonprofit status—the first step in a longtime dream of Lynn’s for a haven for LGBTQ+ people on the mountain.
“I wanted the younger kids to see that their community was accepting. There are kids up here that are scared, some of them are disowned. I talked to a lady who’s a counselor, and she’s got a transgender kid sleeping on her sofa because their parents don’t want them. I would like to eventually have a place for the kids to go, and it doesn’t just have to be the queer kids, it could be everybody, but it has to be a place where it’s safe, where there are allies.”Wesley Lynn
When asked about how the community can help support the quest for greater inclusivity, Lynn said that he would appreciate help and donations when it comes time to fundraise for the organization. Pride Month may be over, but the need for greater inclusion, representation, and support for the LGBTQ+ community remains a constant, on the mountain and everywhere else.
“My hope is for a more inclusive community, and it’s going to take a little army to do that, but we’re going to slowly make it happen. I think generally when people don’t see something, they’re afraid of it, but when they finally realize it’s ok, they’re not so scared. I would love to see more gay people, that’s what I would really like to see, but it’s about everybody. I want us all to be able to hang out, that’s all. And so far, so good.”Wesley Lynn
Celebrating love and uplifting marginalized communities isn’t something that can or should be limited to a day or a month. As the mountain culture continues to change, it is up to its residents to vote their conscience and to support individuals and businesses who are actively contributing toward making the mountain a better and more accepting place to live. We should take pride in our capacity to love, today and always.