Coming Out Community Picnic provides an inclusive setting for LGBTQ+ people.
By Jorge Paniagua
For Christopher Koontz and Bobby Duong, a married gay couple who recently adopted their first baby, Johan Duong-Koontz, the Coming Out Community Picnic in Long Beach this weekend was more than just another queer event; it was an opportunity to connect with other LGBTQ+ parents like themselves.
“I enjoy ‘Pride,’ or a night out at a bar as much as the next person,” Koontz said. “But sometimes it can feel like that is the entire, sort-of, gay experience. So I think having events like this show a different side and help people meet each other and connect. [Events like these] are a really good part of having a fuller life and having some connection to other gay people.”
The couple, who have been married for three years and adopted their first infant son five months ago, relayed that they were excited to be at an event with the potentiality of meeting other LGBTQ+ families.
“When I was a gay young man I did not have any prospect of having a child,” Duong said. “So I think I did not see that when I was younger. I think events like this kind-of normalize it and help introduce younger LGBTQ+ folks to understand that there is more than partying.”
The event was a collaborative event hosted by the Long Beach LGBTQ+ Center and nine other organizations on Saturday. It was hosted at Houghton Park in North Long Beach and provided guests with a plethora of resource tables from varying LGBTQ+ organizations, free food and beverages, to interactive activities for kids, live music and an environment aimed at promoting inclusivity.
“We know that the LGBTQ+ community still has a long road ahead to achieve true equity and true equality and the stronger we are as a community, the stronger a force we are throughout the community and throughout the United States,” Porter Gilberg, Executive Director of the Long Beach LGBTQ+ Center, said. “This is just one opportunity for folks to come out, recharge, make some friends, have a good time and pick up the fight tomorrow.”
Although the event was coined as a “Coming Out” picnic, the event was not necessarily aimed at promoting undisclosed LGBTQ+ people to publicly identify as a member of the community.
“I don’t think we ever promote coming out for people — that’s a very personal journey,” Joel Gemino, Youth Services Manager for the LB LGBTQ+ Center, said. “When I hear ‘Coming Out’ picnic, I hear we come out for each other, not necessarily coming out about your identity, but we are here for each other.”
Although Gemino interpreted the event’s name in a community-centric manner, others present at the event viewed the picnic through a different lens. For example, Ryan McGinty and his partner Assaf Weinberg, two Federal Club Coaches tabling for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, provided guests with helpful resource guides to coming out. The guides included helpful tips for closeted LGBTQ+ members such as: “There is no one right or wrong way to come out. It’s a lifelong process of being ever more open and true with yourself and others — done in your own way and in your own time.”
“For me, it was about worrying what other people thought and worrying that you wouldn’t be accepted by your friends and family,” McGinty said in terms of his own coming out experience. “[However] it was the best thing I ever did — I wish I did it earlier.”
The picnic was strategically planned at Houghton Park in North Long Beach, rather than an area closer to Downtown Long Beach, to highlight the reality that LGBTQ+ people are dispersed throughout the city and not all of them live in, for example, a few specific gay-friendly neighborhoods.
“The gay community in Long Beach is not restricted to Broadway or Fourth Street. There are gay families that live right here in this community,” Otis Hogan, Board Member of the Long Beach LGBTQ+ Center, said. “I think it’s good to get events, in a situation like this, away from that defined area — what you think of as the ‘gay community.’”
Furthermore, the event aimed to raise awareness of the countless LGBTQ+ assistance programs available to the community through an array of resource tables. The organizations present at the picnic included Gay For Good – an LGBTQ+ organization aimed at providing various social welfare and environmental service projects – and the Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, a networking and support organization for LGBTQ-owned businesses.
AIDS Walk Long Beach, the Long Beach LGBTQ+ Center’s next event, will take place on Nov. 11, at 10 a.m., starting at Alfredo’s Beach Club. All proceeds gathered from the event will be given to Long Beach organizations serving members of the LGBTQ+ community affected by HIV. For more information on the event or the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, CLICK HERE.