Early Tuesday morning, a lifeguard tower that was painted in rainbow colors last June by LGBTQ+ lifeguards in honor of pride month, was burned down. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia was quick to call it an “act of hate.”
In response to the fire, second district councilmember Cindy Allen hosted a rally in which she called for unity and for the community to stand together in these times.
“I felt like I had to use my position and just make sure that we have the time to come together as a community,” Allen said. “We need to make sure that we are all working together, we listen to our allies, connect with one another and find solace and love within the community.”
While speaking at the rally, Garcia maintained his position that the fire that destroyed the tower was no accident but an act of hate.
“There has not been a fire at a lifeguard station that has burned a station down in at least 70 years. So to say that the one station that burned completely in the last 70+ years was the one that just got painted in pride colors. That is not a coincidence, that is clearly a targeted act,” Garcia said. “There is no question to me as a gay person that this was absolutely an act of hate.”
An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire.
Garcia also commented on the homophobia that is still present in Long Beach and how he is still being called slurs on the street.
“It’s still common for me to get an enormous amount of hate speech from my office, I get called f—ot on the street,” he said. “If I’m the mayor and people feel good calling me a f–… I can only imagine other folks who are in different positions and don’t have a staff member beside them.”
Carlos Torres, the director of the LGBTQ Center in Long Beach, an organization that serves the LGBTQ+ community with mental health, legal and a variety of other resources.
He was heartbroken by the tower burning down and called it a “symbol of inclusivity and belonging.”
But despite the incident, he still has faith that the tower will be rebuilt and that everyone in the community will be reminded that they are included and loved. He wants the new tower to be a beacon for everyone in the community.
Matthew Villia, a Long Beach resident and member of the LGBTQ+ community, came out to show his support on Wednesday. When he saw the tower burned down, it reminded him of the hate that LGBTQ+ members still experience in Long Beach. He was, however, proud of the turnout of people who came to support him and other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m really proud of the community in Long Beach and how fast we can rally together,” he said.
Garcia promised to build back the tower and make it bigger, better, and gayer than before.
“You mess with us, we’re going to put two out there,” Garcia said. “You mess with us, the paint is going to be glitter, you mess with us, the flags are going to be taller.”