The city of Oakland now has an LGBTQ cultural district, created in the Grand Lake area and meant to highlight the community’s history and celebrate its importance to the city.
The City Council passed a resolution Tuesday to designate a multiblock triangle between Grand Avenue and Lakeshore Avenue just east of Lake Merritt as the city’s first LGBTQ cultural district. The city’s 6-year-old LGBTQ Community Center is located within the boundaries of the area.
Introduced by Mayor Sheng Thao, council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, the district is meant to create a “supportive environment for diverse LGBTQ individuals, families, allies, and businesses, and nurture a safe, vibrant, and welcoming community,” according to the text of the legislation.
On Tuesday, prior to the vote, elected officials and members of the community celebrated the possibility of having a district at a public event outside the LGBTQ Center on Lakeshore.
Thao applauded the community center for its efforts in pushing for the cultural district and said the new area would create a space for young people looking for resources.
“We love you, you are what makes Oakland so beautiful,” Thao said. “You are what makes Oakland so proud.”
Amy Schneider, a trans woman, Oakland resident and “Jeopardy!” champ, emceed the event and said she was grateful that the city is a “haven for LGBTQ people.” Oakland has one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the country, according to the council’s resolution.
The legislation notes that the area of the cultural district is already home to LGBTQ-allied business, cultural facilities, creative enterprises and arts venues. Joe Hawkins, the co-founder of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, said Tuesday that Lake Merritt has always been a home to queer people.
“This is where we found community in Oakland,” Hawkins said. “And that’s why today you see this beautiful rainbow of people before you.”
Kaplan and Council Members Carroll Fife and Dan Kalb, who also attended the event, said Tuesday’s vote was important as the country and the state faces an increase in anti-LGBTQ policies and book banning. State Assembly Member Mia Bonta, D-Alameda, also attended.
Fife said just because “we are in the tiny corner of Oakland, California” and the Bay Area, doesn’t mean Oakland residents are immune to “repressive” policies.
“It is not just time to celebrate, it is time to fight for what you know is justice in our city, in our state and in our world,” Fife said.
Added Kaplan, who was the first openly lesbian person to run for the City Council: “We recognize Oakland as a place of liberation, as a place that believes our slogan: Love life.”
Wally Bee, a board member of the Oakland Gay Men’s Chorus and an Oakland resident, watched the event from the audience. He said the creation of the district is a “benchmark for the Oakland community to recognize and elevate diverse voices.” Bee said the cultural district will put Oakland on the map in terms of LGBTQ inclusivity.
Bas, who represents the district where the cultural district is located, said the city is committed to supporting the LGBTQ community.
“We see you, we hear you, we love you and more than anything we are committed to putting resources to making sure this is a welcoming, safe and resourced place for the entire LGBTQ community,” Bas said.