Since December 2020, the Downtown Discussion series has featured seven webinars including experts on topics of importance to the business community from racial inequities to economic development, climate change, and more.

A new Downtown Discussions panel closed out June’s national Pride Month with opportunities for LGBTQ+ businesses in DTLB. Diversity in our community remains essential to DLBA’s vision for a successful Downtown. The panel, led by moderator Esteven Gamez, president, Long Beach LGBTQ+ Chamber, discussed the impact of the pandemic, what’s needed to help the local economic recovery, and other key topics such as gender identity and mental health. Click here to view a replay of the Downtown Discussion: LGBT+ in DTLB.

The pandemic clearly had an impact on the local economy and the panel discussed where things stand today. For context, in 2009, Long Beach was the first California city to recognize businesses owned by the LGBTQ community, veterans, and people with disabilities in its contract bidding process. Before the pandemic, LGBTQ+ businesses generated $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy and created more than 33,000 jobs, according to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. In addition, certified LGBT-owned businesses generated average revenue of about $2.4 million.

“Pre-pandemic, the vibe of downtown was thriving. During the pandemic, things changed. The city as well as DLBA got together to help out some of the shops and build out their outside spaces. I have spoken to several Downtown LGBTQ businesses that are still struggling at the moment, and I know some that are also thriving. It’s just a great moment for all of us to get together,” said Gamez.

Gamez added that “bigger corporations have a lot of spending power. A lot of times, that does not necessarily funnel down to LGBTQ+-owned businesses. I think it’s important to have these types of conversations, so people are more aware. A lot of businesses are required to spend a certain amount of money per year on minority and LGBTQ+ businesses, so it’s important to identify ourselves as LGBTQ+ companies.”

Host Jeremy Ancalade, DBLA CFO, added that there is something to the energy today being different in Downtown. “It’s important to acknowledge that yes, it’s different, but we don’t necessarily have to go back to the way it was. The key is mapping out how we move forward, to move through that difference, embracing it, and creating something new. We have all been through something together, and we will get through it together. That’s what DLBA is trying to do: create community within our community and that makes us all stronger for it,” he said.

During the webinar, DLBA formally took the Safe Spaces Alliance pledge, a program created by Visit Gay Long Beach that enables local businesses to show support of the LGBTQ+ community by displaying a “You are Welcome Here” decal at their location.

Ellie Perez, Co-Founder, Gay Long Beach, helped create the Safe Spaces Alliance in response to what happened with the beach tower that was destroyed earlier in the year. “That was alarming for all of us and made us feel that we were not safe. As part of the LGBTQ tourism that we were doing, it was important for us to make people feel comfortable and secure again. As business owners, it’s important to welcome people in,” said Perez.

“We reached out to other LGBTQ owners for support. It was approved by City Council, so it’s an official initiative. It’s so wonderful to know that the city of Long Beach was absolutely one hundred percent behind it.”

The group provided insights into how gender identity plays a significant role for employees and the community. Carlos Torres, Executive Director, LGBTQ Center Long Beach, explained what businesses can do to ensure inclusiveness. “First, have written policies that will show my workplace is a safe space for all of my employees. The policies need to be inclusive and have gender identity and sexual orientation in the policy. The second piece of that is to put it into practice. Having just a policy on a piece of paper is not good enough. You have to train your employees, and you have to set the expectations, and the expectations begin at the very top,” said Torres.

The panelists also discussed the importance of mental health and being connected, especially in a time of isolation brought on by the pandemic. According to Jose Gaspar, LFMT, Long Beach Queer Therapists, being patient is a key.

“I think there was a broad assumption that once the lockdown was ‘over’ that things would go back to normal. It would be as simple as you would walk out your door and everything is fine,” said Gaspar. “What I’m finding is that people weren’t prepared for just how difficult that transition was going to be. I am urging people to be patient with themselves and compassionate with others as they adjust. If you are not ready to take your mask off and go to parties, that’s fine, there is no set timeframe in which you have to do that.”