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Welcome to LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the Grand Lake neighborhood

A rendering of the LGBTQ+ Cultural District, with the flag, banners, and rainbow crosswalk. We’ll see this live when funding goals are achieved.

By Debra Chaplan

June is LGBTQ Pride Month and that means more than ever before in our Grand Lake neighborhood. Why?  Because, as of November of 2023, we became the newly-designated Lakeshore LGBTQ+ Cultural District.

What does it mean to be a Cultural District — in general and to us as residents of the district? Those are the questions I put to Jeffrey Myers, who’s one of the co-founders along with Joe Hawkins of the LGBTQ+ Center and Chair of the Lakeshore LGBTQ+ Cultural District committee.

While San Francisco has the reputation for being gay-welcoming and occasionally militant, members of the LGBTQ+ community have slowly but surely been making their way across the bridge to live in Oakland. The cultural district designation is a first for Oakland and for the East Bay. That’s something that will be celebrated for years to come.

Jeffrey Myers at Peets
Jeff immediately suggested meeting at Peets because it is LGBTQ+ friendly.

Meet Jeffrey Myers

Jeffrey Myers is quiet but fierce. You can tell that when he sets his mind to getting something done, he makes a plan and checks off items until he has succeeded.

Myers says that when he moved to San Francisco over 20 years ago as a traveling scrub nurse, after growing up in the South and serving in the military, Oakland’s reputation preceded it and made him afraid to come across the Bay. But when he was convinced to visit a new love interest in Oakland, he saw the pink lights surrounding Lake Merritt during Pride Month and lesbians and gay men holding hands freely, and he fell in love with Oakland despite what he had heard.

That love for Oakland has stayed with him ever since. He currently lives in Adams Point, working as a neurosurgery scrub nurse. After helping found the LGBTQ+ Center in 2017 and serving as its first Board Chair, he wanted to do more, which led to the idea for a Cultural District. “We need a space without violence and discrimination for Oakland’s LGBTQ+ families, allies and community members,” he said.

“My passion is community. My passion is bringing us together and making sure that we have a safe space for young LGBTQ+ folks who are dealing with discrimination and all of the nasty political rhetoric. We have to create safe spaces where they can come in and feel accepted and be themselves while we promote business development and foster a community where every Oakland resident and visitor can feel safe to exist free and proud.

“Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the country, which is one reason why this cultural district should be here. Ours is a multi-rainbow organization and this is a multi-rainbow, diverse community,” he says. “This area also has a long LGBTQ+ history with numerous LGBTQ+ businesses that have thrived here. The Lesbian March kicked off at the Pergola next to Lake Merritt for years.” 

Map of the Cultural District

Making it official

We wanted this to become a Cultural District but we didn’t yet know the process. I was fortunate to meet Edward Wright,” who works for City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. “We determined that our first step was to get a resolution declaring the cultural district passed by the City Council.” At the same time, Myers says that he started getting buy-in for the idea from people throughout the city who hold key strategic positions— from the mayor’s office to the city council and community leaders.

Officially launching the District required two separate City Council votes.  The first tested whether there might be any community opposition, and there was none. Next, on November 7, 2023, the Oakland City Council passed the resolution calling for the establishment of the Lakeshore LGBTQ+ Cultural District. “We scheduled a press conference that day because we knew we had the votes,” Myers recalls.

City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and Emcee Amy Schneider
City Council member Rebecca Kaplan with Amy Schneider, who emceed the press conference

The press conference brought together many supporters, the organizing committee, several city council members, and lots of media. Serving as emcee was Amy Schneider, a proud Adams Point resident, a transgender woman, an author, and a Jeopardy champion.

As Myers envisions the Cultural District, the visual demarcations will start with a large flagpole for a prominent Pride flag, street banners displaying the Lakeshore LGBTQ+ Cultural District’s logo, a dozen of which are already up, and rainbow-painted crosswalks on Lakeshore from the LGBTQ Center to the gas station, and on Grand from the theater up toward the freeway.

Longer-term goals include bringing on ambassadors to make sure that people feel safe walking in the district, and recruiting more LGBTQ+ businesses to the neighborhood. In some cases, this may necessitate political work to goad landlords to open up their properties for rental.

Marking the start of Pride Month, the Cultural District released a new video. It’s very fun—check it out!

The Cultural District is working collaboratively with the Lakeshore Business Improvement District and the Grand Avenue Business Association. “It’s all about working together to make sure this area is safe for all of us and that we’re all thriving. We want people to spend their money in this district,” Myers added.

Of course, reaching Myers’ vision will require funding. “We need local donations, private donations, corporations, whoever wants to donate for a good cause and get a tax write-off.” The Cultural District has a Go-Fund-Me account, and people can also write checks (made out to Oakland LGBTQ Center with ‘Cultural District’ in the memo line).

“I want to take this idea on a global scale,” Myers says. “That’s why I’m working with Visit Oakland. They’re already helping promote the District on their website. When LGBTQ+ people from around the world visit the U.S. and look for a safe space, a place where they can belong, I want Oakland to be that place.”

UPCOMING EVENTS

Rainbow Fair promo

The Rainbow Fair, the only large-scale Pride Month activity in Oakland, is sponsored by the LGBTQ+ Center, and will be held on June 9 from 11 am-6 pm at Splash Pad Park. This will be a kid-friendly, business-friendly community event with great entertainment.  

Drag Brunch and Fashion Show will be a super-fun fundraiser held at the Lake Chalet on August 3 from 12-4 pm.


By debra chaplan

Debra Chaplan became the publisher of the Splashpad News in February 2024. She’s lived in the Grand Lake neighborhood for 30 years. With a career doing communications and educational programming for several unions, she’s pleased to use those skills for the neighborhood and city that she loves.


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