Hansen: Gay Laguna fades away

March 21, 2012|By David Hansen

It's been said that Laguna Beach was born gay, started by colorful artists and infused with an eclectic happiness that can only come from open-minded people.

Then why has it become so straight?

What happened to the energy, the progressiveness and self-effacing creativity?

"It's not the same," said Fred Karger, 62, a longtime activist and now the first openly gay Republican candidate for U.S. president. "There are still a lot of gay people but many have left to Palm Springs or San Diego or Long Beach or Los Angeles. And it's not the same without that kind of cool gathering spot."

Karger was referring to the Boom Boom Room. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the closing of the iconic gay bar, which shut its doors on Labor Day in 2007. Karger, and many others, tried unsuccessfully to keep it open.


"I am absolutely convinced — and I've tried to talk to that economic development commission when they were exploring ways to bring revenue in — and I said you should help get a second gay bar in this town," Karger said. "And you'll see the gay community come back, and you'll see a lot of these stores coming back to life."

On the campaign trail in Puerto Rico last week, Karger pointed out a large gay cruise that was about to leave the port — and the benefits it brings.

"I'm actually in Puerto Rico right now campaigning for president, but there's a gay cruise leaving from here with 2,300 gay men on it from all over the place. There's a lot of money spent on travel, particularly in the gay community. And they used to come to Laguna."

Former Laguna Mayor Bob Gentry — the first gay mayor in the country — spent 12 years on the City Council in the 1980s and '90s. He now splits his time between Hawaii and Rancho Mirage, which has a thriving gay community. Gentry said its success rests largely on economics and welcoming city policies.

He laments the long-suffering demise of Laguna's gay culture.

"To look at this in a cultural, demographic, political kind of way — all of that — the big picture to me goes back to the AIDS crisis in the '80s," he said. "And what started there was a feeling in the city of some shame and denial and some, 'we've-got-to-change-this culture because it's doing damage to the city.'"

Gentry, 73, said the losses were felt deeply because they decimated an active core of volunteers.

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