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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How the most ungay mall of all came to host a gay pride event

The Eagle Rock Plaza, a charmless box featuring a giant Chucky E. Cheese sign, could never be confused as a center for gay culture. But, on Saturday, this family-friendly mall , whose most flashiest tenants include a two-story Target and a Filipino fast-food restaurant called Jolilbee, will host the first-ever Northeast Los Angeles Pride, a gay pride event organized by the Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

The plaza is certainly not the Beverly Center – “generally packed with stylish lesbians and gay men,” according to one gay guide. That’s fine with the alliance, whose members have always seemed more comfortable fitting in rather than standing out from their straight neighbors in Eagle Rock, Mt. Washington and other nearby communities. “We are very, very comfortable being assimilated,” said Carl Matthes, the alliance executive secretary who has lived with his partner in Eagle Rock for more than 40 years. “We are just regular folk who live here.”

The area has not always been that hospitable to gays and lesbians. The alliance was created 26 years ago following the shooting death of a gay man outside a gay bar in Highland Park. In 2001, a Gay pride banner displayed by the alliance in Eagle Rock had to be replaced four times after being slashed by vandals. Alliance members have remained steadfast in supporting inclusion of gays into neighborhood life, making it a point to participate in community events, such as holiday parades in Highland Park or Veterans Day activities in Eagle Rock.

The idea for the Northeast Pride event actually came from Eagle Rock Plaza’s customer service supervisor Gina Garay after she attended one of the alliance’s monthly mixers as part of her outreach efforts. “Why don’t you guys have a mixer at the plaza,” Matthes recalls her saying. “She offered us the center court but our mixers are more private and intimate. So, it turned into a pride event.”

Of course, in keeping with the alliance and the mall’s low-key profiles, those heading to Northeast Pride will not find a parade or sprawling outdoor festival. Instead, the event – which is free and open to everyone – will take place indoors inside one of the stores, MCMC. Visitors will be able to speak to representatives from non profit organizations, watch films from Outfest on the store’s closed circuit TV system and view an exhibit of artwork created by local gay and lesbian artists. “What this is a neighborhood event,” said Matthes “It’s not a show event.”

Garay said she has not heard of any complaints since signs went up across the mall promoting the pride gathering.

“The mall caters to families but the families are changing,” said Garay, whose father came out to her family a few years ago. “I wanted to show that the mall was open to all different kinds of families.”

Top photo from Centroprop.com; bottom photo from ugla.org

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