First Pride month for Oakland's new LGBTQ District

Oakland's new Lakeshore LGBTQ Cultural District is marking its first Pride month this June, with events and fundraising efforts to build a flagpole and create rainbow crosswalks for the district that rests between Lakeshore Avenue and Grand Avenue near the historic Grand Lake Theatre.

The Oakland LGBTQ Center is in the center of the district on Lakeshore Avenue, and the CEO and Co-Founder Joe Hawkins says the Rainbow Fair over the weekend and other events for Pride month are just the beginning of the plans to transform and develop the area.

"It was a sort of coming-out party for our LGBTQ Cultural District," Hawkins said.

"We're installing these banners now for the LGBTQ cultural district," Hawkins said, pointing to the banners on posts along Grand Avenue, "There will be progressive rainbow flags intermixed between on all the poles as well."

The neighborhood has grown into a haven for many in the East Bay's LGBTQ community and LGBTQ business owners.

"There are over 20 businesses in the multi-block district," Hawkins said, pointing out a boutique and a barbershop that were displaying rainbow colors. We want to encourage more people to come into this area and establish their business here."

The LGBTQ Center, which was founded in 2017, also has expanded its services to include a clinic and a Town Youth Club center that opened in 2023 and serves about 500 youth.

There is also a new administrative office and meeting space on Grand Avenue which the Center just moved into several months ago.

"This is our conference room where we can have meetings with our funders," Hawkins said. "Our elders program has expanded, our youth program has expanded. Our mental health services, our emergency housing assistance, our clinic and sexual health services have expanded."

Now, the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center is expanding to East Oakland in partnership with f Refuge to provide the same services as the Lakeshore site.

Hawkins says he hopes the community will help with fundraising to support the new Lakeshore LGBTQ Cultural District. Their goal is to raise $100,000 to help cover the costs of installing a flagpole, street banners, signs, flags, and rainbow crosswalks.

"We want to do a crosswalk in two places. One is right where the Grand Lake Theatre is.

Passersby said they like the idea of celebrating the district.

"I think it just lets other people know that this place is a safe space for people who are different, and it celebrates people. So when you can see yourself anywhere. I think that's the best thing in the world," said Ashley Mitchell, who was visiting her sister who lives in the neighborhood.

That community visibility is a point of pride for Oakland LGBTQ residents, who often have felt overshadowed by the city across the bay.

"Especially Black and brown communities, oftentimes, when we would go to San Francisco we'd face racism from the white queer community over there. So for us, we made Oakland our home," Hawkins said.

Hawkins says he hopes to have the expanded health and community services for LGBTQ people in the East Oakland area up and running by this coming September, when Oakland has its Pride Parade and celebration.

Link for donations can be found here at the Lakeshore LGBTQ Cultural District website.