scattered clouds


Laguna Beach

Barbara’s Column

A rainbow is somewhere over Laguna


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The gay community celebrated last weekend the right to live the life one chooses with whomever one chooses.

Events included a welcoming Happy Hour and Dance Party on Friday; a beach party and Tea Dance on Sunday; and sandwiched between them, a hike in Laguna Canyon, a Drag Bingo Brunch, and a festival of entertainment and dancing at Seven7Seven on Saturday. 

A rainbow clapping

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Mayor Bob Whalen among the crowd

 “What a great event,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, who uncharacteristically raised his voice – he had to in order to be heard over the exuberant crowd at the festivities. “It is great to see the community come alive in Laguna.”

Whalen introduced Representative Harley Rouda, who presented a Congressional Citation to the event organizers with words of support. 

He announced that the first 100 days since the 2018 election have been productive, but much is still to be done.

“We all want legislation against hatred and bigotry, but it has to come from the heart,” said Rouda. 

A rainbow Craig and Harley

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(L-R) Jonathan Colliflower, vice president Laguna Beach Pride 365, Michelle Volz, treasurer/secretary of Laguna Beach Pride 365, Craig Cooley, president, and Congressman Harley Rouda

He concluded his remarks with a zinger that won him cheers: “Did Dana Rohrabacher ever come to one of these [Gay Pride events]?” he tossed off as he left the stage.

Rachel Curry presented a citation on behalf of Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, who was unable to attend the event. 

Wilhelmina Caviar served as Mistress of Ceremonies and invited all the folks to go on Wednesday nights to O.C. Craft Gastro Brew Pub on Ocean Avenue for a performance of her Femmes Fatale show. 

Laguna Beach Pride 365 organized the weekend of events. 

“It was very emotional for me,” said Craig Cooley, president of the group. 

“Never would I have thought I would be on the stage at a Gay Pride event with the mayor of a thriving beach community and a U.S. Congressman expressing recognition for our efforts in diversity and inclusiveness. For that I am terribly grateful.”

A rainbow MC

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Mistress of Ceremonies Wilhelmina Caviar

Although no formal head count was taken, Cooley estimated that the crowd was pushing 600. In the afterglow of the success, his team, which includes Vice President Jonathan Colliflower, Secretary/Treasurer Michelle Voltz and Volunteer Coordinator Bonnie Matthews, are already working on next year’s event. That will include removing Rainbow Flags from the meters in front of City Hall on Memorial Day. 

Traditionally, the American Flag is flown on Memorial Day at half-staff on the pole in front of City Hall and small flags are attached to the parking meters. 

However, in an oversight, the gay community’s flags were displayed on the meters starting May 22, Harvey Milk Day, through June 2.

(Harvey Milk was the first openly gay supervisor in San Francisco. He and Mayor George Mosconi were shot and killed on May 22, 1978.) 

“I was shocked to see the Gay Pride flags flying instead of the American flag on Memorial Day,” said an outraged Debby Bowes

A rainbow Cottie rep

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(L-R) Rachel Curry presents a citation on behalf of Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris – Craig Cooley, Jonathon Colliflower and Michelle Voltz

City Manager John Pietig took the blame for the mix up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. 

“It was my oversight,” said Pietig. “We did not intend to dishonor anyone, and it will be changed next year.” 

The request to display the flags was on the May 23 council agenda’s consent calendar and was not pulled for discussion by any member of the council or the public. 

Can you say Boom Boom?

Laguna has a long history with the gay community. 

Longtime Police Chief Neil Purcell Jr. organized police escorts from the Boom for patrons who felt insecure walking to their parked cars as part of his Community Policing Policy at a time when gays were being attacked.

For years, Bob Gentry’s name was followed by “the first openly gay elected official in Orange County.” He served three terms on the Laguna’s City Council from 1982 to 1994. 

A rainbow showgirl

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Dazzling entertainment

Laguna’s Al Roberts and Ken Jillson founded the Aids Services Foundation in 1985, when Laguna‘s gay community was being decimated by a disease that had no cure and very little effective treatment. At one point, for that matter, several points, Laguna had the highest incidence per capita of AIDS cases in the county. 

The foundation raised millions to serve the stricken…

Laguna celebrated its first Gay Pride event in 1994. It was the brainchild of the late Doug Reilly, sponsored by Laguna Outreach and backed by the City Council and business people in an effort to bring the gay and non-gay community together. The council withdrew its support of the event the following year in the face of public opposition. 

More than 20 years passed, during which the gay community became less active and many drifted away from Laguna for the desert.

However, in early 2017, a group of Laguna Beach businesses and residents, including Mayor Toni Iseman, gathered to discuss how to “bring the gay back”. 

This group is now called Laguna Beach LGTBQ Heritage & Culture Committee and works to ensure that the gay community is honored and celebrated in Laguna Beach.

That same year, Iseman presided over the resolution that Laguna would designate June as LGBTQ Heritage & Culture Month in Laguna Beach in perpetuity. 

“Laguna Beach Pride! 365 evolved from the heritage and culture committee,” said Sara Kasman, who recently retired after 24 years as executive director of Shanti, which originated in Laguna. 

A rainbow trio 

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(L-R) Gordon Gardner, Bill Atkins, Harry Huggins

Shanti is a volunteer program devoted to improving the quality of life for folks living with dreaded diseases. Since her retirement, Kasman has kept busy volunteering for such events as this year’s festival. Other volunteers included Kevin Roldan, Daniel Vlahovic, Kerri Redeker, and Kathleen Collins, whose grandmother, Charlene Guy, exhibits at the Sawdust Festival.

Among the festive crowd: Councilwoman Sue Kempf, artists Kirsten Whalen, Bill Akins and Jennifer Griffiths, Harry Huggins, Gordon Gardner, Cynthia Barry, Audrey Prosser, Mo Honarkar and Rita Conn, whose husband, Howard, was playing a gig across the street at the Festival of Arts. 

Police Detective Joy Butterfield and Sergeant Jesse Schmidt were on hand in case they were needed. Didn’t happen. Police Sgt. Jim Cota reported that no complaints were made, and no issues raised. 

To hear more about upcoming events from Laguna Beach Pride 365 and other LGBTQ topics, tune in to Rainbow Radio hosted by Craig Cooley every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Streaming live at

But wait – here’s more. You will find advance notice of all the fun and interesting stuff for visitors or residents to do in Laguna by reading Contributions are welcomed.

See below for more photos from Mary Hurlbut


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