Just in time for the start of summer Saturday, Atlantic City this week officially rolled out the welcome mat for the LGBT community.
In a beachside press conference Monday, LGBT and ally leaders in the city announced a host of LGBT initiatives, including the formal designation of an LGBT-friendly beach. Out Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian planted the rainbow flag, presented to him by leaders of the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance, at the entrance to the Park Place beach.
GLBTA president Rich Helfant noted that the beach has long been a hot spot for LGBT beachgoers.
“Dating back to the 1960s, that historically has always been known unofficially as the gay beach,” Helfant said. “We’re very happy that Mayor Guardian graciously agreed to fly the rainbow flag on the beach. And it’s not just a gay beach; everyone’s welcome. That’s the great thing about the rainbow. Our community adopted it as our symbol, but it represents every color.”
The flag now flies at the Park Place archway, next to the American flag.
In addition to demarcating the beach, Monday’s conference also served to announce three upcoming large-scale LGBT events.
From July 18-20, Atlantic City will host Sandblast, which had been staged in Asbury Park for the last 12 years.
The three-day event — complete with parties geared toward both men and women, outings and other activities — traditionally draws more than 4,000 people.
Also new to Atlantic City will be the Stand OUT LGBT Expo, Sept. 26-28 at Resorts Casino Hotel. The expo will bring together LGBT and ally businesses from throughout the region for the companies and the community to learn about exhibitors’ products and services and to foster networking opportunities.
On Saturday night, the expo will feature a comedy benefit show, with proceeds going to the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, Trevor Project and the Miss’d America organization.
The Miss’d America Pageant will coincide with the closing of the expo, Sept. 28 at Harrah’s. The annual drag pageant, parodying the mainstream Miss America event, raises money for local LGBT and HIV/AIDS charities.
Monday’s press conference was the latest in a series of steps the city and community have taken in recent years to welcome LGBT travelers.
The GLBTA was founded in 2009 to promote the economic, social and political advocacy of the region’s LGBT community, which, Helfant said, took a downturn along with the city in recent decades.
“Back in the ’60s, Atlantic City was a gay mecca — before Stonewall in New York or before Provincetown, Rehoboth or Fort Lauderdale. Atlantic City was thriving with gay life,” Helfant said. “But then as Atlantic City declined, so did a lot of the gay life.” But, the city has continued to evolve and resurrect itself from the challenges it’s faced, Helfant noted.
“For many, many years Atlantic City had the monopoly on gaming on the East Coast. Now that’s gone. So Atlantic City has always been able to reinvent itself to appeal to the masses,” he said. “And the GLBT market — while it’s not a huge market — is a very, very important, significant market in the hospitality industry. I think Atlantic City, and the whole region, has to do all it can to embrace the GLBT market and make folks feel welcome here, secure and safe here and show them what a great place this is to visit and vacation.”
That’s where this summer’s events come in.
Helfant said the lineup of LGBT activities will be an important stepping stone in the city’s LGBT tourism effort.
“It’s very exciting and when it all comes to fruition, we expect people to come here and see how great Atlantic City is. We may not have as many gay, per se, nightclubs and bars, as some other places, but everyone here is gay-friendly. And we have so much to offer: world-class shopping, world-class dining, gaming and much, much more. We have so much to offer, and we just need the catalysts to get people here so they can see that. It’s sort of like that ‘Field of Dreams’ quote: ‘Build it, and they will come.’ We want people to come here to see what we have, and then we know they’ll want to come back.”