I wanted to share an incredible column by Yvette Cabrera from today’s (12/5/06) Orange County Register

http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/news/columns/article_1373765.php .

It details the struggle we all face in coming out and the importance of our gathering places in that struggle. please share this column with others on your email list. if we are going to achieve equal rights we need to put “a face” on the gay community. thanks to Yvette Cabrera we have moved one step closer.

And a special thank you to Michael Sanchez for sharing his story.

Fred Karger

full text of column follows:

Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Supporters still aim to save the bar

Register columnist
It was the mid-1980s, and Michael Sanchez hadn’t told his friends or family that he was gay because he feared a backlash.

In fact, he went to great lengths to keep his secret, even dating the friends of his sister, Lauren.

During summers spent vacationing in Newport Beach, Sanchez would hang out with friends until midnight and then leave alone to spend time at the one place where he felt safe coming out gay publicly: the Boom Boom Room in Laguna Beach.

“It gave me so much confidence and such a boost for my self-esteem,” says Sanchez, 41, a Los Angeles resident. “It gave me a positive example of people who were successful, in solid relationships and dating, and it gave me a sense of what being gay really means.”

So when Sanchez learned this past summer that the historic bar was set to close, he was shocked, saying it felt like he was losing a friend. The Coast Inn, in which the bar is located, had been sold in 2005, and the lease for the bar was not extended.

“It made me sad that it wasn’t going to be there for other people, whether they are young and coming out, or for the gay community, which really loves that place,” says Sanchez. “It’s like losing a part of myself and that history.”

Fortunately, the Boom Boom Room was given a 12-month reprieve this summer, when the new owners of the property extended its lease through September 2007, but the bar’s supporters have not given up their fight to keep the Boom permanently open.

“It’s the anchor in the neighborhood, so the idea is to keep it the way it is – because it’s not just another club or hotel, it’s a landmark,” says Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger, who founded Save The Boom to oppose the proposed demolition of the property.

The group has started a Web site and a blog created a nonprofit to fundraise and alerted the media, resulting in news stories across the country.

They’ve collected signatures from supporters and so far have about 5,600, which they plan to deliver to the Laguna Beach City Council after the newly elected members are sworn in.

“We’re hopeful that it will be around forever,” says Karger, who describes it as the oldest gay bar in the western United States.

Karger began frequenting the Boom Boom Room in 1973 when he lived in Los Angeles and says he was drawn by the way the bar and Laguna Beach embraced same-sex couples long before it was acceptable to be gay.

For many, it became a symbol of gay and lesbian acceptance, a place where people could go without being judged or criticized.

“It was a place where we could go and be together and feel comfortable,” says Sanchez. “I can’t express how important that is especially for gay men. You’re just always aware of everyone and everything around you, asking, ‘Is someone going to say something?’ ”

Without the Boom Boom Room, Sanchez doesn’t think he would have had the courage to tell his family and friends that he was gay, as he did in 1986 at age 21.

He vividly recalls a conversation he had at the bar with a patron named Jim, a psychotherapist who gave Sanchez advice about coming out of the closet.

“I was terrified, but he said, ‘Be true to yourself. That’s all you can do,’ ” says Sanchez. “It gave me the strength to understand that being gay is not wrong. There are so many other people who I met who were just like me and had gone through the same experience that I went through. Hearing their histories and life stories, just made it easier for me when I had to tell my friends and family.”

With the confidence he gained from his new friends, Sanchez says he first disclosed that he was gay to his sister Lauren, who today is a Los Angeles television news anchor for KCOP/13.

“Her first words were ‘I love you no matter what,’ ” says Michael Sanchez, who serves as his sister’s manager and recently became her son’s godfather as well. “She has been my biggest supporter and my best friend ever since I came out. We were close before, but afterward, we became even closer.”

Like Karger, Sanchez wants the Boom Boom Room to be kept intact at the Coast Inn, but if not, hopes at the very least that it’s moved to another location and preserved.

“I remember sitting at the bar, meeting new friends and feeling like ‘I have a place to go.’ You never knew what was going to happen, whether you would meet new friends or run into old friends,” says Sanchez. “It was a sense of ‘I belong here.’ ”

CONTACT US: Cabrera’s opinions on local news appear every Tuesday and Thursday. She is a former metro reporter who has covered issues including immigration and higher education. Contact her at 714 -796-3649 or ycabrera@ocregister.com