Gay Berkeleyans say they have it pretty good. They live in a progressive town and have access to a mecca of gay life – San Francisco. Yet many say that the geographic and demographic advantages create a problem: a lack of a one cohesive community.
“There are lots of gay people here, but it’s not as social as I thought it would be,” said Sarah Weinberg who moved from Sacramento to Berkeley seven years ago expecting to find more social outlets for gays.
Some gay residents, though, are trying to create closer ties.
On Monday gay advocate group Rainbow Berkeley hosted its fourth annual Berkeley Brunch, a celebration of Berkeley’s gay community. Billed as the grand finale of East Bay Pride Week and held the last week of August, the brunch has swelled from a few dozen participants in 1998 to more than 200 this year. The event was held at the Berkeley Marina.
“This [brunch] is a great way to bring people together,” said Paul Nelson of Berkeley. He explained that because Berkeley is so close to San Francisco and has a large gay population there hasn’t been much need for gay residents to consolidate as a single community.
“There is no set community here,” he said, contrasting Berkeley to his native St. Louis, where he said gays were better organized and more cohesive.
Nelson noted that if gays wanted to get together in Berkeley there is only one establishment that caters to them –The Pacific Center, a gay community center. But when it comes to cafes or bars, the nearest options are in Oakland or San Francisco, he added.
To remedy the lack of social options, Ted Gartner of Rainbow Berkeley has formed a Berkeley gay social club called Gspring, which holds potluck dinners. “We’re trying to get people in Berkeley aware of it,” he said. “The goal is to let people know we have a community here.”
Vernon Theiss, a Berkeley artist said that getting more bars and cafes was not as important as events like Monday’s brunch, which cut across social circles within Berkeley’s gay community.
Pointing to a table full of gay seniors, he said, “What we need more than anything is to combine generations to come together and open their hearts to the community.”
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