Fire officials in Long Beach, California, are investigating a fire early Tuesday that destroyed a lifeguard tower painted rainbow colors to celebrate LGBTQ Pride.
The tower, on the beach bike path between 12th and 13th Places, was already “fully engulfed” in flames by the time firefighters arrived shortly around midnight, according to Gonzolo Medina, Long Beach Fire Department’s marine safety chief.
“The tower served as a symbol of our strong support for the diversity within our ranks and the LGBTQ community who call Long Beach home,” Medina said in a statement, adding that the tower will be rebuilt and repainted.
First painted in June by LGBTQ lifeguards to honor Pride month, the tower had become one of the most popular spots on the beach, according to Mayor Robert Garcia.
“It was a gut punch to the community but we’re going to punch back. We’ll be stronger than ever,” Garcia, who is gay, told NBC News. “We’re going to continue to speak out against hate and against folks who dismiss that there’s still hate against LGBTQ+ people.”
He acknowledged that people experiencing homelessness and kids get into the towers at night, but said he believes the incident was “an act of hate.”
“To have the one lifeguard station that’s burned to the ground be the one that was recently painted in Pride colors — that leaves little doubt that this was a targeted incident,” Garcia told The Los Angeles Times. “As a gay man who is also the mayor of a city, I understand that hate incidents still happen. They happen to people I know, and they’ve happened to me.”
Garcia spoke directly to the culprits at a news conference on the pandemic Tuesday.
“To whoever committed this act, just please know that, one, you are not welcome in our community,” he said. “And two, that we will rebuild the lifeguard station, brighter, gayer, and bigger than it was before.”
The following day, Garcia tweeted, “The haters are going to lose it when we paint the next lifeguard station with colored glitter.”
Dave Stollery, CEO of Industrial Design Research, which manufactures similar structures, said he found it hard to believe such a blaze could be an accident. The station was made of steel and fiberglass, not wood, and had no internal power supply.
“I think in the 30 years I’ve been involved in this business, we’ve never heard of a lifeguard tower burning,” Stollery told The Long Beach Post. “Fiberglass is not a particularly flammable material.”
Medina and Garcia joined Long Beach City Councilwoman Cindy Allen at a unity rally on the beach Wednesday afternoon. “We’re united, we stand together, and we love each other. We’re Long Beach,” Allen told attendees, many of whom waved rainbow flags. “So, go spread the word, spread this message.”