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LGBTQ in Midtown, History and Today

It is impossible to speak of LGBTQ history and culture in Midtown without mention of the Lavender Heights District. The neighborhood is rich with the history of Sacramento’s vibrant community; and attracts local and regional residents and tourists to the area’s many LGBTQIA+ owned clubs, restaurants, salons, galleries, and retail stores. Lavender Heights is located at the heart of Midtown at 20th and K Streets and is the home of our weekly Midtown Farmers Market.

History of Lavender Heights

In 1978, just nine years after the Stonewall Riots, the Sacramento LGBT Community Center was originally incorporated as a special assistance program based in Midtown, Sacramento. The Center is Sacramento’s oldest non-profit serving the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

In 1984, the Rev. Jerry Falwell appeared on television and denied that he ever referred to the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) as vile and satanic and its members “brute beasts” on his Old Time Gospel Hour. Falwell offered $5,000 to anyone who could prove that he had.

The Rev. Jerry Sloan of MCC in Sacramento called Falwell’s toll-free number, purchased a copy of the tape as proof, and demanded payment of the $5,000. When Falwell refused, Sloan sued with legal pioneer Rosemary Metrailer and won. With $5,000 in hand, the Lambda Community Fund was reorganized to later become what we know today as the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.

In 1985, Faces Nightclub was the first gay club in Sacramento when it opened its doors at 20th and K Street. “When I opened it, it was where everyone who was gay could go, that was 33 years ago,” Faces owner Terry Sidie said, in an interview with ABC10 in 2017. The establishment of Faces paved the way for other LGBTQIA+ businesses to open in the immediate area, which earned its name Lavender Heights.

In 2015, Sacramento City Council member Steve Hansen, Sacramento’s first openly LGBTQ+ council member, invited the Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce to be part of a community coalition to pursue official city designation of the LGBTQ+ neighborhood of Midtown Sacramento historically known as “Lavender Heights.”

The goal of establishing Lavender Heights as an official district was two-fold: to serve as a memorial and landmark referencing the history of Sacramento’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community; and to attract local and regional residents and tourists to the area’s many LGBTQ+ owned clubs, restaurants, salons, galleries, and retail stores.

As a “flagship” landmark to spotlight the new district, the city approved the installation of a rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of 20th and K, the heart of Lavender Heights. The rainbow crosswalks were designed as a celebration of the region’s LGBT community and are similar to those in other U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and West Hollywood. This project was a collaborative effort of the Midtown Association, the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, and Councilmember Steve Hansen. The crosswalks are maintained and supported by the Midtown Association, which is committed to ensuring Midtown remains a thriving center for culture, creativity, and vibrancy.

In 2017, a documentary was released about a woman who founded the Sacramento LGBT Community Center (then called the Lambda Community Center) after bringing a successful lawsuit against a reverend. Titled “Legends of Courage: The Rosemary Metrailer Story” highlights actions leading up to the legal action against the Rev. Jerry Falwell, which led to the founding of the Center by Metrailer in 1984. 

In 2019, the Sacramento LGBT Community Center moved into its forever home at 1015 20th street, in the heart of the Lavender Heights district. The Center continues to offer peer support groups for a variety of marginalized populations, community resource referrals to meet individual basic needs, education, and training to improve the competency of businesses and organizations to LGBTQ+ issues, numerous artistic expressions, and cultural activities that build community, and volunteer opportunities that empower individuals to give back.

In 2021, Midtown Association partnered with WEAVE Inc., The Sacramento LGBT Community Center, The Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, Faces Nightclub, and Outword Magazine to launch PRIDE, Pronouns & Progress: Gender Inclusion Training, a new grant program and series of workshops for interested Midtown and Central City businesses. The free, hour-long inclusivity training sessions for grant recipients will be led by WEAVE in a virtual format to focus on three primary topics: educating interested businesses about gender identities, gender rights in the workplace and beyond, and the importance of pronouns that go well beyond he/him/his and she/her/hers to include gender-neutral or inclusive pronouns. 

In February 2022, as part of a partnership between Midtown Association and the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, 10 vibrant new banners are now proudly displayed on 20th Street between J and K Streets — including in front of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center. The colorful banners were specially designed to demonstrate and celebrate #MidtownLove, acceptance, and inclusion in the heart of Lavender Heights. In addition to the banners on 20th Street, the new eye-catching and whimsical “Love is in our roots” rainbow vegetable art wraps were installed on utility boxes on 21st Street.

Today, Lavender Heights is home to weekly farmers markets and seasonal block parties and serves as the hub for Pride events to celebrate LGBTQIA+ culture and community. Amenities such as the rainbow crosswalks and public art further declare the neighborhood as a space for people to take pride in being unapologetically themselves.

 

LGBTQIA+ Businesses In Midtown

 

View the Map                                    View the Guide

 

Lavender Heights Events

Lavender Heights is full of weekly, seasonal, and annual events:

 

Midtown Farmers Market – Every Saturday Year-round

Shop from 5 blocks of local farmers, artisans, and vendors from the Lavender District. Midtown Farmers Market is open every Saturday year-round. Learn More

 

Makeup & Mimosas Drag Brunch – Every Sunday at Badlands

Sundays are a Drag! Sip on mimosas and watch extravagant performances from local Drag Queens every Sunday at Badlands. Learn More

 

Drag Queen Bingo – First Thursday of the month at Mango’s

Drag Queen Bingo is a monthly charity fundraising event located hosted at Mango’s Sacramento. Come play bingo every first Thursday and enjoy comedic performances by Drag Host-with-the-most, DoMe Moore. Learn More

 

THIS916 Block Party – May through October

THIS916’s seasonal block party series brings 20th Street between J and K Streets to life with local and renowned musical artists. Learn More

 

Sacramento Rainbow Festival – Labor Day Weekend

Sacramento Rainbow Festival is a huge street celebration of Pride that takes over the intersection of 20th & K Streets. This festival brings top notch live entertainment and local vendors together for a celebration of Sacramento’s LGBTQIA+ community to raise public awareness and funds for LGBTQIA+ charitable organizations. Learn More

 

Find more events

 

LGBTQIA+ Resources

Sacramento LGBT Community Center: The Sacramento LGBT Community Center creates events, programs, and pathways to services that help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people feel welcome, needed, and safe. The Center’s website provides several links to community resources including Advocacy, Arts and Culture, Community, Social, Health & Wellness, and more.

Rainbow Chamber: The Sacramento Rainbow Chamber has a member directory of LGBTQ-owned and ally-owned businesses in Sacramento. If you are looking to support these businesses that give back to our community check out the directory!

Visit Sacramento: Visit Sacramento has featured LGBTQ+ friendly itineraries, blogs, and more for visitors and residents alike.

One Community Health: One Community Health is a non-profit health care provider serving the needs of the Sacramento Community. The center is a proven leader in LGBTQ health issues, including HIV and AIDS health issues, and is regarded as a safe space for LGBTQ community members to receive healthcare.

Outword Magazine: Outward Magazine is the leading LGBTQ magazine for Central and Northern California. For over 25 years, they have been producing content for queer locals that includes local queer news, events, and highlights of community members.

 

Come see Lavender Heights for yourself and tag @exploremidtown on social media! Make sure to also check out our LGBTQIA+ Business Guide and support LGBTQIA+ owned businesses in Midtown!

Gentle Density – The Rise of Alley Infill Development

Midtown has been and continues to be a premier destination to live due to its walkability, wide array of entertainment and arts, and incredible culinary scene. Since 2017, Midtown has experienced an influx of residential developments entitled and under construction, which supports those that want to live in the urban core. While many of the projects are large scale, mixed-use developments there is another development style that has seen a rise in Midtown that embraces a gentler, neighborhood sensitive growth.

Cities across the nation are looking at gentle ways to increase density in their communities. In places like Sacramento that includes making a concerted effort to encourage the construction of accessory dwelling units, rezoning single family zoning to allow up to fourplexes, and something more unique to the Central City – the construction of alley facing developments.

The Central City in Sacramento is commonly known and represents a grid pattern that is essentially 30 blocks by 30 blocks. Between each block moving north to south there are alleys that extend from Old Sacramento through Midtown to the Alhambra corridor. In total, alleys represent approximately 37 miles of roadway in the urban core.

In their original intent, alleys were looked as mostly utilitarian by nature, which typically house some of the most basic services of city life. Buildings were built in a way that almost always faced the street front, and activation of the alleys was nonexistent.

Today, alleys represent a world of possibilities and serve as a crucial part of the housing affordability question our city faces. In recent years, the city has developed design guidelines to help encourage alley activations with businesses. One of Midtown’s first and prime example of alley activation is in Liestal Alley between 17th and 19th streets, which includes Old Soul Coffee, porous concrete pavers for better stormwater management, and better lighting and landscaping.

Now alleys offer a new opportunity with the development of residential housing on what are often time single family lots in less dense parts of the urban core. Many of the lots in Midtown’s neighborhoods of Boulevard Park, Marshall School, New Era Park, Newton Booth, and Richmond Grove offer historic homes that stretch 160 feet from street to alley. Property owners are taking advantage of these deep lots by adding housing facing the alley that not only brings a greater density to the urban core, but also brings more attention and activity to often forgotten spaces in the alley.

Sacramento needs to develop housing product of all types from large scale multi-family apartments, to accessory dwelling units and of course alley infill housing. This gentle way of adding density utilizes small underutilized pieces a land that can feature duplexes, fouplexes and up to eight or ten units without offending the character of Midtown’s historic neighborhoods.

 

The next time you’re walking in Midtown think about cutting through an alley to find one of these hidden housing projects. You might be surprised how many you find. Snap a photo of your favorite alley infill project and tag @exploremidtown with the #alleyinfill for a chance to be featured on our social or in our newsletters.