LGBTQ activist Grant Turck is the president and founder of Venice Pride
Being a community advocate who educates the public on LGBTQ and civil rights is a lifelong mission for Venice resident Grant Turck.
Growing up in Ohio, Turck noticed there were very few resources for gay teens, so he set out to create his own. When he was a student at Madeira High School in 2001, Turck started the first Gay-Straight Alliance club at his school, which remains to this day, to promote acceptance and awareness.
“I grew up in a conservative town when states were banning gay marriage,” Turck said. “It was definitely a battle to win over school officials, but I persevered and I’m proud to say two decades later the Madeira GSA continues to offer a safe space for students.”
In 2004 while attending Pepperdine University in Malibu, Turck challenged the school’s anti-gay policies by trying to start Students Against Homophobia, an organization designed to educate the community about homophobia and its effects.
“I was on a mission to create an organization similar to the one I had created in high school,” Turck said. “I tried to frame it around the idea that whether you’re a Christian or a non-Christian, whether you believe in gay rights or not, we can all agree that violence against others and beating people up for being gay is not OK. They still didn’t approve the club, but since I was a public relations major at the time, I was able to bring attention to the issue and spark a dialogue on campus by getting press coverage. Years later, they now have an LGBT club on campus.”
After graduating from Pepperdine, Turck lived in Santa Monica for several years before moving to Venice in 2015.
“I love the beach and Bohemian lifestyle,” Turck said. “Venice is such a unique, diverse and magical place to live and work.”
In 2016, Turck founded Venice Pride, a nonprofit organization that celebrates the diversity of LA’s LGBTQ community, friends and supporters. Every year, the organization does ongoing outreach and hosts annual events such as the Venice Pride sign lighting and block party to inspire, commemorate and support diversity in the community. Venice Pride has garnered support from many organizations including the NFL’s LA Rams and LA Chargers, who previously sponsored its annual weekend Pride event.
“With the 2016 closing of Roosterfish, LA’s last gay bar on the Westside, the LGBTQ community lost a safe space where we could let our hair down.,” Turck shared. “We wanted to create new spaces for the LGBTQ community to connect and remain visible on the Westside. We established Venice Pride as a nonprofit later that year with a mission of saving lives through acceptance and diversity. We accomplish this through annual events and public art projects like the rainbow crosswalk and Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower.”
The rainbow crosswalk was unveiled in 2019 on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in front of the Roosterfish, which reopened in 2018. Modeled after the iconic rainbow crosswalks in the Castro District of San Francisco, it is the city’s first and is a permanent fixture.
The Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower is at the end of Brooks Avenue and is known as the most Instagrammable lifeguard tower in the world. Turck came up with the idea to transform the tower from its traditional light blue color into a rainbow pride flag to celebrate diversity and commemorate Venice Pride.
“People from all over the world come to take pictures with the tower, post about it in different languages on social media, and spread its message of acceptance far and wide,” Turck pointed out. “The positive impact it has on the public is amazing.”
The lifeguard tower was painted in 2017 by Venice Pride board members, along with volunteers from the community. LA City Councilman Mike Bonin and LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the first openly gay California legislator, helped out by applying the final paint strokes. The sand around the tower was dedicated as Bill Rosendahl Memorial Beach and named after the late Bill Rosendahl, the first openly gay man elected to LA City Council.
After gaining traction through an online petition and grassroots campaign backed by city and county officials, the rainbow lifeguard tower was also designated as a memorial to Rosendahl by the LA County Board of Supervisors to be permanently maintained by the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
“I’m thankful that we’ve created the lifeguard tower and rainbow crosswalk, which have become iconic landmarks and safe spaces for people,” Turck said. “Although we haven’t been able to have in-person events this past year, including the Pride celebration, we have established these landmarks in the community where people can continue to gather and celebrate themselves.”
While Venice Pride has transitioned to a virtual model during COVID-19, Turck looks forward to returning to in-person events once it is safe to do so.
“With Pride month right around the corner and continued uncertainty around when large outdoor events can begin anew, Venice Pride is looking toward 2022 when we plan to host our first pride parade and festival on the boardwalk,” Turck said. “In the meantime, we encourage those interested in supporting us to shop the Venice Pride merchandise on our website or make a tax-deductible donation by texting ‘VENICE’ to 44321. I’m very proud of the organization and what we’ve achieved so far and look forward to celebrating with the community soon.”
— Kamala Kirk