When she was an unknown singer in the early 1980s, Melissa Etheridge would perform a few nights a week at a lesbian bar in Long Beach, California called Que Sera.
Although she was born in Kansas, the singer tells Gay Star News the city about 45 minutes south of Los Angeles had everything to do with her development as an artist, an activist, and as a openly gay person.
'This is the place where I learned about politics,' she says. 'I remember being cornered at the bar by those lesbians saying, 'Are you registered to vote?' They were organizing. It was the 80s, AIDS was just coming. This town really pulled together.'
The influence the community had on Etheridge was so profound that she knew she wouldn't ever be able to stay closeted for the sake of her career.
'It inspired me to be strong,' she says. 'Everybody knew I was gay and I wasn't going to be up there and be famous and go, 'Oh, I'm not gay.' It was all about being out. It's this community that really inspired me.'
Etheridge, winner of two Grammys and of an Oscar, returned to Long Beach over the weekend for the gala kickoff of an exhibit called 'Coming Out in Long Beach,' an LGBT history project by the city's historical society.
'It's so hard to find us in history period,' the singer said as she stood in the doorway of the exhibit. 'For a historical society to finally say, 'Okay you lesbians and gays, you were a part of our history is great. We have a wonderful history.'
The crowd of more than 200 shouted such things as 'Come back!' as Etheridge later took to the microphone to say a few words. She thanked the 'people who believed in me and gave me a job.'
'You supported me, you helped me grow as a musician and you kept coming to hear me play,' she said to the crowd of locals. 'Thank you for making me who I am.'