LONG BEACH - Carlos De Avila, one of the founding members of The Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Center, wasn't offended by the term "faggot," friends said.
De Avila, a professional photographer and artist in residence with a studio space on Fourth Street near Junipero Avenue, introduced himself to many people as "The Fabulous Faggot on Funky Fourth Street."
"It was a shocking conversation opener. He wanted to startle people into a conversation about him being a gay man," said friend Kerstin Kansteiner, who owns Portfolio Coffeehouse and Berlin Bistro and is president of the 4th Street Business Association, which De Avila helped her form.
Kansteiner knew De Avila, who also was an active member of the business improvement district and regular customer at Portfolio Coffeehouse, since 1989.
"That's how he wanted to be remembered. He said, `Put `faggot' on my tombstone."'
De Avila died Jan. 23 from lung cancer. He was 77, said his brother, Robert.
De Avila won't have a tombstone because he was cremated, but his memory will live.
A celebration of life will be held Saturday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, 2025 E. Fourth St.
De Avila also is remembered as an early gay rights advocate, said Ron Sylvester, board chairman at the Center Long Beach.
"Carlos was a pioneer," Sylvester said. "He was one of the first LGBT activists in our community. He wasn't ashamed or embarrassed to identify himself as a gay man.
In 1976, The Long Beach Gay Service League instituted "First Friday," a coffee house type setting at De Avila's home, where gay people could meet in a social setting that was a non-bar atmosphere.
Four years later, seeing a need for a greater presence and space for gay people to meet, De Avila was one of the founding members of the Center, which later shortened its name.
De Avila also was interested in political activism, and in 1977 was instrumental in forming the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club, the LGBT political advocacy organization.
The group was started as a response to the Briggs Initiative, an anti-gay-and-lesbian initiative to bar gay and lesbian teachers from the classroom. After Briggs was defeated, the club continued as a political voice for the gay community.
The second oldest for four siblings, De Avila was born in Los Angeles and grew up in several cities, including East L.A., El Monte and Culver City, Robert said.
De Avila served in the Air Force as an air traffic controller and was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. When he returned to the United States, in 1961, he began a life-long love with the arts, especially pottery and photography.
By 1976, De Avila owned a pottery shop in Seal Beach, where he lived with his wife, Ann, and a stepdaughter.
After relocating to Long Beach and coming out as gay, De Avila continued his photography and moved into an artist's studio and residence on Fourth Street, Robert said.
Previous to its Retro Row moniker, Fourth Street's storefronts doubled as artists' work spaces and homes.
As Fourth Street metamorphosed into a collection of independently owned eclectic boutiques, De Avila asked many store owners to fly rainbow flags during the city's annual gay pride weekend, Kansteiner said.
"Many of the businesses were reluctant, saying they weren't gay, but De Avila explained to them that hanging the rainbow flag didn't mean you were gay, but were a supporter of gay rights and the gay community," she said, "and it was important for the thousands of people visiting Long Beach to see them."
De Avila is survived by his younger brothers, Richard and Robert; his ex-wife, Ann Labrum; and a stepdaughter, Jody Decker.