ATLANTIC CITY — For its gay community, Atlantic City has been a good, at times great, place to party over the years. So much so that there will soon be a historical marker erected near the Boardwalk at New York Avenue, a place to be forever known as “Where the Party Began.”

“Since the 1920′s, New York Avenue has served as a safe haven for the LGBTQIA+ community,” the plaque will read. “For decades, boisterous hotels and nightclubs made New York Avenue a gay tourist destination, a hangout for celebrities, a place for everyone to ... party.”

But how about to live and work? Or buy a house? And what about the party’s future?

Despite varying efforts by casinos to market to LGBTQ tourists; Atlantic City’s distinction as one of the only cities to have had an openly gay mayor, Don Guardian, who flew a rainbow flag over a historically gay beach (repeatedly torn down); the endurance of the Miss’d America drag pageant long after Miss America itself left town; and the town’s generally welcoming vibe (not to mention its undervalued Shore real estate), the city has some work to do to revive itself as a destination for gay culture and community.

» READ MORE: Atlantic City: The town built on pineapple martinis

But people are trying.

There’s Judah-Abijah Dorrington, 65, a Black nonbinary musician and diversity consultant born and raised in Atlantic City. Dorrington was appointed a year ago by Mayor Marty Small Sr. to be the city’s first Liaison and Coordinator of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services, with a commitment to the Black and brown queer community.

“The great thing about what Marty Small did is that he institutionalized something and gave it a certain kind of power,” said Dorrington. “He took the step so that the community would know Atlantic City stands beside LGBTQ people.”

There’s Seng Bethea, 36, a transgender woman and graduate of Atlantic City High School who is organizing “AC is Burning,” what she says is the city’s first ball in the tradition of queer Black and Latinx ballroom culture, on June 17 at the Anchor Rock Club on New York Avenue.

“I think that Atlantic City is actually a very good place for transgender girls and guys,” said Bethea, who was a bartender at the Rainbow Room before it closed in December 2019, leaving Atlantic City again with no gay bars. “I think Atlantic City has evolved. There was a time before where you could not be a trans woman without being attacked. Now, everybody’s accepting the trans community. It’s shocking how they’re reaching out and want to be a part of things we do.”

There’s the AC Pride organization, which is organizing a multiday Pride festival from June 17 to June 23 that will unveil the historical marker during a Rainbow Ride/Show Us Your Shoes parade on the Boardwalk on June 18 and also rededicate the traditional gay beach in front of the Claridge, this time by painting the archway entrance rainbow colors, says board member Laurie Greene.

A Be Visible AC group has been organizing gatherings as well, with one planned for April 20 at Rhythm & Spirits on Tennessee Avenue in what’s now called the Orange Loop.

The next gayborhood?

In the Chelsea neighborhood, known for its multicultural restaurants, university district, and stock of old beach homes from the ocean to the bay, there is an effort to market Atlantic City’s undervalued real estate to the LGBTQ+ community. A tour that meets at 2 p.m. at the Tropicana is planned for April 22. (Chelsea is located in the city’s lower half, bordered by Texas Avenue in the north and Albany Avenue to the south, from ocean to bay. Albany Avenue to the Ventnor border, with its large historic beach block housing stock, is considered Lower Chelsea.)

» READ MORE: What to do, eat, and see in Atlantic City

“We want to welcome back the community that has a long storied past in Atlantic City,” said Geoff Rosenberger, a Realtor in Atlantic City who was at Bar 32 on Tennessee Avenue late last month during one of Dorrington’s meetups. “You can’t make anyone buy a house anywhere, but one of the things driving our market is the very diversity of the city.”

Rosenberger says there are deals in Atlantic City. “If you’re a first-generation summer buyer, you can buy something for $400K or $600K on the water,” he says. “In Ventnor, you’re paying a half-million dollars to knock down a house in the middle of nowhere to build a new house.”

Chelsea is not the first neighborhood people think of when talking about an Atlantic City gayborhood, but Elizabeth Terenik, director of the Chelsea Economic Development Corp., says the area is ripe for investment.

She cites research by author Richard Florida that cities with a higher tolerance for gender, racial, and religious diversity perform better economically and can draw people from the technology sector. Having an established LGBTQ+ liaison in City Hall sends the right message, she said.

“All of us who live here know how open the Atlantic City community is to everyone,” said Terenik, a former planning director for Atlantic City.

“There are 60 properties for sale,” in the Chelsea neighborhood, she said, with Airbnbinvestors driving a citywide surge in renovated properties.

The old Chez Paree Disco

Anchor Rock Club, on New York Avenue, just off the Boardwalk, was once the home of the Chez Paree Disco, at the heart of a thriving gayborhood and playground of the 1970s-era Atlantic City.

Now it is part of the Orange Loop of Tennessee and New York Avenues and St. James Place, billed initially as catering to younger tourists with its beer hall, coffee shops, restaurants, and eclectic bars. With people like trendsetting hospitality curator and mixologist Lee Sanchez overseeing the vibe at places like Rhythm and Spirits and Bar 32, the area has also been nurturing a revived gay party scene.

Nearby around zigzagging Westminster Avenue, the old “Snake Alley” of Atlantic City’s historic gay party scene, there is more development underway, including housing and some Airbnbs, part of a wave of short-term rental investment that have spurred the rehab of old housing stock throughout the city.

The history runs deep. One old New York Avenue bar was Val’s, one of three New Jersey bars that went to court to fight discrimination two years before Stonewall, leading to a landmark 1967 New Jersey State Supreme Court ruling outlawing discrimination against gay people.

» READ MORE: American Airlines will bus passengers between Philadelphia, Allentown, and Atlantic City

Dorrington has a deep history with the city as the child of two Atlantic City icons: Art Dorrington, the first Black person to sign an NHL contract and a youth hockey mentor in the city, and Dorothie Dorrington, a city activist and educator with her own historical marker on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

But some 40 years went by with Dorrington fine with the idea that there might not be a personal future in Atlantic City. Dorrington moved to Boston to go to Berklee School of Music and settled down in marriage. (Dorrington eschews third-person pronouns.)

“I didn’t think I could live and thrive in Atlantic City as a gay person,” Dorrington said during a recent meetup event held at Bar 32. “When I got to Boston, and I saw what was going on there — there was a lot of women’s things going on — I thought, I could stay right here, I’m not going home.

“So I was there for 40 years, and had a really great thriving life, met my wife 40 years ago in Boston, got involved with Boston Pride.”

At the time Dorrington’s consulting firm, Dorrington & Saunders, was hired, Boston Pride was embroiled in controversy about inclusivity and ultimately voted to dissolve. (The Philly Pride organization canceled its parade in 2021 after posts that offended some in the LGBTQ+ Black, brown, and trans communities.)

Dorrington is determined to oversee an office that prioritizes the needs of Atlantic City’s Black, brown, and transgender communities, including those involved in sex work and the homeless, and those who, like Dorrington, grew up in the resort’s neighborhoods.

Power of City Hall

It was at a “Pride with Purpose” backyard gathering in 2020 in Dorrington’s Westside neighborhood home that the mayor decided to install someone in a cabinet-level position to oversee the health and needs of that community. An LGBTQ+ Pride flag with stripes for Black, brown, and transgender people was raised for the city’s NAACP’s Silver Linings group devoted to connecting and maintaining allies for the city’s queer and transgender residents who are also Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

There is some tension between Dorrington’s work and some of the local LGBTQ groups, which fought the city’s efforts, now under litigation, to shut down a syringe-exchange site in the city’s tourism district. Dorrington did not openly oppose the actions of the mayor and most of city council.

“The city should have supported the needle exchange,” said Greene, a professor at Stockton University and board member of the AC Pride organization. Greene, who is queer, is the author of Drag Queens and Beauty Queens: Contesting Femininity in the World’s Playground.

The Originals

In her role, Greene has nurtured ties with some of the city’s original drag queens featured in her book — and has worked to keep their histories and experiences alive — and with younger people like Bethea.

“I think it’s ready to come back,” Greene said. “I’m an optimist. My intention with writing the book was to do a history, and recognize the amazing contributions. There’s no reason we can’t reclaim our history.”