By Laura Haefeli

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Marked with rainbow flags and painted crosswalks, a stretch of K Street named Lavender Heights is the unofficial home for Sacramento’s LGBTQIA+ community.

The neighborhood earned the title in 2015 after the city’s first openly gay city councilmember pushed to mark the area as LGBTQIA+ friendly.

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Music and dancing light up Lavender Heights at night. At the center of it all are two nightlife staples: Badlands nightclub and The Depot bar.

More than two decades ago, T.J. Bruce, the openly gay owner of both businesses, was brave enough to open doors and windows to Sacramento’s hotspots.

“I spent time in [San Francisco] and saw it there and needed it to be everywhere,” he said.

“Twenty-five years ago, it was a big deal to have safe spaces like this right?” CBS13’s Laura Haefeli asked.

“That’s correct, very much so,” Bruce said. “You had to kind of go into a bar with no windows, so we put a lot of windows in these bars on purpose. It all opens up, you know, out and proud.”

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And for one young person, seeing inside of a gay bar was life-changing.

“One of the things that always surprised me about The Depot when I got here is those windows would open and during the day you could see in,” said Steve Hansen, former Sacramento City Councilmember.

When Hansen moved to Sacramento at 22, he fell in love with K Street.

“There’s an embedded shame that comes with the history of the community,” he said. “It was a place you could be safe, you could be out and you.”

In 2012, Hansen would become the city’s first openly gay councilmember, garnering funding and support for a new official name for K Street: Lavender Heights.

“We were born into families who don’t always understand us and accept us… we need those outward expressions of positivity, support and love because otherwise, people feel so alone,”

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Hansen added, “We still have a lot to fight for and work for, but even today in Sacramento we have so much to be proud of. When you look at what’s going on across the country — Texas suing parents for supporting their kids, “don’t say gay” in Florida — you start to wonder, ‘Are we safe? But we here at Sacramento on 20th and K, this is our place. We will always have a home here.”