Following the departure of the foundation in charge of putting on West Hollywood’s famous Pride Festival, that city has begun to re-envision what “Pride” will look like in the future. At a City Council meeting on July 20, members set in motion the process for considering their options.
West Hollywood has hosted the Los Angeles area’s largest Pride Festival for over 30 years, organized each year by the nonprofit Christopher Street West (CSW). It came as a surprise to many, including the West Hollywood City Council, when CSW sent a letter to them in mid-July notifying them that their annual parade and festival would no longer take place in West Hollywood.
“The Board of Directors decided to take this approach for several reasons,” the letter reads. “These include construction in West Hollywood Park, the changing demographics of Greater Los Angeles, our commitment to being responsive to the LGBTQIA+ community’s needs, and our allyship and collaboration with other movements for social change.”
The CSW organization derives its name from the location of the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969. Those riots, in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, are considered a key event leading to the gay liberation movement. Representatives from CSW did not respond to the Courier’s request for comment on this story.
During the July 20 City Council meeting (which was held virtually), members of the public did make a number of comments about the festival’s history and future.
“I can’t speak for the reasons for this decision,” said Remy Fellowman, “but I can say that the response online painted a stark picture. Many queer people wrote about how grateful they were to see the parade moved out of a neighborhood they described as white, rich, and generally inaccessible. I think it’s worth considering that this is WeHo’s current public image. Not a neighborhood that exists to protect all under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, but one that represents only a small, privileged segment of queer Angelenos.”
After canceling this year’s Pride Festival due to COVID-19, CSW decided to host a march in solidarity with Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The organization faced swift backlash, however, after submitting a special event permit application to the LAPD. The involvement of the police in a protest against police violence rankled many activists.
The organization quickly canceled the event and issued an apology, writing on Instagram, “as we quickly mobilized this protest, we proceeded to approach the permitting as we would normally do with organizing the annual L.A. Pride Parade In that haste, we overlooked the direct police involvement that permitting involves. We understand that clearly goes against the demands for systemic police reform.”
Tens of thousands of protesters did take to the streets in West Hollywood and Hollywood on June 14 for an All Black Lives Matter march. That event was organized by Black LGBTQ+ Activists for Change, a newly-formed group composed entirely of Black LGBTQ people, not by CSW.
Now, some members of the West Hollywood City Council think it is time to reinvent the entire concept of the Pride Festival.
“I wish CSW had been more of a partner and had a conversation with us before pulling up stakes…but I do wish them a fond farewell and a happy landing wherever they do end up,” said Councilmember John D’Amico.
“I think we have to be prepared to just blow open all the structure, the framework, the limiting boxes, the past and start with a completely clean slate,” said Councilmember John Duran.
“Historically, with Christopher Street West, over time, the 2010 festival looked no different than the 2015 looked no different than the 2018 festival,” Duran said. “Not only was it stale and stagnant, but it got so caught up in the issue of some of the identity politics that consume the LGBT community that it lost sight about what the whole weekend was supposed to be about.”
D’Amico did have some kind words for the City’s former partner. “Many of us have seen the hard work the organization has engaged in for many decades and have the photos to prove it,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tempore John Heilman, a law professor at USC, expressed the need to get legal advice about the city possibly sponsoring its own parade. He noted that at this point, it makes more sense to be small.
“If we can safely fill our bars and restaurants and few outdoor events in 2021, I think we will have success,” he said.
CSW has not announced the new location for its next Pride Festival.