Marchers promoting ‘Transformers: The Ride’ and the TV show ‘Sean Saves the World’ at LA Pride, 2013. Photo by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
The world’s first organized pride parades took place simultaneously in New York City and Hollywood, California on June 28, 1970. The Los Angeles march was organized by Christopher Street West (CSW), an organization founded in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, which had happened exactly one year earlier. The parades symbolize the moment when the queer community literally took to the streets with the unanimous proclamation that we are here, and everywhere.
CSW has remained at the wheel of the now-colossal LA Pride Event every June. However, over the years, the organization has faced criticism and raised eyebrows for some of its decisions. Like the time they named Paris Hilton and her mother Grand Marshals of Pride. The pop culture icon’s response to being asked to be a major part of LGBTQ history and remembrance? “That’s hot.“
This year, CSW sparked controversy following several major changes to LA Pride. The first and most symbolic was the “rebranding” of Pride into a music festival featuring headliners Carly Rae Jepsen and Charlie XCX. This led to an increase in ticket prices from $20 a day to $35 a day or $55 for a weekend pass. The Friday night Trans Social celebration was cut down from four to two hours, and the Friday night Dyke March was trimmed from seven to two hours. The traditional “Free Friday” was eliminated altogether. The fact that LA Pride is an LGBTQ is only mentioned as a footnote on the event’s website.
Staff from the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT) under the direction of Peter Cruz, initially brought their concerns to CSW at their public board meeting, where they spoke during public comment. A few weeks later, they discovered that CSW was moving forward with the changes.
“That’s when we spoke at the West Hollywood City Council meeting and we expressed our feelings to them,” Cruz told VICE. “It was very telling because at the city council meeting, it was clear that it wasn’t just us, it was the LGBTQ community at large that were against the changes made by CSW.”
Following this, APAIT officially withdrew from LA Pride and announced their intentions to boycott the festivities. The movement grew swiftly under the #NotOurPride hashtag and was endorsed by several other groups, including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). Cruz drafted a letter of demands that addressed multiple points: that the lesbian and transgender celebrations be returned to their original length with a statement of apology from CSW, increased transparency with need-based ticket distribution, clarity on how many nonprofits will be able to have booths at the festival, and an apology to the LGBTQ community for the “rebrand.”
LA Pride responded with a letter on Friday, May 13 that apologized to the community at large and conceded to lower the ticket prices (the updated site lists the new prices as $25 a day in advance or $30 at the door, with weekend passes available for $45) and restore the trans event to its original length, as well as the return of “Free Friday.”
Without meeting the other demands, though, the boycott will go on as planned. “While this is a good first step in the right direction, it is still not enough to warrant an end to the boycott,” said Cruz.
“This is much beyond transgender inclusion,” said LGBTQ activist Robin Tyler, who told VICE the real issue is CSW’s interest in making money, rather than serving the community.
In a statement to VICE, Chris Classen, president of CSW, denied this was the case. “CSW would never, intentionally or unintentionally, dimmish where we came from, and where we are going. CSW looks for corporate partners to help underwrite the cost of producing the celebration. We also keep in mind that we don’t want it to be too corporate.”
Los Angeles Pride isn’t the only festival facing accusations about commercialization. Chipotle floats and alcohol sponsors have become standard fixtures at these gay bacchanals, raising eyebrows and inciting movements like Gay Shame in San Francisco, a collective of queer individuals who declare that “we will not be satisfied with a commercialized gay identity that denies the intrinsic links between queer struggle and challenging power.”
As Christina Cauterucci pointed out in her 2015 criticism of Washington DC’s Capital Pride: “Today’s Pride threatens to turn a historical, divorced from the context of ongoing battles for queer liberation in favor of a bland street fair that suits the least common denominator of the gay experience.”
CSW’s response has left some feeling uneasy, particularly because of recent threats to transgender rights—including recent legislation in North Carolina, which makes it illegal for anyone to use a bathroom that does not adhere to the gender found on their birth certificate.
So while the LGBTQ community at large is fighting for civil rights, the significance of Pride—as not only an event, but a concept—becomes all the more essential. There is still a need to declare, once again and at an all-time high decibel, We are here, we are everywhere. Cruz and his fellow organizers are adamant that their Pride cannot be bought or sold.
“My family totally didn’t accept me being gay and so I had to deal with the coming out process and the baggage that comes with it by myself,” Cruz said. “And the first time I was at LA Pride, I thought, I can openly be me, and not have to hide being gay. People don’t care here.”
There is a community meeting of #NotOurPride scheduled for Thursday, May 19th at ACLU of Southern California from 6:30-8:30 PM, where the boycott will decide how they are going to respond officially to CSW’s letter.