For a number of years some board members of Christopher Street West, the non-profit organization that has staged the annual LA Pride parade and festival to celebrate LGBT equality since 1970, have quietly voiced their unhappiness with their relationship with the City of West Hollywood and WeHo businesses.
Now what one board member describes as West Hollywood’s worst-kept secret is taking on a higher profile as some suggest CSW might actually move the LA Pride parade and festival out of West Hollywood.
A number of escalating concerns have CSW insiders, who requested anonymity, and Steve Ganzell, a member of CSW’s board of directors, questioning whether West Hollywood is the right host city for the event.
CSW issued an official statement on Sunday after WEHOville inquiries about rumblings on its board about moving LA Pride from West Hollywood.
“Christopher Street West has no plans to host LA Pride anywhere other than West Hollywood,” read the statement. “The Board of Directors engages in many lively discussions comprised of several personal opinions to ensure the continued success of LA Pride for our community and stakeholders. Our primary focus now is building a fantastic event in West Hollywood in 2014, commemorating the major milestone of the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which gave rise to pride festivals worldwide.”
“I think what you’re getting is a couple people’s personal opinions,” said CSW President Rodney Scott, who strongly denied any organized conversations had taken place about moving the event.
“From an organizational standpoint, our relationship is solid with West Hollywood, with Council and staff,” said Scott. “We are in this together, from my perspective. That includes residents and businesses.”
Some CSW board members and insiders disagree.
“This doesn’t mean we are going to jump right into moving, but it comes up a lot, and we do talk about it,” said Ganzell. “We have lots of ideas. We constantly consider the ‘What if?’ At this time, we are ready to try something different.”
According to WEHOville’s sources, concerns include:
- A lack of support from the West Hollywood business community for the annual event, which, according to a 2008 study that CSW commissioned from Lauren Schlau Consulting, brings more than $16 million in revenue to West Hollywood. That revenue largely benefits local bars, restaurants and hotels, some of which CSW sources say, market themselves using the LA Pride brand without providing any financial support to CSW. Some business owners have said they receive a quarter to a third of their annual profits from the Pride event. According to Scott, Pride discusses “how any of our intellectual property is used across the board.” “This isn’t about local clubs using our brands,” he said.
- Costs assessed to CSW by the City of West Hollywood for street cleaning after the annual Pride parade and for cleaning and repairs to West Hollywood Park, where the weekend festival is staged. Those costs were estimated at $35,000 for the 2012 event. City officials estimated similar costs for 2013, although official numbers were not yet available. The city argues that it covers substantial costs associated with the event. In 2012 those costs, which include cleaning up after the event reimbursed by CSW, totaled $253,855. Charges for using West Hollywood Park for the festival, for closing city streets and for lost parking meter and fine revenues, all of which totalled $114,635 in 2012, were waived by the city.
- A decision by a fire marshall last year to shut down the festival’s very popular SummerTramp water park, a major draw for young LGBT people, including those from East Los Angeles who might not otherwise be drawn to West Hollywood. That decision was taken after the fire marshall saw a potential for violence in what one board member described as playful activity. Despite several appeals by CSW, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which provides fire protection services in West Hollywood, refused to permit the water park this year. WeHo party promoters Andres Rigal and Luke Nero are currently promoting 2013 SummerTramp, which includes a series of events in downtown Los Angeles through September.
- And finally, what some see as a lack of satisfaction with LA Pride from the West Hollywood community and City Council. In December 2011, Councilmember John D’Amico said, “There’s been a lot of private conversations to me about a lack of quality of that (LA Pride 2011) event … I think there is a serious disconnect for a lot of people on that event.”
As a follow-up to D’Amico’s comments, the City Council spent two hours discussing LA Pride with CSW board members, including Scott, at its Jan. 17 council meeting. D’Amico said that residents described the event as “lame” or “tired.”
“The politics have drained out in favor of commerce,” he said.
Other criticism came from members of the public, who objected to the $20 entry fee for the Pride festival, “restrictive” fencing around the festival and the Parade’s three-hour length being too long. The council agreed to form a subcommittee, including D’Amico and Councilmember John Duran, to work with CSW on ways to improve LA Pride. Duran and D’Amico agreed to work with CSW board members extensively after the 2012 event.
However, when questioned over whether that subcommittee ever met with CSW board members, Scott was vague. “I don’t believe it was a direct action (of the Council),” he said. “We work with all the council members.”
Neither Duran or D’Amico returned requests for comments regarding the subcommittee. According to West Hollywood City Clerk Corey Schaffer, the city has no documents regarding meetings of the subcommittee because it was set up by “less than a quorum of council,” and therefore not subject to Brown Act requirements.
“That’s an old story,” said Scott. “The last two events, the council has acknowledged its respect for what we’ve accomplished.”
In an April 9, 2012 letter to the West Hollywood City Council, the CSW board of directors presented the city with at least one option to create a “no-cost-to-enter celebration” (a free festival). Among other things, CSW asked that West Hollywood pay for all costs of sheriff’s services (the city currently pays for parade and Dyke March security) and for the city to co-sponsor the festival with an additional $500,000. According to Scott, that letter was a “working document” and not a formal request.
While some CSW board members have raised the spectre of Pride moving, at least one has said it is unlikely that the organization will move LA Pride from West Hollywood for fear that the City of West Hollywood would launch a competing Pride event and that attendance would fall off because of the move, further hurting CSW revenues.
“We have enjoyed a long collaboration together,” said Duran. “But if they do not wish to contract with us, we will find another event producer.”
Sources said one option under consideration is starting the parade at L.A. Live (the entertainment complex at 800 W. Olympic Blvd. in Downtown LA) and ending it at Exposition Park (just west of the 110 Freeway below the University of Southern California). The festival would be held at Exposition Park.
“The first time I heard about it was after the 40th Anniversary (Planning) Committee, when the whole (West Hollywood) park redesign was in process,” said Ganzell. “We thought ‘what would happen if we couldn’t use the park?’ Downtown, among other places like Plummer Park, were alternative choices to hold the festival, while West Hollywood Park was being rebuilt.”
The 40th anniversary committee, a group of community leaders, worked alongside the CSW board to come up with new ideas to improve the 40th anniversary of LA Pride.
Gavy Kessler, a gay Los Angeles artist who often performs at Akbar’s popular “Planet Queer,” has been one of the strongest proponents of moving the parade to Downtown LA, and has created a group on Facebook called “Take Back LA Pride” with 222 members.
“While I think we all appreciate WeHo as a safe and supportive enclave for all things GLBT, it does not reflect the larger politics, economy and community of Los Angeles,” Kessler said. “Some have said that everyday in West Hollywood is like Pride, which is something that I love about it, but also exactly what makes LA Pride in West Hollywood so politically void of meaning.”
Kessler believes Downtown LA would be more inclusive of the entire LGBT population.
“I want to see an LA Pride that holds space amongst the thriving government buildings, banks, galleries, residences, commerce, and parks of Downtown Los Angeles — a space where Pride can grow to be more exciting and more inclusive, the kind of world-class event that a world-class city like LA deserves,” he said.
Removing LA Pride from West Hollywood would have an impact on local hotels and bars and restaurants that cater to the tens of thousands of LGBT people who flock to WeHo every June for the weekend-long event.
Pride undeniably brings revenue to West Hollywood businesses. But CSW revenues from Pride appear to be in decline. CSW, a tax-exempt organization, has reported to the Internal Revenue Service an increase in Pride-related revenue from nearly $1.4 million in 2007 to nearly $1.6 million in 2011, the last year for which its IRS report is publicly available. However, those reports include the value CSW attributes to services provided for free by the city and others. Actual cash generated by Pride for CSW has declined 13 percent — from $1.4 million in 2007 to $1.2 million in 2011 — over that period, although it grew modestly from 2010 to 2011.
That money comes from corporate sponsorships, fees charged to parade participants, fees charged to exhibitors and vendors on the festival grounds and admission charges to the festival, which have been $20 a person since 2006 ($15 if purchased online). Festival fees are especially important to CSW, accounting for 74 percent of CSW’s Pride-related cash revenue in 2011. Festival admission revenue has declined by 4 percent between 2009 and 2011, suggesting a drop off in attendance.
It is not clear how many visitors the Pride festivities draw, although Christopher Street West routinely cites 400,000 as the number of people attending Pride events. The festival itself, held this year in West Hollywood Park, attracted approximately 24,000 paying attendees in 2011 according to data in CSW’s Internal Revenue Service filing for that year, the latest available to the public. There are no official figures on how many people watch the Pride parade, which takes place for several hours on the Sunday of Pride weekend along Santa Monica Boulevard from Crescent Heights to San Vicente.
In 1979, Pride moved from its original Hollywood location to what was to become West Hollywood. The move came in response to LAPD hostility (the department was headed by the notoriously anti-gay police chief Edward Davis) and a population shift that saw more openly LGBT people moving to the unincorporated portion of LA County that became West Hollywood.
Sources said the CSW board also is concerned that the LAPD might be less hospitable to a large gay audience than is the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which provides public safety services in West Hollywood.
“I appreciate the relationship we have with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department,” said Ganzell. “They are protective. From what I know, we have a good relationship with them. We don’t have any connection with LAPD, so who knows what that would be like.”
Scott became president of CSW after the 2000 event. He is credited with fixing many of the problems inherited from previous president John Cappadono, including lack of fundraising and the departure of many volunteers.
“We are focused on next year and the 45th anniversary of Stonewall, and the following year, the 45th year of CSW hosting Pride,” said Scott.
“Both will occur in West Hollywood.”
The problem with the festival is it is trashy. Most of the people that come to West Hollywood that weekend are trashy. I waited for my friend outside of a bar and everyone was stumbling, fighting and puking in the street. Most of my friends go to private parties in and around West Hollywood and then we may go to the bars, but we tend to avoid the festival. The dance tent used to be so much fun in the late 90’s and even into the early 00’s, but once the locals moved on…there just wasn’t a point to go… Read more »
Great response Jon Ponder, I’ve also felt that we as Angelinos should embrace our great gay history. Most people just don’t know it, hopefully that can change. On to CSW. This past year saw record numbers along the parade route, the festival and at the bars along Santa Monica Blvd. People keep talking about SF and NYC pride and how great they are; how LA pride has lame performers and grand Marshalls. The truth is simply that SF and NYC are denser urban environments. WeHo doesn’t have narrow streets lined with high-rises, and downtown LA or the East Side would… Read more »
We agree, with a name like “Christopher Street West”, what do you expect? It’s time to update this event to 2014, starting with a more appropriate name & vision for this organization! But in Downtown L.A., oh please! Pride is a time to celebrate in Gay West Hollywood, not wander amongst office buildings, condos, closed sandwich shops, and Staples Center parking lots! Gay West Hollywood is the HEART of Los Angeles and will always be the HEART of the Los Angeles Gay Community as it always has been!
Oh my. Jon Ponder has a very very good point. thanks for the important reminder, Sir.
My gripe is with the name of the organization that puts on the event — Christopher Street West. Seriously? Is that all we are, nothing more than a West Coast farm team to New York’s gay community? This is wrong on many levels, but primarily it ignores the historical fact that gays were organizing in Los Angeles almost 20 years before the Stonewall uprising in June 1969 on Christopher Street in New York. Calling the LA organization Christopher Street West insults civil rights pioneers like Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich and the others who started the Mattachine Society, a gay rights… Read more »
LA Pride is a sad joke compared to San Francisco or New York. We need a proper pride parade and festival – downtown, parading in front of city hall, ending at Grand Park or LA Historic, both of which are gorgeous outdoor venues with plenty of room. The celebration post-parade should be a several block radius fair and dance party, with several FREE stages much like SF does around Civic Center. The Weho Pride as it currently exists is a tired, outdated, suburban-sized affair, replete with corporate sponsorship and glad-handing political tools who’d sell out their grandmother’s house if it… Read more »
Dear Matthew Mullins: WOW! Congrats. Great damn reporting.
PLEASE move it out of WeHo. Please. Shocking but true, most LGBTQ are not under 30 with a 30 inch waist or live in WeHo. Nor do most get plastered and stoned out of their minds, like festival attendee’s. I moved here in 1980 but haven’t been to LA Pride / CSW Festival for a decade because I did not feel proud by the time I left. I ask CSW, what does buying a jacuzzi, kitchen cabinets or opening a bank account have to do with LGBTQ pride? LAME. Long Beach is doing something right. Friendly people every year. AND… Read more »
We need to send everyone involved in the LA Pride Festival up to San Francisco for Pride. The festival there is in the Civic Center and it’s FREE. Castro has the Pink Party on Saturday night and plenty of other events going on. The gals take over Delores Park and have great events. A lot of them go topless, so maybe we should send them to Silverlake since I live in WeHo. There are events in South of Market for the people who enjoy that area. The parade starts in Downtown San Francisco and ends up in the Civic Center.… Read more »
Bring pride to Silver Lake. The Black Cat bar was LA’s Stone Wall back in the mid-sixties. There is a large gay community living there with plenty of gay bars near by Akbar and the Eagle. The neighborhood is gay friendly and Silver Lake was known for throwing major street festivals like Sunset Junction, the Leather Festival, Etc. Bring pride to LA’s other gay neighborhood.
Summertramp was the main component that made the festival worth the price of admission. The festival is lame without it.
I’d love to see Pride move to DTLA.
As an Angeleno, i think LA pride should be in LA City proper. I love that we have a city like WeHo where we can all feel relatively safe and within our own community, but the whole event has become very commercial and boring. We didn’t even make it inside the festival this year cos the line was incredibly long. A lot of people just end up going to the bars. why pay 20 to get in when you can pay nothing to party outside? I love the idea of bringing LA Pride to Downtown LA. Many people don’t know… Read more »