A seismic shift is occurring in Los Angeles’ gay and lesbian communities. On June 11 the anachronistic Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood will be replaced by a Gay Resist March, reconnecting the gay community to its Gay Liberation roots. Its target, however, is not systemic heterosexual supremacy but The Donald.
But there is a large and pressing problem confronting the gay community in Los Angeles in this regard. West Hollywood, the site of the annual Gay Pride event, promotes itself as “The World’s Most Incredible & Magical Gay City,” by extension symbolizing the L.A. gay community. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s time to rescue the Gay Pride celebration from West Hollywood where it has been taken hostage-for-profit by the city and its business interests.
Incorporated as a city in 1984, Weho is 1.89 square miles in size, a fishbowl compared to L.A., with a small population of 34,399, 40% of whom are LGBTQ. Now comes the disturbing news. WeHo’s population is 84% white while in the City of Los Angeles that surrounds it, only 29% are of that bland skin color. In WeHo, Latinos are 10%, in L.A. 47%. Asian-Americans 5%, in L.A. 10%. African-Americans are 3%; in L.A. 10%. Weho does not resemble L.A. or its gay and lesbian people. It exists as an island of white privilege and perks surrounded by a city composed overwhelmingly of people of color.
While non-Caucasians make up about 70% of Los Angeles, they represent only 18% of West Hollywood. This was, and is, largely due to a de facto pattern of white preference and blatant discrimination against non-whites, particularly in apartment rentals and certain hospitality businesses. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the most infamous and blatant example of Jim Crow in West Hollywood involved Studio One, a hugely-popular gay megadisco with attached supper club frequented by celebrities. Studio One had a known policy of white- men-only with gay blacks and women routinely turned away. There were anti-
racism demonstrations frequently, however the Weho power structure then did nothing to stop the bigotry. Still today many gays and lesbians of color and others avoid West Hollywood, labeling it “white boys town.”
Adding to the problem are socioeconomic inequities. West Hollywood is a financially high-end city with more in common with a Hollywood Hills-Brent- wood-Santa Monica lifestyle than middle- or working-class East Hollywood and South and East Los Angeles or even downtown Los Angeles. It supports a luxury-based economy consisting largely of expensive restaurants and bars, high-priced fashion houses, home furnishings emporiums for the rich, elegant offices for the entertainment industry elite, large new high class hotels with sweeping views of the L.A. basin stretching to the Pacific, and real estate development deals running into the hundreds of million dollars.
All of this West Hollywood extravagance is beyond the reach of ordinary gay and lesbian people. It creates a false image of the gay community as being an affluent community. A better indicator of the real state of affairs appeared in 2016 in an important research study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School. It revealed that one in four LGBTQ adults (27%) experienced a time in the last year when they didn’t have enough money to purchase food for their survival as compared to 17% of non-LGBT adults. West Hollywood is an economic anomaly, out of touch and out of reach of most gay people.
West Hollywood is just the wrong place to be the iconic representation of Los Angeles’ LGBTQ community and the site of its annual Gay Pride celebration. Its Gay Establishment hypocritically says it does not pretend to represent all of L.A., but its behavior tells a different story.
By 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, which launched the national and international Gay Liberation revolution, Gay Pride should be relocated to downtown Los Angeles, to the center of the city. Recently the AIDS Walk announced it was leaving WeHo and relocating to Grand Park downtown.
In January the Women’s March showed us what a powerful tool the streets of downtown can be in bringing together and uniting disparate communities– East, West, South, North — of the city. A similar downtown LGBTQ March, hand-in-hand with our allies, has the similar potential of annually uniting the city’s gay communities, transforming gay and lesbian consciousness in Los Angeles. West Hollywood divides, downtown contains the potential of uniting.
Christopher Street West, the L.A. Pride committee in Weho that organizes the annual celebration, is accused of being closed and secretive, its board in disarray, with an entrepreneurial, entertainment consciousness (the legacy of the Reagan Revolution) replacing its grassroots, militant history (the legacy of the Stonewall Revolution). In 2016 it ran up a debt of about $400,000, shocking and alienating the gay community, particularly those who knew where we came from.
There will be strenuous push back from West Hollywood to maintain the status quo, primarily from the city government and business interests. Gay Pride has become a gold mine for them by turning WeHo into a 48-hour, citywide dance party with packed hospitality businesses. A study done by Conventions, Sports, Leisure International reported it generated $5 million in income for the city and bars, restaurants and hotels. Sadly, the Stonewall Rebellion, Gay Pride’s raison d’être, is invisible. Gay people are not dance party deprived, but they are gay history ignorant.
This is my bottom line. During Gay Pride weekend a few years ago, I asked a bright, early twentysomething gay man if he knew what it was all about. He was hazy. We dialogued about what it was like for our kind before Stonewall, what happened on June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village, and the liberation prairie fire that came afterward, birthing, against terrible odds, a self-respecting, organized, and a politically and creatively alive gay community where none had ever existed before. He went silent for a moment, then angrily exclaimed, “Why
hasn’t anyone told me this story before? This is a history I can be proud of.”