Year-round pride events. More events for families and children. Attracting a more diverse audience. Greater inclusion of LGBTQ history. Staying put in West Hollywood.
Those are just a few of the things Christopher Street West (CSW), the nonprofit which puts on the yearly L.A. Pride celebration, plans to do in the coming years. Newly hired executive director Madonna Cacciatore and recently elected CSW board president Estevan Montemayor are aiming high as L.A. Pride moves toward its 50th year in 2020.
The two recently chatted with GayLifeLA about their aspirations for the organization and addressed lingering questions about how CSW operates. With boundless energy and enthusiasm, its clear these two have no intentions of letting CSW fade into the woodwork.
Pride shouldn’t be limited to just the second weekend in June, so CSW plans to sponsor year-round pride events, something they are calling “Pride 365.” Oh sure, CSW will still put on the yearly Pride festival and parade as the cap to Pride season in Los Angeles, but it wants to expand it to do many more things.
Cacciatore and Montemayor note that Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day and October is Anti-Bullying Month, chances for CSW to do something Pride-related. Similarly, CSW could sponsor events connected to African-American History Month (every February), Women’s History Month (every March), Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (every May), or Latino Heritage Month (mid-Sept to mid-Oct).
“There are all these opportunities where CSW could play a role,” said Cacciatore. “That’s the grander model moving forward for CSW with Pride 365.”
Also, they hope to join with other groups to co-sponsor events. CSW already partners with the L.A. Dodgers to do an LGBTQ Night at Dodger Stadium as well as an LGBTQ Night at Universal Studios. With numerous things to do and places to go in greater Los Angeles, there are endless possibilities for partnership opportunities. Perhaps a Gay Day at the L.A. Zoo or one of the many area museums.
The City of West Hollywood already puts on Pride-related movie screenings, lectures, art exhibits, etc. in the weeks before and after L.A. Pride as part of its One City One Pride celebration. CSW hopes Pride 365 can follow a similar model and also sponsor more cultural events like theatre, talks or exhibits. Don’t be surprised if CSW puts on an LGBTQ Arts Fair as part of Pride 365.
Cacciatore hopes they can put on more women’s events, more trans events, more senior events and more events for LGBTQ young people. One of her dreams is to hold an LGBTQ Family Fair. And she definitely wants to incorporate LGBTQ history into many of Pride 365 events.
For many years, CSW routinely gave grants to community organizations, but during the recession, it had to curtain those grants. With its finances improving, it plans to resume makinig such grants. Cacciatore said the grants will likely go to existing LGBTQ-related organizations that “are creating change in the world.”
“Giving back to the community is a key part of our mission. It’s very important to us,” she said.
Beyond that, CSW has sponsored a partial scholarship at the University of Southern California since 1990. Awarded annually, the competitive scholarship is open to students pursuing degrees and research for the improvement of the LGBTQ condition.
Also, CSW owns an apartment complex in East Hollywood, Casa del Sol, that provides housing for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS. AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) oversees the facility’s day-to-day operation.
Criticizing CSW and the Pride festivities has long been a favorite pastime among the LGBTQ community. Comments about the parade being “tired” or the festival being “out of touch” and “just the same old thing” are common. Such “CSW Bashing” has virtually become a sport, much like “hate watching” a TV series, with people fervently looking for things to criticize.
Cacciatore even recalls reading some social media threads in late June where someone blamed her for everything he saw wrong with CSW. And she didn’t start as executive director until July 1.
“I would like to change that sport of CSW bashing to CSW support so that we can make it better,” said Cacciatore. “If your goal is to bash, there’s nothing I can do about that. If your goal is to be productive and help us do better, I’m here and Estevan is here. I’m not saying that people don’t have reason to be upset. Things have happened in the past, but instead of holding on to something about that, I say talk to us . . . We can try to figure out how to create positive solutions.”
The two have embarked on a “listening tour” to hear people’s gripes and concerns about L.A. Pride. They know some groups feel alienated and excluded from L.A. Pride and want to figure out how to reach a more diverse audience.
They plan to talk to women’s groups, men’s groups, trans groups, ethnic groups, disabled groups, young people, older people, families, every demographic of the community.
(The City of West Hollywood will host a community forum with Cacciatore and Montemayor on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the City Council Chambers at the West Hollywood Library, located at 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard.)
“When people don’t feel included, you have to listen to that,” said Montemayor. “What we learn from the listening tour will influence how we handle Pride 365 and everything else CSW does.”
Lessons Learned from This Year’s Pride
This year, many people were grumbling about the fact the L.A. Pride festival sold out and the gates were closed when the festival grounds reached maximum capacity. That meant many people who bought advance tickets were turned away.
“CSW made a mistake in regard to the tickets that were sold and we apologized for that,” said Montemayor. “We sought quickly to rectify the situation and the people who have requested a refund have gotten it.”
They note there was an excitement surrounding Pride this year that brought out many more people than were expected. Perhaps it was due to conservative political talk coming out of Washington, D.C., or perhaps it was a strong music lineup that included as Saturday headliner the r&b star Kehlani, and as Sunday headliner, pop star Tove Lo.
As they explained, normally, there is a fairly steady flow of people in and out of the festival grounds throughout the day. However this year, many people entered the festival and just didn’t leave, a good number planting themselves near the stage, waiting hours until Kehlani performed.
Some news outlets reported the festival was shut down and evacuated on Saturday night due to overcrowding, but Montemayor said that is incorrect. While the gates were closed when they reached capacity about 9 p.m., the festival continued until closing at 1 a.m.
“Nothing was shut down other than the gates to let people in,” said Montemayor. “The people who were in there still enjoyed their time.”
Further complicating things, construction in West Hollywood Park reduced the festival’s “footprint” by about half, which meant fewer people could be in the festival at one time. Park construction will continue through next year’s L.A. Pride, but CSW is studying how to revamp the layout and improve traffic flow for attendees.
“Hopefully we can do some things with the City of West Hollywood that can create a much better process of getting in, because this should never happen again, and with Madonna on the job and me as board president, it will not happen again,” Montemayor promises.
Moving to Downtown L.A.?
With the limited space due to park construction, some are saying 2019 is the perfect time to move L.A. Pride to Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles, where subway connections would make it easier for people to attend. However, Montemayor said that will not happen. An organization called DTLA Proud already produces an annual Pride event there.
“We’re going to be in West Hollywood next year. We’re not leaving West Hollywood,” Montemayor assures. “There’s something very special about it being here in West Hollywood. We just need to do a better job at figuring out how we best use our space.”
Lowering Admission Price?
Many say that admission to the L.A. Pride festival should be free, noting that many other cities, including San Francisco, do not charge admission to their pride festivities. However, CSW plans to continue to charging admission. In 2018, ticket prices were $25 in advance and $30 at the gate.
“The festival is an important fundraiser for the organization,” said Montemayor. “It actually pays for the operation of the parade. People don’t realize it, but the street closure, the facilities, the infrastructure, that’s not free and we need money to do that. The festival helps pay for that.”
A More Elaborate Parade?
This year’s Pride parade had more contingents than in recent years and lasted longer, clocking in at 2 hours and 40 minutes as it stepped off from Crescent Heights Boulevard. But many point out that Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world and wonder why the parade isn’t more creative and elaborate, more along the lines of the Rose Parade.
Cacciatore admits they should encourage more creativity, but at present, they aren’t looking to spend more money on a more lavish parade. Montemayor adds, “CSW should think about how we incentivize people to be more creative with their contingent. That’s what we want to look into doing, but ultimately, the onus is on the contingent.”
CSW accepted applications until Sept. 7 for board members who will join in October for a two-year term. Montemayor encouraged everyone to apply, noting they want to have a diverse board.
“I understand why people feel a yearning to understand what’s happening with Pride because it’s deeply personal for them,” said Montemayor. “That’s why I say come work with us [and join the board]. It’s personal for us. It’s personal for you. We can do this together.”
The 14-member CSW board is a “working board,” as opposed to a governing board or a fundraising board. Each board member is expected to take on various projects throughout the year. Board members are volunteers; they are not paid.
With the hiring of Cacciatore as its first paid employee, Montemayor believes CSW will eventually hire more paid staff. At that point, the board of directors will likely evolve into a governing board, but there’s no telling how soon that will be.
Some wonder why CSW doesn’t recruit prominent LGBTQ figures to serve on the board, people like comedian/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, singer Lance Bass or public-relations specialist Howard Bragman.
Both Cacciatore and Montemayor smile at the idea of the increased press coverage and fundraising ability such names would bring.
“Ellen, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome to join our board,” said Montemayor. “That being said, this is still a working board. The expectation when you join this board is you contribute something. Everyone takes on some little project or job. If Ellen DeGeneres would like to come and join our board and do something to that effect, she is more than welcome. I think we would be very excited to have her.”
Transparency and Non-Disclosure Agreements
Many have criticized CSW for being secretive in recent years, but Montemayor and Cacciatore are pledging to conduct CSW business as openly and transparently as possible. They also invite the public to attend the monthly CSW board meetings, held on the third Tuesday of the month.
As for their tax returns, Montemayor reports an independent auditor is currently reviewing their most recent return (nonprofits typically get an independent audit each year). Once that comes back and the board approves the audit, they plan to post the tax return on the L.A. Pride website.
Board members are expected to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), which is standard for most nonprofits, corporations and government entities. Cacciatore said she had to sign an NDA when she worked at APL.A. and at the L.A. LGBT Center.
Four CSW board members resigned in December 2016, complaining that the new NDA that then-board chair Chris Classen asked them to sign was a “gag” order that barred them from discussing Pride and its issues with the public. That NDA was constructed after WEHOville revealed that the 2016 Pride event lost $395,000 in 2016, a loss that had not been revealed to the board when WEHOville reported it.
Montemayor and Cacciatore said that the NDA not only assures CSW is speaking with a single voice, but also protects the group’s finances. Montemayor points out they negotiate rates with various contractors that work on L.A. Pride and often get discounts. If those rates were made public, the contractor’s other clients might start asking for the same rate.
“NDA is in place to protect confidential information that impacts the operation of the organization,” said Montemayor. “The NDA provides protection to the financial health of this organization.”
Bigger Name Acts
CSW books many name acts and lots of up-and-coming acts to perform each year. This year even saw a surprise quick appearance by Christina Aguilera to debut a dance remix to her comeback single “Accelerate.” However, people frequently ask why CSW doesn’t have bigger acts, pointing out there are many gay and/or West Hollywood connections to take advantage of For example, gay icon Barbra Streisand has a gay son. Elton John reserves WeHo Park each year for a celebrity-filled Oscar viewing party fundraiser for his Elton John AIDS Foundation. Cher, who performed at New York City Pride in 2013, has a transgender son who lives in West Hollywood.
Cacciatore points out that WeHo Park might not be big enough to handle the crowds such big names would attract. More importantly, booking such big names costs a lot of money. And even if those performers reduced or waived their talent fees, there are many other “backline” costs like security, travel and band fees associated with having them perform.
“Free does not mean free. There’s nothing free in the world,” said Montemayor. “We’ve had artists in the past who have waived their talent fee, but you end up having to take care of those other things. Because of how large an artist they may be, they have significant costs on the backline.”
But at the same time, Montemayor also said, “Cher, if you would like to perform at L.A. Pride, I think there would be a lot of interest.”