CSW Executive Director Madonna Cacciatore, left, and board President Estevan Montemayor. (Photo by James Mills)

The new heads of Christopher Street West today laid out a goal for expanding the non-profit’s activities and making the annual LA Pride Festival more inclusionary at a forum that became contentious when those attending found they were unable to voice their opinions.

Many of the approximately 45 people in attendance assumed it would be a town-hall style format where people would be allowed to talk about what they loved about the Pride events as well as voice their concern over how CSW has handled the LGBT Pride festivities in recent years. However, no one attending was given a microphone or invited to speak.

Instead, attendees were instructed to write their questions and comments on note cards, and the forum moderator, West Hollywood City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath, then asked those questions of the CSW leaders. While that format got a lot of information out, by the time the 90-minute forum ended, frustrations were running high that people had listened patiently but never gotten a chance to speak their mind.

Consequently, longtime WeHo resident Dan Morin, who briefly served on the CSW board in 2016, stood up and shouted about his outrage.

“They’re [CSW officials] talking about openness and transparency, but this was a very controlled, managed event without us being individually [given] an opportunity to ask them hardball questions. They avoided that,” said Morin. “I have a real problem with the way this was conducted. It should have been more open, people should have had an opportunity to get up to a microphone and ask their questions.”

Others shared Morin’s dissatisfaction, with WEHOville overhearing several people saying things like, “They’re not really interested in what we think,” or “Same old, same old.”  Montemayor said that he would meet with Morin to discuss his concerns.

A Get-to-Know-You, Not Group Therapy

Horvath told WEHOville that she never intended the gathering to be a community therapy session for people to air grievances about the past, but rather a chance to look to the future and meet new CSW Executive Director Madonna Cacciatore (the group’s first paid employee) and new CSW board President Estevan Montemayor.

“It was a good opening conversation for these two new leaders of Pride to start engaging the community on things that are important to them,” Horvath said. “This is only a starting point. You’re not going to solve 50 years of angst in a one-hour discussion. Anyone who comes in with that expectation is going to be disappointed, and I understand that.”

Although promotional information for the event billed it merely as a “community forum,” many attendees WEHOville chatted with afterwards said they arrived assuming they would get a chance at the microphone.

Cacciatore and Montemayor are currently conducting a “listening tour,” meeting with individuals and small groups to hear their concerns about LA Pride and what it’s lacking. Some people may have assumed this forum would be a larger version of that listening tour.

The last community forum regarding CSW, held in August 2016, was indeed a gripe session where people offered specific (and often angry) feedback about feeling excluded from that year’s LA Pride festivities, which was organized as more of a gay music festival aimed at millennials. Perhaps people thought this forum would be a repeat of that 2016 one.

Whichever the case, Montemayor remarked to WEHOville that Pride means many different things to many different people. People are passionate about their Pride experience, which often results in sharp criticism when Pride, or even a forum to discuss Pride, does not live up to expectations.

Staying Put in WeHo

LA Pride intends to stay in West Hollywood, at least for the foreseeable future. Construction in West Hollywood Park has limited the “footprint” of the festival grounds by about 50%, but Cacciatore reported she is working closely with city staffers to figure out the best use of the available space until construction is completed in 2020.

Because of that park construction, the city arranged in 2017 and again in 2018 to include the plaza at the Pacific Design Center as part of the festival grounds. Montemayor said they hope to continue to use the PDC plaza even after park construction is completed, provided the rental cost isn’t too high.

Cacciatore reported that CSW and city officials are discussing closing off Santa Monica Boulevard in the Boystown area for the entire Pride weekend, or at least on Pride Sunday, and holding a block party type event, just outside the festival grounds. She also said that closing off Robertson Boulevard was another consideration, but noted that might feel like a completely separate event, especially since there is not currently direct access to the park from Robertson due to the construction closures.

When asked about eliminating the admission fee to the festival ($25 in advance, $30 at the gate in 2018) and making admission to the festival free, Cacciatore, who has previously worked as an events manager for the LA LGBT Center and AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), explained that the costs of putting on the festival and related security keep rising. She noted fewer and fewer cities are having free pride festivals these days.

Cacciatore said that each year CSW gives 1,500 tickets to various area LGBT groups/organizations that distribute those tickets to low-income people. In addition, people who volunteer to work the festival are welcome to stay on the grounds after their shift is over.

For several years, CSW opened the festival grounds on Friday nights and had free admission. That “Free Friday” was eliminated in 2017 after CSW had budget problems, but many would like to see it return. Cacciatore said they are considering it, but the cost may be prohibitive.

Cacciatore reminded everyone of the importance of Pride, pointing out that many people come out at Pride, finally admitting to themselves and/or others that they are LGBT. She noted Pride provides a safe environment where people may be seeing others who are uninhibited about their sexuality for the first time.

Blessing of CSW Founder

Montemayor reported he had an hour-long meeting with the Rev. Troy Perry to get his blessing as the new board president, a rite of passage every CSW board president apparently goes through. Perry and the Rev. Bob Humphries (founder of the United States Mission) and Morris Kight (a founder of the Gay Liberation Front) created CSW and, with the help of the ACLU, sued the Los Angeles Police Department for the required permits to hold the world’s first gay pride parade in 1970, on Hollywood Boulevard.

Cacciatore promises that under her leadership, LGBT history such as that battle Perry fought will be honored and included in Pride festivities.

“We have a great generation coming up, and I want them to understand what we went through to get here,” said Cacciatore.

As part of honoring history, she hopes to also have different lounge areas at the festival, recreating the Stonewall Inn, the Black Cat bar and the Palms bar, so people can understand the LGBT history that happened in those places.

More Pride Events

Beyond the Pride festivities held in June, CSW hopes to put on Pride-related events throughout the year, part of a plan it calls “Pride 365.” That plan would include holding LGBT-related events and activates connected to Latino Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, African-American History Month, etc. Similarly, Cacciatore dreams of creating an LGBT Arts Festival for LGBT youth and seniors, plus more LGBT family events.

“My goal is to hire a development team that would focus on creating programs and services for our community, creating other events for our community to come together outside of the festival, so that it feels like we’re a part of your life, not just once a year, [but] all year round,” Cacciatore said.

Likewise, CSW plans to continue sponsoring an LGBT Night at Dodger Stadium as part of the events leading up to Pride weekend. Montemayor explained they are trying to do a diverse range of things to attract different audiences. “Some people may not be interested in the Pride Festival, but they like baseball, so they might come to our LGBT Night at Dodger Stadium,” he said.

CSW is also doing an LGBT Night at Universal Studios theme park, and one at an LA Sparks WNBA basketball game. Expect CSW to partner with other area groups to have more such LGBT Nights. Cacciatore hopes to put out a quarterly newsletter keeping people abreast of what CSW is doing.

Finally, look for CSW to create a citizen’s advisory board to provide guidance as CSW continues to expand its mission beyond the event on the second weekend in June. People interested in applying for membership to that citizen’s advisory board should contact the CSW office, whose contact information can be found online.

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