It’s time to play L.A. Gay Pride forward. Speaking as gay and lesbian tribal elders, who between us have 100 years of service on behalf of the community, we strongly recommend that by 2019 the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the L.A. Pride celebration be relocated to DTLA, the emblematic, alive and all-encompassing heart of Los Angeles. If not by 2019, then soon thereafter.
DTLA is a location symbolically representative of all of our rainbow colors and haves and have-nots—where East L.A. meets West L.A., where South L.A. meets North L.A. and all the possible permutations in between.
It would not only represent a shift in location but also a historical shift in consciousness for the LGBTQ community, building a more enlarged, vibrant, and inclusive 21st century sense of community on the foundation laid by late 20th century pioneers.
It’s not the same downtown it was in 1970 when Gay Pride began. DTLA has transformed itself from a sleepy backwater into a bustling, vital, demographically diverse, and real hub of the city with a growing and visible LGBTQ presence.
Historically it would represent returning to our roots. The first manifestations of gay visibility, decades before a gay community was created, emerged in the 1950’s in the pioneering gay bars on Main Street and the small homosexual enclave on Bunker Hill that John Rechy poignantly wrote about in “City of Night.”
Gay Pride would again become the site of a grassroots and netroots march, not a parade with alienating floats by banks and liquor companies. It would again commemorate the Stonewall Uprising—the swish and rage heard ’round the world.
The weekend would celebrate everything we as gay and lesbian people have amazingly created and achieved since 1969.
After the downtown Pride March there would be plenty of time, people and money to sufficiently meet all the needs of those who primarily have a commercial or hedonistic investment in the Pride weekend.
Sometimes there is something historically and politically larger and more important than our parochial personal or financial interests that is calling us into action for the betterment and advancement of all. This relocation is one of those unique historical opportunities.
Why Not West Hollywood?
We invoke the wisdom of Sappho as we approach this loaded question. Here’s the problem. It comes in five acts.
First, West Hollywood now is not the same West Hollywood it was in 1973 when the Gay Pride celebration was relocated there from Hollywood. Then it was white, kind of small-townish and well off. Now it’s white, building luxury emporiums on a gigantic scale for privileged people and enormously wealthy. This trend will only speed-up in the future. Working and middle class people can’t afford to live there and are loathe to visit.
Second is a very practical concern. West Hollywood simply is too small and doesn’t have the space needed to handle this event any longer. In 2018 hundreds were turned away from the Gay Pride festival by the Fire and Sheriff’s departments for overcrowding. We have never before heard of people anywhere being turned away from a Gay Pride celebration.
The third problem is the demographics. 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. In the 1970’s there were even well-publicized Jim Crow practices that the WeHo power structure then did nothing to stop.
Today many gays and lesbians of color and other politically aware LGBTQ people avoid West Hollywood, labeling it “white boys town.” West Hollywood simply doesn’t look like the City of Los Angeles no matter how you slice it.
A fourth problem is that the raison d’être of the event— the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion—has been totally erased from the weekend. Gay people really do have a history they can be proud of. In WeHo, Pride has become just another large, mindless party.
It is estimated that the weekend generates $5 million in income for the WeHo hospitality industry (high end hotels, restaurants and bars) and the financial interests of the Chamber of Commerce and city government.
The City of West Hollywood has developed a well-funded, sophisticated infrastructure that promotes the city nationwide and globally as a destination for Pride in order to fill those expensive hotels, restaurants and bars. In the process, the event has devolved primarily into just another revenue stream for WeHo businesses and the city, devoid of acknowledgement of our long road to freedom.
Finally, a fifth problem is the opaque Pride organization itself. It appears to be in chaos, loaded down with debt and woefully out-of- touch with the larger community it purportedly represents.
For the last decade, attendance at the event has been dropping. Every year it’s the same-old-same-old, employing an outdated model that originated in the early 1970’s. Gay Pride critically needs revisioning and restructuring to restore its defiant and affirming spirit. Moving Pride to DTLA has the real possibility of making the event relevant again. It’s time to play it forward.