With some members of the LGBT community in an uproar over plans for L.A. Pride, its organizer has scrambled to make last minute changes.
Christopher Street West (CSW) announced at the West Hollywood City Council meeting last night that it now will make Friday’s festival free to those who arrive between 6 and 8 p.m. Previously it had planned to charge $35 for each single day ticket. CSW also said it would restore the country/western dance area, although it would be open only on Sunday. People involved in the planning for that at previous Pride celebrations said they had been told there wasn’t room for it this year. And CSW will give free weekend passes to members of the transgender community, many of whom expressed their anger Monday at what they saw as a reduction in transgender events.
The discussion before the Council was dominated by complaints about CSW’s decision to increase admission charges, a discussion made all the more confusing by misstatements about prices from CSW officials and Councilmember John Duran. CSW this year will sell one-day tickets online from June 3 to June 9 for $30, a 50% increase from last year’s $20 price for early ticket purchases. Tickets purchased after June 9 or at the festival gate will be $35 as compared to $25 last year, an increase of 40%. Tickets to CSW’s exclusive VIP area will be $150 if purchased in advance and $175 if purchased at the gate. Last year they were $50 if purchased in advance and $65 if purchased at the gate.
Speakers also complained about CSW’s efforts to make the annual festival a music event focused on Millennials, a term used to describe people ages 18 to 34. And residents of West Hollywood West, the neighborhood close to the festival’s West Hollywood Park site, complained that the focus on music and the Council’s earlier decision to let the festival stay open until 1 a.m. as well as its suspension of parking permits in the area could cause them problems.
Lesbian activist Ivy Bottini addressed CSW’s focus on Millennials in her comment to the Council. “That letter was probably the most ageist thing I have heard in this community since I got here in 1975,” she said referring to a letter that Classon sent to council members after an opinion piece in WEHOville by Larry Block that made much of the festival controversy public. In his letter, Classon said the festival’s target audience was young people who are best reached through music.
A number of transgender speakers also spoke, saying they felt this year’s festival was excluding them. They noted that in 2014 the festival’s theme was transgender rights and the LGBT festival and parade was rebranded by CSW as a “TLGB” celebration to emphasize that. One speaker, Rachael Rose Luckey, a transgender member of Stonewall Democrats, said she was considering organizing a protest against the event.
“Hearing that we were given two hours free feels like an afterthought,” said Jaden Fields, a transgender man, commenting on CSW’s initial offer of free admission on Friday during those two hours. Friday night in recent years has been when transgender events were staged. “It feels like we weren’t important any more …. I am a Millennial, and as a trans person of color I am tremendously disappointed in CSW …. We don’t need a gay Coachella.”
Peter Cruz, associate director of APAIT, a non-profit group that provides HIV focused health resources to marginalized communities, said he had met with CSW’s board of directors and had objected to the ticket price increase and CSW’s decision to reduce the time made available for the festival’s transgender celebration.
“This is a blatant commercialization of Pride,” Cruz told the City Council
Larry Block, owner of The Block Party apparel store and a former City Council candidate, noted that the city partially funds the annual event with an estimated $586,000. Because of that, he said, the City of West Hollywood should get several thousand tickets to give to its residents.
One speaker’s comments reflected the conflict that has been taking place on the CSW board over the changes to this year’s festival, “I was a CSW board member until two months ago. Unfortunately many disagreements happened and my leaving thus was prompted,” said Shane Nash, who accused Classen of lying to the LGBT community. Other board members have spoken to WEHOville about their objections to the festival on the condition that their identities not be revealed and create greater conflict with the board. Their complaints largely have been that this year’s festival will not pay appropriate attention to the history of the LGBT community and the LGBT equal rights cause, which sparked the first LA Pride parade in 1970.
CSW has undergone major changes in recent years. In 2013, Rodney Scott resigned as chairman following criticism by the City Council of the way Pride was managed. The organization had experienced a 5% drop in revenue between 2009 and 2013. And while it routinely claimed festival attendance of 400,000 to 500,000 people, calculations by WEHOville using CSW’s IRS reports showed only 28,000 paid for tickets to the 2013 event.
Scott was replaced in 2013 by co-chairs Steve Ganzell and Patti DiLuigi. Now CSW is largely controlled by Classen and Craig Bowers, his partner in Lyst, now renamed Svelte. Svelte is an organization that puts on events for affluent gay men at hotels and restaurants. In one sign of its change, CSW has left its modest offices at 8235 Santa Monica Blvd. and now is housed in at the Pacific Design Center.
After hearing the speakers the Council went ahead and appropriated an additional $20,000 for the Pride event. Of that, $15,000 would pay for 500 free tickets for Friday night that CSW will distribute to non-profits. The city would spend an additional $5,000 on its already planned postal mailer for the event, which it typically uses in place of social media or other digital advertising.
Mayor Lauren Meister pressed CSW President Classen to make the Friday festival free-of-charge from 6 p.m. until it ends at 1 a.m. Classen said extending the free hours would cost CSW $75,000 and it would do that if the city appropriated money to cover the additional cost. No decision was made on that request.
City Councilmembers John D’Amico and John Duran, who previously constituted a subcommittee to work with CSW to resolve the city’s issues with it, agreed to work with the organization in the weeks leading up the the June 10-12 event.