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LA Pride Pioneer Pat Rocco on This Year’s Pride and Resist March

Wed, Apr 19, 2017   By James Mills    7 Comments

Pat Rocco at his home in Hawaii. (Photo copyright 2017 by Big Gay Movie Inc.)

Cancelling the annual gay pride parade and replacing it with the Resist protest march is a bad idea according to Pat Rocco, the first president of Christopher Street West (CSW), the nonprofit that puts on the yearly L.A. Pride festival and parade. Rocco believes that the parade and the march should be combined and says there is still time to make that course correction.

“Combine them. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be and why it won’t be better because of it,” said the 84-year-old Rocco during a recent telephone interview from his home in Hawaii. “How good will it be that it is shared by everybody! By limiting it to one particular area that you want to have done, you’re eliminating the whole idea of what gay pride is all about.

“We’re proud to speak up and say there should be a protest, but we’re also proud to still be marching on the street as gay people, men and women, lesbian and gay who want to say, ‘I’m proud to be gay.’ Mix the two. You have the best mixture in the world. Don’t give that up. It’s going to be wonderful for you if you do that. Wonderful.”

Similar to the giant Women’s March held in cities across the United States on Jan. 21 (the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president), dozens of Resist Marches will happen nationwide on Sunday, June 11, with marchers supporting not only LGBT rights, but also women’s rights, the rights of minorities and immigrants’ rights.

In Los Angeles, the Resist March falls on L.A. Pride weekend, which is June 10-11. Because the annual pride parade would normally happen on June 11 (going down Santa Monica Boulevard from Crescent Heights Boulevard to Robertson Boulevard), CSW opted to cancel it to allow the Resist March to occur instead.

Supporters of gay rights march down Hollywood Boulevard in the annual Gay Pride Week parade. An estimated 12,000 persons watched the 1977 parade. (Photo by Lawrence Downing, Herald Examiner Collection, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

The Resist March will start at 8 a.m., stepping off from Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles because there is a subway station there allowing participants to arrive by mass transit. The march will follow a 3.1 mile path down La Brea Avenue, turning onto Santa Monica Boulevard and ending at La Peer Drive, where a huge stage will be set up.

With an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people expected to turn out, Resist March organizers plan to put giant video screens all along Santa Monica Boulevard from La Peer to La Cienega Boulevard so marchers can hear the speeches. The West Hollywood City Council has agreed to spend about $1 million on security for the march and the accompanying pride festival, happening in West Hollywood Park.

Rocco knows the Resist March is guaranteed to bring huge media coverage, but by combining the protest march with the pride parade, he believes it would draw even more media attention, be more visually exciting and be more satisfying to all involved.

“Hold up your protest signs and meanwhile the others will hold up gay pride signs,” said Rocco. “That’s a great combination. And that’s taking care of what you want to do and what you’ve always have done, which is your history. You’re not giving up gay pride for resistance. In fact you’re combining them which gives you more pride and more resistance.”

Although the Resist March is less than two months away, Rocco says there is still time to add the parade back in.

“I put together parades quickly,” Rocco said. “There’s no reason why it can’t be done again.”

L.A. Pride Parade 2016 (Photo courtesy CSW)

Although he was not one of the organizers, Rocco helped with the very first pride parade held on Hollywood Boulevard in June 1970, a widely successful event. The 1971 and 1972 pride parades were badly handled, he says, and the 1973 parade never happened because no one stepped up to organize it. So, in 1974, with the community demanding a pride parade, Rocco was voted in as the first official president of CSW.

Rocco devised the idea of holding a pride festival (originally called a “carnival”) in conjunction with the pride parade, explaining that he felt they should give attendees something to do after the parade. The notion of holding a pride festival was greeted with skepticism in 1974, but when that first festival proved successful, combining the parade with a festival quickly became the standard for pride events across the world.

Rocco says the secret of pulling off a successful parade is to mix the groups up properly – don’t put too many floats together or too many bands together or too many go-go boys and dancers together. “They need to be carefully organized as to their running order,” he says. “You can’t have 16 in a row that are all the same thing.”

He believes a the same can be done with a combined pride parade and protest march with some floats, bands, dancers and go-go boys interspersed here and there.

“Don’t keep all the pride people together and don’t keep all the Resist people together. Make sure they’re separated so you don’t have everything all together in clumps of parade people and clumps of protest people. Mix it up. Mix real well,” Rocco said. “Make smaller floats. You don’t have to make floats that are 100 feet long. Use smaller ones and have a maximum size the float can be. That would mix in better with all the people [who will be marching]. A float can be for resistance too, you know.”

When CSW announced that this year’s parade was being cancelled, current CSW president Chris Classen explained they couldn’t do a combined parade and protest march because it would be “very difficult to mix pedestrians and vehicles.”

Rocco believes that’s nonsense, saying it’s easy to mix the two if you have the good oversight, intersperse them properly and are careful to “level” the parade/march off.

“You release one group [into the parade]. Twenty to 30 feet away, you let the next group out,” Rocco said. “And you tell the people leading each group, ‘You see how far you are away from that group ahead of you. Make sure you maintain that distance all the way. If a group stops, you stop too.’”

Rocco likes the 3.1 mile march route, but thinks it will not be effective without the parade element, saying, “It’s not that good a march if you cut the pride out.”

Critical of CSW Board

In 2016, CSW rebranded the L.A. Pride festival as a “music festival” and booked lots of bigger name music acts. Rocco believes that rebranding was a mistake and is glad this year’s festival will not be called a “music festival.”

“I disagreed with them calling it a music festival,” said Rocco. “It is not to be, and never was to be and I hope never will be a music festival. It wipes out our history. We’re gay pride. It should be known that way. We started with grass roots and we worked ourselves up to what it is now.”

Pat Rocco, in the early days of L.A. Pride

He also thinks that booking big acts is not necessary. Yes, some music performers help make for a good festival, but CSW could book some new acts that are just starting out.

“People will come no matter what names you have,” Rocco said. “They’re there for gay pride. They should be given gay pride. Not a lot of performances.”

That 2016 rebranding as a music festival proved unsuccessful and the CSW lost $396,000 on the 2016 festival. In response to that news, Rocco wrote a letter offering detailed suggestions to cut the budget.

“I wrote one letter to the board and it went viral,” Rocco said. “That was crazy. But is showed people care about gay pride and still remember me.”

Rocco reports that CSW was always able to cover its expenses in its early years and cannot understand how they could lose so much money now. Current CSW board president Chris Classen reported at a March meeting of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board that CSW has lost money for 10 of the past 17 years.

“Christopher Street West has gone down the tubes,” said Rocco. “They can’t even pay for themselves anymore.”

In January 2017, five people resigned from the 15-member CSW board, unhappy with the way CSW board was being run and unwilling to sign a confidentiality agreement. Dan Morin, one of the five who resigned, wrote an op-ed for WEHOville detailing why he resigned.

Rocco said that sort of thing never happened when he was CSW president, noting that he always had good people working under him.

“I’m a wonderful leader and a good organizer; I say that because I know it’s true,” Rocco said. “There needs to be a head person. But when something goes wrong with the festival, it’s always because of the people in charge. It’s a trickle-down thing. If you’re great in being a leader, then your trickle-down people will follow you and they will be leaders of the future.”

Rocco is critical of Chris Classen and board member Craig Bowers, who share ownership of an events business, calling them “bully directors” who seem to be pushing their own agenda through.

“What’s happening now is you’re having all kinds of people who were on the board and who have quit who wanted to do something, but they were never allowed to do so,” said Rocco. “Instead they had Bully Directors, who wanted to do it themselves, they wanted to do it their way and they didn’t want to listen to the rest of the board and do it in a way where people put their hands up and vote. They should be allowed to vote all the time. Smothering that, which is what they did, has caused the trouble that they’re having.”

He notes that a board of directors, especially for CSW, needs to be nurtured and encouraged to offer suggestions.

“They have to take care of Christopher Street West in the right way,” said Rocco. “Make [your board members] a part of what you’re doing, don’t make them separate people. No wonder they’re all quitting. They don’t get a chance to say anything. They don’t get the chance to vote. They were telling people you can’t vote on things. You’re on the board of directors, but we don’t want your vote. That’s terrible. How to win friends and influence people in the wrong way.”

Rocco’s career as a gay activist and a filmmaker will be chronicled in a documentary featuring Rocco and Charlie David. The documentary, “Pat Rocco Dared,” is directed by filmmakers Morris Chapdelaine and Bob Christie (“Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride”, “Out at the Games”) and produced by Jay Daniel Beechinor (“Hell On Wheels”, “The Dorm”, “Van Helsing”). A link to the film’s trailer can be viewed online.

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7 Comments

  1. Nir ZilbermanWed, Apr 19, 2017 at 8:02 am

    i think it’s great, they only problem he is in HAWAII, I’m not sure if he really know the truth about CSW and the mess that they created, it was nothing to be proud of.
    as far as NON PROFIT…all non profit are profit organizations , just take a look at how much money they CEO’S make and you tell me if it’s non profit. who are we kidding.
    those days that people gave the hearts and souls for a cause without getting paid are over.
    we are all people of money first. those are the facts and the real truth of our lives, people donate money and most of it it’s not even go to those in needs. so wake up, people.

  2. Todd BiancoWed, Apr 19, 2017 at 8:28 am

    I think it’s clear to anyone looking from the outside that combining a Pride parade with the Resist protest march makes perfect sense. It would be nice if, for once, the media coverage of the annual Pride Parade wasn’t just the standard repeat of images of go-go boys in thongs, leather-clad daddies and drag queens. What most people see on an even local news show could be interchanged from year to year and 99.99% of TV viewers wouldn’t notice. All those groups I just mentioned are an important part of the rainbow of our community, but rarely were they asked their opinions on anything like social change or politics. The LGBT pride and liberation movement was and is inexorably intertwined with politics. We are finally presented with a golden opportunity to show the world the nexus of the two things and we aren’t going to take advantage of it? Now THAT makes no sense at all.

  3. Gay ConscienceWed, Apr 19, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    Pat is right. Leaders inspire and welcome our diverse community and our ideas; they do not dictate, intimidate, or silence.

    The reality is that without the Resist March, it is probable there would be no parade at all this year because of Classen and Bowers’ alienation of our community and their organizational incompetence. Seriously, there was no planning for the well known construction closure of WeHo Park, the Festival site. Too busy mounting a coup, silencing the community, and strangling CSW? Last year’s $400,000 failure was the best these knuckleheads could do by themselves. Ironic, CSW would be bankrupt due to Classen and Bowers were it not for the financial success of the prior pride organized by experienced leadership. These two should resign or be kicked off the board. CSW needs new leadership and we need to welcome back our diverse community and the experienced leadership and pioneers that ran successful Prides the prior couple years. They, unlike Classen, banked the very reserves that Classen depleted and about which he cynically disparages. We are watching you CSW. We are not pleased.

  4. Larry BlockSat, Apr 22, 2017 at 11:12 am

    @gay conscience, so very true and I could not have said it better.

  5. Shawn ThompsonMon, Apr 24, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Personaly I have mixed feeling about this march. In one sense Trump wins and we lose our gay pride pararde which was a celbration of many aspects of the gay coommunity and its supporters. On the other hand protests are good and democractic and raise awareness. Why this resist march couldnt of been done as a seperate event confuses many in the community. In the end will we look back at Pride 2017 and say as a community that we raised the bar in acceptance and visability of our young gay youth entering a world full of obstacles. Or we walked down the street to rail against a power in place that cant be protested away, And if the end in mind in to remove Trump, mike penses record on LGBT ishues is worse. So who wins?

  6. Gay ConscienceTue, Apr 25, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    @Larry Block: thanks for the supportive comment.

    We need to demand needed change at CSW and not be distracted by the Resist March and how it is supplanting the Pride Parade this year. Either we join together to take back CSW and restore it’s mission, or we create a new organization and be done with them.

    This happens all too often when, faced with an unwelcome takeover, the good people walk away and leave it to the plunderers. I shudder at how many good experienced leaders resigned in protest from CSW this year rather than silently suffer. The resignations were noble. We hear you. And we agree with you.

    Sometimes it is worth organizing the good people to save the organization and banish the plunderers.

    The big question: Is CSW worth saving? Or should we reinvent LA Gay Pride anew and rededicate it to serve our non-profits? What do you think?

  7. Martin PalMon, Jun 05, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    As the Resist March nears, I have to say that for years the Pride Parade has been less and less interesting to many LGBT people. I don’t know why everyone feels the Resist March is something separate. It IS a Pride Parade and we’re asking all to join in. I haven’t been excited about the Pride Weekend for a couple decades and I am this year. It’s true CSW needs a lot of work, but I’m all for a break like this now. (I always hated, too, that CSW had it’s name piggy back on the NYC event. Where’s the pride in that? Why not our own Los Angeles based name?

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