WeHo Residents Say Curb Booze, Cut Fees and Court Better Celebs at Pride Forum

Pride Forum
West Hollywood resident Lucas John speaks at the Pride community forum. (Photo by James Mills)

West Hollywood residents voiced concerns Wednesday over the amount of alcohol consumed at LA Pride, the admission price to the event’s festival, the quality of entertainment and the selection of the parade’s grand marshal during a town-hall meeting about the annual gay pride celebration.

About 50 people showed up for the meeting hosted by the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board (LGAB) in response to growing criticism about the quality of the event, which has frequently been described by residents as “tired.” City council members John D’Amico and John Duran have called for sweeping changes, including a proposal that West Hollywood help secure performers and celebrities for LA Pride, contract with an event planner for the event and be allowed to appoint a city staffer to the board of Christopher Street West, the non-profit organization that stages the LA Pride parade and festival each June.

Several CSW board members were in attendance Wednesday, listening and taking notes as 30 people spoke.

“I thought it was an incredibly productive meeting,” CSW board member Steve Ganzell said. “We sat, we listened and heard what people said. We’re going to consider them all very carefully and then we’re going to go from there. This is progressive.”

“I think tonight was a huge success,” LGAB board chair Robert Gamboa said. “For this many people to come on the night before Halloween to participate and share and have 30 speakers comment on a variety of topics, I think it’s a wonderful way for us to move forward with putting on a great event.”

The amount of alcohol consumed at the festival proved a major concern as several people called on CSW to place less emphasis on drinking and to actively seek out sponsors who were not connected to alcohol.

“I really feel like there’s nothing to do but drink,” commented Shane Ivan Nash. “It’s sell me something or drink.”

“Now, it’s turned into a weekend baccalaurean festival,” Rod Sprott said.

Brenda Simmons of the Institute for Public Policy called for better training of festival volunteers serving alcohol so they know when to cut people off. She also praised CSW for including a sober area in the festival for the past two years.

Others praised the party atmosphere.

“We deserve a party,” Don Mike said. “We can spread pride events throughout the year, but CSW is a party.”

There also have been complaints about the quality of celebrities secured as parade grand marshals. Several speakers wondered why the festival didn’t have bigger names performing, such as Queen Latifah, who performed at Long Beach Pride in 2012 and will be West Hollywood’s “Queen of the Carnaval” at Thursday’s Halloween event, and Cher, who performed at New York City’s pride this year.

“We’re not doing a good enough job bringing in big people,” resident Lucas John said. “[Big stars with big gay fanbases] likely want to be involved but we’re not reaching out to them.”

One of the most radical ideas concerning entertainment came from resident RJ Di Camillo who called for the elimination of multiple music stages. Instead he suggested one single music stage with rotating styles of music every few hours.

“There don’t need to be six separate dance areas,” DiCamillo said. “Have one to bring everyone together.”

CSW President Rodney Scott has praised the festival’s push for diversity, including its array of music stages from Latino to hip hop.

On opening night of the three-day festival, CSW also threw a Transgender Party, which was mostly praised by a large transgender contingent that showed up to Wednesday’s meeting. However, some, such as transgender resident Anna Melissa felt CSW could do more. “Right now, I don’t believe we feel welcome,” Melissa said.

Others wanted more space devoted to gay heritage, gay history and the diversity of the community.

The $20 admission price for the festival raised concerns. Larry Block, owner of the Block Party clothing store at 8853 Santa Monica Blvd. at Larrabee, and Coco Lachine, manager of Chi Chi LaRue’s erotic gift shop at 8932 Santa Monica Blvd. near San Vicente, both said that customers visiting their stores during pride weekend have complained of the admission price.

The selection of the grand marshal, currently done by CSW, was severely criticized as some called for West Hollywood’s City Council to take over the responsibility. Recent marshal picks such as Molly Ringwald (“Pretty in Pink”) in 2012 and “Extra” entertainment reporter Maria Menounos in 2013 have been criticized as being irrelevant to the gay community. Speakers suggested gay news reporters Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper as more appropriate picks.

Attendees also raised doubt over attendance figures CSW has reported for its events, and called on the non-profit to “open its books.”

“We all know that the numbers are not what they are said to be,” Rod Sprott said.

Block said he didn’t believe in CSW’s accounting and called on the city to station people at the gates to watch the cash registers.

CSW recently provided financial numbers to WEHOville showing LA Pride revenue this year was up 3 percent in most major categories over the year before.

The figures represent a modest overall improvement over revenue in the same categories for Pride 2012, which saw an increase of 12.5 percent from the year before. Total Pride 2013 revenues have decreased by 4 percent from those five years ago.

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Professor Shivers
Professor Shivers
6 years ago

Sounds like it was productive, especially for out transgender members! I like Larry Block’s idea of closing S.M.B. and putting booths there in front of sheriff’s station outside of the venue area. And more LGBTQ history info please!

stamander
6 years ago

I feel like LA Pride isn’t really fun for minors. The majority of anything interesting is either the sex stuff area or drinking, which neither are open to minors. I feel like there should be more stuff dedicated to History of the LGBT community and the LGBT culture, especially since it’s not part of most school’s curriculum and I don’t feel like as a trans person that it’s really welcoming to transgender people. I feel like it’s just the LGB.

Don Mike
6 years ago

I would like to amend my previous post. I meant to say that San Gabriel Pride wasn’t MY idea of fun. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun for other people attending.

Don Mike
6 years ago

One thing I was surprised at during the meeting was how the word “party” was used as if it were a bad thing. I guess I don’t equate the word with drunken overindulgence. I think of a party as a celebration. A few people said that there was nothing to do at Pride but drink, and I was kind of taken aback by that statement. As a volunteer at Erotic City this past year I spent a lot of the weekend answering questions of visitors about the various forms of sexuality we were celebrating. Walking through the festival I got… Read more »

Marco Colantonio
Marco Colantonio
6 years ago

The town hall style forum was a brilliant idea, incredibly well organized by Robert Gamboa and LGAB and a true example of what city boards can and should do. Once it got past the CSW “love fest”, some real gripes and positive suggestions were voiced, particularly poignant ones from members of our often overlooked Transgender community. LA PRIDE for many of us is all about the Parade and our Grand Marshall should have definitive ties to the community and be iconic enough to get everyone excited. Sadly Maria “Nobodyknowsos” was a major disappointment last year and quite a letdown from… Read more »

luca d
luca d
6 years ago

the entire event should held in downtown los angeles.
invite the world to los angeles, and end this monopoly that weho has on this over booze fest rip off.
the entire event, all of the activities and events, singers, dancing, should be FREE.
the parade is a snooze, and has no meaning, no pulse and certainly no soul.
weho is nice but isolated, no parking, no mass transit, no access, just an island of parking tickets and arrogance.
move on from the abbe bland way of thinking!
the gay wide world deserves a central locale to welcome EVERYONE.

AJay
AJay
6 years ago

Blocking off San Vicente from SaMo to Melrose has always been problematic – How about leaving it open or just closing southbound lanes for pedestrians moving in/out of the area and close Melrose from San Vicente over to Doheny? Put the commercial entities/booths along Melrose and keep the park open for picnics, music, food and people to gather, dance and celebrate Pride in proper fashion! Trying to cram everything into such a small park and just along San Vicente limits the scope and potential of this event and makes it pale in comparison to other area Pride events, i.e. SFO,… Read more »

dana miller
dana miller
6 years ago

The open forum was nicely facilitated by LGAB and indeed well attended. Broad topics of inclusion, site layout and alcohol consumption were addressed and highlighted by citizens. Yet what excited me was that solid dialogue on specific focus points: Fiscal transparency, expansion of assistance from qualified community members, Festival Talent & Grand Marshall solicitation and acquisition and communication. D’Amico said it best at the last council meeting: The Community and City Council need to work hand-in-hand with CSW on improvement via cooperation and collaboration. I fear we outsiders are still viewed as the enemy by the Parade and Festival folks….See,… Read more »

Larry Block
Larry Block
6 years ago

Forum was fantastic exchange of ideas. Robert Gamboa and Amy Ruskin both did a great job. Both are D’amico appointees, as well as myself. New people, new energy, new ideas. Id like to add one more idea. The culture of the festival, all those booths with small vendors selling pride stuff, or representing pride organizations. Those vendors should be moved out of the festival grounds on to the street, north side of Santa Monica, in front of the sheriff station. Available to everybody. Keep the street closed the entire sunday and allow the people who come to the festival a… Read more »