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.