Two longtime board members who now are at the helm of Christopher Street West (CSW) say they’re committed to hearing out and addressing criticism of its annual LA Pride event.
“Some of them are substantive, and we need to pay attention,” said Steve Ganzell, who assumed a co-presidency alongside Patti DiLuigi, succeeding Rodney Scott, CSW’s president for 12 years. (Scott remains on the CSW board as president emeritus.) Both Ganzell, a psychologist at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a leader in the Los Angeles leather community, and DiLuigi, a health insurance verifier at UCLA Medical Center, are longtime members of the CSW board.
They acknowledged that it has not been easy for them to hear some of the things people have been saying about the June Pride event. It’s like hearing that your child is ugly, Ganzell said. It’s like a teacher returning your essay covered with red ink, DiLuigi said. But then you re-do the paper, she said, and it turns out better.
CSW’s management of LA Pride has faced a bevy of complaints. Critics have decried what they see as high ticket prices, lackluster entertainment, a dearth of things to do at the festival and an underwhelming choice of parade grand marshals. CSW also has come under fire for a perceived lack of transparency and for estimating an attendance of more than 400,000 that many find suspiciously high. (Revenue figures for the 2013 festival at West Hollywood Park show only 28,000 paid admissions, WEHOville reported in October. CSW says attendance figures also include those who watch the parade and those exposed to its social media.)
Councilmember John D’Amico raised concerns about Pride in January, when he said he’d heard residents call the event “tired.” In response, the Council named him and fellow Councilmember John Duran to a subcommittee to meet with CSW and address complaints.
In October, the two proposed several changes in a report presented to the full council. Their proposals included: that West Hollywood help secure performers and celebrities for LA Pride; that the city contract with an event planner for the festival; and that the city be allowed to appoint a city staffer to the CSW board. The city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board also hosted a forum for discussions about Pride. About 50 people attended that event.
Ganzell said he’s not really interested in things such as questions about attendance. “I don’t want to talk about the numbers,” he said. “I want to speak to the deeper issue. Who comes, and who stays home?”
Ganzell and DiLuigi declined to say what they thought the answers were to those questions. “We would have to hear from them,” DiLuigi said, to know if there are parts of the community the event isn’t reaching.
Ganzell did talk about who can’t attend or faces obstacles to doing so. For example, he said, LGBT young people without cars have told him that it’s difficult for them to reach the festival, which is held at West Hollywood Park, when the parade along Santa Monica Boulevard disrupts bus service. That’s an issue he hadn’t considered, he said.
Ganzell that sometimes he hears suggestions for improving Pride that CSW already has implemented. For example, he said, many people who complain about the $20 price for admission to the festival don’t know they can get into it for free by volunteering at the event. He suggested that what seems like a lack of transparency may be that CSW sometimes doesn’t do enough to spread the word about things like that.
Ganzell and DiLuigi didn’t entirely dismiss complaints about lack of transparency though. “We have recognized the fact that we haven’t always been as transparent as we should,” DiLuigi said.
One thing that CSW isn’t communicating is details of its discussions with city staffers and council members Duran and D’Amico.
“I think the two groups have come together, and we’re doing very well with our discussions,” DiLuigi said. But besides mentioning the possibility of a fancier entryway to the event, she and Ganzell declined to get specific about their conversations with the city.
CSW would be violating the city’s trust to make information from those talks public, Ganzell said. He said it would be better to wait for the right time, when they know the details, to make announcements. Ganzell said that while people don’t think of CSW and the city as having a collaborative relationship, they actually do.
That relationship hasn’t been purely blissful, though. In fact, it seemed tumultuous earlier this year when Ganzell and another CSW insider (who requested anonymity) questioned whether West Hollywood was the right place to host LA Pride. “This doesn’t mean we are going to jump right into moving, but it comes up a lot, and we do talk about it,” Ganzell told WEHOville. Rodney Scott contradicted Ganzell, saying that moving Pride from West Hollywood has never been under consideration.
Following Ganzell and DiLuigi’s election last month, the City Council postponed a scheduled discussion about ways to improve the event. The delay was proposed by D’Amico, who said it would be best to give Ganzell and DiLuigi time to settle into their new position.
Those discussions aren’t the end of CSW’s collection of feedback; Ganzell and DiLuigi suggested that they might hold ongoing community meetings where people can talk to them about Pride. People can also give input, DiLuigi said, by calling the CSW office (323-969-8302) or by sending a message via Facebook.