Opinion: LA Pride — Let’s March On

Members of the greater Los Angeles chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights in the 2015 L.A. Pride parade. (Photo by David Vaughn)
Members of the greater Los Angeles chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights in the 2015 L.A. Pride parade. (Photo by David Vaughn)

The decision last week by Christopher Street West to make major changes in its plans for next month’s LA Pride festival was an encouraging sign that its leadership is listening to the LGBT community. Craig Bowers and Chris Classen, effectively the leaders of CSW, may have stumbled on this one. And the changes they are making won’t satisfy all of CSW’s critics. But there’s little time to do much, given that the parade and festival are only three weeks away. Bowers and Classen, however, are smart men with a passion for the LGBT community, and they have the business acumen it will take to get CSW back on its feet for the long run.

So let’s drop the threats of demonstrations and boycotts and consider what CSW should start doing on June 13, the day after LA Pride.

There are three major areas where CSW needs to act, some of them areas pointed out in a 2013 WEHOville editorial that CSW and its City Council monitors obviously never read or chose to ignore.


To gain the community’s trust CSW, needs to be open about how it operates. A model is San Francisco, the organization that puts on San Francisco Pride. Transparency means CSW posting its tax returns for at least the last five years on its website. Currently you can find them on WEHOville.com, but not LAPride.com. The organization also should post its charter and the bylaws (also now on WEHOville) that govern its board of directors.

And when it comes to the board of directors, no one knows who they are. CSW should list all board members on its website with a sentence or two giving each board member’s background. And it should list the official CSW telephone number and email address.

Equally important, CSW should list all of its contractors and reveal their compensation. It’s clear that there are at least two, but there are rumors that there are more.

Also, CSW apparently uses the same contractors over and over. It should put out annual requests for proposals for all contract services so that CSW’s board each year can select the best and most economic contractor.

Finally, CSW should post on its website the dates and times and location of its board meetings.

Community engagement

CSW’s failure to engage with the various parts of the diverse LGBT community was its biggest mistake in planning this year’s LA Pride. A way to avoid that in the future is to put together an LA Pride advisory group with representatives from all parts of the community. A number of CSW’s board members are close with one another, and they especially would benefit from the perspective of outsiders.

CSW also should radically reconstitute its board. Rodney Scott, the former president of CSW, was said to have put together a board of directors who he was confident would do what he said. But perhaps a bigger issue was that most members of the board had no influence, no clout, in the community. When Scott stepped down, he was replaced by two co-presidents, one of whom was a processor of health insurance claims.

Other successful non-profit organizations have a variety of people on their boards — some who bring valuable non-profit management experience, others skilled at soliciting donations, and others whose primary asset is fame. Given that West Hollywood sits in the middle of the entertainment capital of the world, it is puzzling that CSW isn’t trying to recruit board members like Howard Bragman, the veteran publicist who represents clients such as Mario Lopez, Adam Rodriguez, Lance Bass and Joe Mangiello, or Dallas Dishman, executive director of the David Geffen Foundation, who sits on the city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, or Stuart Resnick, an affluent West Hollywood resident who has a strong interest in the arts.

CSW also should work more closely with West Hollywood’s cultural affairs staff, who put on One City One Pride. That’s 40 days of more than 90 LGBT-focused arts and cultural events, some of which fill the gaps that critics have noted in CSW’s own festival plans. There’s no reason next year’s LA Pride can’t really be a joint venture.

Stability and Growth

CSW should develop a mission statement that focuses not only on what it does for the community but on what steps it intends to take to make itself sustainable.

For one thing, it should consider ways to make use of its powerful brand more than once a year. (That is, by the way, an idea that CSW’s Craig Bowers agrees with). CSW could create other LGBT events during the year that are likely to attract sponsors or otherwise generate revenue. That could include a transgender job fair with corporate sponsors, an LGBT issues forum with corporate sponsors and an admission fee, an LGBT version of Ted Talks, an annual LGBT June wedding and anniversary ceremony, an LGBT New Year’s Eve event, to suggest a few.

To make some of these things happen, CSW needs to hire a full-time executive director. If the only way to find the money for that is to abandon its office at the Pacific Design Center and have him or her work from home, or work in a shared work space, so be it. In this virtual age there are many start-up businesses that work that way until they are financially stable enough to rent a private office.

Those who are upset about LA Pride need to enjoy what’s coming in the next three weeks and then focus on the future. But let’s start working on the future on June 13 and not kick the can down the road any more.

  1. What have I missed? Last year, single-day Festival admission tickets were $20 for advance purchase tickets and $25 for tickets purchased at the Festival. This year, single-day Festival admission tickets are $25 if purchased by June 9th, $35 (!) if purchased at the gate the day of. Isn’t this where we started? Where is the reduction in ticket prices due to our protests? Are the prices only reduced for those who are interested in purchasing the multi-day ticket in advance?

  2. Now the city is enforcing meter parking on pride Sunday AND it looks like they are NOT lifting parking permit restrictions for the weekend as they have in years past. Tsk-tsk

  3. Full Disclosure: I’ve been attending LA Pride before any of the headliners at this year’s music festival were born.

    Often non-LGBT folks ask me ‘what is gay pride?’ Never having been in the closet they cannot begin to understand the reason or need for such falderal.
    It seems every year we meet at least one person at the festival or along the parade route that is ‘coming out’. Often and mainly to themselves. They are using the day to proclaim who they are. It is a frightening step for many to take. The fear of backlash and hatred can overwhelm. You cannot underestimate the power and darkness of The Closet.
    My door came off the hinges in 1987. I was having sex with men prior to this, long prior, but often under an assumed name, or no name at all.
    Sex is only part a of homosexuality. It is who we are. It is why Zac Efron turns my head while Selena Gomez could walk right past me and I would likely not notice. But that Gay 101.Which is what Pride is rooted in.
    The history has been well documented. First it was a small group of very brave people will to public display themselves as ‘homosexuals’.
    As the 1980s gave way to more political power Pride was used to rally the troops to band together. It was the 1987 June Pride moving pep rally that resulted in the largest contingent of any city at the October March on Washington. Which also debuted The Quilt. This lead to the parade being much more political, ACT UP members seemed to be a part of ever contingent. The turn of the century brought more focus to LGBT issues of workplace and equality.
    It is an opportunity to come to an event, in safety, with thousands and thousands of other folks ‘just like you’. You are ‘normal’ after all. But the Pride Festival so offers the opportunity to network and connect with subsets of interest, be them sexual or social or civic. Gay bowling? Yup. Ditto, hiking, soccer, football, dancing and various fetishes someone is hawking.
    Pride has been about unity and involvement, not passive presence at a concert.
    Pride has been hijacked because the folks ultimately overseeing the event, the West Hollywood City Council have turned into a rubber stamp for the latest incarnation of CSW.
    The idea of a music festival is fine. Even a LGBT one. But it should not usurp the basis for Pride. It should not be the same weekend as the parade.
    With the “big name” acts (for the under 30 crowd) comes a higher price because these folks don’t do it for their health. The higher price keeps more people out, considering once you are inside the prices reflect supply and demand. It is not a cheap date. The equation is not in favor of the consumer.
    The Festival needs to be a catalyst for communication between all the subsets of our culture. It’s hard to have a conversation when the music is turned up to eleven. Stage performances breed passivity. At least the Country Western tent and Disco floor forced interaction (and some exercise).
    The festival should be open and affordable to all. It should be festive.
    All sorts of compromises have taken place the past two weeks but damage has been done.
    I know back in the rebellious (or die)1990s groups would have set up booths along Santa Monica Boulevard. We would have kept part of Santa Monica Boulevard closed (without a permit) and had the anti-festival right in the street.
    That was another time. Maybe it’s time to reconsider the whole shebang.

  4. Zam:
    first: Many have put the email & phone numbers as graphics that are clickable. When you click on it it opens an email box. You type the info you want and hit send. Bots cannot find the email or Phone number as they are graphic on the site.

    Second: As a 501c3 anyone weather a member or not can request a copy of their financials and as a 501c3 they are required by law to send it to them. Falure to do so can get your 501c3 pulled.

    third: As a 501c3 they are required to have a list the board members available & some post the names & pics on the website. I wont work with a 501c3 group that will not make these things public.

  5. Where is our LGBTQ Home-less PRIDE?
    40 days? over 90 events and no one event for our brothers and sisters in needs, this is our PRIDE? We talk about our LGBTQ home-less and keep talking but they are still living on our streets.
    LA PRIDE, is a business, just like most “non profit” groups.
    WEHO leaders can do better for our “87” homeless and for sure they can do more to stop STD’S, METH, HEROIN and so much more that our community facing.
    LA PRIDE is just one more EXPENSIVE, GAY PARTY, with VIP area.
    Our Pride is keep fighting for what’s right for all people.
    continue what our HEROES did for us, they are all watching us from heaven.
    So let’s call it what it is, LA RAINBOW PARTY not PRIDE.
    Love NO Hate.
    Nir Zilberman

    1. Nir Z:

      First, let me address my opinion about the VIP thing. Honestly, this is the norm for the major pride events. In all honesty, this reflects Pride serving a demographic and is a great way to effectively tax those who can afford it. Every major city’s pride has some sort of VIP ticket. The more money they make, the more they’ll have left over to benefit LGBT organizations that directly serve those in need.

      Second, general tickets: Most pride events charge for festival entry. The new price is on the high side, but not out of the ballpark. I do wish they had a ‘free’ section for the booths and other features, with tickets required for areas like entertainers, etc. This would effectively create a 3 tiered system. Unfortunately, the logistics of such an arrangement may be impractical.

      Third, unlike most Pride events, LA Pride lacks official parties separate from the Festival. Every other major city has official parties which contribute a portion of proceeds back to local Pride organizations and other community organizations. The lack of this key revenue source means they need to make money elsewhere, and is a major reason for this year’s change.

      I already discussed the changing nature of Pride past, future, and present, so I won’t rehash this here. The bottom line is: if CSW doesn’t keep up with the times, attendance will continue to drop and the event will disappear.

      Like many charitable LGBT organizations formed for the purpose of throwing benefits and parties (The Imperial Court System is a great example), Pride organizations don’t directly provide services to the community beyond the events themselves, but donate their ‘profits’ to those that do. I’m not sure exactly how CSW does things, but they can’t maintain their tax exempt status if they don’t to some degree. I must admit, I’m eager to see how the numbers pan out this year with their PDC Offices (for which they are hopefully receiving a large portion of the rent as a donation) & other new expenses. I hope this and other local news outlets check with professionals before jumping the gun here as it is normal for an organization like this to keep a lot of cash on hand – likely enough to pay for the entire 2017 budget. I’ve served on several boards and we built up considerable cash reserves out of necessity (to back accounts with creditors & vendors), & the desire to insure our mission is preserved.

      Now Nir. Z., onto the topic which is most dear to your heart, the LGBT homeless. This topic is also dear to my heart as I’ve employed & provided shelter to several in our community on the brink of homelessness, and had a former live-in caretaker who began a battle with addiction, entered the rehab system, bounced between homelessness & rehab, and was eventually hired back on before I finally came to the painful realization that I couldn’t help him and had get him back into the rehab system where he has improved overall, but still battles constant relapses.

      Unfortunately, DIRECTLY supporting the plight of our LGBT brothers and sisters directly isn’t generally the mission of ‘Pride’ and I’ve not seen one Pride event which goes out of it’s way to include them. Their mission is generally to promote, maintain, & insure the survival of the EVENTS which comprise ‘Pride’, Such as: the parade, festival, and other related local events. Organizations which dilute their mission are more prone to fail. Could they do a better job of welcoming the homeless to their events, DEFINITELY. But for this year, it’s too late. I’d like to see them work with the LA Center to grant free entry to the homeless whom they directly serve and those in free residential drug treatment facilities. Hell, they could even offer showers and assistance connecting them with the organizations who may be able to assist them. Whatever they were to do, an organization which specializes in helping these two groups would need to take the lead. Both groups will also have to determine whether the money spent here would be put to better use if donated directly to one or more 3rd party organization.

      Sadly, there is also a downside to inclusion. Unfortunately, the presence of the obviously homeless at the festival will turn off a lot of people. This will likely reduce attendance, which will then reduce the money CSW can give to support the homeless and those battling addiction. As a man with a disability, I witness this first hand; although to a much lesser extent.

      Finally, keep in mind that many organizations which serve this group are present at Pride; seeking donations & volunteers to further their cause. This outreach is effective in furthering their goals. There’s also nothing keeping them from choosing to include members of the community they serve in their on-site volunteer staff.

      My final suggestion to you: try organize a discussion including yourself, organizations that focus on LGBT homeless & addicts, Pride, and even those who are & / or have first hand experience well in advance of Pride 2017. Pride has already made some substantial changes this year, which proves they’re willing to listen when individuals & organizations unite. If you can help create a similar coalition around the homeless issue, you may be surprised how far you get. Ironically, a trip to the discounted Friday festival will likely be a great place to start.

  6. RE: Transparency: “And it should list the official CSW telephone number and email address”.

    First, listing an e-mail on a web site is just plain stupid. The site will be scanned by millions of bots and thus the address will be inundated with spam or worse (malware infected email). Effectively making the monitoring of that email account impractical and expensive. Best practices dictate the use of a contact form with CAPTCHA and / or account verification like Facebook log in).

    Second, even listing phone numbers on web sites can cause major issues depending on the nature of the business. For a group like pride, they probably don’t have the budget for receptionists to answer calls from those expecting to buy tickets over the phone, hate groups, and every local who has some reason to complain. For everyone, those same bots which scan for e-mails, also scan for phone numbers. In my own test, I listed a separate business number on the web site for one of my businesses and setup appropriate listings to the major search engines. After 2 years, that line receives 1/2 dozen plus spam calls a day!

    My point:. They should not share their email address at all. Further, If they offer a proper contact us form for miscellaneous questions and respond in a timely manner, they don’t need to provide a phone number. If telephonic communication is appropriate, they’ll provide that option in form responses, or to required parties (vendors, etc.). This is 2016, not 1986.

  7. Duran and D’Amico failed, on the subcommittee and in general. All this happened under their stewardship. Duran busy with Grindr, and D’Amico busy spying on Heilman.

  8. I’m with you Hank! Just as the Democratic party is fighting we all need to come together as one in light of their willingness to make changes. Our world is so filled with bitterness, let’s stop and celebrate our successes. Yes, it’s a bit late, however I do feel that as a community we made this happen. It just shows you that demonstrating for the good of all people will prevail.

    Next year I invite the committee to consider moving to downtown, especially since the park will be going into major construction and a must smaller place. It’s time for the entire city of Angeles to take PRIDE in CSW. Too many pluses including transportation and parking not to research this idea.

  9. It’s not to late for them to get their a** together. Invite small businesses to have booths. Make the transgender more inclusive. Find a space for the Country and Western community. Not just part of a day or one day but the entire festival. Cut the price to enter. Lastly, move out of their expensive and self absorbed offices immediately and move into the French Market space. For the festival rent one only tent for their sorry a** to lounge in while the rest of use are sweltering in the sun.

  10. “they have the business acumen it will take to get CSW back on its feet for the long run.”


  11. I can think of one more area of improvement, with regard to both transparency and community engagement. During John Duran’s comments at the city council meeting the other night, he acknowledged that even though he and D’Amico were on a sub-committee that deals with Pride, their engagement was limited to the use of city space, and that they didn’t know that this was branded as a “music festival” (amongst other changes).

    For the amount of money that CSW receives from The City of West Hollywood (including waived fees and whatnot), the city should want to be more involved than what Duran outlined, and should want to be involved in the planning. I realize that council members are very busy, but they could create a board that deals specifically with CSW. I just can’t believe that as the host city, that CSW couldn’t bother be bothered to engage the city more.

    I remember a couple years ago when Duran and D’Amico worked on some recommendation changes to CSW to make Pride a better festival. If I’m not mistaken, none of these recommendations were put into place.


    I know that the city doesn’t own CSW. But as a host city with a huge number of LGBT people, their intervention would be of value here.

  12. Don, I applaud them making changes, but the prices are STILL ridiculous. $5 more than last year, and probably still the most expensive Pride festival in the country.

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