CSW Draws Fire in WeHo Community Meeting on LA Pride

CSW President Chris Classen (foreground) questioned by Ivy Bottini. (Photo by Jon Viscott)
CSW President Chris Classen (foreground) questioned by Ivy Bottini. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

Members of the LGBT community, representatives of local non-profit groups and people living in the West Hollywood West neighborhood turned out tonight for the first of two public meetings about L.A. Pride.

Tonight’s meeting, organized by the City of West Hollywood, was intended to elicit feedback on the Pride parade and festival in June, with attendees noting what they liked and what they didn’t like about the event. But it quickly turned into criticism of the direction in which the new management of Christopher Street West (CSW) has taken the event and of CSW’s lack of transparency and engagement with the community. CSW is the non-profit group that puts on the annual L.A. Pride.

Several of the speakers talked about their disappointment that CSW had decided to change the weekend of events in West Hollywood Park into what it called a “music festival” whose goal was to appeal to Millennials. That involved adding a number of music performances and an initial CSW decision, later partially reversed, to reduce the presence of the transgender, lesbian and leather community events at the festival. One speaker, who identified himself as having been a volunteer with CSW for several years, said that Chris Classen, named CSW’s president last year, told him that he wanted the Pride festival to be the “gay Coachella” and that it wasn’t intended to appeal to every LGBT community. Classen said he didn’t recall saying that.

CSW's Chris Classen and WeHo Mayor Lauren Meister. (Photo by Jon Viscott)
CSW’s Chris Classen and WeHo Mayor Lauren Meister. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

Representatives of several non-profit groups complained about problems communicating with CSW. A representative of the L.A. LGBT Center’s addiction center said he had trouble making contact with the right people at CSW to plan the center’s involvement with the festival. Jamie Baker of Being Alive, an HIV service organization, objected to CSW’s decision to segregate non-profit organizations from booths paid for by corporate sponsors. “We should not be placed outside the festival or placed on ‘non-profit’ row,” he said. Baker also said representatives of Being Alive were treated rudely. “We should not be yelled out, threatened with sanctions and in our case being called a bitch.”

Classen also was criticized for making important decisions, such as turning the Pride event into a music festival, with a small cadre of fellow board members rather than allowing the full 12-member board to vote on them. While Classen said all major decisions were presented to the board for approval, several speakers said other board members had told them that wasn’t true.

Manny Rodriguez, who lives in the West Hollywood West neighborhood several blocks from the festival, complained about the festival’s impact on parking in residential areas.

“Because of the way it’s going, and the direction that it’s taking away from its original intent, why should we as a neighborhood have that burden?” he asked. “Our residents are unfairly inconvenienced by having to be the parking lot for this music festival.” Rodriguez also criticized the festival’s programming. “The only relevance to the gay liberation movement I think is the parade,” he said. “Everything else is just a show …. Why does it have to corrupt the gay liberation movement by having it be so commercial?”

Joseph Arrelano, who identified himself as a 28-year-old Millennial, said he had volunteered for CSW for the last three years and is disappointed on its music festival focus. He said he is upset that “the past has been lost….. I believe in order to pursue forward we must look to the past to lay down the future.”

Several speakers brought up the cost of tickets to the festival, which were increased initially by 40% for admission on Saturday and on Sunday (CSW lowered the increase to 17% after complaints by the community). Eric Gonzales of the Los Angeles Volleyball Organization said that the festival looked impressive with its array of large LCD screens and props and decorations. “But was it really necessary?,” Gonzalez asked. “Could reducing that reduce the cost and the tickets?”

Ivy Bottini, a prominent lesbian activist, pressed Classen to explain what she said were efforts to make the festival exclusionary. She cited CSW’s effort to market private cabanas in an area of West Hollywood Park from which regular festival goers would be excluded. “You could rent one for $2,500 a day,” Bottini said. (CSW did attempt to market expensive private cabanas with unobstructed views of the main music stage but dropped the effort for lack of response.)

In response to other questions and criticism, Classen said CSW is updating its website, which currently focuses only on the Pride music events and doesn’t list board members, its mission statement or its financials. He also said CSW would soon be releasing its 2015 tax return, which the Internal Revenue Service requires to be made public for non-profits. Asked whether CSW had lost money on this year’s event, Classen said they was likely. He said CSW wouldn’t know for sure until it actually collected the revenue its corporate sponsors had agreed to pay for floats in the parade and booths at the festival.

Classen also was pressed on opening up the board of directors to new members. He said the board will be accepting nominees in September and voting on them in October. Several current board members who have been excluded from some major CSW decisions say they have been threatened with being booted off the board if they speak publicly about their concerns about CSW’s management.

Mayor Lauren Meister, who attended the event along with City Councilmember John D’Amico, has asked for another community meeting on Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica. Meister said that event will focus not on problems with the past event but on the next one. Meister invited those who couldn’t attend tonight’s meeting to offer their opinions on L.A. Pride through a survey on the city’s website.

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jimmyblueyes
jimmyblueyes
4 years ago

Every other major city from New York to Albuquerque has its Pride Parade on Main Street. LA is America’s second-largest city. It’s time to act like it. There is no reason for us to huddle in the gay ghetto on Pride Day, where only people with parking spaces get to attend. The entire proceeding needs to move downtown, where mass transit guarantees a bigger turnout. The Parade happens on Broadway and Main Street, then ends in front of City Hall, where the Mayor, other elected officials, and activists from within our community speak. The “Festival” must be second to the… Read more »

WeHoMikey
WeHoMikey
4 years ago

Randy is correct about CSW – it was formed 45+ years ago specifically to produce a Pride event. The event was a success, and the group that put it together did another – and another – all the way up through the present. Separately – CSW’s current (mostly-new) Board decided they won’t release tax returns and won’t post them on their website. Now we read that Pride will likely lose money this year. What happened to Pride events generating excess funds – which were shared, via grants, with community organizations? Sounds like CSW’s Board is populated by a bunch of… Read more »

Randy
Randy
4 years ago

Joel, unless I am mistaken, CSW has always run LA Gay Pride. It has nothing to do with the City of West Hollywood, and existed before West Hollywood was even a city.

Joël Huxtable
4 years ago

Why does CSW have to be involved at all? Who made them the arbiter of gay pride. We don’t need them. Time for a do-over.

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
4 years ago

@Jeffrey Ward: Spot on – your statements are very important ones that bear emphasis & repeating. Those who claim that all gay people can now comfortably “assimilate into American society anywhere” are being irresponsible & are not living in or experiencing the real world of rampant discrimination, led largely by politicians & religious leaders.

Peter Cruz
Peter Cruz
4 years ago

@Jeffrey Ward – Please stop blaming millennials for the issues with this year’s Pride. There isn’t a single millennial in the CSW Board of Directors. Just because they chose to pander to our generation, it doesn’t make us at fault. As someone who was part of the #NotOurPride boycott from the very beginning, I was able to meet many millennials who were offended with the condescending perception that our generation doesn’t care about our community’s history and legacy. I say “our generation” because I am a millennial as well. So please stop blaming us. We’re just as angry and committed… Read more »

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
4 years ago

@Todd Bianco: “The focus needs to be on our history, the future and Pride more than ever.”
Ditto!

Jeffery Ward
4 years ago

In this day and age, with the vehemence of the far right, some calling for our deaths, with whole Religious Universities being used to wage a war against Gay people, with all the new laws to allow discrimination against us, and the notion that these are not going to stop and hat they are well funded into the next generation it would be a disservice to those who have fought and died fighting for our rights and a complete disservice to tho future generations of gay people to exclude our heritage and our fighting spirit from the Pride event for… Read more »

Todd Bianco
4 years ago

I’m glad the City had this forum fairly close to the actual event. I’m still puzzled about the likelihood of another loss for 2016 and it’s almost assured that there was a loss for 2015. It would be interesting to know how CSW values its in-kind donations because it’s pretty easy to inflate those numbers. It’s not as easy to trick the cash receipts. I’d also like to know why we are even bothering considering CSW for 2017. Hasn’t the time come to just do something different? There must be another nonprofit that could produce LA Pride, right? The City… Read more »

J. Chud
J. Chud
4 years ago

I was unable to make the community meeting, I will not miss the follow on. Since when does a city contractor have the right to repurpose the pride parade and festival to suit their own ideas / needs? Pride week and Pride Month are world wide phenomena and if CSW wants to piggyback on the city’s pride parade, they should bid on it and the fair, and the soon to be established ‘Citizen’s Pride Committee’, or at least I hope that the city does this, can evaluate the bid and program. It is reprehensible of CSW to segregate the paying… Read more »

nir zilberman
nir zilberman
4 years ago

LA PRIDE? Where is our pride? it’s all about money, meth, drunks and sex. Pride? let’s take care of our everyday lives before we spend more then $500.000 on our next pride. one weekend fake pride? Is this the best we can do? please. wake up. let’s go back to basic, when true love and respect were our pride. not money. not about looking good and other B.S. Our pride is just like any other circuit party. not pride. i’m still in shock how dare we still “party” when few hour before we just lost 49 LGBTQIA and 53 more… Read more »

SaveWeho
SaveWeho
4 years ago

Same thing just happened at San Diego Pride. I dont think CSW puts on their pride. Its now the San Diego Pride Music Festival. I think its happening everywhere in an attempt to draw in more people (straight folks) to simply make more money.