Opinion: Let’s Take Back Our Pride

Young woman wrapped in the colors of Pride. (Photo by Derek Wear, Unikorn Photography)
Young woman wrapped in the colors of Pride. (Photo by Derek Wear, Unikorn Photography)

The City of West Hollywood was founded in 1984 with the first majority gay city council in the world. Today, 32 years after our founding, West Hollywood still boasts an LGBT population close to 50% of its residents. Our core values reflect our community’s respect for diversity and inclusion. Even our city flag is embedded with the rainbow symbol, which says to all: “You’re welcome here.” The most important event each year that reflects our core values is the annual LA Pride Parade and Festival.

In the early days of West Hollywood, Pride was more than a community event. It was a celebration of who we are, what we struggle with and how we have united as one family under the rainbow. Pride was the day we all undressed and wore our hearts on our sleeves. Pride was a welcoming weekend for many who came to West Hollywood to share our sense of community. Inside West Hollywood, gay and lesbian couples could hold hands and transgender men and woman wouldn’t be judged.

Larry Block, The Block Party, West Hollywood City Council candidate
Larry Block

Christopher Street West (CSW), an independent non-profit, had organized LA Pride activities for many years. In the last five years its leadership has changed. Pride has drifted from its beginnings and it’s unclear what it is about. At a recent CSW meeting before this year’s Pride weekend, one resident asked CSW President Chris Claussen “what is the core mission statement of the Christopher Street West organization?” Classen’s response: “we are still working on it.” Even CSW is not clear about its purpose.

Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco, which also host gay Pride parades and festivals. In those communities, the events generate money that goes to local non-profits and local social service organizations . Their festival ticket prices are half (or less) the cost of attending the West Hollywood Pride Festival. And the cost to have a float in or march in the parade is much less than what CSW charges.

So in West Hollywood there appears to be little public benefit to hosting Pride. The majority of attendees are not from West Hollywood. The majority of West Hollywood residents are not happy with the way CSW is managing Pride. And zero money has been donated to fund any non-profit initiatives.

On a recent visit to City Hall I bumped into a 20-year City Hall employee who has had a front row seat when it comes to CSW and Pride. He recalled a day when bags of money went disappearing. He said that in once instance there was $25,000 short-changed, and nobody knew what to do.

In 2013, after much community discontent about CSW and Pride, the City Council established an independent sub-committee of council members John D’Amico and John Duran to work with CSW and look into the community concerns. CSW’s then-President Rodney Scott stepped down. Now it is apparent that the sub-committee failed. (John Duran, by the way, never even attended a single CSW board meeting.) CSW’s decision to turn the festival into a music festival aimed at Millennials and reduce transgender, lesbian and other programming sparked calls for a boycott.

And this year CSW suffered a $395,000 loss according to a financial statement obtained by WEHOville that CSW has not made public (It hasn’t yet made its 2015 tax return available either.) That’s much worse that the 2014 loss of $51,612, the 2013 loss of $76,566 and the 2012 loss of $70,526. Ask yourself, is this an organization that is worth investing in?

Mayor Lauren Meister took Duran’s spot on the subcommittee and now is making an earnest effort to fix things. At the beginning of a community event last month (another is coming up this Wednesday and unfortunately I will be out of town and unable to attend) Meister underestimated the anger in the crowd. Lesbian activist Ivy Bottini spoke up and hit the nerve points, and the community spoke out . That first community outreach meeting showed all the deep divisions between CSW and the community.

There are three important issues to address to decide if the City of West Hollywood should continue working with CSW on LA Pride or take a fresh start.

1) Is CSW a good steward of the public trust and are its financials transparent?

It would appear that CSW has had many financial challenges — losses year after year while the costs to participate in the Pride event have escalated. With the $400,000 loss this year, will it even be able to pay its expensive talent? So the answer to this question is clear — CSW is not a good steward of the public trust.

2) Does CSW provide a public benefit?

The answer to that question is no. CSW has not contributed to any of our community non-profits or social service programs.

3) Has CSW shown that it understands the needs of the community and shares West Hollywood’s inclusive, community-oriented way of life?

The answer to that is clear. Consider: The festival was turned this year into a music festival aimed at Millennials. Festival admission fees initially were going to be raised 40% to $35. Transgender programming was going to be pushed aside and free-admission Friday nights were going to be eliminated This was the vision of Chris Classen and his business partner Craig Bowers, also a CSW board member who have an unusual lock on the CSW board’s decisions and are to blame for most of the mistakes.

Pride is not CSW. Pride is ours. It’s in our heart. There is nothing more near and dear to this community than a celebration of our history. Pride is that one weekend a year when we open up that big warm West Hollywood heart and say you’re welcome here. The parade brings everyone together and the festival needs to be its after party.

At many community meetings local promoters, event planners and citizens offered to volunteer to reshape our Pride weekend. Imagine a Pride that had a million dollar profit for our social service organizations. Imagine a Pride task force of community members. Imagine the inclusiveness of a Pride with community stakeholders as the decision makers. Imagine a Pride that is free for all and funded by sponsors who want to be a part of something great. Imagine a festival for young and old, gay and straight allies, neighbors and friends. Imagine a Pride that reflects our dynamic, diverse community. That’s the Pride I dream of.  We can take control of Pride and tuck it neatly into our West Hollywood One City One Pride festival, which already includes 94 LGBT events.

It’s time to move forward. CSW has lost the confidence of the community. Now we need to create a Pride that the community has confidence in, a Pride that provides a public benefit. We can do it. Let’s take back our Pride.

  1. Amen to David Reid – he reminded me that Pride Parades were about providing a medium where not yet out or newly out gays can feel comfortable expressing their true identity. That he or she can have pride about who they are was the overreaching purpose of the parade,

    Boy oh boy – is that ever gone and I remember how important my first parade in the early 80’s in San Francisco was to me.

  2. Tonight’s meeting is not to discuss the past only looking to the future.
    On that, we don’t need paid headliners to draw a crowd. The half naked bodies of both sex do just fine as a draw. All we need is music. Of every genre. Two steppers, disco, whatever else is out. We do NOT need stage performers. We need more dance floors. Plural.
    We need to give every legitimate community organization space, even a table, to reach out to like interests. Keep the cost down to enter and you’ll have a packed house. A packed house eat and drink more and your vendors are happy.

    But from the past we should learn our mistake. A grave error in judgment was made this year by not telecasting the parade. This is the first year the parade was not carried on WeHoTV or on the live stream on the internet. (Prior to 1984 and cityhood Century Cable put the parade cable.)
    I have always held the biggest service of Pride, the most significant purpose of the whole shebang is to help open the closet door for folks still suck in that societially imposed abyss. By seeing other people, not necessarily model stock or the reasons head spin and neck snap at the parade, by every day Janes and Joes what are part of the fabric of our part of the world. What? Gay Bowlers? What? Horseback groups? Hikers? Lawyers? Bankers! yes, all these contingents and more seen in the comfort of one’s home. You could hear closet doors opening.
    So this year there was no TV. Was it to keep John Duran from the anchor chair (a plus indeed, he is no Bob Eubank nor Stephanie Edwards) from more free air time? That would be an easy fix. Lots of folks have sat in those chairs. The year CSW decided to speed things along and split the parade into two lanes once it hit SMB at La Cienega, Linda Tremeglio and I hosted. (No, no desire to repeat that, my face has long been cast to audio only) but I know about the parade from both sides. I know people at home gain strength through seeing others’ just like them’. Safety in numbers.
    So, at the end of the Parade I approached the then new Mayor, Lauren Meister and asked why no television. I thought it would evoke a response (not for public but as a wink wink) involving Duran and the free campaign time (or not considering some of the commentary over the years). Nope. That wasn’t the reason. Why no television? Mayor Meister: “The cost”. I was so taken aback by this unlikeliest of reasons for this fully flush city.
    It cost too much? “IT COST TOO MUCH?” If it wasn’t hours after the numbing of the Orlando shooting I would have made more of it at the moment. Now it is somethnig I’ll never be able to let go.
    You could turn the camera from atop City Hall 90 degrees and aim it at the road. Same camera they were showing off the robograge with. It doesn’t have to be a big production. Look at the crappy video we all watch of all sorts of things on our tiny phone screens.
    “It cost too much”. The Mayor needs to look to whoever suggested cutting coverage and cut them out of City Hall. They do not have the City’s interest at heart.
    In a city that is about to drop $95.8 MILLION (to date) on a Taj Mahal park can’t afford to put this production to the world?

  3. What happened to the days when most everything was free at the Pride Festival, and ALL WeHo residents celebrated our diverse population. We really did come together, as a whole community to celebrate the freedom of being ourselves, gay or straight. It wasn’t just about life styles. Now, I’m afraid that most who attend the parade, and also the Hallowe’en celebration, are looky loo’s who want to see and make fun of our gay and lesbian community, as they lay it all out in costume and originality. Why does anyone have to pay $35 to tromp on the grass of W Hollywood Park where the music acts are too expensive and the larger stage ties up traffic and leaves no room for emergency vehicles? It’s hard enough to make it in this vacinity without having to “save up” for Pride week end. The acts that perform, ought to be a non paying gig, to show their support for our community, not rob us blind for the privilige of having a few thousand attendees. Start there.

  4. As I’ve said, the Orlando Shooting obviously had a major effect on this years Pride.

    I do think bringing the community back together is needed, THIS YEAR and anything re CSW and pride should be kept off any public agenda.

    So many lives belonging to our national community deserves at least no squabbling, finger pointing and public discussion fighting.

    There will be Pride next year (and many more years to come) where valid or not (I leean towards believing in the good and no scandal …. always causing me to fall by hoping for the vest when I think there is nothing close to any chance CSW and pride in weho is based on a “crooked backroom financial scandal).

    BUT LET’S WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR. PEOPLE DIED and you want the world watching us fighting over a losing battle to fix a money sceme. We need to show unity, and there won’t be any wrongdoing found.

    People who play loose and free with other people’s/City money don’t do it on a whim. They made sure in advance to cover their tracks .

    The last thing we need is a money squabble with the orlando tragedy, the dallas police and the black lives matter going strong … and the weho gay community is fighting over Pride Funding.

    Next year will be the same financial controversy, and hopefully the country will be healing and shootings go down by next June.

  5. If you could only read one article about the challenges that face CSW, this would be it.

    How can we get Larry to make a FaceTime appearance at Wednesday night’s meeting?

  6. Just for comparison, NYC Pride (Heritage of Pride Inc.) made a profit in 2014 of $116,146. It’s balance sheet shows cash and savings of $660,507 at the end of 2014. It had net assets/fund balance at the end of the year of $659,757.

    San Diego Pride (San Diego Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Inc.) lost $47,592 in 2014. It had cash of $177,095 and a net assets/fund balance of $1,062,352 at the end of 2014.

    I don’t see a 2015 tax form yet for NYC Pride or SD Pride; but nonprofit filing deadlines are traditionally extended and filed on November 15 of the following year (e.g., November 15, 2016 for the 2015 calendar year). So we should see tax returns from both CSW and Heritage of Pride at the end of this year.

  7. At the end of 2014, according to CSW’s Form 990, it had cash and short-term investments of $106,790 and accounts payable/short-term liabilities of $99,376. If you net those two, it comes to a measly $7,414 cash. It also had accounts receivable and short-term loans receivable of $14,164. If those accounts were collected, and liabilities paid, it would leave CSW only $21,578 in cash. Rolling into 2015, that doesn’t leave much of a cushion. It’s even more frightening when CSW’s net worth (assets less liabilities) was a NEGATIVE $92,821 at the end of 2014.

    It will be interesting to see how well CSW did in 2015. I suspect, that even if it made a modest profit in 2015, the organization would be completely wiped out by a $395,000 loss in 2016.

    I think it’s time for CSW to declare bankruptcy and liquidate. Its only asset of value is a restricted asset – Casa del Sol – a residential apartment building that is under a 40 year lease to APLA and which is managed by APLA on behalf of CSW.

    2017 may be the year that we see a smaller Pride in West Hollywood and in which other Pride Week events spring up all around the LA area (Downtown LA, Silver Lake/Echo Park and The Valley being the ones that come to mind). It’s time for the City to not renew CSW’s permits and put the whole event out for bids to other contractors. If the selected person isn’t a non-profit entity, then that person/company can produce the events for a fee under the City’s nonprofit umbrella.

  8. My encounter with the CSW sometime ago was when I mounted the first (and only) national TV coverage of the Pride Parade. I noted much inter organization politics, vying for position and so on, which I was able to dodge. I presumed that all non-profit organizations of that size have the same activity among the volunteers…all to be lauded for their work of course. But I noted that after that year (1993) bars and commercial operations seemed to back away focusing on their profiting from the weekend, reducing physical presence (and donation fee) in the parade. It seemed PROFIT became the mission of those who participated. So without a strong “mission” and equally strong “leadership” their efforts are in danger. The purpose of the original parade/demonstration has changed with the improvement of recognition of our rights over the decades and focused on the AIDS epidemic. Now the purpose of such an annual parade/festival is in question. Is it a celebration or recognition we still need to CAMPAIGN FOR EQUALITY? A company that looses so much money annually would be a target for merger or bankruptcy. I’m not sure the CSW or any organization can cope with such an ongoing financial failure. I don’t think our City should absorb the event, let alone the past losses. But the event needs to be refocuses as EQUALITY and needs to be retooled by a willing, able and managerial entity..perhaps the CSW can be that with a professional manager? It would be a shame to see the event end.

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