Cancelling the annual gay pride parade and replacing it with the Resist protest march is a bad idea according to Pat Rocco, the first president of Christopher Street West (CSW), the nonprofit that puts on the yearly L.A. Pride festival and parade. Rocco believes that the parade and the march should be combined and says there is still time to make that course correction.
“Combine them. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be and why it won’t be better because of it,” said the 84-year-old Rocco during a recent telephone interview from his home in Hawaii. “How good will it be that it is shared by everybody! By limiting it to one particular area that you want to have done, you’re eliminating the whole idea of what gay pride is all about.
“We’re proud to speak up and say there should be a protest, but we’re also proud to still be marching on the street as gay people, men and women, lesbian and gay who want to say, ‘I’m proud to be gay.’ Mix the two. You have the best mixture in the world. Don’t give that up. It’s going to be wonderful for you if you do that. Wonderful.”
Similar to the giant Women’s March held in cities across the United States on Jan. 21 (the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president), dozens of Resist Marches will happen nationwide on Sunday, June 11, with marchers supporting not only LGBT rights, but also women’s rights, the rights of minorities and immigrants’ rights.
In Los Angeles, the Resist March falls on L.A. Pride weekend, which is June 10-11. Because the annual pride parade would normally happen on June 11 (going down Santa Monica Boulevard from Crescent Heights Boulevard to Robertson Boulevard), CSW opted to cancel it to allow the Resist March to occur instead.
The Resist March will start at 8 a.m., stepping off from Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles because there is a subway station there allowing participants to arrive by mass transit. The march will follow a 3.1 mile path down La Brea Avenue, turning onto Santa Monica Boulevard and ending at La Peer Drive, where a huge stage will be set up.
With an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people expected to turn out, Resist March organizers plan to put giant video screens all along Santa Monica Boulevard from La Peer to La Cienega Boulevard so marchers can hear the speeches. The West Hollywood City Council has agreed to spend about $1 million on security for the march and the accompanying pride festival, happening in West Hollywood Park.
Rocco knows the Resist March is guaranteed to bring huge media coverage, but by combining the protest march with the pride parade, he believes it would draw even more media attention, be more visually exciting and be more satisfying to all involved.
“Hold up your protest signs and meanwhile the others will hold up gay pride signs,” said Rocco. “That’s a great combination. And that’s taking care of what you want to do and what you’ve always have done, which is your history. You’re not giving up gay pride for resistance. In fact you’re combining them which gives you more pride and more resistance.”
Although the Resist March is less than two months away, Rocco says there is still time to add the parade back in.
“I put together parades quickly,” Rocco said. “There’s no reason why it can’t be done again.”
Although he was not one of the organizers, Rocco helped with the very first pride parade held on Hollywood Boulevard in June 1970, a widely successful event. The 1971 and 1972 pride parades were badly handled, he says, and the 1973 parade never happened because no one stepped up to organize it. So, in 1974, with the community demanding a pride parade, Rocco was voted in as the first official president of CSW.
Rocco devised the idea of holding a pride festival (originally called a “carnival”) in conjunction with the pride parade, explaining that he felt they should give attendees something to do after the parade. The notion of holding a pride festival was greeted with skepticism in 1974, but when that first festival proved successful, combining the parade with a festival quickly became the standard for pride events across the world.
Rocco says the secret of pulling off a successful parade is to mix the groups up properly – don’t put too many floats together or too many bands together or too many go-go boys and dancers together. “They need to be carefully organized as to their running order,” he says. “You can’t have 16 in a row that are all the same thing.”
He believes a the same can be done with a combined pride parade and protest march with some floats, bands, dancers and go-go boys interspersed here and there.
“Don’t keep all the pride people together and don’t keep all the Resist people together. Make sure they’re separated so you don’t have everything all together in clumps of parade people and clumps of protest people. Mix it up. Mix real well,” Rocco said. “Make smaller floats. You don’t have to make floats that are 100 feet long. Use smaller ones and have a maximum size the float can be. That would mix in better with all the people [who will be marching]. A float can be for resistance too, you know.”
When CSW announced that this year’s parade was being cancelled, current CSW president Chris Classen explained they couldn’t do a combined parade and protest march because it would be “very difficult to mix pedestrians and vehicles.”
Rocco believes that’s nonsense, saying it’s easy to mix the two if you have the good oversight, intersperse them properly and are careful to “level” the parade/march off.
“You release one group [into the parade]. Twenty to 30 feet away, you let the next group out,” Rocco said. “And you tell the people leading each group, ‘You see how far you are away from that group ahead of you. Make sure you maintain that distance all the way. If a group stops, you stop too.’”
Rocco likes the 3.1 mile march route, but thinks it will not be effective without the parade element, saying, “It’s not that good a march if you cut the pride out.”
Critical of CSW Board
In 2016, CSW rebranded the L.A. Pride festival as a “music festival” and booked lots of bigger name music acts. Rocco believes that rebranding was a mistake and is glad this year’s festival will not be called a “music festival.”
“I disagreed with them calling it a music festival,” said Rocco. “It is not to be, and never was to be and I hope never will be a music festival. It wipes out our history. We’re gay pride. It should be known that way. We started with grass roots and we worked ourselves up to what it is now.”
He also thinks that booking big acts is not necessary. Yes, some music performers help make for a good festival, but CSW could book some new acts that are just starting out.
“People will come no matter what names you have,” Rocco said. “They’re there for gay pride. They should be given gay pride. Not a lot of performances.”
That 2016 rebranding as a music festival proved unsuccessful and the CSW lost $396,000 on the 2016 festival. In response to that news, Rocco wrote a letter offering detailed suggestions to cut the budget.
“I wrote one letter to the board and it went viral,” Rocco said. “That was crazy. But is showed people care about gay pride and still remember me.”
Rocco reports that CSW was always able to cover its expenses in its early years and cannot understand how they could lose so much money now. Current CSW board president Chris Classen reported at a March meeting of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board that CSW has lost money for 10 of the past 17 years.
“Christopher Street West has gone down the tubes,” said Rocco. “They can’t even pay for themselves anymore.”
In January 2017, five people resigned from the 15-member CSW board, unhappy with the way CSW board was being run and unwilling to sign a confidentiality agreement. Dan Morin, one of the five who resigned, wrote an op-ed for WEHOville detailing why he resigned.
Rocco said that sort of thing never happened when he was CSW president, noting that he always had good people working under him.
“I’m a wonderful leader and a good organizer; I say that because I know it’s true,” Rocco said. “There needs to be a head person. But when something goes wrong with the festival, it’s always because of the people in charge. It’s a trickle-down thing. If you’re great in being a leader, then your trickle-down people will follow you and they will be leaders of the future.”
Rocco is critical of Chris Classen and board member Craig Bowers, who share ownership of an events business, calling them “bully directors” who seem to be pushing their own agenda through.
“What’s happening now is you’re having all kinds of people who were on the board and who have quit who wanted to do something, but they were never allowed to do so,” said Rocco. “Instead they had Bully Directors, who wanted to do it themselves, they wanted to do it their way and they didn’t want to listen to the rest of the board and do it in a way where people put their hands up and vote. They should be allowed to vote all the time. Smothering that, which is what they did, has caused the trouble that they’re having.”
He notes that a board of directors, especially for CSW, needs to be nurtured and encouraged to offer suggestions.
“They have to take care of Christopher Street West in the right way,” said Rocco. “Make [your board members] a part of what you’re doing, don’t make them separate people. No wonder they’re all quitting. They don’t get a chance to say anything. They don’t get the chance to vote. They were telling people you can’t vote on things. You’re on the board of directors, but we don’t want your vote. That’s terrible. How to win friends and influence people in the wrong way.”
Rocco’s career as a gay activist and a filmmaker will be chronicled in a documentary featuring Rocco and Charlie David. The documentary, “Pat Rocco Dared,” is directed by filmmakers Morris Chapdelaine and Bob Christie (“Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride”, “Out at the Games”) and produced by Jay Daniel Beechinor (“Hell On Wheels”, “The Dorm”, “Van Helsing”). A link to the film’s trailer can be viewed online.