Opinion: WeHo Takes Gay Pride Hostage

Summer Tramp at DTLA Proud (Photo by Derek Wanker)

A seismic shift is occurring in Los Angeles’ gay and lesbian communities. On June 11 the anachronistic Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood will be replaced by a Gay Resist March, reconnecting the gay community to its Gay Liberation roots. Its target, however, is not systemic heterosexual supremacy but The Donald.

But there is a large and pressing problem confronting the gay community in Los Angeles in this regard. West Hollywood, the site of the annual Gay Pride event, promotes itself as “The World’s Most Incredible & Magical Gay City,” by extension symbolizing the L.A. gay community. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s time to rescue the Gay Pride celebration from West Hollywood where it has been taken hostage-for-profit by the city and its business interests.

Incorporated as a city in 1984, Weho is 1.89 square miles in size, a fishbowl compared to L.A., with a small population of 34,399, 40% of whom are LGBTQ. Now comes the disturbing news. WeHo’s population is 84% white while in the City of Los Angeles that surrounds it, only 29% are of that bland skin color. In WeHo, Latinos are 10%, in L.A. 47%. Asian-Americans 5%, in L.A. 10%. African-Americans are 3%; in L.A. 10%. Weho does not resemble L.A. or its gay and lesbian people. It exists as an island of white privilege and perks surrounded by a city composed overwhelmingly of people of color.

While non-Caucasians make up about 70% of Los Angeles, they represent only 18% of West Hollywood. This was, and is, largely due to a de facto pattern of white preference and blatant discrimination against non-whites, particularly in apartment rentals and certain hospitality businesses. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the most infamous and blatant example of Jim Crow in West Hollywood involved Studio One, a hugely-popular gay megadisco with attached supper club frequented by celebrities. Studio One had a known policy of white- men-only with gay blacks and women routinely turned away. There were anti-
racism demonstrations frequently, however the Weho power structure then did nothing to stop the bigotry. Still today many gays and lesbians of color and others avoid West Hollywood, labeling it “white boys town.”

Adding to the problem are socioeconomic inequities. West Hollywood is a financially high-end city with more in common with a Hollywood Hills-Brent- wood-Santa Monica lifestyle than middle- or working-class East Hollywood and South and East Los Angeles or even downtown Los Angeles. It supports a luxury-based economy consisting largely of expensive restaurants and bars, high-priced fashion houses, home furnishings emporiums for the rich, elegant offices for the entertainment industry elite, large new high class hotels with sweeping views of the L.A. basin stretching to the Pacific, and real estate development deals running into the hundreds of million dollars.

All of this West Hollywood extravagance is beyond the reach of ordinary gay and lesbian people. It creates a false image of the gay community as being an affluent community. A better indicator of the real state of affairs appeared in 2016 in an important research study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School. It revealed that one in four LGBTQ adults (27%) experienced a time in the last year when they didn’t have enough money to purchase food for their survival as compared to 17% of non-LGBT adults. West Hollywood is an economic anomaly, out of touch and out of reach of most gay people.

West Hollywood is just the wrong place to be the iconic representation of Los Angeles’ LGBTQ community and the site of its annual Gay Pride celebration. Its Gay Establishment hypocritically says it does not pretend to represent all of L.A., but its behavior tells a different story.

By 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, which launched the national and international Gay Liberation revolution, Gay Pride should be relocated to downtown Los Angeles, to the center of the city. Recently the AIDS Walk announced it was leaving WeHo and relocating to Grand Park downtown.

In January the Women’s March showed us what a powerful tool the streets of downtown can be in bringing together and uniting disparate communities– East, West, South, North — of the city. A similar downtown LGBTQ March, hand-in-hand with our allies, has the similar potential of annually uniting the city’s gay communities, transforming gay and lesbian consciousness in Los Angeles. West Hollywood divides, downtown contains the potential of uniting.

Christopher Street West, the L.A. Pride committee in Weho that organizes the annual celebration, is accused of being closed and secretive, its board in disarray, with an entrepreneurial, entertainment consciousness (the legacy of the Reagan Revolution) replacing its grassroots, militant history (the legacy of the Stonewall Revolution). In 2016 it ran up a debt of about $400,000, shocking and alienating the gay community, particularly those who knew where we came from.

There will be strenuous push back from West Hollywood to maintain the status quo, primarily from the city government and business interests. Gay Pride has become a gold mine for them by turning WeHo into a 48-hour, citywide dance party with packed hospitality businesses. A study done by Conventions, Sports, Leisure International reported it generated $5 million in income for the city and bars, restaurants and hotels. Sadly, the Stonewall Rebellion, Gay Pride’s raison d’être, is invisible. Gay people are not dance party deprived, but they are gay history ignorant.

This is my bottom line. During Gay Pride weekend a few years ago, I asked a bright, early twentysomething gay man if he knew what it was all about. He was hazy. We dialogued about what it was like for our kind before Stonewall, what happened on June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village, and the liberation prairie fire that came afterward, birthing, against terrible odds, a self-respecting, organized, and a politically and creatively alive gay community where none had ever existed before. He went silent for a moment, then angrily exclaimed, “Why
hasn’t anyone told me this story before? This is a history I can be proud of.”

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Martin Pal
Martin Pal
3 years ago

Thumbs up, Woody B. and Steve Martin.

People who want change create it. Others just complain about everything. I’m more interested in pride weekend this year than I have been in a couple decades because of the resist march. If it gives as much spirit and solidarity to those who attend as the Women’s March did, then it will be with it. Those who participate won’t be the ones writing comments complaining about it all.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
3 years ago

Thank you David; Thank you kab1200. Let’s move toward constructive conversations about making our West Hollywood event better & more relevant. There is no point in agonizing about whether we are 40% of WeHo’s population or beat ourselves up about not being representative of the County’s overall ethnic mix; we still have more LBGTQ folks per square mile than almost any place on the planet and that still counts for something.

RGo
RGo
3 years ago

I will let Don in on a little secret: Manhattan (especially Greenwich Village) is not racially or financially representative of NYC as a whole. And the Castro is also not racially or financially representative of SF. Nor is Dupont representative of D.C. So if that is the “metric” then we should start discussing moving all of our nation’s pride festivities to different locations. Making pride a more a cultural, historical, or less commercial is a fine goal. But I feel like the author is using the cause as a way to slander West Hollywood simply because you he doesn’t like… Read more »

David
David
3 years ago

WeHo hate is nothing new, and decrying the city won’t solve anything. It does, as several of the commenters here point out, have a higher gay population that the rest of the city. It has gotten away from its gay roots to some extent, and become overpriced. But those issues have nothing to do with Pride itself; Don tips his hand here, so to speak. He’s really angry about how straight and expensive West Hollywood has become. Moving Pride will not solve that. I’m all for having protest marches downtown (why this is replacing the parade is still dubious; could… Read more »

kab1200
kab1200
3 years ago
Reply to  David

David, I love and agree with most everything you say here, except for one thing. The festival should be free. It’s free in other large cities, and they should find out how they are able to achieve that. Otherwise, you are spot on!

Ida Clairel
Ida Clairel
3 years ago

@ Jim Nasium’s comment: Since we know there is no one in town named “Jim Nasium (gymnasium), I submit that the commenter’s actual initials are LB. Just a suggestion

@Palmeiri Your statistics would suggest that at least 56% of WeHo population is gay. That’s possible if not likely

C.R.
C.R.
3 years ago

To kab1200 I live in North Hollywood, since you asked. There is never going to be any “reclaiming” of West Hollywood by gay people. Obviously the benefit of acceptance is the intermingling of gay and straight people. And straight people vastly outnumber gays. Years from now, West Hollywood will be even more mixed gay/straight than it is now. This is stating the obvious. There will come a year when LOS ANGELES gay pride leaves West Hollywood. This idea of enclosing WeHo in a time capsule for gays is just sad. It’s not going to last forever, and I’d rather be… Read more »

kab1200
kab1200
3 years ago
Reply to  C.R.

C.R. it’s not about comfort zone, it’s about logistics. Yes, the demographics of Weho has changed, but certainly not to the degree you state. If you saw coverage of last year’s DTLA Pride, the numbers were minuscule compared to the Pride in Weho. Why is that? I am not opposed to the downtown Pride, but to think it could replace the one in Weho is silly. I hope you know the history of Pride in LA. Weho has the highest concentration of everything-gays, bars, clubs, hotels, etc. Nothing cowardly about that.

Jimmy Palmieri
3 years ago

in the latest widespread community study/survey…..2013…. 39% identified as gay male/ …..7% identified as bi, lesbian, trans…. 11% did not/would not /preferred not to identify, which could conceivably ad more to the lgbt % in total. I’D SAY ITS A PRETTY GAY / GAY WELCOMING/GAY FRIENDLY CITY.

awake-and-sing
awake-and-sing
3 years ago

Uh… I went to Pride in WeHo last year, and in Long Beach, and to the new DTLA Pride. It’s not a binary choice between WeHo v. Downtown. All these festivals are welcome in a region of 16 millon people.

kab1200
kab1200
3 years ago
Reply to  awake-and-sing

awake-and-sing, I totally agree!

fine7760
3 years ago

West Hollywood should have GAY PRIDE. Let Downtown L.A. have their GAY PRIDE and see if it successful. Long Beach just had their GAY PRIDE. It makes no sense to abolish West Hollywood GAY PRIDE so that Downtown L.A. have it unless those who support Downtown’s event are afraid it will be failure. Personally I don’t care to go to a cold, uninviting atmosphere to support pride. As much as the City of Los Angeles has tried to make downtown a wonderful place to live it’s still a dirty, unsafe after dark scary place invested by a huge homeless population… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
3 years ago

That 40% number has been kicking around a long time and I suspect that it does not reflect the reality of today due to the demographic shifts we have seen in West Hollywood. Tolerance in the greater world and high housing costs have changed West Hollywood’s gay population which tends to be older and affluent making it less reflective of the larger LBGTQ community. While our gay population is more ethnically diverse than it was in 1984 it is still far from reflective of the mix of Los Angeles County. But those issues aside, maybe we should look past the… Read more »

Litty Thum
3 years ago

If 40% of WEHO is indeed gay, isn’t that number much higher than any other neighborhood/city in L.A? WEHO always has been the gay epicenter where gays congregate and the calling card for young gays from places such as Arkansas and Idaho. Sadly, over the past ten years or so, the neighborhood has been overtaken by straight girls and their straight male admirers and they have taken over every gay bar on SM Blvd. There have been several gay bars that have opened in DTLA over the past few years and some of that has to do w/ gays wanting… Read more »

SE
SE
3 years ago

It’s heartbreaking to witness our community doing exactly what got our president elected – splitting into “us vs. them”. Now is not the time to be dividing – we have a much more serious threat to our well-being than the location of Pride, hence the importance of this year’s #Resist March. And anyone who thinks Downtown is more “representative” of the city needs to get their head examined – have you studied the cost of real estate and rents down there, as well as the number of high-end restaurants, clubs, and hotels opening? As much as were are a diverse… Read more »