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City Wants Gay Pride Festival Overhauled and Improved

Mayor John Duran and Councilman John D'Amico will serve on a committee to help substantially raise the quality of next year's event.

In response to growing complaints about West Hollywood's annual Pride parade and festival, the city has decided to form a committee dedicated to overhauling the event for 2013.

Consuming almost two hours of a five-hour council meeting Tuesday night, the Pride discussion grew impassioned at times as both councilmembers and public commenters spoke about their vision for the annual gay Pride celebration, which takes place on the second weekend in June.

At the Dec. 19 council meeting, Councilman John D’Amico called for changes to the event. “There is a serious disconnect for a lot of people on that event,” he said, noting that many residents have long complained about the 42-year-old parade, often calling it “lame” or “tired.”

Rodney Scott, executive director of Christopher Street West (CSW), which puts on the pride festivities, explained to attendees of Tuesday's meeting that the event brings in approximately $1.2 million in income each year. About $400,000 of that amount comes from festival admission tickets.

Scott said the event has $1.1 to $1.2 million in expenses each year. The city waives many of the fees associated with putting on the parade and festival, but CSW reimburses the city for the cost of festival preparation, sheriff’s personnel and clean up.

The , which travels down Santa Monica Boulevard from Crescent Heights to San Vicente, attracts an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 people. Approximately 25,000 people attend the accompanying festival held in .

Articulating community concerns

D’Amico asked Scott to articulate what he understood the community concerns to be. Scott said the issues centered around creating areas for gay youth and transgender people, plus a need for more dance space.

D’Amico said Pride was no longer a political event. “The politics have drained out in favor of commerce,” he told Scott. He also said many residents do not feel included anymore and that the parade was far too long, often lasting three hours.

During public comment, many people spoke about the exuberance of coming to their first gay pride event and how exciting it was to ride or march in the parade. Others talked about the satisfaction they gained from volunteering.

Several business representatives said they earned a fourth to a third of their yearly profits during Pride. Chamber of Commerce CEO Genevieve Morell said CSW was as important a partner in the city as any other business. 

Former Councilman Steve Martin said it might be impossible to recreate the electricity of a person’s first gay Pride event, but that the city was now the “trustee” of the event, so it was important to raise its quality.

Admission and fencing

Several public speakers said they felt caged in by the fencing around West Hollywood Park during the festival, but Scott said the enclosure was important for the security of attendees, and to protect the vendors’ booths overnight.

The admission fee ($15 in advance, $20 at the gate) was also a point of concern for residents. Scott noted Long Beach, San Diego and Palm Springs also charged admission to their Pride events, while San Francisco did not, but Councilman John Heilman did not want people to focus on the logistics of admission.

“I think we should be focusing on how to make the whole experience the best it can be and not really worrying about whether people can afford $20 to get in,” Heilman said. “I think our community by and large can afford that charge, and if they can’t, we need to provide a mechanism to accommodate them.”

'Miracles' needed

At one point, Heilman asked what CSW would want from the city to help improve the event. CSW board member Steve Ganzell, who stepped in after Scott left for a flight, replied “miracles,” adding that more space in the park would be ideal.

D’Amico said it was important for CSW to spell out what it required from the city to upgrade the event. “Tell us exactly what you need from us,” D’Amico said. “If it’s $10 million and 10 acres, tell us.”

In the end, the council decided that CSW does an admirable job organizing the event, but needed help with fundraising. Mayor John Duran suggested the council could revive the West Hollywood Community Foundation to help spur community involvement and fundraising, but the council postponed acting on that idea.

Duran and D’Amico agreed to serve on a committee with CSW officials to find ways to raise the quality of the event. Their role will be limited in the next few months since plans for the 2012 festival are well under way. Come July, once this year’s festival is over, the two will be more heavily involved.

D’Amico said he was glad the conversation was happening, and that the city would take a more active role in the event.

“We cannot back down from our need to be leaders in the [gay] movement,” D’Amico said. “Where that will take us is only limited by how we end the conversation ourselves.”  

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mjmarshall17@gmail.com January 18, 2012 at 10:36 PM
I don't believe the issue is the parade itself but the festival. Over the years the amount of space used by the festival has decreased. This does present festival goers with a reduced, congested space that discourages people from going. I agree, $20 could be a non-issue but what you get for $20 is. The festival used to be fun when it extended to the PDC property. You were free to move around. I don't know what to expect this year with West Hollywood Park under construction. Perhaps make the festival more open similar to what happens for the Halloween Carnival. Enclose the major streets, say LaCienega to Robertson and the surrounding areas. I think most people want it to be more open. If the space does not grow how can you justify paying $20 to be caged.
brad January 19, 2012 at 03:34 AM
The festival does keep getting smaller and smaller and with the park construction? I do agree with the above comment it was so much better with the pdc parking area, but then the Red building takes up that. So something needs to be done to attract more people to the festival. Maybe all of Robertson added? The parade is fun and all but as a resident here for many years I miss the festival, just stopped going when it kept getting smaller.
me January 19, 2012 at 04:41 AM
THESE #'s SEEM WAY OFF TO ME: "The parade attracts an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 people. Approximately 25,000 people attend the accompanying festival held in West Hollywood Park."
Paul January 19, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Maybe they will light a fire under the construction team so they can get the park construction completed by the time June rolls around? Might be wishful thinking? It was better when the festival extended into the PDC but that area is all built up now. I'm not sure spending a lot of energy on changing the gay pride parade won't end up being a wasted effort? Gay pride is kind of a right to passage for young people coming out etc.... At least it was for me anyway. It was a party weekend. I guess if you've been there and done that many times a person might still want to do the parade but not in the same way. You grow up and your priorities change. Many gay people who live here go out of town for gay pride weekend. It get so congested!
Todd Bianco January 19, 2012 at 05:07 PM
What the City really needs to do is start with a clean slate. Fire CSW. That's a start. Ask for bids from private party planners - we have LOTS of them in our community. I'm betting that they can find a way to plan the whole weekend, make the festival free, and still make enough to break even or turn a profit. Try making Santa Monica Blvd the festival site. Shut the street for the weekend. Allow all the businesses on the closed stretch to participate by opening the sidewalks to their sales. Allow vendors to set up pop-up stores or kiosks along the boulevard. Set up San Vicente as a destination for our fantastic selection of Food Trucks that roam the city. Do a diverse array of dance or social events. Everything from a transgender to leather events. Find a motivational speaker to kick off the main event and give the news media some real, meaningful political sound bites to put on TV, not just the usual scene of a drag queen or a leather man in chaps. I'd like to hear someone like Andrew Cuomo speak on marriage equality. He'd get the attention of the news media. I'm not talking about long-winded speeches, just someone who can motivate a crowd, gives good sound bites and can encapsulate the theme of the event. How about some headline talents too. We should be able to get big names for LA. And can't we get a Grand Marshall that would mean something to the community?
Insider January 19, 2012 at 05:11 PM
These days, the 250 - 400K attendance number is a City Hall pipe dream. The City wants the tax income and isn't about to kill the goose that's laying golden eggs. Christoper Street West appears to be on auto-pilot and just churns out the same thing they've done since the 1970's. The world has changed a lot since gay pride parades/festivals were first conceived, and the gay community has changed as well. It is no longer a brave statement to participate in the parade. When we have Paris Hilton and Sharon Osborne as Grand Marshall's, it's hard to understand how CSW can defend their ownership of the event. Time for new thinking on an old idea.
Paul January 19, 2012 at 07:17 PM
I don't see how CSW could be charged with not putting on a successful parade since it began in the 1970's? It is one of the biggest parades and brings in tons of revue for West Hollywood. They have done a great job! I guess tweeking it here in there would satisfy those who feel it needs it but in the end it won't make one but of difference. Better food choices would be good.
Pastor Scott T. Imler January 19, 2012 at 07:36 PM
I think it still takes courage to participate in the parade, particularly West Hollywood's - given the givens. It also remains an important right of passage for LGBTQs as well as their families and friends and should take on a more historical / educational quality, in order to connect folks to the ever-evolving narrative of the struggle. In the spirit of Hilary's recent speech, why not "Internationalize" the event to raise awareness about the global struggle. While we dance in speedos on the back of flat-bed trucks here in West Hollywood, in Iran they're still using flat-beds to hang gay teenagers. Highlighting how far we've come is only meaningful in the context of how far many of our brothers and sisters of the global Gayaspora have yet to go. And in the spirit of freedom and liberation, dump the concentration camp fences. PRIDE always has been and always should be about coming out, standing tall, casting-off our shackles, and claiming our “people-hood.”
Pastor Scott T. Imler January 19, 2012 at 07:36 PM
While Halloween Carnival seems to have consumed much of the fabulousness and color that used to find its expression at PRIDE events, perhaps some design standards, contests, art exhibits, and/or other incentives could bring some of it back. Last year was the first time since 1997 - when the Los Angles Cannabis Resource Center debuted in the parade - that I made it on time for the kick-off. The reason was that I wanted to support LASD Sergeant Jim Farrell who had been named Community Grand Marshall - a great and deserving choice - who'd actually done something substantive for everyone present that day through his leadership of West Hollywood's Community Policing Division. I would also echo the call to keep SMB closed for the afternoon as they did a couple of years ago, to involve local merchants in a meaningful way and give folks a little room to breathe and relax. Put the special performances, exhibits, awards, and contests behind a $20 gate if we have to, but get the non-profits, public information, political groups, and vendors out on the street. What PRIDE needs more than anything is for folks to give a damn. Thanks to John D'Amico for the swift kick in the pants in that direction and to Rodney Scott for soldiering on until we get there and makr PRIDE something of which we can truly be proud.
David Bonfiglio January 19, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Did anyone see Modern Family last night? Mitch says to Cam"Oh sure, now we're political. We're the ones who leave town every year for Gay Pride because we hate the traffic." Maybe instead of showing up for a once a year bacchanal, if some of these folks would write a letter, or show up for some actual activism, we'd be a lot further along toward equal rights than we are now. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a celebration, a big fabulous one! But, what started out as an exuberant statement of our rights, and a joyful protest, has turned into something just a little bit icky. I am pretty political, but come june, I'll be with Mitch and Cam.
jimmy palmieri January 19, 2012 at 11:00 PM
I rememeber my first Pride, and nothing will ever compare to that. You cannot replace that first time in your head. The organization that I founded, The Tweakers Project is also a CSW award winner , as many of the speakers were. Does CSW do a good job? Yes. Can they do better? Yes, I believe with the help of the city and a collaboration of ideas with input from the public, any organization could improve. IS THE ADMISSION fee a lot? For many it is. There should be a way to help those who can't enjoy the festival and are not able to volunteer. No one on the council was remotely suggesting canceling Pride, as it seems so many speakers were led to believe. They were sadly used as pawns. Something some council offices do with glee.
Derek B. January 20, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Professional events planner. Some kind of requirements/standards on floats. Shorter parade. Perhaps expand festival into the PDC fountain courtyard (they cover it all the time for industry events).
Stephanie January 20, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I was at the council meeting and sat through all 5+ hours of it, waiting for the election reform item on the agenda.  I have been fighting for months to save historic Plummer Park and have had to do so in the same two minute increments as the many speakers had to do about the pride festival.  The councilmembers droned on and on, for almost two hours with several of them, disrepectfully nodding off (along with the City Attorney, who was asleep several times).  It all seemed to me to be the wrong forum for this important discussion.  When one of the planners got up and said something to the effect of did the councilmembers think this was the first time these things had been thought of ...that should have been the end of it but it kept plodding along.  These types of important discussions, no matter what the issue, should be given a town hall meeting or larger public forum, or both, where the citizens can have some genuine, meaningful input.  John D'Amico has been open to this type of input as he demonstrated in holding the meetings on the General Plan.  Others should follow suit.  
Pastor Scott T. Imler January 20, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Therein lies one of the powers of the mayor in a weak mayor / city manager form of government -- the AGENDA and how quickly - or not - the Council moves through it. I've seen some meetings with four or five high-profile and/or controversial issues /public hearings the same night. One of them might get its due, but seldom is there enough time for the breadth of opinion on all sides on all issues in one meeting. The sad truth is that most residents don't know about pending decisions until they are no longer pending, which too often locks residents into a "just say no" position, which is then painted as NIMBY or just plain obstructionist. Residents have to get out in front of these issues. On the night of the Council vote two minutes, is too little, too late.
SilverLaker January 21, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Move the parade and festival to downtown Los Angeles. March from City Hall to the Coliseum. Have the festival in Exposition Park. The festival in West Hollywood feels like being trapped in Gay Jail. Long Beach's festival is so much more pleasant, with lots of space and a lovely venue. I've been participating in the parades and festivals since the first one in 1970 when we marched two-by-two down the double yellow line in the middle of Hollywood Blvd and there were no "spectators" other than families with children who had come to see a movie at Grauman's Chinese and wondered what in the world was going on (yes, I'm old - well, older than most of the WeHo crowd). West Hollywood doesn't "own" the parade - it's L.A. Pride. Let it go. It's outgrown (i.e., matured past) the Gay Ghetto.
michael January 23, 2012 at 05:27 PM
The Pride Parade has become a bore....Car loads of unknown waving politicians.... A Grand Marshall who means nothing to our community ..... Total lack of marching bands....God awful floats...Where is the PRIDE??? Is this the best the creative city can do? The parade is a mess.
michael January 23, 2012 at 05:32 PM
James Mills....Thank you for your fine reporting.
chuckhere January 23, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Where is the pride? Where are the accomplishments boosted in the parade? Who recalls the date of a parade that started on Hollywood Blvd with the slogan of "Equal rights for Gay Police?"
michael January 24, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Why aren't any of the Hollywood studios ever represented in the parade?????
joninla January 27, 2012 at 04:17 AM
The Parade & Festival are such a Tradition for West Hollywood (and one of the largest City Revenue Programs held yearly) the re-vamping should be done very carefully and with full consideration. One really bad year will be remembered and the sting will be felt in the years to come. I recall the excitement that the redo of Santa Monica Blvd would enhance the Parade. While a nice redo of the Street, surprisingly sapped the energy and excitement that the old street configuration naturally caused. As for the Coming Event - I don't know how it will be inside the Festival with the entire southern access (ingress/egress) is by either a very tall & Steep staircase or a tiny small access on the sw corner. Thousands of people flowing through the festival (many drunk) trying to navigate the 'grand staircase' to the library a real problem. Likewise, the decision to plant ugly shrubs instead of grass at the southern library end will preclude that space from sitting, standing, or booths. It should have been grass for numerous reasons, but as is, it is useless space for the Pride Festival. Again - to pay so much has always seemed like a bad idea. But for residents, there should be a major reduction/discount/free pass since we are unable to leave the city and must live with the associated noise & crowd. A free ticket seems only fair.
Frank Mihelcic March 29, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Ok West Hollywood stop fooling yourselves. The parade is about Gay Pride. Yes all gay pride parades do get long and need some hot men and loud music to make them fun. The festival after is about Gay Dollars end of. Look at the festival as any other West Hollywood business. Make sure after battling the traffic, spending another 45 minutes looking for a parking your customer gets their monies worth.
John McQuilkin June 14, 2013 at 06:55 PM
As a journalist I would be happy to sit on a committee to help improve the Gay Pride festival in West Hollywood. I cover the Parade every year, see recent coverage here: http://youtu.be/AMDfVw7TqBc and I agree it needs a complete and total overhaul! Every year the parade seems to get less eventful and the $20.00 admission into the Park event keeps many fine people from attending. Please stop talking about improving the Parade and do something to actually improve it! Thank you, John McQuilkin - Hollywood Happens The Unofficial Spokesperson of Hollywood

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