LA Pride surrenders to community demands…well, sort of


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BY TROY MASTERS  |  DEVELOPING:  “We heard you and we are sorry,” begins a letter issued today by Christopher Street West’s board of directors, organizers of “LA PRIDE Festival and Parade,” perhaps formerly called LA PRIDE Music Festival & Parade (as it is still called at the time of this writing on the event’s website).

The mea-culpa comes as community activists are threatening a boycott over a variety of issues, but while many people seem pleased by the apparent acquiescence of the board, many other issues remain unresolved.  The boycott is the subject of a meeting to be held by ‪#‎NotOurPride‬ on Saturday, May 14 at 1pm, 1730 W. Olympic in Los Angeles.

The board indicates in the letter they are already looking past the current turmoil:  “As we begin planning for 2017’s LA PRIDE Festival and Parade, we look forward to engaging the entire community in planning next year’s celebration.”

“The community has not agreed that this board will serve again,” said Ivy Botinni. “How dare they assume they will be in charge again. Not after this fiasco,” she added.

Peter Cruz, Associate Director of APAIT, says CSW’s statement addresses the issues that got the community upset with regards to this year’s festival. However, they still have not addressed the institutional issues within CSW that will prevent this from happening again. “While this is a good first step in the right direction, it is still not enough to warrant an end to the boycott,” he says.

Other critics continue to make demands “drop the entry fee, change the music festival focus and let local small businesses and non profits back into the festival.  They should also allow local LGBT talent to perform instead of focusing on established signed artists,” says Andrew Von Pelt III, a tech entrepreneur who lives in West Hollywood.

And, as The Pride LA previously reported, those questions include issues raised by Robin Tyler, the LGBT pioneer who famously produced the Marches on Washington.  Tyler wants Christopher Street West to operate under a transparent budgeting process: “I demand the Christopher Street West budget.  I don’t know how or if they are taking competitive bids on vendors who supply things to the festival, like staging, toilets, garbage, etc.,” she said. “If the stages are costing $175,000, I want to know that they got the best deal, for instance.  No one knows!”

“This is much beyond transgender inclusion,” she said at last week’s APAIT meeting.

“There’s a lot of money there,” she continued. “It’s not about increasing attendance with millennial participation. If you want their participation, you don’t charge $50 to get in.  This is not a Coachella Music Festival. This is our Pride Festival.”

Organizers seem to have removed the phrase “Music Festival” to describe the event, a concept that led CSW board president Chris Classen to issue a controversial letter.  “Adding the word ‘music’ to the title of L.A. Pride is a subtle welcome to a younger generation who does not inherently understand the historical context of the event,” Classen wrote.

The letter set up a heated West Hollywood City Council meeting that led Councilmember John Heilman to promise greater oversight of Christopher Street West.

A contentious CSW board meeting was held the next day at which public commenters were met with what they described as ‘a hostile strategy to not listen.”  An email from Executive Committee board member Marquita Thomas was sent shortly after the meeting warning board members against speaking out against the organization or to members of the press.   In it she called such”behavior” “Absolutely unacceptable” “disloyalty” and “conduct unbecoming.” She was referring to a spirited discussion between board members and a transgender activist she disrupted.

At that board meeting it was revealed that there had never been a vote to rebrand the Pride festival into a music festival.

The Thomas email underscored critic allegations that the board was operating in secrecy with a disregard for community input, furthering calls for transparency and dialogue. It also raised questions about why the board has imposed confidentiality agreements on CSW board members.

Unlike previous letters to the community, today’s CSW letter of apology was not signed by the president of CSW or by a co-chair but by the entire board.  Whether the lack of specific attribution suggests a board directive, internal change or external pressure, perhaps the City Council or Mayor, is not clear.

One source says the CSW letter of apology itself was not vetted by the board before it was issued to the community.

“The board was not given a chance to even discuss this letter! It was sent with two hours to approve it or not — mid-morning on a work day!  If they did not respond, they were told, it was assumed they agreed with the letter. This is just one more example of an executive committee that doesn’t care what anyone thinks,” Ivy Botinni told The Pride LA.

Perhaps the board should listen to Ivy:  “The heart and soul of the community is what is missing from this year’s festival.  It feels like it’s the heart and soul of money.”

She added:  “How dare they assume they are in charge next year!  My god!  Feedback?  Suggestions?  Mine would be to just get rid of them.”

This story will be continuously updated…

Dear LGBTQ Family,

We heard you and we are sorry.
As an LGBTQ community based nonprofit organization, Christopher Street West has strived to create an annual Pride celebration that brings our entire community, friends and allies together in celebration of the unique diversity that makes each of us a valued member of society. As a mostly new governing board our goal was to create the best LA PRIDE experience to date. As we endeavored to create such an event we have made a few missteps along the way that have left valued members of our community feeling left out or under appreciated. This was never our intention. We’ve heard your concerns and objections and we sincerely apologize.
Pride has a very different meaning for each individual, and everyone has a different way that they envision celebrating Pride. We fully respect that and strive to create a weekend that can offer something for everyone. Additionally, we had record crowds in 2015 and needed to make some adjustments to physically accommodate our growing audience. In the spirit of community, and as a result of many discussions with various community members, we have decided to make changes to this year’s LA PRIDE programming:
Free Friday:
CSW will return Friday night to a Free Friday experience for the community. Previously Friday night included free programming along with a ticketed experience. Friday night on the main stage will continue to be a celebration of women with an all-female lineup and the annual Dyke March. The Trans Social, a new Youth Dance and a Vogue Ball will also remain as a part of Friday‘s programming. Several activations and new experiences will be eliminated as a result in order to balance the Friday night budget but the Festival will maintain its stellar list of scheduled performances including Krewella, Faith Evans, Da Brat and María José. Everyone is invited to stay and enjoy the all-female performers on our main stage, top DJ’s on our Hip Hop stage, and a Miami Nights theme on our Latin stage. We invite the entire community to join this free celebration.
Trans Social:
Trans Social will return to its previous time and location on the Library Lawn, formerly last year’s Latin Stage, between 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm.
Single Day General Admission Ticket pricing will be adjusted for Saturday and Sunday with advanced tickets on sale beginning Tuesday, May 17th for $25/day General Admission. Single Day General Admission Tickets for Saturday and Sunday purchased at the gate will be $30/day. We do still have the discounted weekend pass options for the many who like to celebrate all three days. We are still working with our partners on proving FREE tickets to community members including our Volunteer program which provides a free day General Admission pass for anyone who volunteers for a four hour period.
Please stay tuned for upcoming announcements from Parade highlights to Festival programming including entertainment and arts and cultural experiences coming to LA PRIDE.
As we begin planning for 2017’s LA PRIDE Festival and Parade, we look forward to engaging the entire community in planning next year’s celebration.
In Pride,
The Board of Directors, Christopher Street West

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