WeHo Mayor calls for community forum on LA Pride controversy, noting questions about transparency

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BY TROY MASTERS  |  Lauren Meister, Mayor of West Hollywood, has kept her word.

At two West Hollywood City Council meetings recently she and Councilmember John Heilman promised greater oversight of Christopher Street West, organizers of LA Pride, and pressed the oversight committee, Councilmembers John D’Amico and John Duran, to be more closely involved.

D’Amico and Duran both promised to monitor the group.

Mayor Meister, responding to what she feels are important and unresolved concerns, has placed an item, 2.R. LA PRIDE COMMUNITY FORUMS, on the consent calendar for tonight’s city council meeting. 

She proposes to “Direct the Special Events Division to work with other City divisions including Public Safety, Social Services, and Parking, as well as Christopher Street West (CSW) to organize two community forums in summer 2016 to receive community input on LA Pride.”

In the consent item she notes the following points concerns;

  • Renaming the LA Pride Festival the LA Pride Music Festival
  • Perception that the focus of the festival is not about the history of the LGBT community and equal rights, but rather a music event focused on Millennials
  • Festival access and programming changes affecting the transgender and lesbian communities
  • Proposed changes to the location of the Dyke March and the historic presence of the Country Western and Erotic City elements of the Pride festival
  • The rising costs of ticket prices and “commercialization” of Pride
  • Lack of transparency with regard to CSW’s financials
  • The impacts of waiving residential parking restrictions during the festival weekend.

While, in actuality, Meister is merely seeking consent from her City Council colleagues to commit to holding a future community forum, it is evidence that the controversy is not going away.

Christopher Street West was roiled last month by community activists who threatened to boycott LA Pride for plans that appeared to minimize the transgender community, the dyke march, legacy members of the community, non-profits and small-businesses, all groups that felt shoved aside by a new Christopher Street Board’s focus on a new generation.  

At the heart of community concerns was the organizations plans to turn LA Pride’s once grassroots festival in to a Music Festival that critics started referring to as Gay Coachella.

Transgender activists and others threatened a boycott over many issues. Peter Cruz, an Associate Director of Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT) and others, obtained concessions from CSW that satisfied some transgender protestors and the boycott was called off.

Prematurely, say some.

More seasoned advocates felt the full array of concerns needed to be addressed before any actions were called off.

Christopher Street West highlighted a letter of support, which they read aloud at a City Council meeting, from the founding president of the organization, Pat Rocco, which seemed to blast critics of the organization.

However, Rocco himself contacted this newspaper days later to say that the letter he had written was obtained without his being fully informed about the many controversies and community concerns.

Rocco withdrew the letter, which he said was used to give the impression that he supported of CSW’s alleged plans to transform the festival portion of the event into a Music Festival, a event, he said, that excluded community businesses and did nothing to highlight the history of the movement.

Rocco also expressed concerns that board members serve under confidentiality agreements and that legacy community member concerns were not fully vetted.

As The Pride LA previously reported, some legacy members of the local LGBT community, including Robin Tyler, the LGBT pioneer who famously produced the Marches on Washington made suggestions to avoid future controversy.  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!”

“There’s a lot of money there,” she continued.