BY TROY MASTERS | Christopher Street West, the non-profit organization that manages and produces LA Pride and the multi-day festival associated with it, is facing renewed criticism — and a critical juncture — only days after a high-profile board resignation revealed little in the way of promised changes. In the midst of the turmoil, West Hollywood City Council must now decide how to move forward.
In recent days, Dan Morin, a 73 year old gay man who joined the board only recently “because of the serious problems connected with CSW last year,” resigned. After being asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, Morin felt his ability to advocate for changes he felt were necessary to preserve the legacy of Christopher Street West were muted.
He summed up his frustrations in an opinion item for Wehoville: “If a board member thought the board was not operating in the best interests of the community, or worse, lying to the community or even the West Hollywood City Council, the board member was bound by the NDA to say nothing. If the board member revealed anything CSW deemed confidential, that member could be subject to litigation and possible financial punishment. The four board members who resigned within mere hours, on the same day in December, cited the revised NDA they were required to sign as a reason for their action. While they are still silenced by signing the original NDA, I am not.”
His reasons mirror the reasons given by a larger group of long-time board members. Individually, the CSW board members who resigned are representative of the issues that were of most concern in 2016. Karina Samala is a prominent transgender woman; Andy Sacher is founder of the Lavender Effect, a group that helps document the legacy of local LGBT history; Steve Ganzell is a legacy CSW president; Marlon Morales is a Latino man and chairman of LA Leather Pride Week.
In July of 2016, West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, concerned about the financial transparency of City-sponsored events, initiated an item directing staff to develop policies and procedures for special events held in the City to include requirements for agreements, financial disclosures, and data collection to evaluate them. LA Pride is partially subsidized by the City (waived fees, public safety) and is estimated to generate more than $5,000,000 in tax revenues for West Hollywood, which makes protecting the event’s reputation and ensuring its financial health an important matter for the city.
That inspection has not been implemented, a fiscal step that when announced last year, appeared to quell the controversy. Since that time Wehoville reported that a copy of CSW’s 2016 profit and loss statement reveals that “the organization’s overall revenue was $2.1 million, 30% less than budgeted. Its overall expenses were $2.5 million, 13% less than budgeted. CSW had projected a $162,000 profit.”
Christopher Street West has no cash on hand, if these calculation are to be trusted.
While we agree the show must go on, item 4B (which is only a recommendation), on tonight’s West Hollywood City Council agenda seems to put the cart before the horse: “Affirm the City’s commitment to allow Christopher Street West (CSW) to use City property and facilities through the 2019 L.A. Pride event and obtain a letter of commitment from CSW for the same. 2) Receive this progress report related to the planning and programming of the 2017 event. 3) Approve a footprint for the L.A. Pride Festival to be held on Saturday, June 10 and Sunday, June 11, 2017. 4) Authorize staff to work with Christopher Street West leadership on the inclusion of a March and Rally into L.A. Pride 2017 programming on Sunday, June 11.”
With so many financial and leadership questions hanging over the event, it is perhaps imperative that a full hearing be given before adopting any resolution that allows the event to proceed without change.
Affirming the “City’s commitment to allow Christopher Street West (CSW) to use City property and facilities through the 2019 L.A. Pride event and obtain a letter of commitment from CSW for the same,” seems premature without fully addressing the problems faced by Christopher Street West.
Promises to vet Christopher Street West must be implemented and the concerns raised by critics and departing board members must be taken seriously.
But the show must go on.