"The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young," Oscar Wilde quipped in his iconic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Chronicling a beautiful young man's Faustian bargain for eternal youth, Wilde's most recognizable literary work crystalizes an anxiety about aging that permeates gay culture to this day.
Last month, an organization dubbed #NotOurPride threatened to boycott this year's L.A. Pride festival for a number of reasons, one of the most pertinent being event organizer Christopher Street West's decision to rebrand Pride as a music festival in an attempt to court a millennial audience. Other factors included an increase in ticket prices and abbreviated lesbian and trans events.
Then on May 19, the proposed boycott was lifted after CSW conceded to make Friday night admission free, re-extended the hours of lesbian and trans events and dropped the music-festival aspect of the fest's marketing. Although the standoff has been resolved, it reflects a deeper generational schism within L.A.’s queer community.
“LGBT Pride is supposed to be representative of the entire community,” said Peter Cruz, who led the #NotOurPride movement. “When CSW puts out a statement that says we’re calling it a music festival because 80 percent of our attendees last year were millennials, that essentially says we’re not going to consider the other 20 percent, because frankly ... they didn’t see them as revenue generators. Reclassifying the event, it's a lot deeper than just calling it a music festival.”
For Cruz, this decision wasn’t a rejection just of L.A.’s gay Gen-X and boomer populace but also of Pride’s inherent cultural significance. For those uninitiated in LGBT history, Pride commemorates the Stonewall riots of 1969, when the NYPD’s raid of a gay speakeasy resulted in a highly public street brawl with members of Greenwich Village’s queer community, effectively thrusting LGBT culture out of the closet and into the spotlight. The event is universally regarded as the advent of the modern gay rights movement.
In 1970, on the anniversary of Stonewall, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles hosted processions. While the other cities held political protest marches, L.A. distinguished itself by presenting a Pride parade, a jubilant, theatrical affair consisting of colorful floats and costumed performers. This inaugural event became the template for future Pride parades, not only in Los Angeles but also in almost every city that's hosted them since. For Cruz, the idea of rebranding Pride as a “queer Coachella” undermines this crucial touchstone of LGBT culture.
“You think about the first Pride parade and how courageous those individuals had to have been to walk down the streets of Hollywood, getting leered at and having to have police protection just so they could express themselves as LGBTQ individuals,” Cruz said. “You think of the sacrifice they made, and CSW is basically saying, ‘We appreciate that, but it's not relevant anymore. We need to keep Pride fresh for a new generation.’ I disagree with that.”
It should be noted that even though this is the first year CSW has advertised L.A. Pride as a “music festival,” the annual event has featured multiple stages showcasing queer artists representing a variety of genres — pop, rock, hip-hop and country — for at least the past decade.
“As a ticketed event with multiple stages featuring live acts and DJs, our festival experience has been a ‘music festival’ for years,” said CSW president Chris Classen. “The experience itself remains relatively unchanged in terms of programming. The addition of the word ‘music’ this year, in an official capacity, was meant more to highlight one of the biggest draws to the festival. Even the music itself is representative of L.A. Pride and features artists that are openly LGB and T alongside allies, all of which are there to celebrate and support our community.”
The roster of talent at this year’s Pride runs the gamut in terms of sexual identity, race and age. Millennial performers such as Carly Rae Jepsen and Shamir will share the stage with more seasoned artists like Da Brat, Big Freedia and Faith Evans. This heterogeneity represents a good-faith effort on the part of CSW to serve the entire spectrum of the LGBT community, as was the organization’s swift reaction to #NotOurPride’s complaints.
“The reaction by the community was actually reassuring,” said Classen, 37, a Studio City resident. “It shows that they feel ownership and engagement with a nearly 50-year-old event. We met with many community members and worked through all of the concerns to make sure they understood the event and allowed us to incorporate their input.”
In Cruz's opinion, the entire ordeal could have been avoided in the first place if CSW itself was as diverse as the festival it organizes.
“I believe there should be more community representation on the CSW board of directors,” said Cruz, 34. “I went to some of their board meetings, and it could use more diversity and representation in terms of communities of color and age groups. Millennials and seniors are not represented in that body. If they are going to present Pride for the entire LGBTQ community, they need to reflect that.”
Cruz also takes issue with CSW’s website, which lacks a visible section dedicated to the history of Pride, a feature that has been displayed more prominently on past sites for Los Angeles and other cities. Additionally, the event is referred to as “L.A. LGBTQ Pride” only once on the site, at the very bottom, far beneath ticket info, talent roster and a playlist featuring this year’s musical artists.
“I went on the website in early April, and I noticed they de-emphasized the LGBT community on their website,” Cruz said. “I looked at other Pride websites, and the history of the Pride movement is front and center, or at least featured.”
After a bit of clicking around on the L.A. Pride site, visitors will find a brief paragraph summarizing the origin of Pride. Meanwhile, this year’s NYC Pride site has an interactive timeline highlighting key moments in the history of LGBT rights.
“This year our website went through a complete rebuild, and things have moved around on the site, with many elements still being added,” Classen said. “Our goal is to engage the community with our history through experiential programming from on-site art and culture exhibits to highlighting amazing stories like the one from our 2016 grand marshal, Jewel Thais-Williams.”
The site does dedicate considerable space to the history of Thais-Williams, an African-American lesbian Angeleno who founded Catch One, one of the most iconic gay discos for persons of color in the world, and a prominent HIV/AIDS activist for minority communities. Again, though, this article is buried beneath info about the music festival. So how should Pride celebrations balance being both entertaining and informative?
“Pride must always be an expression of joy, even when we look back at those that have been lost, because their lives must be celebrated,” said Jorge Usatorres, 50, former owner of Silver Lake scruff palace the Faultline. “To achieve this, one must stand for all LGBTQI people, not just those that can afford to participate. Pride must create a safe space where the new generation can be free to express their pride, as they are the hope of a continued freedom for LGBTQI people. As for the older generation, it is our responsibility to educate the next generation of their LGBTQI history. Many of us have fought and even lost their lives to end the abuse and discrimination for the freedoms we enjoy.”
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Usatorres' point was echoed at the other end of the generational divide by Tyler Booth, a 25-year-old WeHo bartender.
“I'm all for having performers we all love on Pride so we can have a mini Coachella for all the gays,” said Booth, who believes Pride should be a joyous, accessible event. “I do though think Free Friday should stay or at least be accessible to anyone with a high school and maybe college ID, because maybe their parents won't support them going to Pride and won't pay for it.”
As for Pride’s mandate to education, Booth added, “Absolutely, they should show photos and videos of gays being discriminated [against]. ... Back in, I don’t know, 1940, there was a fat sign [at Barney's Beanery] saying 'No Fags Allowed,' before West Hollywood was its own city. That’s stuff kids should know [that] their elders fought for — and they should stop calling old men gross and being disrespectful to them.”
In this case, it would seem that the tragedy wasn't that one is old or young — but that neither was consulted.