The DTLA Proud Festival just completed its fourth consecutive year at its home in Pershing Square where — despite news-grabbing headlines about an apparent transphobic incident that occurred at a bar nearby — delivered the same celebratory, circuit-like party atmosphere that the downtown LGBTQ community has come to expect from the event.
This year, DTLA Proud offered over 100 LGBTQ-identified performing artists, an urban water park with an in-house DJ (a Summertramp tie-in), a curated collection of queer marketplace merchants and “Artist Alley” vendors, an LGBTQ history exhibit in partnership with One Archives, multiple photo booths and various art installations from local downtown artists. The event was 21+ on Saturday and Sunday, which also cost $10 for admission, but Friday night was free, as well as all-ages and dry. “We’re committed to celebrating everyone’s story, so we have designed our event to serve everyone in our community,” DTLA Proud communications director Michail Takach told L.A. Weekly at the event. “We’re thrilled to showcase the beautiful and brilliant people of our neighborhood, and create an opportunity for them to take the stage and spotlight their remarkable talents at this very special happening.”
Takach also stressed that even though DLTA Proud is important for the downtown LGBTQ community, our representation is important year-round. “Each year, our audience grows larger, more diverse and more committed to the tradition,” he said. “As the LGBTQ community continues to grow and diversify, it’s increasingly important that pride becomes a year-round, daily sensation, not simply an event that happens one weekend a year at a specific location.”
Beyond the revelry, the LGTBQ community seeks a deeper, more meaningful connection with its tribe and Takach says Pride gatherings allow us to break through the barriers of everyday life to build them. “It’s not simply one rainbow-colored month out of the year that leaves the other 11 feeling neglected,” he adds. “Our community needs and wants more lasting representation, so we’re thrilled to see new pride celebrations happening throughout metro Los Angeles, California and the world, which keep pride permanently in the public eye. It’s a reminder that we are strongest together, celebrating our differences as well as our shared strengths, in an accepting, encouraging and inspiring space.”
Both Takach and the DTLA Proud board plan to put their money where their mouths are too, proving his words aren’t just lip service. “Together, we are working to extend that experience year-round with the formation of our DTLA Proud Community Center, which will serve as an anchor for queer Angelenos from every possible walk of life,” he promised.
Such an anchor might have come in handy when the events at downtown bar Las Perlas transpired Saturday night. A video posted online Saturday shows a bouncer at Las Perlas (which is not a gay bar, not that this is any excuse), wrapping his arms around a trans woman’s neck in a headlock and forcibly removing her as well as the rest of her group from the bar. The women were staff and volunteers from local nonprofit Bienestar Human Services and had just finished speaking at DTLA Proud.
They allege they were harassed by two other patrons, a man and a woman who called them “faggots,” and said “you are all dudes,” according to Bienestar. The police were called and the incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime. Las Perlas issued a statement on social media claiming that “both groups [were asked] to leave” and then they “removed the guests that were not compliant with the manager’s request to leave and did so in accordance with company policy.” They also said the bar has provided “an inclusive and welcoming environment” since opening 10 years ago and that they will be donating all profits made this weekend to Bienestar Human Services. Some on social media have called for a boycott of the bar, and it remains to be seen if Las Perlas has gone far enough in addressing or apologizing for the incident. L.A. Weekly will be following this story closely.
I’m hesitant to delve into the incident here, for a report about DTLA Proud, since it happened nearby and after the event, not during it. DTLA Proud itself was and continues to be a safe space for the whole LGBTQ community and the shameful Las Perlas incident just shows how important events like Pride are for us. If the hetero patrons did instigate and escalate the situation by using homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, it serves as a sad reminder that there is hate still out there, even in our liberal bubble of Los Angeles. We need to continue putting on events like DTLA Proud to remain visible.
Even before the Las Perlas incident occurred, Takach seemed to have this in mind, in particular, how making ourselves seen and heard impacts the area in a positive way. “DTLA Proud means so many things to me, but it all starts with visibility. For generations, longtime Angelenos spent their entire lives without ever going downtown. It was believed that nobody lived here and worse yet, that nobody wanted to,” he shared. “DTLA is becoming not just a destination, but a proud home for a growing LGBTQ population. DTLA Proud seeks to create a meaningful and memorable experience for that community, delivered by the people of the local community. Together, we celebrate our independent and collective selves while working towards the greater good of growing a rich, colorful and diverse downtown.”
So hate on us all you want and call us what you want, but we aren’t going anywhere. And now more than ever, thanks to events like DTLA Proud, we are unified and mobilized. We have to be. Our presence is part of downtown and in fact, as Takach pointed out, it always has been. “Pershing Square was a queer gathering place before it was even known as Pershing Square,” he reminded us. “Downtown Los Angeles played a pivotal role in some of the earliest LGBTQ protests and activist movements — a decade before Stonewall. In many ways, we are reclaiming a queer heritage as old as the city itself.”