For the second year in a row, a seismic shift is shaking up Los Angeles LGBT Pride. On Sunday, June 11, the traditional Pride Parade will be replaced by a more politically minded resistance march. This unprecedented change follows on the heels of the drama that surrounded 2016's festivities, when a group under the hashtag #NotOurPride threatened to boycott the weekend-long bacchanal, primarily because the event's organizers, Christopher Street West, rebranded Pride as a millennial-focused music festival at the perceived exclusion of older community members.
The motivation behind this year's change was for Los Angeles to participate in the simultaneous marches of resistance against the Trump administration, which are being held in a number of cities across the United States, including New York; Austin, Texas; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. Dubbed #ResistMarch, this protest procession aims to carry the torch sparked by January's successful Women's March.
“#ResistMarch was built around the concept of standing in solidarity for all human rights,” explains Brian Pendleton, a CSW board member. “The march is meant to be a celebration of humanity that is all part and parcel of the LGBTQ community. We are immigrants, we are women, we are seniors, we are communities of color, and on and on. Very few communities encompass so many different types of Americans.”
This sense of solidarity permeates Los Angeles' queer community and has turned adversaries into allies. In early April, Pendleton reached out to Peter Cruz, the spokesman for #NotOurPride, and extended an invitation to join the #ResistMarch committee.
“I accepted with no hesitation,” Cruz said in a separate interview. “I first saw [Brian's] post on Facebook in January and I thought [the march] was a great idea. Given the current political and social climate, I feel it is important to send a message that the Los Angeles LGBT community is united in resisting any efforts to take away our rights and our freedom to live our lives as we are.”
The march commences at 8 a.m. at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland. Following a series of speeches, the protest procession will move westward into West Hollywood along Santa Monica Boulevard and end at Almont Drive at the threshold of the Pride Festival. While the event won't feature the jovial floats and vehicles of previous parades, more than 100 organizations — the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, Lambda Legal, Planned Parenthood and the Gay Men's Chorus, to name a few — will be participating.
“The march will consist of one of the largest LGBTQ coalitions that I have seen in my lifetime,” Cruz says. ” I believe that it’s fair to say that these organizations represent a large majority of the L.A. LGBTQ community. I expect June 11 to be historic and powerful.”
While the support for the march is substantial, it's not unanimous.
“There are a few folks who have expressed their displeasure that an LGBTQ rights march has replaced the parade this year,” Cruz says. “My understanding is that they feel that Pride should be a celebration and not a protest.”
One such dissenter is David Watterson, a professional stilt walker who has performed in some of the biggest Pride parades on the West Coast, including San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach and Los Angeles.
“The thing I always look forward to is the blanket of love and support that our community pulls up over itself and everyone who attends,” Watterson recently posted on social media. “There is a great feeling of love, hope and joy that overtakes everyone in attendance. This year one of the companies I work for will not be participating because of the change. To be clear, there is no Pride parade in L.A. this year. This is not just a change in the theme of the parade. The parade was canceled and replaced with a resistance march. Gone is the feeling of celebration. Don't get me wrong, no one was more upset than me when Trump was announced president. I literally had nightmares for weeks and felt like there was no love or hope left in our country. I am all for a separate march to resist on a different day. But I will miss our parade of love and hope.”
Watterson also touches on an aspect of the march that few are acknowledging. Since #ResistMarch is considerably more politically charged than its past incarnations, many companies that would normally participate as a gesture of pro-LGBT support are forced to sit on the sidelines.
“I think it's too bad that companies and agencies that might very well be pro-Pride and pro-gay but can't possess a partisan opinion are not going to have their chance to participate in the fun and emotional connection of a parade,” says Paul Birchall, a local theater critic and longtime Angeleno.
It should also be noted that the concept of a Pride parade originated in Los Angeles. In 1970, America's various LGBT communities were still strategizing on how to commemorate the anniversary of the now-historic Stonewall riots, the catalyst for the modern queer movement. While New York and San Francisco opted for protest marches, L.A. desired something bigger, grander and more unique. As the Advocate said: “Over 1,000 homosexuals and their friends staged, not just a protest march, but a full-blown parade down world-famous Hollywood Boulevard.”
In this respect, the Pride parade is ingrained in L.A.'s LGBT DNA. As is evolution, which Pendleton is quick to point out.
“Traditions are meant to be built on and preserved simultaneously,” Pendleton says. “Traditions sometimes demand change based on successes and new challenges to ensure a collective, bright future. Los Angeles is often overlooked as a leader in the larger LGBTQ movement and is unique in that we're a melting pot of activists from all over the country. Our march is very much in the spirit of its original intent. Celebrating who we are and protecting our rights are not and have not ever been mutually exclusive. Indeed, they must work together in order to ensure the next generation can build on what we do on June 11, 2017.”