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Can Estevan Montemayor save LA Pride?

Another reboot for the 48-year-old parade and celebration

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Estevan Montemayor. (Photo courtesy Christopher Street West)

With roughly three weeks to go before the annual LA Pride parade and festival gets underway, Christopher Street West (CSW), the community organization that produces the annual event, was forced to deal with an internal board crisis that many say has been a long time coming.

On May 10 Chris Classen, the volunteer president of CSW since 2016, stepped aside in favor of board member Estevan Montemayor, a veteran of several Los Angeles area political campaigns and current Director of Communications and External Affairs for Los Angeles City Council member David Ryu. The move comes just days after the hiring of Madonna Cacciatore as Executive Director of CSW.

For critical CSW watchers, the moves seem long overdue.

In 2016, outrage against CSW nearly engulfed the organization on numerous fronts: efforts to rebrand the traditional LA Pride Festival — a carnival replete with a ferris wheel, sock vendors, cotton candy and corn on the cob — into a decidedly more expensive upscale event enraged some local community members. The new event, called LA Pride and Music Festival, was derided as a “gay Coachella” music festival and controversy escalated when structural changes to the event were announced.

Critics slammed Classen for increasing the price of festival entry from $10 to $35, eliminating free festival admission on Friday, diminishing transgender visibility and events, downplaying the historic Dyke March, changing the focus of what had been seen as a community-based festival for everyone to a festival for a younger, richer audience, being unwelcoming to seniors, appearing to remove “LGBT” from the event’s branding, disregarding the event’s place in LGBT history, eliminating LGBT leadership awards and grants, banning local community small business vendors from the festival, limiting access for some LGBT non-profits and stifling dissenting CSW board members by strictly enforcing non-disclosure agreements, anathema to community transparency.

Boycotts were threatened and at least one, #NotMyPride, went viral prompting organizers to reverse course on many planned changes. Ultimately, several board members quit in protest.

But buried among the outrages were concerns about the engagement of an
events and fundraising business called Incluence, a company owned and
operated by CSW President Chris Classen and board member Craig Bowers.

At the time, whether that arrangement constituted a conflict of interest was largely unexplored. Additionally, no kickbacks were identified by activists who pored over official financial reports and tax returns.

However, when the WeHoville blog revealed that this year an exclusive three-year fundraising contract had been awarded to Bowers, now a former CSW board member who still maintained a business partnership with Classen, CSW was forced to act swiftly. The three-year contract awarded Bowers a 20 percent commission on all monies from LA Pride paid sponsorships. WeHoville reports the arrangement could net Bowers more than $500,000, and concluded that it violates California laws prohibiting directors of non-profits from having a vested interest in the organization they lead.

Aside from any legal outcome, the optics for CSW were mind-bogglingly bad. It appeared Classen found a way to turn his community volunteer efforts into a lucrative pay-day, funding his own events and entertainment firm. Customarily contracts are issued only with board approval. Did the board have knowledge of the contract? Does the contract remain intact?

CSW is hoping that by pulling Montemayor to the front of the organization, the community might give the organization a chance to regain the community’s trust.

LOS ANGELES BLADE: What are the most important tasks you face with CSW?

ESTEVAN MONTEMAYOR: CSW’s mission is to create safe and inclusive spaces for self-expression, inspire an authentic sense of activism in the continued fight for equality, and celebrate the unique heritage and diverse cultures of Los Angeles’ LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Our most important tasks are to deliver on that mission, continue evolving our organization, create new and engaging programming, and grow our efforts while still being inclusive, transparent, and representative of our entire community in everything we do.

BLADE: Many people felt the past few years went too far into “post-gay” territory. How can LA Pride reverse that?

MONTEMAYOR: My first job is to listen. I want to hear from as many voices as possible over the next few months and throughout my entire tenure as president. I want to understand why people feel the way they do. Only then can we truly engage in a dialogue that will lead us on a positive path forward.

BLADE: One of the most controversial moves over the past couple of years was the perception that the Festival was being transformed into a Coachella style event. 

MONTEMAYOR: Pride has a very special place in all our hearts and it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Because of how special it is, there is always a desire to protect it and ensure that it lives on for future generations, I admire that. As an organization, we are trying to reflect a diverse community with very diverse views.  CSW, as an organization, does not have an endowment and currently its only major fundraising source is the festival. The festival actually pays for the parade.

I’m very excited about this year’s festival, featuring a diverse array of artists, including two popular female headliners as well as a number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender performers across all of the LA Pride Festival’s three stages. The festival is very much part of our mission at LA Pride.

BLADE: How do you see the role of elders in the community?

MONTEMAYOR: They led the way so my generation would be able to love and express ourselves as we do today. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, respect and love. CSW needs the insights of our elders who were there over the decades to educate me and my generation and help steer this organization in a direction we can all be proud of.

BLADE: How do you see diversity?

MONTEMAYOR: I’m the son of an immigrant mother from Mexico and a migrant worker father from Texas. I see my own diversity as a true gift because it has taught me so much about the world and about humanity, which led me to CSW. Diversity and inclusion are at the core of what CSW does. I look forward to working with our entire community to ensure our stories are told and our diversity is seen.

BLADE: How do you view the role of the community in planning LA Pride?

MONTEMAYOR: I would like to see the community get more involved with the organization. Once our new executive director begins, we plan to go on a listening tour. We want to hear from as many voices as possible before we start planning the 2019 festival. I encourage our community to visit us during our board meetings and have their voices heard.

BLADE: Can LA Pride improve on financial transparency?

MONTEMAYOR: Absolutely. Recently, we started publishing our annual tax returns on the LA Pride website. Anyone who is interested can look at them with just a few clicks. After the festival and parade this year, we’ll look at improving things even further for the future.

BLADE: Would you like to comment on the work of your predecessor?

MONTEMAYOR: Christopher Street West is more financially stable now than it has been for years, a direct result of Chris Classen’s work and leadership. Financial stability is precisely what made it possible for the CSW Board to appoint Madonna Cacciatore as its first full-time Executive Director in more than a decade. The financial success of the 2018 LA Pride Festival – and other LA Pride Week 2018 events – will allow CSW to create new programs and initiatives that Madonna, myself, and the rest of the CSW Board will develop later this year. 

BLADE: Will the contract for Bowers be reexamined?

MONTEMAYOR: Following the 2018 LA Pride Festival and Parade, we will be reviewing everything. Madonna and I will lead an effort with the entire CSW Board to engage with our community members and leaders to review CSW’s programming, vendor relationships, and operations with the goal of continuing to evolve the organization and fundraising efforts while being inclusive, transparent, and representative of LA’s diverse LGBTQ+ community.

BLADE: What are you most looking forward to about being the new President of CSW?

MONTEMAYOR: Listening. I was taught by my mother that listening is the most important part of being a leader. By listening, we can make choices that work for everyone, but we can also learn a lot. I’ve learned so much by listening to those I’ve worked with and even listening to those I’ve fundamentally disagreed with.

BLADE: Tell us a little about Madonna and her role.

MONTEMAYOR: She is fabulous. Madonna describes herself as a lifelong activist, having worked at Los Angeles LGBT Center and APLA Health where she produced and managed a lot of their signature events: AIDS Walk; Simply diVine; LGBT Center Gala.  She’s a seasoned fundraiser, event producer and non-profit leader. She’s going to help us lead the organization, take a lot of the day-to-day operations off the all-volunteer board and help us evolve.

BLADE: What are you most looking forward to?

MONTEMAYOR: I remember coming to my first pride several years ago in San Diego, I was equally nervous and excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I had just barely come out to my friends, but my family didn’t know yet. I was so afraid my family would find out I was there, not that it mattered, I have a very supportive and loving family. I remember seeing the parade and festival goers and thinking “Wow, they are so free, I want to feel the freedom that they feel.” Well here I am now, free in my own way and I have the opportunity to pay it forward by creating that same space and welcoming environment for some young person who is experiencing their first pride. It’s very full circle and I feel honored to be trusted with that mission.

Editor’s note: The Los Angeles Blade corrected this story on May 17 to reflect that Chris Classen stepped aside and was not voted off the CSW Board, as previously reported online and in the print edition. The Los Angeles Blade regrets the error.

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Orange County

Disney honors Pride month and keeps some pandemic rules for now

“I was lost, desperate to connect with someone who understood what I was feeling. That all changed when I arrived at Disneyland.”

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Graphic via the Walt Disney Company's Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Division

ANAHEIM – The Walt Disney Company’s Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, (DPEP) is celebrating and honoring Pride this year, highlighting its LGBTQ employees as well as supporting a welcoming and embracing work environment where LGBTQ+ cast members are encouraged to be their authentic selves.

Writing for the company’s blog, Michelle Mockler, DPEP’s External Communications Manager profiled  James Heath, a Senior Duty Manager at the Disneyland California Adventure Park. Heath, who has been employed by the Disney company since he was 17, related his personal experiences with Disney that he said shaped not only his career as an employee but as a gay man as well.

In the winter of 2000, Heath applied for a job position in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a cast member, a term that Disney describes it employees as. After several interviews, James was offered a cast member role as a Food & Beverage Host.

According to Heath, he didn’t realise that position working at Disneyland had just given him something far more important than a job… “It gave me a place to belong,” he told Mockler.

Mockler writes that just two years prior, Heath had made the decision to come out as gay. At 15 years old, he found himself as the only openly gay student in his school.

“While I was fortunate to have supportive family and friends by my side, I was missing something truly critical at this time in my life: Other people like me. I was lost, desperate to connect with someone who understood what I was feeling. That all changed when I arrived at Disneyland.”

At Disney, James found himself working alongside other LGBTQ+ cast members. He found people, with whom he could share stories, compare experiences and talk through challenges.

“Being gay was no different to my coworkers and leaders than any of the other countless qualities that make each of us unique.”

Twenty-one years later, the now thirty-eight year old Senior Disney Manager related; “Sometimes I wonder who I would be today had I not had this safe place to grow into my own skin. I was fortunate to have allies who courageously pushed against outdated ideas to give me a safe place to thrive.”

Heath says that he’s found himself in the role of leader, mentor, ally and advocate.

“It’s my turn to give back and help to further our culture of inclusivity. Somewhere out there, a future cast member is looking for a place where they can belong. I’m committed to helping them find it at Disney.”

As Disney celebrates Pride Month, this past week as the State of California lifted most of the restrictions imposed by California state and local health officials and Governor Gavin Newsom. However, Disney officials have decided to keep in place for the time being some of those measures.

“I don’t want to say we are going to go back to the way it was,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said Thursday about managing the parks. “I want to be really smart in the way we do this.”

The parks at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim in Orange County are continuing to reopen in phases, but a handful of the COVID-era changes are going to stick.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times this past week, D’Amaro said that the company is poised to keep “in place a reservation system that was adopted to manage visitor numbers under the state-imposed capacity limits and the continued use of a virtual queuing system that was designed to give all parkgoers a shot at visiting the most popular attractions.”

Currently valid theme park admission as well as a confirmed park reservation about both required if a guest wishes to visit either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Park Pass Reservations are also currently required at Disney World.

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California

Newsom ushers in state’s full reopening at Universal Studios Hollywood

California was one of the only states to achieve a week-over-week increase rate of vaccinations, most recently with a 22% increase

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Governor Gavin Newsom ushers in state's reopening at Universal Studios (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California)

STUDIO CITY – As California moved to fully reopen the economy Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom welcomed the milestone at Universal Studios Hollywood, where he highlighted the attractions Californians can look forward to revisiting this summer.

Starting today, June 15, the restrictions that have been in place over the past year will be eliminated, including physical distancing, capacity limits, county tier systems and masks in almost all settings for vaccinated Californians.  The Golden State was one of the only states in the country to achieve a week-over-week increase in the rate of vaccinations, most recently with a 22 percent increase in vaccinations.

“Today, we celebrate the incredible strength and resilience of Californians – from our heroic health care workers to essential workers across the board to everyday Californians from all walks of life – who have supported each other through hardship and heartache over the past year, making sacrifices to save countless lives and enable us to turn the page on this pandemic,” said Newsom. “As we look ahead to better days, we will continue to look out for one another, redoubling our support to those hit hardest by the pandemic and making unprecedented investments to address California’s most persistent challenges, so that the entire state comes roaring back together.”

Newsom also selected 10 lucky Californians to receive $1.5 million each – for a total of $15 million – as part of the final cash prize drawing in the state’s Vax for the Win program. 30 prior winners won a total of $1,500,000.

Tuesday’s selection of 10 $1.5 million winners caps off the cash prize giveaways as part of the $116.5 million Vax for the Win program – the largest vaccine incentive program in the nation. The program previously selected 30 winners to receive $50,000 each, for a total of $1,500,000. In addition, the program is providing $100 million in $50 prepaid or grocery cards for newly vaccinated people, while supplies last. Governor Newsom also highlighted the upcoming California Dream Vacations, a new Vax for the Win incentive in which vaccinated Californians have the chance to win one of six in-state vacation packages in a drawing on July 1.

In a press release, the Governor’s office touted his administration’s accomplishments that had been spread out over the duration of the pandemic in the past 15 months.

  • California is forecasted to outpace the country’s economic recovery, ranked as the No. 1 U.S. economy for “expanding GDP, raising household income, investing in innovation,” and more.
  • California is creating more jobs than any other state for three months in a row, adding 385,000 jobs; in April alone, California created 38 percent of the nation’s jobs.
  • The state consistently has amongst the lowest case rates and transmission rates in the nation, and hospitalizations dipped to the lowest point since March 2020.
  • More than 40 million vaccinations have been administered in California, surpassing the next closest state by 16 million, with over 70 percent of adults having at least one shot. 

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health noted that at the peak of the pandemic the County was losing 277 residents a day. Hospitals were under enormous strain, with more than 8,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and there were more than 15,000 new cases diagnosed each day.

L.A. County is in a better place than any other metro area of similar size in the entire nation. Each day, on average, only 1.5 cases per 100,000 people are diagnosed in L.A. County, compared with 2.8 cases in the same population in the New York City metro area, 2.9 cases in Chicago, 3.5 cases in Atlanta, 5.3 cases in Houston, and 9.1 cases in Miami. Only 0.4% of COVID-19 tests in L.A. County are positive, compared with 0.8% in New York, 1.3% in Chicago, 1.7% in Atlanta, 3.3% in Houston, and 3.7% in Miami.

Over the past six months, the tremendous effort to get the vaccine into the arms of residents has gotten the County to a place where as of June 11, more than 5,490,637 (66%) of eligible L.A. County residents have received one dose of the vaccine and 4,668,783 (56%) are fully vaccinated.

“After 16 months of enormous upheaval and loss, we can now move forward with a genuine sense of hope. We can and should feel joy while recognizing and honoring the immense collective effort that brought us to the point where we can fully reopen. We remain committed to protecting your health and to closing gaps in health outcomes associated with COVID-19.,”said Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“Case counts and transmission are low because of our shared efforts to implement a layered approach to preventing transmission.  As we reopen, we are mindful that for those not yet vaccinated, protection is highly dependent on our continued actions to take care of each other. Sensible protections for our essential workforce will be instrumental in keeping transmission of COVID-19 in check,” she added.

Unvaccinated people need to remain very careful and wear masks when they are around people outside their household, and if in close contact with others, including at worksites, they should consider upgrading their masks to a respirator, such as an N95, or a KN95.  These masks do a much better job protecting the wearer from other people’s germs, a spokesperson for Public Health said.

Public Health continues to urge unvaccinated people to get vaccinated. Through Thursday, June 17 at County-run vaccination sites, participating LA city and mobile sites, and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center sites, everyone 18 and older coming to get their first vaccine or who brings a first-time vaccine recipient with them to their second dose appointment, will have an opportunity to win a pair of season tickets to the 2021-2022 home season of the Clippers, the Rams, or the Chargers. Official rules and participating site locations are posted online on the Los Angeles County Vaccination Sweepstakes page.  Winners will be contacted by phone and/or email.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment, connecting to free transportation to and from a vaccination site, or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound.  Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

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California

Newsom signs orders to roll back coronavirus restrictions next Tuesday

The Governor’s Office established a timeline to continue winding down the various provisions of the 58 COVID-related executive orders.

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Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California)

SACRAMENTO – Effective June 15, restrictions such as physical distancing, capacity limits and the county tier system will end as Governor Gavin Newsom signed a series of executive orders Friday marking a return to normalcy after nearly 15 months of the ongoing battle to protect the state’s residents from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.  Additionally, those Californians who are fully vaccinated won’t be required to wear a mask — including indoors.

Newsom’s actions also include terminating the Stay-at-Home Order that was implemented early in the pandemic to protect Californians and retiring the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

“California is turning the page on this pandemic, thanks to swift action by the state and the work of Californians who followed public health guidelines and got vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities,” said Newsom. “With nearly 40 million vaccines administered and among the lowest case rates in the nation, we are lifting the orders that impact Californians on a day-to-day basis while remaining vigilant to protect public health and safety as the pandemic persists.”

The Governor’s Office today established a timeline and process to continue winding down the various provisions of the 58 COVID-related executive orders, which suspended statutes and regulations to help the state and businesses continue operations during the pandemic.

To ensure that impacted individuals and entities have time to prepare for the changes, the provisions will sunset in phases, beginning later this month, in July and in September. For example, the suspension of certain licensing requirements for manufacturers to produce hand sanitizer will end on June 30, as shortages are no longer a concern. By the end of September, nearly 90 percent of the executive actions taken since March 2020 will have been lifted.

The California Department of Public Health on Friday released a new state public health officer order that goes into effect on June 15. 

Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s public health officer, issued a new order that, among other things, puts in place new requirements for mask wearing that take effect Tuesday. The new rules say fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask in most places, either indoors our outdoors. But the state is still requiring people who have not been vaccinated to wear a mask in public places.

“We’ve met our metrics, we feel prepared,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services Agency secretary, told reporters on Friday. “Things in California, from a COVID transmission perspective, are going reasonably well.”

These actions supports the full and safe reopening of the state, while maintaining focused public health requirements that address the risk posed by variants as some regions across the nation and world continue to experience high levels of transmission, Ghaly noted.

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