The annual Los Angeles LGBT Pride celebration has threatened to go off the rails at several junctures during the past few years in a roller-coaster ride of internal conflict, public discord and political machinations. But Christopher Street West survived, enabling tens of thousands of people to come together for three days in June to proudly, authentically and safely celebrate LGBT uniqueness in the world.
Perhaps one of CSW’s proudest moments came two years ago when organizers summoned the courage and determination to defiantly and joyously march anyway, despite the horrendous Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando the night before and knowing a man with a car full of guns had been arrested in Santa Monica on his way to West Hollywood for the parade just hours earlier.
The #ResistMarch last year was the colorful political LGBT reflection of the #WomensMarch. Organized by Brian Pendleton and friends when CSW seemed too crippled by ego to remember their larger responsibility, the march felt like a 21st century homage to Stonewall and Black Cat, only this time with Hollywood stars and some of America’s most powerful political allies marching, too.
What would CSW do for an encore?
Would they carry on behind closed doors, bound by curious Non-Disclosure Agreements to remain silent about internal operations? Or would they engage with the community as activist caretakers of both a legacy and a dream?
The 2018 LA Pride parade and festival will probably best be remembered for the surprise appearance by singer Christina Aguilera at a drag competition, the large transgender contingent leading off the parade before the Dykes on Bikes and the upset over the first-ever Saturday night festival ticket sellout.
CSW apologized for that surprise overcrowding and said it is issuing refunds by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.. The refund request will be processed by their ticket vendor, Seetickets.
“Historically, CSW has sold more tickets because what we have found is people will come to the festival for a few hours and they will leave. They don’t stay for the whole day,” new CSW Board President Estevan Montemayor told the Los Angeles Blade. “For the first time in CSW’s history, people got there right when the gates opened and they never left….I think that positivity and the thirst to be around like-minded people and to celebrate us, to be proud of us, was really necessary for a lot of people.”
But, he adds, “We need to do better and we are working already to ensure that next year none of this happens again. But I don’t want it to be missed that more people want to be at Pride and that’s a good thing.”
There were political notes, too, notably, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and others encouraging prominent trans businesswoman and Grand Marshal Michaela Mendelsohn to cut a huge wedding cake with two grooms and two brides on top, a sugary middle finger to the recent Supreme Court decision favoring a Colorado baker who refused to bake a same-sex wedding cake.
The Gays Against Guns contingent signaled the significant shift in attitude towards the NRA after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida with signs like “NRA, Sashay Away.” And this year, longtime LGBT ally attorney Gloria Allred offered an amusing bit of ironic self-promotion for her Netflix documentary by having a bevy of look-a-likes (including many in drag) wearing all red outfits and carrying #MeToo signs.
Despite some missteps, there was a sense LA Pride was bouncing back under Montemayor’s smart and savvy new leadership. The 27-year old’s unanimous election by the CSW Board of Directors on May 10 followed their decision to hire Madonna Cacciatore as the organization’s first full-time executive director. She officially starts on July 1.
Montemayor, the Director of Communications and External Affairs for LA Councilmember David Ryu and a former West Hollywood public safety commissioner, told the LA Blade that he and Cacciatore will go on a “listening tour” to engage with the LGBT community on a grassroots level.
“There has been so much negativity lately in our world,” he said. “I think people are tired of fighting, people are tired of the constant negativity in the news cycle. I think people wanted to be uplifted and that’s what Christopher Street West was seeking to do—create those environments where everyone is welcomed and everyone is accepted….This year was back to the festive mood that I think a lot of people are accustomed to and were hungry for.”
Montemayor, who worked for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) in the federal fight to overturn Prop 8, noted the importance of kicking off the parade with the symbolic cake.
“CSW was birthed out of the commemoration of Stonewall,” he said. The “Pride parade is reflective of all of our community, all of our history, our future as well, all the young people that come. That’s an enormous task but it’s a task that we have to fulfill and it’s something that we’re excited about.”
The LGBT community has “won significant victories but there’s so much more to do. And CSW has had a role in that in the past and I think as a board and as a part of our mission statement, we want to continue to play an activist role moving forward,” he said. “We are a non-profit. That being said, we will continue to be activist and we will continue to create those opportunities….We believe that we should have our cake and our equal rights, too. We can have a good time, we can come together to celebrate but we also have to be clear about where we still need to go and that’s what CSW will continue to do.”
The next step is figuring out CSW’s vision. “We believe in Pride 365 days a year, not just one weekend in June. And what that means—we will continue to discuss that as a board. And we will also continue to discuss that with the community,” Montemayor said. “Madonna and I plan to go to various organizations, various community leaders—anyone who is willing to have a conversation with us—sit down with them and figure out what are the concerns that they have with Pride, with CSW, what can be improved, what do they love, and then how can we play a role together in partnership with others throughout the year.”
Additionally, CSW board meetings are open with a period for public comment. “Folks are welcome to come and if they’d like to speak and present something to the board, they can email me directly and it can be agendized,” he said.
Montemayor said board members still operate under non-disclosure agreements but CSW’s financial statements are on the website and available to the public.
“As Madonna and I begin to have conversations with the community—and we are calling this our listening tour because we really want to listen to the community—we are very open about other ways that we can best be transparent. And so if the community wants to offer additional ideas, we will be open to those and see if they’re feasible or not,” he said. “Then we can figure out how to best move forward.”
Montemayor got emotional talking about CSW co-founder Rev. Troy Perry, with whom he watched the parade. He recounted a long conversation before Pride weekend.
“I learned so much from him and I learned about his motivations and his desires, his hopes and his dreams for our community,”Montemayor said, adding that Perry reminded him of “the many people who have come before, all the members of our board who have fought for our right to celebrate and to be ourselves.”
Perry told him “the work [CSW does] is important—the visibility that we create for our community—because there are young people around the world that look to us and see that we are marching, that we’re in a parade, we’re in a festival, we’re waving our rainbow flags, being ourselves. The message that sends to those people is very powerful.”
But what brought the LGBT community together 48 years ago to commemorate the Stonewall Riots does not motivate this generation. “For this generation, it’s different. It’s a different experience,” he said. “A lot of victories have been won but there are different challenges today than there were then. There’re a lot of questions about how people identify and we want to be a part of that education process.”
Montemayor thinks his strong partnership with Cacciatore can help create new ways to share. “It’s quite incredible that a young Latino gay man is serving as board president and a lesbian woman who has gone through several of the most important moments of our LGBT history is serving as our executive director,” Montemayor said. “I think together we will bridge the divide that has been created generationally. Our community is stronger together and that’s what’s most important.”