Louise Siskel of San Marino, California will take a unique place in history when she holds court during the 130th Tournament of Roses Parade on Tuesday, January 1, 2019 in Pasadena. She will be the first LGBTQ community member — she is bisexual — and the first Jew to preside over the Parade.
She’s as surprised as anyone, telling the Pasadena Star News she “entered (the Rose Court search) on sort of a whim, but as I continued to return for the interview rounds, and throughout the whole process, I realized the value of the Tournament of Roses, and the role it plays in our community,” Siskel said. “Each year, the (Tournament) selects seven young women (for the Royal Court) and gives them a real voice; for that I feel very thankful.”
Siskel, a Senior at Pasadena’s Sequoyah High School, is a member of the debate team and judicial committee, is involved in YMCA Youth & Government, and has researched breast cancer under Dr. Shehla Pervin at The Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. She has even worked on research projects with NASA.
“What was important to me throughout the interview process was that I was completely transparent about who I was, about the things that I value, and about the things that I advocate for,” she told PSN..
“I feel lucky that I was selected by the committee for those reasons. That, to me, gives me great faith in the organization and a great amount of respect for the committee. I’m inspired constantly by people’s dedication and hope, and joy for life,” Siskel said.
Siskel credits her family and friends who have supported her.
“My parents help me do everything, they spend late nights talking to me, and I love my brother eternally,” she said. “And my friends, who will be camping out and in the stands on the Rose Parade route, I’m so thankful for all of those people.”
And what kind of Queen would she be if she didn’t have a New Year message?
“I encourage everyone to stay engaged and active within your community, advocate and fight for the things you believe in, regardless of whether other people respond or care about those things in the way you do.
“I think it can be easy to get discouraged when people don’t share the same passion for your values or for the things that you care about, but I hope that people continue to fight for the things that are important to them, regardless of the support they see from others.”
Siskel, nor the Tournament of Roses Parade, would offer clarification of her status, which designation pertains to her.
The Rose Bowl parade, with its enormous viewership (the largest of any televised parade) has oft-times been used as something of a stage for social protests (this is not that), including during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the early days of AIDS activism and LGBT rights.
In 1990 ACT-UP LA emerged from the crowd of spectators on the sidewalk and unfurled a banner declaring: “‘Emergency. Stop the parade. 70,000 dead of AIDS,'” briefly halting the parade.
They were booed by many in the crowd and TV networks cut to commercials while police arrested protesters so the parade could continue. But millions saw the protestors.
In 1992 organizers honored Christopher Columbus by posthumously designating him as Grand Marshall, a move that drew protests from Native American groups.
That same year the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested General Motors, wearing wearing a pink bunny suit, and was joined by two men in pig and rat costumes while other protesters held up signs reading: “Animal Crash Tests Keep GM in the Dark Ages,” “General Murderers” and “Cut Animal Tests, Not Workers.”
1993 The Los Angeles City Council threatened to pull its float from the parade unless the organization diversified its all-white-male executive committee. The tournament appointed two African Americans, a Latino and one Asian American to the board.
In 2008 the parade saw protests from critics of the Chinese governments human rights record.
But the Rose Parade has also reflected social progress and has endeavored to keep up with the times.
In 2014, a same-sex marriage was held atop one float and in 2017 AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Heather Heyer Foundation partnered on a float to mark the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King won an award. In 2017 AHF’s entry remembered the victims of the shooting at Pulse Nightclub.
Editor’s note (01-03-19): On the morning of 12/28/18, after this article was published on 12/27, we received a complaint from the organizers of the Tournament of Roses PR team because in our headline and in the article we referred to Ms. Siskel as “Lesbian.”
The Pasadena Star News reported that Ms. Siskel was a “member of the LGBT community member” while a Long Beach LGBT outlet also referred to her as lesbian.
The PR teams concern was that a.) Ms. Siskel “as an 18 year old does not identify as lesbian” and b.) that “her personal request is that she be identified only as a member of the LGBT community.”
We pressed for clarification on whether Ms. Siskel was Bi or Trans but they were adamant that the only correct headline or reference to her sexual orientation would be “LGBT Community Member.”
Two days later, in an opinion item in Los Angeles Times, Ms. Siskel came out as bisexual.