June 7, 2019 at 7:47 am PDT | by John Paul King
Unity is a force that takes Pride to new heights

Celebrity Grand Marshal Ryan O’Connell of Netflix’s “Special.”

Pride has come a long way in the fifty years since Stonewall.  While it will forever be linked to the activist spirit that sparked the Gay Liberation Movement after that historic night, it has grown to become as much a party as a protest, a celebration of LGBTQ identity in all its myriad, diverse forms.

There’s a lot to take in at a Pride Festival; from booths operated by merchants and organizations dedicated to serving LGBTQ people, to exciting entertainment options, to a sampling of the best food and drink the local community has to offer, it’s a colorful whirlwind of a weekend with something for everyone to enjoy.

For many, though, the highlight will always be the Pride Parade. Blending both the activist and celebratory aspects of Pride, it’s a spectacle that allows the many faces of our queer community to join together and present the full expression of our identity while carrying a message of equality to the world at large.

This year’s parade looks to be a particularly triumphant event, and not just because it marks the half-century milestone of a seminal event in our history.  With L.A. Pride’s 2019 theme of #JustUnite, it’s also an opportunity to come together in a show of solidarity and, and to acknowledge that not only do we stand upon the shoulders of giants, but that we are stronger together than we are divided.

In honor of those cornerstone principles, this year’s Pride Parade will be presided over by three Grand Marshal who represent the spirit of inclusion and work, each in their way, to lift up the entirely of the LGBTQ community.

The Organizational Grand Marshal for 2019 is The Organizational Grand Marshal, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, has a history which dates back as far as Pride itself, having supported the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles since 1969.  As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, it currently provides services and programs for more LGBTQ people than any other organization in the world, and it remains dedicated to building a world where LGBTQ people thrive as healthy, equal and complete members of society.  Their passion for equality and inclusion embodies this year’s #JustUnite theme, and they look forward to continuing their ever-growing efforts to connect LGBTQ people with opportunities for health care, housing, legal assistance and cultural enrichment, while also cultivating the future of activism and advocacy in our community.

Organizational Grand Marshal, the Los Angeles LGBT Center represented by Lorri Jean.

Chief Executive Officer Lorri L. Jean says, “For the Center, pride has always been something of a shorthand for certain values—dignity, resilience, power and joy—that bind us together as a community and  proud, equal members of the larger society. Motivated by those values, 50 years ago, a small group of volunteers banded together to offer services here in Los Angeles.

Since then, the Center has been a continuous beacon for the sense of community pride that we celebrate on Sunday.”

She adds, “I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t also say that pride has also been a call to action for us, a sense of duty to translate that pride into hard-won advances for our community.

The battles have been many and fierce—whether it has been challenging the government’s criminal indifference during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, struggling to win marriage equality, or fighting to stop the senseless murders of transgender women that are happening at this very moment all over the country. Our pride has been—and will continue to be—both an expression of love and a weapon of resistance, and we are honored to celebrate with those who have shared in that historic march toward full equality.”

Community Grand Marshal is Phill Wilson.

Standing as the Community Grand Marshal is Phill Wilson, an LA-based activist whose career began after he and his partner were diagnosed with AIDS in the early 1980s. Since becoming an Angeleno, Wilson has served as the director of Policy and Planning for the AIDS Project, AIDS coordinator for Los Angeles, co-chair of the Los Angeles HIV Health Commission, and a member of the HRSA AIDS Advisory Committee. In 1999, he founded the Black AIDS Institute, and he was appointed to President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. As the founder of the Black AIDS Institute and prominent African American HIV/AIDS activist, he has dedicated himself to the effort toward ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic and bringing the community closer to health equity.

Wilson says, “I’m particularly excited this year, given that it’s a major commemoration of the original Stonewall revolt in New York City.  I think there is so much happening in our community, and while we are facing huge challenges and adversity we are also making tremendous progress, so it is an exciting time to both remember and to celebrate our LGBTQ community.”

Discussing what Pride means to him, he adds, “I think about Pride both generically, but also in my case, I think about all the parts of me.  As Pat Parker said, the sign of a revolution is when I can take all of me into any room, when I don’t have to leave my gay self when I go into black spaces and I don’t have to leave my black self when I go into gay spaces, and I think about Pride in that fashion.  Relative to the community, while we may not have achieved true inclusivity, I think that we strive for it, that we lean on our better angels and we understand, even when we fall short, that we are better as an inclusive community that we are when we attempt to shut others out.”

Rounding out the trio is Celebrity Grand Marshal Ryan O’Connell, an actor, writer and producer wo served all three of those functions in “Special,” an eight-episode short-form series on Netflix which debuted in April to widespread acclaim and popularity. Loosely based on O’Connell’s own upbringing and experience as a gay man navigating the world with cerebral palsy, it’s a show that exemplifies inclusivity – not to mention a sex-positive, celebratory attitude toward queerness – while making audiences think, feel, and laugh. His television work also includes serving as an Executive Story Editor on NBC’s revival of “Will & Grace” and on the writing staff of MTV’s “Awkward.” In addition, he is the author of “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” a part-memoir, part-manifesto published in 2015, he’s served as the Editor of Thought Catalog, and he’s contributed to Vice, BuzzFeed, and numerous other publications.

In a statement, O’Connell says, “I’m honored to be one of The Grand Marshals at LA Pride. My hope is that every young LGBTQ+ person is proud of who they are and that they dream about who they can be. Can’t wait to live, laugh, love with you all as we celebrate who we are and celebrate the brave shoulders that we all stand on.”

CSW Board President Estevan Montemayor says, “We are thrilled to have Ryan as our Celebrity Grand Marshal. He has broken much needed new ground on ensuring that all LGBTQ+ people are represented in entertainment and media. We know, living here in Southern California, that inclusive imagery can change hearts and minds across the country and around the globe. Ryan represents the very best in harnessing creative talents to effect positive and meaningful change.”

Sunday’s Pride Parade will make history also as the KABC, Southern California’s most-watched television station, becomes Pride’s exclusive television and digital broadcast partner, ensuring that all Angelenos will be able to watch the festivities along with the crowds that line the parade route along Santa Monica Boulevard.  Featuring pre-parade coverage throughout Eyewitness News on Sunday morning, the station will also present a two-hour live broadcast of the parade itself from 11am-1pm.  The latter will be co-hosted by KABC’s Ellen Leyva and Brandi Hitt, joined by Raven-Symoné, the star and executive producer of Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home” and a proud member of the LGBTQ community.  Also joining the ABC7 team along the parade route will be Eyewitness News reporter Veronica Miracle and OTRC entertainment host, Karl Schmid. A pre-parade preview show will also air Saturday, June 8 at 6:30 p.m.

Joining the three Grand Marshals in celebrating Pride in the parade will be a long list of contingents representing the many facets of the LGBTQI and allied community.  A complete listing is available at www.lapride.org, but among them are AIDS Healthcare Foundation, GetPrEPLA, Equality California,The Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus, The American Institute of Bisexuality, Congressman Adam Schiff, PFLAG of Los Angeles, the City of West Hollywood, The Trevor Project, The Stonewall Democratic Club, Trans Latin@ Coalition, Outsports, the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, the West Hollywood Cheerleaders, and of course, the Los Angeles Blade.

The Pride Parade will march from 11am-2pm along Santa Monica Boulevard between Fairfax and Doheny in West Hollywood.  Festival organizers recommend arriving early in order to get a great spot along the parade route, and suggest considering the use of public transportation or rideshare services in order to avoid the difficulties of parking in West Hollywood.

The parade is free to attend, but admission to the Festival grounds (at West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Boulevard) proper requires tickets, which may be purchased in advance.  To buy them, and for more information about the parade and its participants, please visit www.lapride.org

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