For the first time, the free-to-the-public Pride on the Boulevard was part of the celebration as LA Pride got underway in West Hollywood on Saturday, an expansion some had thought might be intrusive or not well-attended as it is located outside the traditional Festival area on Santa Monica Boulevard.
But the outside was as engaging and even busier than the ticketed area of the sold out festival area..
Walking along the Boulevard and into the Pride on the Boulevard are, a rising cacophony of noise erupted in the best possible way, the cheerful noises and greetings, even joyful squeals of Pride.
Near the ticketing booths, the asphalt of Santa Monica Boulevard reflected that joy, littered with multicolored confetti and streamers, evidence of past revels near the City of West Hollywood Stage, lifting through the air on a light breeze in a magical display.
Booths lined the Boulevard offering giant fans, pride apparel, and of course, food from establishments like Pink Taco and Ralph & Ritchie’s. One table near the Abbey was selling “Mayor Pete 2020”- emblazoned Pride flags.
Various local LGBT organizations, including Outfest, AIDS Walk LA, and the LA LGBT Center were there to provide community resources. Bienestar was conducting free HIV tests for patrons. GLSEN worked to let the community know of their presence and work with LGBTQ youth.
“We’re trying to make sure that schools are safe for LGBTQ students in LA County,” said GLSEN representative Sam Ritchie. AmBi’s goal was “to have a safe space for bisexual people to meet up so they can have a sense of community…they don’t have to worry about being too gay, too straight, too something, because we don’t care,” according to their set-up.
Cedars-Sinai, with its long support of diversity in the workforce, sponsored the Health and Wellness Village on the Boulevard.
“We’re here with our mobile clinic providing fun and interactive health awareness activities to keep the community safe and healthy,” said Associate Director Michele Rigsby Pauley. At their booth, Cedars-Sinai provided information on both PrEP and the dangers of distracted driving, and offered vaccines for Hepatitis A and meningitis (they ran out by 4:00pm).
Near the booths, mothers were giving out “free mom hugs.”
One mom, who asked to remain anonymous, said “the reason I’m doing this is because to me, the most important thing is for my kids to know that God loves them to the cellular level – my trans kid is the most amazing person in my life. I love the community, it’s a place of love here!”
It was no coincidence that she stationed herself in front of religious protesters.
Inside the ticketed LA Pride Festival there are a huge array of experiential stagings to enjoy.
Among them, the Trans Galleria features art by trans and non-binary artists up for silent auction, curated by CSW LA Pride Board Members Johanna Padilla and Alexandra Magallon. The pieces included everything from sketched self-portraits and modern paintings of Naomi Smalls and Bob The Drag Queen to political riffs on the American flag. Proceeds benefited the Trans Wellness Center.
The MAC stage, Rupaul’s Drag Race alum Raja made a surprise appearance, performing an original song about clubbing. Raja exclaimed, “I’ve lived in this town for decades now, and I think I invented the party in West Hollywood!”
Perhaps Raja would be proud, then, of the popularity of the nearby Jewel’s Catch One,
The mini-club attracted a large contingent of partygoers, playing top 40 hits such as Old Town Road and Cardi B’s Money,clouds of marijuana smoke wafted by. The Jewel’s Catch One experience was created in honor of Jewel Thais-Williams, whose original Catch One club served as a refuge for LGBTQ people of color patrons during the AIDS crisis.
Other historic bar experiences are named in honor of the Black Cat and Stonewall.
A bar experience catering to the lesbian community could be found on Santa Monica, perhaps recognizing the lack of lesbian bars in Los Angeles, the regular boy bars and clubs on Santa Monica, of course filled to their brim.
But, at least for this weekend, every gender occupied every space in celebration of unity and Pride.
It was outside of Jewel’s Catch One that I spoke with Carter Lien. They expressed to me that “Pride just means being happy with who you are and, quite frankly, not being ashamed of you who are as a person. Pride is being yourself and being happy about it.”
Even sober people had a place to shake it.
The Sizzle Sober Carnival, held on the patio next to the West Hollywood Library, features a private DJ and booths dedicated to alcohol and drug recovery and abstinence from organizations like Safe Refuge and the LA LGBT Center. Makeup artist Glen Alen was also here, as the opulent Bettyfly, and attracted throngs of selfie-takers.
There were, of course, political statements being made via fashion and signs.
Many wore the gay, bisexual, and transgender Pride flags, at their core political all statements of resistance. One attendee carried a sign through the crowd that read, “Bi people founded Pride – you’re welcome!”.
As the heat of the day turned into the cool of night, rapper CupcakKe electrified the crowd with her live performance on the MAC Park Stage. Running through hits including Vagina and Duck Duck Goose, she promised the absolutely packed park “the most sexual concert of their lives.” The crowd then went ballistic for LGBT, the rapper’s timely song dedicated to her large LGBT fanbase, as streamers were launched into the sky.
As a large portion of the crowd migrated to the Plaza Stage to catch the next performance, one experienced the sardine-like nature of migrating between experiences that was typical of a festival that attracted over 170,000 attendees last year.
That record might have fallen by Sunday night. Local Police have not yet released an estimate of attendance.
That next performer so eagerly rushed to was Brazilian pop star and global drag sensation Pabllo Vittar (she’s the most popular drag queen in the world by the ever-important metric of Instagram followers, nearly tripling RuPaul’s count). As the enthralled crowd waved Brazilian flags and clacked their fans, Vittar sang (live) and danced through Problema Seu, Sua Cara, and other hits.
Vittar, sporting a Calvin Klein bodysuit and rainbow-hued hair throughout her pulsating set, was briefly joined onstage by an overzealous fan, before he was escorted away by security and an ever-gracious Vittar.
Vittar expressed her appreciation of being prideful in West Hollywood. “In Brazil, it’s hard to be in the LGBTQ community, but tonight we celebrate together. Enjoy your pride, baby!”
But leave it to Megan Trainor to bring raise that flag.
Megan, joined by a shape-race and gender diverse dynamic group of backup dancers, brought everyone to the height of the evening, singing her entire catalogue of hits to the delight of the audience, including All About the Bass (her bass player was unbelievably engaged), Like I’m Gonna Lose you, and much more.
She even peppered it with brilliant rendition Abba’s Dancing Queen, which brought the crowd down.
For her interlude she brought in the bomb: Shangela exploded the stage with a brief set of vigorous choreography and the graphics during her set were spectacular.
Megan honored the trans community and the women’s community and reminded us all that while “we are clearly under attack” we can forget to live and enjoy.
“I love you,” she repeated.
Let’s just say it. LA Pride has experienced a revolution. It’s already the best produced and exciting Pride’s in memory, full of thoughtful innovation, progressive, inclusive and though full of corporate identities, it’s gay, it’s lesbian, it’s trans, it’s bi, it’s inclusive.
It’s a next level Pride, perhaps the most successful Pride events (financially and in many other ways) anywhere in the world.