LOS ANGELES – Christopher Street West (CSW), the umbrella organization which for the past 50 years has produced LA Pride — a brand name it owns and which has been held in West Hollywood since 1979 — last week announced in a letter to the City of West Hollywood that it would relocate the event to an unspecified location in the City of Los Angeles.
LA Pride and its accompanying three day festival is one of the largest annual events in Southern California, attracting hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world and representing tens of millions of dollars for West Hollywood and the surrounding area.
“As our non-profit organization continues to evolve and grow, we want to inform you of our intention to move the LA Pride Parade and Festival out of West Hollywood in 2021,” the letter read.
The surprise move came in response to an equally surprising Pride Celebration “Request For Proposal” item that was added to the July 20 West Hollywood City Council Agenda by Councilmember John D’Amico and supported by Councilmember John Duran, a de facto warning shot to CSW that the City would be open to considering another organizer.
The City of West Hollywood historically has deferred to CSW and has long subsidized expenses for the cost of security, sanitation and ‘permitting’ costs for LA Pride. For 2020, the event’s 50th Anniversary celebration, organizers had requested more than $3 million in cash and in-kind services, however the event was cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Monday night’s WeHo council agenda item (July 20, 2020) — “Discussion of Future LGBTQ Pride Celebrations in West Hollywood and invitation of RFP Process for 2021 events” sought to ”select an event production company for the LGBTQI+ Pride events in West Hollywood, including issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for qualified applicants to submit proposals.” The agenda item called for more community involvement on what Pride should look like.
According to a source inside the WeHo city government, a three year agreement covering 2017, 2018 and 2019 with CSW to organize and manage the event in West Hollywood had not been revisited, the Los Angeles Blade has learned.
In recent years, a CSW Pride subcommittee of the West Hollywood City Council was formed to have regular communication between CSW and designated representatives from the Council about plans for Pride in the coming year. Councilmembers D’Amico and Duran were elected to the subcommittee to interface with LA Pride.
However, in 2018 and 2019 then Mayor Duran faced a storm of protests and calls that he resign his council seat over his alleged inappropriate behaviors toward younger gay men, Heilman replaced him on the committee and Duran, keeping his Council seat, stepped down as Mayor.
Also in 2018, Estevan Montemayor, 29, was named President of CSW after a myriad of mismanagement controversies engulfed LA Pride under the leadership of its previous President.
Montemayor was notably among the organizers of a protest against Duran in front of the building that houses the City Council Chamber in 2019 and gave an impassioned speech before the Council calling for censure of Duran.
“I am speaking as a resident who has considered John Duran a friend, even a mentor. I have known him for several years, 8 years, I think now. He got me involved politically, along with Lauren. I admire him a great deal; I think he has done so much for this community,” Montemayor said while addressing the West Hollywood City Council on March 4, 2019. “I think he has done a remarkable job on behalf of the LGBTQ community, advocating for all of us.”
“But at the end of the day we have to consider the actions that we have all witnessed and that some of us have been recipients of [including myself],” he said as his voice broke. “It is unfathomable to me that we would not move forward with a censure of some kind.”
Montemayor spoke in support of censure after it was revealed Duran, who was hospitalized at the time for chest pains, had resigned his position as Mayor.
“I think it’s really important that the city really consider — with one voice,” he said. “There is no(t) clarity. I think we need that to heal. I am speaking from my heart.”
He continued: “I thank our Mayor John D’Amico for the idea of removing him from the subcommittee I am involved in because I think that’s important.”
LA Pride, like every Pride celebration organization around the nation, has been a longtime source of community controversy centering around management, corporatization, diversity and inclusion, finances and transparency.
2020 was no different, even without the actual staging of an event.
CSW, allegedly at the urging of some of its board members, surprised many in the community when it decided that although the 2020 event had been cancelled, the group would respond to the urgency of the national ongoing protests resulting from the murder of George Floyd, a Black man at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis and a national epidemic of often murderous violence against trans people by calling for a Solidarity march.
Councilmembers Duran and D’Amico were widely quoted in multiple LA media outlets labeling the plan ‘reckless.’
Duran, who faces a stiff November reelection fight, publicly stated in the June 15 council meeting; “I think that Christopher Street West — Mr. Montemayor — was very reckless in the way this event unfolded.”
“I think at a time when we are trying to do our best to prevent the spread of Covid-19, to have a proposal like this launched without checking with the City was very disrespectful of any partnership that we claim to have,” he added.
CSW had applied for a permit for an LA Pride Solidarity march in West Hollywood but withdrew plans in deference to community organizers who wished to plan a Trans and people of color led All Black Lives Matter non-permitted protest march, a move that importantly would exclude an official police presence.
Discussion at 4:45 seconds.
During Monday July 20’s City Council meeting, D’Amico imagined what a Pride event in West Hollywood without CSW’s influence might look like.
“Now that CSW is no longer engaged or interested and out of the discussion, we can truly reinvent our Pride experiences,” said D’Amico.
Councilmember Lauren Meister concurred, adding “I think all of the money we did contribute and I don’t know that we were an equal partner.”
“There’s certainly been a lot of communication breakdown in all directions,” said Mayor Horvath, emphasizing that the RFP was announced without warning and that no recent subcommittee meetings had been held in consultation with LA Pride.
“When we change things without communication,” she said, “it’s not going to be good for the relationship, either.”
Duran claims it’s really all about WeHo: “This is our Pride. Our Boulevard. Our neighborhood. Our residents.”