Photo courtesy of LA Pride/Chris Tuite

Why to Get Back Together — or Break up — with LA Pride

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The festival is making grand romantic gestures to win us back after last year’s disastrous festival almost shattered our hearts.

In my escapades in gay dating and nightlife in this city, I’ve suffered too many fools to hand out many second chances. And unfortunately, I’m beginning to feel the same way about our local pride celebration. For years the festival has suffered from overcrowded venues, technical issues on its sound stages and skyrocketing admission prices. But last year’s festival turned into the biggest fiasco yet: after overselling the event, helicopters and riot police were deployed on Santa Monica Boulevard to disperse a mile-long line of paying customers that had waited for hours to be admitted. If we wouldn’t put up with this behavior from someone in our personal lives, why do we keep coming back for more disappointment every pride season?

More than 50 years ago, L.A.’s LGBTQ+ activists were at the forefront of the demonstrations and riots that launched the pride movement’s fight for equality. Our city ought to have a celebration that matches our reputation as a trailblazing haven for our community. While the origins of pride celebrations are typically attributed to the famous Stonewall Riots in New York City, civil disobedience at Cooper Do-Nuts in downtown L.A. and protests at the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake both predate the brick heard round the world in 1969. Naturally, pride has grown to incorporate community-wide celebrations and outspoken displays of our rights and visibility; however, between the attempts to turn LA Pride into a music festival and the prioritization of VIP experiences over affordability, the initial radical mission of unified protest has, unfortunately, been glossed over.

Pride has always been a political exercise, with participants marching and advocating for equality, respect and safety for the LGBTQ+ community. Photos courtesy of LA Pride/Chris Tuite.

However, this year LA Pride is under new board leadership headlined by Executive Director Madonna Cacciatore, and the organization is pulling out a big romantic gesture to win us back. Taking pointers from WeHo’s far more successful high gay holiday, Halloween, they’re shutting down a segment of the Santa Monica strip for the first-ever “Pride on the Boulevard,” a block party with music, performances, a health and wellness fair and various other attractions and exhibitors. Most importantly, it’s free. Erasing these socioeconomic barriers is essential to pride’s original mission of inclusivity. The move to expand the festival might also ease WeHo’s congestion, and provide community partners with a space to promote their organizations to a wider audience.

Thousands of eager fans wait in line for hours to enjoy the musical acts performing at the Pride Festival. Last year, the festival was plagued by poor crowd control and faulty sound during performances. Photo courtesy of LA Pride.

Pride on the Boulevard will not only boost community-building, but it also sounds like a ton of fun. Paula Abdul, our favorite former Laker Girl perhaps most recognizable to millennials as the kind-hearted judge who probably had a vodka soda in her cup every episode of the original “American Idol,” will be jumping back onstage to kick off the festivities on Friday night. The block party will also include an all-new opening ceremony featuring local DJs, drag queens and a Vogue Ball. If you’re an avid viewer of “Pose” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” now’s your chance to get a real life taste of ball culture — 10s, 10s, 10s across the board for LA Pride!

While past attempts to rebrand the Pride Festival as a music festival were met with righteous disdain, it’s undeniable that performances from top talent are weekend highlights. Perhaps the most anticipated act of the weekend is Sunday’s headliner, British synth-pop trio Years & Years. There are only a handful of queer artists that have the exposure and crossover appeal to play both on the dance floor of a gay club and on the overhead speakers at a Jack-in-the-Box, and they are known to put on a rousing, not-to-be-missed live show. The rest of the lineup comprises established LGBTQ+ acts you know and love and new artists to discover. For example, if you’ve been on the internet this past year, you’ll recognize “Drag Race” meme queen and comeback kid herself, Miss Vanjie!

Like in any healthy relationship, compromises must be made. We have allowed and accepted that the Pride Festival will also feature straight allies on its performance stages, but only as long as they appeal to queer audiences. This year’s festival features Ashanti and Meghan Trainor, both bona fide, gay-friendly celebrities with a “Drag Race” guest judge appearance under their belt. However, we might roll our eyes a little at the latter landing the top-billing spot. Trainor is a fine singer with catchy, bubble-gum pop songs, but in my opinion, she wants the gay community to like her more than we actually want to like her — she’s like the straight girl at the club who says “yasss queen” a few too many times. In her aforementioned appearance on “Drag Race,” she dropped the ball, showing up as if she had just rolled out of bed in a shockingly underwhelming unicorn onesie — as fashion mavens Raja and Raven (and now Aquaria) would say, “it’s a boot.”

Collecting rainbow swag and cheering the parade floats remains a time-honored tradition. Photo courtesy of LA Pride/Chris Tuite

A staple of any pride festivities, the parade remains a fond memory from our many years together — dating back to the inaugural event in 1970. Los Angeles proudly boasts having hosted the first Gay Pride parade in the world, and it’s still going strong. This year’s iteration has been branded as #JUSTUNITE — a bit #corny, but the sincere attempt to be hip with the kids is more endearing than cringy. Lining up with friends along Santa Monica Boulevard between Fairfax Avenue and Doheny Drive to cheer on the passing floats and collect as much rainbow swag as possible is a time-honored tradition and a small way to pay homage to those that fought before us to promote our rights and visibility. But be wary of some of the gifts — while it’s great to have corporate sugar daddies footing the bill, it’s important to take note of which organizations are truly year-round advocates versus the businesses just trying to cash in on LGBTQ+ purchasing power, aka the “pink dollar,” every June.

This year, LA Pride is launching “Pride on the Block,” a free block party adjacent to parade grounds. This is where attendees will be able to determine if festival organizers were able to meet their promises from last year. Photo courtesy of LA Pride/Kat Kaye.

When it comes to us getting back together with LA Pride, I believe the implementation of a free block party shows some promising personal reflection and growth from previous years. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a chance. Like grabbing a coffee before signing on for a full-blown date, Pride on the Boulevard is an excellent starting point before you commit to shelling out at least $30 for festival tickets. While you’re bopping around to Paula and checking out the looks on the runway, you can get a first-hand glimpse of the crowd control, and whether the new placement of ticketing stations are easing entry, as well as how successful LA Pride was at fulfilling their promises for increased attention to ADA accessibility and LGBTQ-sensitive staff and security.

And if it’s still a hot mess or just not your scene, there are plenty of other fish in the sea when it comes to celebrating all the colors of the rainbow in our beloved city this summer: Troye Sivan and Charlie XCX at Go West Fest, Dragball 2019: Kickball for Charity, Trans Pride, drag queen story hour, DTLA Proud and the list goes on and on.

We love our community and we love our city, so there’s no reason not to find a way to celebrate, whether it means getting back together with LA Pride or moving on with someone new.

Los Angeleno