Fifty years ago this month, Los Angeles had its first ever LA Pride Parade–the world’s first gay pride parade. Recent events–the COVID-19 crisis and the recent protests against racial injustice–have caused some rethinking by the nonprofit organization that organizes LA Pride, Christopher Street West (CSW). The physical parade had been initially canceled due to coronavirus concerns (replaced by digital celebration plans). As of Wednesday, however, LA Pride is officially back on, now reoriented as a protest against police brutality and injustice.
Estevan Montemayor, President of the CSW Board of Directors, explained in a statement:
“To our LA Pride family:
While we had cancelled all in-person events due to COVID-19, we have decided to peacefully assemble a protest in Hollywood, where the first ever permitted Pride Parade took place, in solidarity with the Black community. 50 years ago, Christopher Street West (CSW) took to the streets of Hollywood Boulevard to peacefully protest against police brutality and oppression. We feel that it is our moral imperative to honor the legacies of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who bravely led the Stonewall uprising, by standing in solidarity with the Black community against systemic racism and joining the fight for meaningful and long-lasting reform.”
The California Department of Public Health recommends that participants in the march wear face coverings at all times as a precaution against COVID-19. Parade organizers have so far stressed the recommendation but have not specified if there will be any particular coronavirus-related safety measures in place. For their part, health officials have warned of the potential for a resurgence of cases due to the large gatherings characterizing recent protests.
The peaceful solidarity protest march is planned for Sunday, June 14th, starting at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland boulevards at 10 a.m. The parade route will proceed to West Hollywood, the parade’s normal route, and end at Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards. It has not been confirmed whether or not the march will be a formal collaboration with Black Lives Matter.
LA Pride, 1970 to 2020
From the outset, the LA Pride Parade emerged in 1970 as both a protest against police brutality from the Los Angeles Police Department and to celebrate LGBTQ resistance during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. It was both the first pride parade in Los Angeles and the world’s first gay pride parade. Police chief Ed Davis made several attempts to squash the parade, but the efforts ultimately failed (thanks in part to ACLU intervention). Approximately 1000 people attended the first parade, enjoying its mardi gras-like larger-than-life celebrations.
Before this timely recent reorientation for 2020, LA Pride 2017 was another experiment in altering parade format and redirecting it’s purpose in response to contemporary events. Traditional parade festivities were replaced in favor of a #ResistMarch, explicitly aimed at resistance against the Trump Administration. The parade’s grand marshal was civil rights activist Alexei Romanoff.
The move had caused controversy with the conservative LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans. Matthew Craffey, leader of the group’s local chapter, stated:
“I’m not discrediting people who have issues with the Trump administration, but my problem is that the Pride parade has always been political, but it’s never been partisan […] so it’s a missed opportunity for all of us to have a break from the division and the anger.”
The controversy didn’t have a significant effect on the parade’s legacy, however: the 2018 LA Pride Festival sold out for the first time in its history.
In early May, CSW announced its decision to forgo in-person events for 2020, with the Pride Parade reimagined as a virtual event. iHeartMedia Los Angeles was set to collaborate with CSW to air a 90 minute prime-time special on ABC7, hosted by Eyewitness News anchors Ellen Leyva and Brandi Hitt (with actress Raven-Symoné as a special guest host with correspondent Karl Schmid).
The digital parade plan would see CSW and LA Pride co-founder Rev. Troy Perry as the Community Grand Marshal, with Project Angel Food as the Organizational Grand Marshal. In addition to co-founding Christopher Street West and LA Pride, Rev. Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church, the world’s first LGBTQ church, on Oct. 6th, 1968. It’s first worship service took place at Perry’s Huntington Park home, with 12 people attending. It has since expanded globally, with over 43,000 members and adherents in nearly 300 congregations in 22 countries.
Many special performances and guest appearances were scheduled, including Alex Newell, Amara La Negra, Asher Entertainment ft. The House of Ninja, Bob the Drag Queen, Carson Kressley, Erika Jayne, Greyson Chance, Hayley Kiyoko, Jake Borelli, Jordy, Justin Tranter, Lance Bass, Lee Daniels, Leslie Jordan, Megan Hilty & Brian Gallagher, Mj Rodriguez, Neve Campbell, Sandra Bernhard, Shea Diamond, The Pussycat Dolls, Trixie Mattel’s performance presented by Virgin Fest at Rocco’s, and the cast of the upcoming Hulu series, “Love Victor” as well as local businesses, non-profits, and Drag Queens.
It has not been clarified at this time whether or not a transition back to a physical event has altered any of these plans, guests, or performances.