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Pride Is Growing, With Some Pains

LA Pride

Record-breaking attendance at L.A. Pride is evidence of greater political forces at work.


L.A. Pride experienced a record-breaking turnout this year. For the first time in its 48-year history, the festival, produced by Christopher Street West, sold out for both of its nights. This is positive news for Pride, which from its inception has sought to highlight the visibility of LGBT people and their allies.

But for the thousands of people who were turned away at the over-capacity festival, this surge in popularity may not have been so popular. Some irked folks, who waited for hours Saturday in a line that snaked down Santa Monica Boulevard, reportedly threw bottles and rocks at law enforcement, who shut down the celebration early as a result.

No one ever said Pride would be easy.

This mantra certainly applies to L.A. Pride, which in the past few years has grappled with its identity in the face of different disasters. In 2016, following a spate of bad weather, the Pulse attack occurred the morning of the parade, as did the discovery of a car filled with explosives not far from the route. As a result, many would-be revelers stayed home that day. Those in attendance treaded with sorrow, anger, and fear, and they wept for the dead.

The following year was the first to occur under the Trump presidency. A wave of post-election protests, begun with the Women's March, sharpened L.A. Pride into a more political demonstration. The colorful, corporate-friendly parade transformed into the L.A. Resist March against the current administration, coupled with fiery speeches from politicians like Reps. Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi.

This year, L.A. Pride changed yet again, pivoting back into more of a celebratory space -- for some. Disney employees, with rainbow mouse ears, literally danced down Santa Monica Boulevard to a song called "Celebrate." They were followed by other brightly ballooned sponsors like Macy's, Netflix, Mac Cosmetics, Hulu, and Wells Fargo -- as well as the requisite go-go boys of West Hollywood gay bars like the Abbey and Micky's.

Yet there was tension between the air of jubiliation and the ongoing zeitgeist of resistance, which is impossible to shrug off when setbacks to the LGBT community routinely make headlines. Grand marshaled by trans activist Michaela Mendelsohn, the march kicked off with the cutting of a wedding "equality cake" in protest of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision from the Supreme Court, which sided with an antigay baker over the same-sex couple who sought to be his customers.

John Duran, the mayor of West Hollywood, then christened the event with a message for President Trump: "We don't care if you deleted us from your White House page. We're here. We're still marching. And we'll be here after you're long gone, sir. We will remember and we will vote come November."

This resistance persisted throughout the parade. Gays Against Guns staged die-ins throughout the route, reminding spectators of the ever-looming threat of gun violence. Gloria Allred marched with a small army of red-suited women with #MeToo signs. Nonprofits like Lambda Legal, PFLAG, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center all walked with displays reminding attendees of, say, the high rates of homelessness among LGBT youth, and the necessity to still say "I love my gay son" in an era when only 10 U.S. states have banned conversion therapy.

All in all, over 125 groups marched in a procession through West Hollywood, with tens of thousands looking on. The sight was a welcome one to Rev. Troy Perry, the surviving cofounder of Christopher Street West. "I feel more proud than I could ever tell anybody," Perry said from a chair overlooking the proceedings. "When I come here and see the crowds and see the people in the parade, it makes all the difference in the world for me and for the rest of us, as we step up and get our place in the American culture too."

Rev. Perry would be pleased to know that L.A. Pride is not the only LGBT celebration to see record attendance this year. Prides in El Paso, Texas, and New York's Hudson Valley have clocked their highest turnouts yet. The effect is global. More than 250,000 attended Tel Aviv Pride. A record 12 Pride marches are scheduled in Poland this year, with participants encouraged by a recent European Union court ruling that ordered recognition of the rights of same-sex couples. St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, held its first Pride despite the threat of a mass shooting. Oppression, it turns out, can also encourage an uprising.

At L.A. Pride, the choice of the popular out musician Kehlani as a Saturday headliner may have spiked ticket sales and led to some disgruntled fans -- a champagne problem, compared to previous years. But beyond that, there are cultural shifts that may account for higher attendance rates in the United States. There are a record number of out LGBT Americans, with people born between 1980 and 1998 twice as likely as other age demographics to identify as queer. This It Gets Better generation has clashed with the anti-LGBT political climate in Washington, D.C. Energized liberals and allies have flocked to Pride in greater numbers to show their support.

The rise of L.A. Pride's attendance from 2017 to 2018 may also indicate a preference in how LGBT people want to spend Pride. The spike may incentivize organizers to lean more toward a party than a protest. After all, Pride is already political. Many queer people seek out Pride as an inclusive space in a world that may not always feel so welcoming as well as an escape from the relentless negativity of the news cycle.

However, the image of Pride as an escapist party was shattered for anyone turned away last weekend at the L.A. Pride Festival; they found the inclusive event to be more exclusive than expected. The optics of police in riot gear confronting those in line sparked (unwarranted) Stonewall comparisons on social media. But the general unease felt in America, and that many marginalized people still feel toward law enforcement, bubbled through in that moment, as young people attempted to scale the fence and helicopters circled the festival overhead. In a post-Pulse world, it is impossible to forget that while Pride may be a safe space, it is also a target.

This year, L.A. Pride's theme was #JustBe, which is a call to LGBT people "to embrace, embody, and express what 'Pride' truly means to them, all in the rawest, most authentic ways possible." This is some feedback worth having. Pride is growing and changing in the current political climate. Whether it moves to a larger venue in Los Angeles is an important conversation. But it may ultimately be less vital than the shift in what queer people need from Pride in an era where they feel threatened.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.