The New L.A. Pride for 2016

It's June and you know what that means, my birthday! Okay, for a good portion of the country and different parts of the world June also means, PRIDE! This year I'll probably make three -- Palm Springs in November, my former hometown, Denver, on Father's Day weekend and June 10 - 12, Los Angeles. After four years of trying, this year, I'm finally going to make an LA Pride.

Los Angeles, like New York City, held its first parade 46 years ago. It has grown in size and scope over the years, now the festival has become the nation's largest ticketed LGBTQ event. I love my community. We are all kinds of fabulous, opinionated, elegant, loud, funny, talented, loyal, kind and any other adjective that you can come up with to describe us, including ever-changing. If there is one thing that you can count on from the LGBTQ community is that it is never the same. How do you plan an annual event that honors the community and remains relevant to its progress? You have to keep changing with it. I've been attending Pride celebrations for a few decades now and I can honestly say, I would never want to plan one.

This year there have been some exciting changes going on with LA Pride. I sat down with Christopher Classen, new President of Christopher Street West, and organizer of LA Pride Parade & Music Festival. I wanted to find out about what's new at this year's festival, what he's excited about and what it's like being in charge of a herd of queer cats.

Chris Classen, part owner in an events and influencer marketing company in LA, was already doing slightly smaller scale events for the LGBTQ community. When it was that expertise that led him to an advisory role in 2014 with the planning of 45th Annual Pride, to joining the board of Christopher Street West in May 2015, to voting him in as board President in August of 2015 and handing him the reins of planning the 46th Annual LGBT Pride Parade and Music Festival.

When I observed that he really "jumped in with both feet and started running", he responded, "I love a challenge." I should say so. I asked him, why would he take on a leadership role like this? This is a very big job and Christopher Street West is a 100% volunteer board with a couple of part time admin people. When you consider the number of people that participate in the weekend's events - attend the parade (over 250K) and the music festival (almost 40K), the seasonal production staff, volunteer staff, plus a budget of $2.4M, the task of planning something so big with all volunteers could be daunting for a regular event. Add in Dyke Marches, Vogue balls, drag kings and queens, disco balls, Dykes on Bikes, faerie dust, HIV/AIDS awareness, queer communities of color, bullying, glitter, bathroom rights plus gubernatorial, senatorial and presidential politics, why would anyone say yes to that?

These people have to be motivated because an event like this has a lot of moving parts and much of it goes unrecognized. Something like planning Pride would have to be a particularly delicate task. We are a community of letters, each letter representing a community within a community. Each of those smaller parts also have even smaller branches. Each branch represents a part of the LGBTQ community that wants to be recognized and heard, respected and represented during Pride. Just like this video shows. #OwnYourPride

I always thought it interesting that Pride is the only community-based event I can think of that represents so many varied segments of that community at once. Each year the mix of vendors, performers, parade participants, parade attendees, festival attendees changes. Each year is someone's first Pride. Each year someone learns what it means to them to have Pride in their community or to support their friends and family. Each year a new expression, a new idea, a new focus is amplified.

As I said, an event that is supposed to represent a community made up of a myriad micro-communities, has a lot of moving and continuously changing parts (no pun intended). The festival isn't all music, I asked Classen what else he was excited about for this year's festival he said, "You know we booked some amazing food for this year. LA's kind of a foodie town. We worked with a ton of local restaurants to come in and do pop-ups. So it's not typical festival food. We really have a cross section of all of the amazing food across Los Angeles."

What else is the biggest change for this year's festival? "Our arts program. In years past, we've done a kind of small gallery section of arts and heritage. This year we've gone to a kind of festival-wide scale, interactive art program. It's got over 10 large scale installations that people can interact with, get inside of, and take photos with and so on. These are major art pieces, from globally renowned artists. So for the first time we're engaging local artists and international artists to come inside [the festival] and show the community what queer art looks like today. It's going to be incredible."

LA Pride always gets fantastic performers. I asked Classen about this year's lineup. He said, "You're welcome. Haha! We sat down early on and said, how do we get an inclusive, diverse group of performers that are allies to the community, first of all, but also represent every shade of the rainbow? And that's what we got. For the first time we added acts this year, so we have a full weekend of programming."

Um yeah they did, they have a main stage, a Latin stage and a Hip Hop stage; with names like Carly Rae Jepsen and electronic duo Krewella on the Main Stage plus Faith Evans, Siya and Big Freedia on the Hip Hop stage you certainly got my attention. When you look at the line-up it is packed solid with performers all three days from beginning to end. "We have world class headliners, LGBTQ artists, a couple of our acts were at Coachella this year. And we have some amazing up-and-coming artists, that aren't really discovered yet, but we're excited to share with the community."

Food, fun, art and music, music, music. How can you refuse? I say get your festival pass now. Remember Friday General Admission is FREE! Check out lapride.org for all of the details. See you in LA!