It's official: LA is furious. "The Pride" newspaper published a piece about the marketing shift of Pride Week. As did WEHOville, the online news outlet of West Hollywood Magazine, after protestors filled a City Council meeting on May 2.
One of the key issues: the organizers of L.A. Pride Week (Christopher Street West -- "CSW") has been boating and celebrating the fact that Pride Week celebration is skewing younger and younger every year. In a letter to supporters, CSW President Christopher Classen wrote: "Last year, 80 percent of our Festival attendees were under the age of 34 (up from 70 percent in 2014) and 40 percent of our Festival attendees were under the age of 24. Our majority audience is now overwhelmingly Millennial."
Classen highlights the event's racial and gender diversity, which is truly commendable, but shortly thereafter the wheels fall off the bus. (If they hadn't already with a strikingly tone-deaf intro that salivates all over millennials.)
The big bang comes in the next paragraph when he digs a gigantic pink trench and buries anybody over the age of 35: "These demographics are more inclusive on almost every level than the LA PRIDE Festival that I attended in my younger years and that's COMPLETELY OKAY! The Board of Christopher Street West welcomes these changes and has shifted its programming and marketing to ensure the continued relevance of Pride and the economic viability of the Festival & Parade." [caps in the original]
Of course he is just stating publicly what we already know about today's gay community (particularly in L.A.): it is obsessed with all that is young and plastic.
Proud to Be Exclusive
Mr. Classen prides himself on inclusion as long as it doesn't include anyone over the age of 35. How clueless are you when you look at LA Pride's age demographics and then say proudly that these "demographics are more inclusive on almost every level?" Anybody with an IQ bigger than their shoe size can see that an event can't be "inclusive" when it excludes all those old enough to show more than a few summer jobs on their resume.
Moreover, Mr. Classen is quite clear that the Pride sponsors at Christopher Street West have intentionally winnowed their guest list to just the young and shirtless. He says that Pride Week has "shifted its programming and marketing to ensure the continued relevance" of the event.
So not only are mature people invisible, we are also irrelevant. And to Mr. Classen, our absence is a victory for the community. In all capital letters he says that this demographic shift is intentional and "COMPLETELY OK." The message is clear: If you have a single gray hair (i.e., natural gray), or if you have to squint even slightly to read a restaurant menu, then you ought to just stay home. LA Pride isn't marketing to you; it doesn't want you.
Wow. The ability of these millennials to frolic in the streets in makeup, go-go shorts, and freedom rings (without getting beat up) would never have been possible without the sacrifice of those who bled and died for the cause of their freedom. Yet rather than be truly inclusive of all ages and walks of life, LA Pride is working hard to exclude a huge and important group of people -- the group that basically created the "community" LA Pride claims to celebrate.
Pride Music Was Invented in 2016, Apparently
The letter is clueless from beginning to end, even where Classen crows about the event's message being "Pride" and the vehicle being music. He says: "For this generation, music has proven to be the most effective medium to promote that [Pride] message." He says it like it's something new that the kids invented. Like it wasn't true for the many generations that came before them.
Cue the sound of a record-player needle scratching across a vinyl record. Which generation thrives on pride music? This millennial generation? You mean the one that hadn't even reached the zygote stage when Sylvester was bowling over audiences with his musical Pride anthems?
Mr. Classen, buy a vowel please. For several generations now, people have been connecting via music to all kinds of pride agendas. Go listen to Sylvester, or Aretha Franklin, or Carol King, or Joan Baez, or even Paul Robeson. If you don't know who they are just Google them. (Mr. Classen's letter reminds me of Kylie Jenner's recent claim to Marie Claire magazine that she "started wigs" and "now everyone is wearing wigs." Wendy Williams called her, fittingly, a "stupid young girl" and invited her to "have several seats.")
Old Folks Home(less)
It is a sad state of affairs when Pride Week in America's second largest city states publicly and proudly that they have instituted an exclusive door policy for their little club. Mr. Classen closes his letter by saying that LA Pride will be a leader in "bringing our community together to celebrate diversity." But exactly what "community" and what "diversity" is he talking about?
Should gay kids be proud of who they are? Yes! Should they try to create something new and unique and wonderful, just like every generation before them? Absolutely! Should the community do all we can do mentor, encourage, lift up and celebrate this next generation of gay Americans? Double, triple, Hell Yeah!!
The problematic issue here isn't youth, it's exclusion: i.e., kicking mature 35+ year-old gay people out of the home that we built through blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice -- the home that millennials are now lucky enough to enjoy. Gay people over the age of 35 are increasingly culturally homeless thanks to people like Classen and his ilk.
But Mr. Classen, here's a word to the wise: your mature years are not as far away as you seem to think. When you get to 40, or 50, or if you are lucky enough to reach 60+, you should be hoping and praying that our gay community is still singing you a love song and inviting you to celebrate and dance and "be yourself and choose your feelin."
As Sylvester sang it...
Dancin's total freedom
Be yourself and choose your feelin'
Come on get up wanna see some
Swingin', swayin', movin', groovin', slidin', glidin',
Rockin', reelin', come on get up ev'rybody dance
Emphasis on the word "EVERYBODY!"
(full text of LA Pride letter)
Dear Community, Friends & Supporters,
On behalf of myself and the Christopher Street West Board of Directors, we are excited to invite you to the 2016 LA PRIDE Music Festival & Parade in West Hollywood this June 10th - 12th. This year marks the 46th Anniversary of Christopher Street West, the non-profit organization that produces the annual LA PRIDE Festival & Parade bringing our LGBTQ community and allies together.
LA PRIDE's Parade was the first permitted LGBTQ parade in the world and the LA PRIDE Festival & Parade continues to be at the forefront of community and culture. As our annual event continues to grow, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to West Hollywood throughout the weekend, we are thrilled to roll out new experiences for guests of both the Festival and the Parade.
Last year, 80 percent of our Festival attendees were under the age of 34 (up from 70 percent in 2014) and 40 percent of our Festival attendees were under the age of 24. Our majority audience is now overwhelmingly Millennial. Greater than 1/3 of last year's Festival attendees were of Latino descent and 50 percent of our attendees were people of color. 52 percent of the audience is male and 48 percent are female. 8 in 10 Millennials feel the MOST effective way to connect with them is through live music. Our message has always been and will forever be 'Pride'. For this generation, music has proven to be the most effective medium to promote that message.
These demographics are more inclusive on almost every level than the LA PRIDE Festival that I attended in my younger years and that's COMPLETELY OKAY! The Board of Christopher Street West welcomes these changes and has shifted its programming and marketing to ensure the continued relevance of Pride and the economic viability of the Festival & Parade. In being responsive to the community at large and the demographic changes of our actual attendees, we've become the largest LGBTQ ticketed event in the U.S. with an all-inclusive, anybody-is-welcome attitude. This year, we're embracing that to the fullest by producing the world's queerest, most inclusive Pride Music Festival, featuring a long list of LGBTQ talent alongside top ally performers, community-based experiences and large-scale queer art installations, all in one cozy West Hollywood park. Our forthcoming "Own Your Pride" marketing campaign showcases this evolution by featuring community ambassadors representing the contemporary spectrum of LGBTQ self-identity.
Once again, LA PRIDE will highlight community partners through both our award-winning parade as well as Festival on-site activations. We are now accepting applications for the parade, the entry deadline is May 27th and our Parade Production team will begin confirming parade participation and more details in the next two weeks. Applications for LA PRIDE Music Festival exhibitor spaces will be available on our website on May 2nd. We are offering exhibitor spaces to our community non-profit partners, allowing them to engage over 50,000 Festival-goers throughout the weekend. The LA PRIDE Music Festival is one of the largest sources of attracting volunteers and financial supporters for these great local non-profits.
Tickets are available for sale online and are currently discounted in advance of the weekend. On Friday, June 10th, the Festival grounds will be free and open to the public (from 6-8pm) to host West Hollywood's annual Dyke Rally & March, live performances on our Transgender Stage, and our (brand new for 2016) LGBT Youth Dance in partnership with The LGBT Center's LifeWorks program. Thereafter, Friday night (from 8pm-1am) is now a ticketed experience where Festival guests will experience fully-active programming throughout the Festival site on all four of our stages.
LA PRIDE's Music Festival continues to be one of the least expensive Festival tickets at an average of less than $18/day for a pre-sale ticket. With a lineup that rivals that of other major festival experiences, our tickets offer far more for much less than other major music and community experiences. This year's ticket pricing has increased to support several factors; increased talent programming, insurance and security costs, and RFID wristbands which will allow Public Safety to accurately determine the size of the Festival audience in real-time and greatly reduce entry times. In addition to the free community programming on Friday night (see above), each year we distribute $30,000 in free tickets to our non-profit partners. For 2016, we're working with the City of West Hollywood to sponsor the purchase of an additional $15,000 in free tickets that will be distributed to non-profit organizations serving underprivileged LGBTQ youth of color, LGBTQ homeless youth, and the transgender community. Lastly, as in previous years, Festival & Parade volunteer shifts are available in exchange for Festival admission.
We're looking forward to once again making this year's LA PRIDE Music Festival & Parade the leader in bringing our community together to celebrate our diversity, embrace our differences and honor our past struggles.
Christopher Street West