Top L.A. Pride parades say they’re better off apart. Are they?

The original LGBTQ Pride March in Los Angeles and West Hollywood, the region’s iconic queer enclave, have spent the last two years in a bitter pandemic divorce.

Now both are back – all for themselves and better than ever, thank you.

“We are very excited to be back in Hollywood,” said Gerald Garth, vice president of community programs and initiatives at LA Pride, “the original, official LA Pride March” and the first sanctioned Pride March in the world. “We see this as a return to our roots.”

The first LA Pride Parade took place in Hollywood in 1970. But on Sunday it will take place outside of the city of West Hollywood for the first time in more than 40 years.

As for the organization’s one-time partner, West Hollywood was still beaming from its own Pride celebration — WeHo Pride — two miles away and seven days earlier.

“As far as I’m concerned, there is no competition,” said West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore Sepi Shyne, who has helped spearhead the city’s independent Pride effort. “We completely changed West Hollywood [does Pride] and actually made it our own for the first time.”

Many LGBTQ Angelenos reveled in back-to-back Pride weekends after two years without a place to celebrate IRL.

“I think at first we were all stunned,” said Bamby Salcedo of the TransLatin@ Coalition, which has floats in both parades. “It’s great that there are two festivals where we can be visible, show up and be proud – but it’s also a lot of work.”

For the former power couple – LA Pride and West Hollywood – it has proven to be an irresistible opportunity to outshine and outshine each other.

LA Pride uses its new citywide stage to play the biggest hits.

Singer Cardi B stands in a rainbow-colored outfit on a float with other people in bright outfits

Singer Cardi B performed on a float during the West Hollywood Pride Parade on Sunday.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

’80s pop star Paula Abdul is the first “iconic Grand Marshal” of Sunday’s parade. ’90s diva Christina Aguilera headlined Saturday’s Pride in the Park concert at Los Angeles State Historic Park, where she sang her 2002 chart-topping “Beautiful.” And thousands are expected at the raucous afterparty at Universal Studios.

“Pride doesn’t belong in any particular neighborhood,” Garth said. “It gives us more space to create experiences that represent the community.”

Meanwhile, West Hollywood snapped up the previously sleepy first weekend in June and curated a boutique selection of Pride events to kick off the season.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback that WeHo Pride is only for white gay men,” said Shyne, who joined the city council after the split. “We wanted to really empower lesbian and queer women, the trans community, and the BIPOC community.”

The L-Project and Black Lesbians United jointly hosted a Rainbow Family Picnic at Plummer Park. CherryBomb West Hollywood hosted a Drag King pool party at the Ziggy Hotel. And cross-genre, cross-gender polymath Janelle Monáe played Grand Marshal in a parade with a surprise appearance from superstar Cardi B.

“They’re close together, but in their focus, they’re a million miles apart,” West Hollywood Councilman John D’Amico said of the competing parades. “LA Pride owns the history of the movement, and West Hollywood owns the future.”

In fact, the city and nonprofit say they emerged from the split that’s more forward-thinking and representative of LA’s multi-hyphenated alphabet crowd. Each eyed the other’s progress with suspicion, reflecting a breakup that was far from amicable.

Tensions between LA Pride’s parent organization, Christopher Street West, and the West Hollywood city fathers have simmered for years. There was a disastrous rebranding attempt in 2016 that critics dubbed “gay Coachella,” spat on the bookkeeping and made queer Angelenos of color feel the organization and the city were unwelcoming and unrepresentative.

Those tensions boiled over in June 2020 amid online Pride events and citywide protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

It marked LA Pride’s golden anniversary and the couple’s 41st year together. Less than a month later, they announced their split in two press releases.

A black and white photograph of a Gay Liberation Front contingent at the Pride March on Los Angeles' Christopher Street West.

A contingent of the Gay Liberation Front at the Pride parade on Christopher Street West in Los Angeles on June 28, 1970.

(USC Libraries)

But not everyone agreed that the two were better off alone.

“As a nonprofit organization, it’s really difficult for us to fill two weekends in a row with activities,” said Craig Bowers, chief marketing and external affairs officer for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, a health and human services organization. “They sort of shared the baby, and I don’t know if that’s good for the community.”

That year, the center chose to split its efforts between the two, putting a float in the LA Pride parade and occupying a table at the West Hollywood Festival. But next year it may not be able to expand its resources as much.

Many Angelenos do not yet know that there are two Prides. The TransLatin@ Coalition only found out about the split at the end of April.

Tens of thousands of visitors from outside are probably even less aware. And while LA County has at least a dozen other Pride celebrations — including the lofty Long Beach Pride Parade, now in its 39th year — these exes are marching so close together they both overlap with the 2017 route.

“Long Beach, that’s 26 miles away. But back-to-back weekend parades less than two miles apart? It’s a head scratcher,” Bowers said. “It kind of dissipates the energy.”

It also pulls one of the oldest and largest Pride celebrations in the world from the center of gay life in Los Angeles.

“It was the only really big Pride march there was in the neighborhood,” Bowers said. “If you go to New York, the parade winds its way through half of Manhattan. If you go to San Francisco, it’s not in the Castro, it’s on Market Street in the Financial District. That made LA unique. The parade ended and you could go to the bars, you could go to the festivals. We don’t have that anymore.”

But others said it was worth giving up some of what made LA Pride in West Hollywood so special in order to make future events more inclusive.

“Because we’re an all-volunteer board, we might only be able to do one or two events that big a year,” said Chris Baldwin of the L-Project. “But there is no sadness [at missing LA Pride].”

Instead, she hopes the two will go their separate ways.

“What happened with LA Pride had to happen, and it’s okay,” Baldwin said. “There is enough space for everyone to do their own Pride.” Top L.A. Pride parades say they’re better off apart. Are they?

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