Coachella was once a rebellious music festival in the dust and dirt, and now it has VIP experiences in upwards of $100k for two people. Burning Man used to be free love, free drugs and free admission. Not anymore. Disney was one man’s dream to create a magical place and now it’s an empire. On and on I could go of example after example of a really cool event, or political event, becoming nothing more than a shell of itself; with most not knowing the origin and the event resembling nothing of the original.
And it’s always because it (or they) became successful.
That’s why I can’t hate the commercial monsters that many larger gay and lesbian pride festivals have become, including mine, the one happening in the City of Long Beach May 17 and 18, 2014. As I arrived on a 2014 Indian Classic, parking in front of the new Hamburger Mary’s on Pine Ave. (whose move to this location has proved a success) turning heads with all the chrome, incredible sound and classic styling (this bike is a show stopper and a reintroduction of an American classic; I was as proud to be on it as I was to be gay at that moment) I was taken aback by the sign I saw while taking off my gear.
It was Friday May 16 and the Pink Party had moved from the East Village to a parking lot on 4th and Pacific Ave. I wanted to check it out and support it. For seven years a small group of people have tried to get the community going on the Friday prior to Pride with an event that is a benefit for the GLBT Center of Long Beach, The Center.
I wondered if there was a VIP line at the Stonewall Inn.
And there I go. You see, I’m cursed. I actually know what this season of gay pride festivals is about; what it commemorates. I’m one of those damned readers, watchers of history.
To be brief, it was New York, it was hot, Judy Garland was recently dead (June 22) and that was in the air. There were many laws about being gay, about being in drag, and all of them used to extort money from clubs that catered to a gay clientele. Raids were common. There was a law that said you must be wearing three articles of feminine clothing if you were a woman or you could be arrested. According to Wikipedia, “Gay Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced a legal system more anti-homosexual than those of some Warsaw Pact countries.”
Within six months of this start of the gay rights movement in America several organizations formed, including newspapers, in and about the community. It was made clear there would be places gays could go and not fear arrest (ever wonder why we are bar culture if you are GLBT?)
In 1970 Los Angeles, New York and Chicago had ceremonies commemorating the uprising at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in NYC. They were political rallies. They were protests. They were sexual at times, because that was illegal, it was a form of protest. Kissing in public could get two men (or women) arrested (that really didn’t change until very recently). See why there’s overt sexuality still at these events? It’s rooted in protest.
And then people started attending the festivals, the parades. And the politics made way for fun. And fun made way for beer tents and DJs, corporate sponsors and three day events that bring thousands, or millions, into the economy of the host city.
Politicians are there but not much is said. There’s a sense of low-level activism, especially when marriage is in the news, but in states where it’s legal many act like all battles have been won.
And there I go, again.
Marriage is only equal in 17 states (Arkansas just put marriages on hold between same sex couples) and there’s no guarantee if a case makes it to the Supreme Court that this conservative run court will do the right thing. In 29 states a person can be fired for being, or even just allegedly being, gay. Just this year the Congress refused to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) to end that, and President Obama refuses to sign an Executive Order for any of it. And don’t get me started on Russia, Nigeria and beyond.
The fight started in 1969 by those brave drag queens is nowhere near over. And we certainly aren’t being treated like VIPs in many states.
Yet, here was the VIP line in front of me. I would find out this was to be the way of the weekend: pay more, get more. First Class comes to Pride.
I put up my gear and went around the corner to The Pink Party. A stage was set in the corner with the DJ and a light show. There were vendors around the perimeter of the parking lot, and there were tables and a bar. It was lovely, actually, for an outdoor party. In fact, The Pink Party was a great success. Cocktails were affordable for a change ($5 for real drinks) and the talent was great fun. The Cirque School sent acrobats with geometric metal shapes that twirled and delighted. There were the scantily clad go-go dancers gyrating to jams by DJ Smuckers. The $10 donation went to the Center and the show was well worth the price.
I would have preferred they encouraged everyone to register to vote in the upcoming June Primary and tell us what they are doing to continue the fight for GLBT equality, but I guess it’s not the place any more for speeches. They could barely get a word in over the crowd as it was.
I dance and sing and enjoy the wonderful members of the very diverse community of Long Beach under the stars. The Coach line for beverages isn’t horrible, so VIP, schme-I-P.
At 11 p.m. I leave and go back to the awaiting fire-red Indian Classic. While putting on my Dainese gloves and my favorite new Dainese leather riding jacket (proper gear is crucial even in your own city) I see the line down the street for Hamburger Mary’s and the doorman telling them all how not to wait by paying the VIP fee.
And good for them. We need nice places in the community to thrive. I drove down the Broadway corridor in Long Beach where most of the GLBT bars are, and they were filling up, lines forming. Members of the community will make money this weekend; clubs, restaurants, coffee shops that desperately need it. Hotels are full. It’s good for everyone not just the GLBT community.
And it’s just beginning. So how can I be upset because some won’t know the reason behind it? Most Americans don’t know the real reasons behind most celebrated holidays, why should this be any different?
And I realize I’m not angry at it all any more. I’m just a little sad. I like to have a great time like everyone else. And I plan on having one this weekend. On May 21, 2001, I lost my husband Andrew Howard right after celebrating gay pride weekend. It’s taken me a while to be able to enjoy them again, and I want to.
But I’ll stand applauding at the parade on Sunday with the spirit of Stonewall in my heart. I’ll dance on the Queen Mary Saturday night at Poseidon openly in the spirt of those that had to once dance in private, tucked away. I’ll go to Saturday Brunch tomorrow at Mary’s and toast those drag queens, Harvey Milk, Larry Kramer and so many other brave members of the community of which I am proud.
I just wish more of the tens of thousands that will flow through the city over the weekend would, too.
And that’s not to say that some don’t. The week prior to the actual festival, many community service organizations have events to entertain and inform. And while they may not be as fiercely attended, they keep that spirit alive. People like Stonewall Democrats, The Center and others all use the Pride week as a way to spread the word through Pride-theme events. Should those be more of the focus? Yes. But at least they are still there.
For a list of talent on the main stage and other stages all weekend long at the Pride Event, including Kelly Rowland, go here
For a list of all the events in Long Beach including the one of the most popular events, Play@Maya, a Saturday pool party with gorgeous half-nude gay men, loud music, beer…figure it out…and Poseidon Dance Party Saturday on the Queen Mary where those men go to dance after as well as events like the band THEY doing the entire Hedwig soundtrack in order at Clancy’s Pub go here.
And if you do go, tell one person you meet the story of Stonewall if they don’t know it. And find a few events off the beaten path and find the soul of Pride again. Under all the money and logos it’s still there. It’s in the friends that reunite every year on a porch to watch the parade 10 years running; it’s the mom’s that march, the kids that watch, the outrageous and the touching.
Like it or not, if you are gay, it is a part of you. I’ve tried not liking it for so long, denouncing it as a soulless behemoth where sex and booze rule. But things are what you make of them. After all, there’s still great performances at Coachella, still fun at Disneyland, even if they have morphed in to so much more than one could have imagined.
This year, I’m going to enjoy it. After all, the gays know how to throw a party. So come out and enjoy Long Beach’s. Or find one in your city. If you’re straight, you may be shocked, but how do you think I felt the first time I saw Pamela Lee?