Karen Ocamb

L.A. LGBT Pride and Politics

Filed By Karen Ocamb | June 09, 2008 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics, Politics
Tags: Antonio Villaraigosa, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, David Mixner, Diane Abbitt, Elizabeth Birch, Episcopal Church, gay pride, Gloria Allred, Here! TV, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jeremy Bernard, Jon Bruno, LGBT politics, Paul Colichman, Robin Tyler, Troy Perry, West Hollywood, Zev Yaroslavsky

"You have to understand, this is our Mardi Gras," John Duran HappyPride.JPGexplained to the Time Warner cable audience watching the half-naked gyrating boys during the live broadcast of the 38th Christopher Street West Pride parade Sunday.

Yes, Pride has always been a party. But something was markedly different this year. It was a very relaxed celebration. No one wanted to "fight" anything. We won - we won marriage, we won a new president and we will win against the antigay ballot initiative.

The only problem is - we haven't won yet.

[ED NOTE:] You can click to embiggen all photos. You can also swipe any of these photos for your own use - free!

I have covered the Los Angeles Christopher Street Pride parade for 20 years (well,19 years. I was Woman of the Year in 2004 and I obviously didn't report on the parade that year). Every year there has been some political theme pertaining to "fighting for our rights." Sometimes, especially during the height of the AIDS crisis and ACT UP/LA, the theme erupted from the people rather than the event organizers.

This year it felt like full equality was a done deal. Sure, there were signs and stickers saying No on the Marriage Ban and lots of applause for the couples and lawyers who won the marriage equality case - but the emphasis was on getting married, not on holding onto that right. And everywhere among the 175, 000 parades go-ers, there were families thrilled to be able to provide their children legal protections and societal acceptance.


BishopBruno.jpgReligious people were everywhere, including the L.A.- area Bishops of the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. Bishop Jon Bruno, the head of the LA Episcopal Diocese, who performed a "blessing" of Rev. Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson, told me that they are studying the California Supreme Court ruling, are taking applications everyday, and will determine whether to perform ceremonies on a case by case basis.

Bruno - whose blessing of Boyd and Thompson, along with the elevation of openly gay New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, caused a serious rift over equality in the worldwide Anglican Communion - said: "I wish we could bless all peoples' unions and make it common in all churches."

Marriage Float.jpg

Gloria Allred, the famed attorney who represented Robin Tyler and Diane Olson and Rev. Troy Perry and Phillip De Bliek, Lawyers.pngsaid the marriage case was "significant" in granting same sex couples "the fundamental right to marry" starting on June 17. "My one piece of advice: get married between now and November," since the ban would not be retroactive if passed.

And Lambda Legal lawyers Jon Davidson and Jenny Pizer, riding with David Coddell, another prominent attorney who signed onto the marriage case, looked downright giddy. It was their moment in the sun - (literally - the temperature was 84 degrees) and all along the parade route, folks who realized how much hard work they'd put into the marriage case shouted "Thank You!" But they were towards the end of the line (128 entries) and many people were already on their way to the festival.

Mayor.JPGPoliticos - such as L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky - got a big hand, too. Antonio, now a national Latino star, has long supported marriage equality and has promised to use the bully pulpit to fight the constitutional amendment - "I'll be there," he said.

But while there was gratitude, his support is also now assumed. Yaroslavsky has been riding in the parade since he first was elected in the 1970s. He was instrumental in getting the LA County Registrar to designated West Hollywood as an official satellite office for the purpose of issuing marriage licenses and performing ceremonies.

Obama1.pngAnd then there was the Obama contingent, organized by Obama California financial consultants Jeremy Bernard and partner, Rufus Gifford, and actor Wilson Cruz. The Obama campaign officially recognized Pride Month and OKed parade participation --- and there were certainly tons of Obama supporters in the crowd. But the feeling in the air was that he had already won - that he was a shoe-in for President of the United States and the shouts of "Obama! Obama! Obama!" were an advance victory celebration.

Of course, Obama hasn't won and despite the glee among progressives, his battle with John McCain is expected to be harsh.

And meanwhile, Obama has fences to mend with supporters of Hillary Clinton, whose gracious concession speech Saturday just angered some even more.


Paul Colichman - whose here! TV/Dante's Cove float was a big hit - HereTV.JPGwas beside himself with anger. He is still convinced that Hillary Clinton has the sophistication to understand the complexities of the country's dire financial situation, especially the weak American dollar.

Colichman said (this was during the parade, before Obama's economic speech today):

"Hope is not a business plan! This is the most difficult economic time in our adult lives and I'm looking for someone with the sophistication and expertise to navigate the financial waters. This is something that effects every single American every single day....I am not content to have somebody who just makes me feel good!"

(A momentary digression - Colichman also noted that while he "honors" The Advocate's former editor-in-chief Anne Stockwell, he intends to restore the national LGBT publication's luster as "THE magazine of record for our community," and promises extensive coverage of marriage equality in print, online and through a "significant new broadcast presence online.")

Even before Clinton's concession, the Obama camp recognized that he would have to win over women who felt just as strongly about Hillary making history as the first women President as many feel about Obama becoming the first African American President. But all the straight white women with whom I spoke at the Pride parade said they always supported Obama because of his "judgment" about not voting for the war in Iraq.

In an LGBT Obama outreach call Friday (which openly gay Deputy Campaign manager Steve Hildebrand said included 1,200 participants), former Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch talked movingly about her pain and disappointment - not just at Clinton's defeat and the complexities of having two role models for her two bi-racial children, but also from the perspective of the "scrappy 12 year old" she once was who dreamed of changing the world.

That resonated with a number of Hillary-supporting lesbians with whom I spoke later. "Was Elizabeth the only woman on the call?," they asked. "Where are the lesbians in Obama's campaign?"

This is more than just pained disappointment - it's a belief that Obama is keyed into the A-Gay white boys network that still tends to - perhaps unconsciously but from a sense of entitlement - dismiss women.

Diane Abbitt, for instance, the first female co-president of the first political action committee - the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA) - was no fan of Obama or Clinton. She wound up supporting Clinton "based on her experience." She said she has not heard from or about any lesbian in the Obama campaign. "From a very objective perspective," she said, "I have to ask - where are the women? Where are the lesbians in Obama's campaign?"

Abbitt was also among those who pointed out that Clinton twice referred to gay rights in her concession speech but Obama did NOT mention gays in his litany during his victory speech after winning the delegate count.

Abbitt recalled when she and LA gays joined David Mixer - then THE "friend of Bill" - to drive the gay vote/money for Bill Clinton and to put an end the Reagan/Bush years. They pressured Clinton to include gays in his convention speech. He did and it was huge, she said, making it clear that from the top and from then-on, gays were part of his vision and the fabric of the country. It made a big difference, she said.

So, she said, "this is what we asked of Bill Clinton in 1992. Why not ask the same of Barack Obama."

In the end, the women say they will "do the right thing" because they know the stakes. But this goes beyond pained disappointment for them.

The larger problem for Obama and advocates for marriage equality, however, is convincing voters - especially young voters - that the election is not over and that Obama's victory and full marriage rights are not assured just because they can't envision anyone disagreeing with their cause.

Unfortunately, though the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness - definitely on display during Pride - our democracy also means those rights can be voted away.


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Hi Karen,

Thanks for the Pride report. I'm sad that I missed it this year. Was there a big contingent of GSA and GLSEN students marching like there has been the past few years?

I think you made a really good point about the lack of visible lesbian participation in the Obama campaign. I hope someone in his inner circle is paying attention and gets on top of that ASAP.

Thanks for this cover of the parade! I'm so glad to hear that it was a great celebration...it's true, we haven't won (yet), but I think a celebration sends a pretty strong message, perhaps even stronger than an angry one!


I have to say, Pride pictures ALWAYS warm my heart to see. Thanks for sharing this, Karen!

Sometimes, especially during the height of the AIDS crisis and ACT UP/LA, the theme erupted from the people rather than the event organizers.

This is such an important distinction. I like that, themes from the people.

I was there this weekend, mostly doing media stuff. I so think there is a different feeling in the air. Having attended Long Beach's pride right after the court ruling and then LA's it is a different love in the air. We still have a big fight, but I think we can do it.

Sage, i was at LB Pride and I was really surprised that it didn't feel more exuberant. It was really tame in comparison to previous years. What was up with that?

It was a very relaxed celebration. No one wanted to "fight" anything. We won - we won marriage, we won a new president and we will win against the antigay ballot initiative.
As a transgender person, this scares the hell out of me.

Hell, as a gay man it disturbs me too, Allyson. Thanks for the report, Karen - and all the pictures!

That's a great report, Karen.

Yeah, we have no fight left, I guess. But let's just hope that this is a break for a little while.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 10, 2008 11:03 AM

Karen, I marched in my first Gay Pride Parade 35 years ago. There were no ministers, politicians, corporate sponsors, sleasey bar floats, glitter monsters on roller skates, or leather boys bearing all for their "pride" to a loudspeaker for pay.

What there was was a strong sense of "us against them" and if a reduced outrageousness is a bi product of a desire for true equality I applaud that trend. I always wince a bit when local news finds the most outrageous thing possible to cycle over and again and separate us from political and social allies who would otherwise join us for real change.

It is the equivalent of black friends of mine who grew up in the south. They told me stories of how newspapermen would be out to snap pictures of black children eating watermelon. Caption: "Summer is Here Again." God forbid they were eating fried chicken.

Pride has not always been a party. It was once something you could lose a job over if you were found out. It was a personal and courageous statement that took guts to attend. Oh, and we chanted, we yelled, the MCC choir sang and we rallied at the park to hear our speakers. We listened critically and we were not discussing fashion. We were planning on how we could get home without anyone being beaten up for showing the courage of their convictions.