Star Amerasu, a black trans singer and musician from Oakland, came out onto one of the L.A. Pride festival stages earlier this month and—in between dousing the audience with Sade-like vibes and a masterful presence—stood in front of a graphic displaying “Stop killing black trans women.”

Poised and tall, she gave the audience a quick history lesson: “Stonewall was a riot, not a festival. Stonewall was a riot, not a parade. Stonewall. Was. A. Riot.”

Following this, she not only began to name the black trans women who have been murdered this year—2019 has been one of the most violent years toward black trans women—but spoke to allies.

“Do you support your trans brothers and sisters?” she asked the audience, receiving a rousing round of cheers and applause in return. “Well, you need to take that energy outside of these walls. We cannot do this alone. We need you.”

The call to action was beyond poignant. A black girl—no more than 16—complete with a backpack that had a “Protect Kids, Not Guns” pin, teared up watching Amerasu and shouted, “We got you, girl!”

Star Amerasu performs at L.A. Pride. Photo by Brian Addison.

This vibe was echoed by Councilmember John Duran who named the trans women of color that were the first to attack police at Stonewall, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, while on the main stage.

All of this was echoed when trans male performer Laith Ashley, in between flexing his abs and chest during songs, began to break down the struggles of being a trans man while also dedicating song after song to his trans brothers.

It was echoed by having a trans emcee, model and activist Arisce Wanzer, for the entirety of the weekend’s festivities.

This was a stark contrast to what was discussed in Long Beach several years ago, when Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Pride, the organization behind both the parade and festival in Long Beach, invited me and other LGBTQ leaders into the board room for an open discussion on how to improve Pride.

It was there that Porter Gilberg of the LGBTQ Center brought up how a simple name change—one that would include bisexuals, trans folk, and queers—would help the organization take a much-needed step forward in maintaining a contemporary sense of viability.

His suggestion—one echoed by me—was met with a dismissive, “We’ll think about that.”


The backpack of a teenage girl, hung on the fence during performances at L.A. Pride. Photo by Brian Addison.

I understand I am treading sacred ground.

I’ve written about the history of Long Beach’s Pride, discussing both the courage and foresight its founders had in order to move beyond what was, in the early 1980s, an extremely homophobic city council and local culture to create what we now know as Pride. I’ve noted how Pride is much more than a parade.

This is not to be dismissed.

The Post’s recent investigation into Long Beach Pride’s questionable operations garnered criticism, with charges it was “demonizing and belittling” an organization which has been clearly deviating from its mission:

When it comes to Pride—be it here or Christopher Street, San Francisco or beyond—it is a space that is uniquely spiritual for and deeply connected to the heart of the queer community. In this sense, I am not here to attack the spirit of Pride nor to minimize the efforts and sacrifices given in order to create it.

I am here to say that we can do better in having a festival which acknowledges and honors the past while uplifting hope and connectivity for the queers of the future.

It is easy to say that it is unfair to compare L.A. Pride to Long Beach. The City of West Hollywood, unlike Long Beach, provided the festival organizers with $1.87 million in subsidies while Christopher Street West, the nonprofit which organizes the festival, brought in some $1.85 million in sponsorships, including a $1 million gift from Verizon, the largest in the festival’s history.

So yes, with a budget of over $3 million, organizers can book high-quality performers like Megan Trainor, Kehlani, Charli XCX, Years and Years, Chromeo, and Carley Rae Jepsen—just a taste of the festival’s headliners over the past couple of years.

A sea of smartphones add an unintended decoration to Megan Trainor’s set during L.A. Pride 2019. Photo by Brian Addison.

But there’s a much larger point to be made: For the first time in its history, L.A. Pride sold out last year. For the second time, it sold out this year. It is clicking with the new generation. On top of that, securing that type of sponsorship money showcases that the festival is bringing something that others want to invest in.

This year’s Pride in West Hollywood pushed beyond the festival grounds to have a “Pride on the Boulevard” event. Taking over Santa Monica Boulevard between Robertson and San Vincente Boulevards, the area was entirely free and complete with a stage featuring local LGBTQ performers, a line of local organizations and vendors, and a lack of food vendors to encourage patrons to visit local restaurants along the strip. Yes, for those unable to throw down money to get inside the festival boundaries, you could still dance the weekend away along Santa Monica Boulevard (and get tested for free while you’re at it and score some free lube).

Long Beach? Not so much.

The main stage at L.A. Pride. Photo by Brian Addison.

And hey, I am not expecting Tove Lo or Troye Sivan to headline the Long Beach Pride festival. Nor am I am expecting Long Beach Pride to score a million-dollar gift from a corporation.

What I am expecting is evolution.

Listen, L.A. Pride has its own source of controversy—the City of West Hollywood is contemplating taking over the festival entirely since the nonprofit behind the event continually fails to be transparent about finances—but I am simply talking about the spirit, feel, and culture of the event itself.

L.A. Pride has succeeded in making trans kids, bi kids, non-binary kids—the future—feel like they have a community which will support them, love them, and uplift them, all the while happily accommodating millennial queers, older leather daddies, gay senior citizens, allies, and everything in between. Meanwhile, Long Beach’s festival numbers are dwindling while folks do the Broadway bar crawl in lieu of formal Pride events.

In this sense, on top of an organizational issue at Long Beach Pride, we have a pride issue.

It might seem anecdotal but walking away from Pride feeling proud was an experience that felt suddenly new to me, and that’s because it was relatively new. I was reminded of our community’s power, the need for us to move forward and upward, the essential quality of catering to our future, the purpose of acknowledging our roots.

We have work to do, Pride. Change the name. Change the vibe. And, perhaps, let someone new and young in to lead the way.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.