Thousands of spectators clad in rainbow flags, face paint, hats, wings and tutus flooded the streets of West Hollywood on Sunday for the 48th annual Los Angeles Pride Parade.
The happy, festive atmosphere marked a welcome change for LA Pride organizers, who faced a rare wave of frustration Saturday night after police turned away guests who had bought tickets to the Pride Festival.
Hours after organizers announced the first sell-out crowd in the event’s 40-year history, tens of thousands of people descended on West Hollywood Park for a concert lineup that included popular R&B singer-songwriter Kehlani and the Swedish electropop duo Icona Pop.
The Los Angeles County sheriff’s and fire departments closed entry to the event at 10 p.m., and began turning away people who had purchased tickets. Videos shared on social media showed the crowd chanting, “Let us in!”
Organizers apologized Sunday, and promised to exchange unused tickets for access to Sunday’s activities, or provide refunds.
The concert glitch did little to dampen the festive atmosphere Sunday, which featured dozens of floats, cheeky costumes and upbeat music. Couples kissed. People danced in the street. Dogs howled along to the music.
“Out of the closet,” said James Allure, 35, as he and his boyfriend walked arm in arm past the eponymous thrift store, his husky, Sandwich, following close behind. “That’s us!”
Jolene Smith, 21, who wore the blue-white-and-pink flag representing transgender rights, said she sympathized with the people who had bought plane tickets, hotel rooms and concert tickets for the Pride Festival and were turned away. But, she said, a massive audience for any gay pride event is a good thing.
“I looked out on the crowd and it felt like being hugged by thousands of people,” said Smith, who named herself after the Dolly Parton song. “It was proof that Southern California is a big family.”
Charles Hunt, 44, said he had several friends who had been turned away Saturday after waiting in an hours-long line. Hunt missed the chaos because he had stayed home to finish his costume for Sunday: a unicorn horn, a sequined top and a handmade rainbow tutu.
“Selling tickets for any event this weekend feels like commercializing Pride,” said Hunt, who held a balloon filled with rainbow confetti. “I’m happy to be at the parade, and I will always come. But I’m not going to pay to celebrate my identity.”
This year’s parade theme, “Just Be,” was only slightly less overtly political than last year’s event, which was billed as resistance march against President Trump. But politics were equally present.
At a kick-off ceremony, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, elected officials from West Hollywood and celebrity attorney Gloria Allred honored grand marshal Michaela Ivri Mendelsohn, a transgender activist who founded an organization that promotes transgender inclusivity in the workplace.
To cheers, Mendelsohn cut into a five-tiered wedding cake topped with two grooms and two brides, a critique of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that found narrowly in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
“Just be there for each other,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s so important that we remember that none us needs to do this alone.”
Before the parade, about 20 men and women gathered on Crescent Heights Boulevard to don hot-pink shirts that read “Gays Against Guns.”
The Los Angeles group was founded after the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and has been inspired to new action after the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., said Graham Kolbeins, 30, an organizer.
Gays Against Guns L.A. pushes for “common-sense gun regulation,” he said, including bans on assault-style weapons and mandatory universal background checks. The group’s other goal, he said, is to show “that there are different dimensions to the fight for gun reform.”
As Kolbeins spoke, a man behind him yelled, “Yaaas!” U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) had appeared in their midst, a black-and-white striped shirt in a sea of pink. As she posed for group photos, Gays Against Guns L.A. member Michael Lucid, 40, stepped into the shot, hoisting a sign that read, “NRA, Sashay Away.”
Sunday's festivities are a reminder of hard-won rights for the gay community, Allred said in an interview, and a reminder of what is left to be done.
Allred compared the Supreme Court’s wedding cake ruling to a case she fought a generation ago. In the 1980s, a gay man in Orange County filed a discrimination lawsuit against an Irvine photographer who refused to take a photo of him and his boyfriend for a book commemorating a high school reunion.
The California Supreme Court later found that the photographer had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
“We were able to protect the rights of same-sex couples against an allegation that it violated someone’s religion,” Allred said. But in other parts of the United States, she said, “the battle continues.”