Rodney Scott, Board President, Christopher Street West
Every single day there exists in each of us the opportunity to lead by example. To be the change we seek. To stand up. This was certainly evident in 1970, when local activists Morris Kight and Reverends Bob Humphries and Troy Perry had the fearlessness to organize the world’s first LGBT parade, before it was referred to with such nomenclature. Yearning to substantially mark the one-year anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots—the spark of the modern day “gay liberation movement”—and usher in West Coast momentum, the three waged an epic battle with the Chief of the LAPD, who said, “granting a parade permit to a group of homosexuals would be the same as giving a permit to a group of thieves.” But even in this toxic arena, the tenacious activists got the OK. And two days later, using phone trees the way we use social media, the L.A. Pride Parade—the world’s first—welcomed 20,000 pioneers to famed Hollywood Boulevard. A flashbulb moment for California, for the nation.
The LGBT world in which we live today in Southern California was not even in the spectrum of possibility 42 years ago this June, Pride month. The opportunity to see and be seen was uncharted. The revolutionary experience that we were not alone did not exist before. The colossal change the parade set into motion blazed a trail so bright, we still celebrate it today.
Showing up in your own lives and being part of your community is your opportunity to lead by example. To be the change. Showing up is standing up. Standing up for community, for visibility, for the esteemed activists and allies, for the crushing setbacks and enormous victories. Every day, in each of us, this 42-year journey lives.
That this continues to be our connective tissue, our DNA, is why we declare our pride each June. Our brothers and sisters in North Carolina, all of us really, were dealt a body blow with the troubling passage of Amendment 1, which not only banned marriage equality, it shattered legal recognition of civil unions. But just 12 hours later, in an astonishing evolution that reverberated around the world, President Barack Obama declared that he supported marriage equality. Good morning, America, indeed. A few weeks later, the NAACP, the nation’s most venerable civil rights organization, also changed its stance in a nearly unanimous vote. This watershed one-two punch did not just happen out of the ether—rather, it is the result of every ripple that preceded it. Every time we show up, we push the pendulum.
I have been inspired by leaders like Morris Kight, who co-founded what morphed into the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center; the Rev. Bob Humphries, who founded United States Mission, a gay welfare organization; and the Rev. Troy Perry, who founded the MCC Church, which now has over 300 congregations. And I am inspired by living legend Ivy Bottini, who remains at the forefront of issues like AIDS and Women’s Rights. And I am inspired by Rabbi Denise Eger, whose extensive work on LGBT issues and faith changed how people worship.
West Hollywood also continues to inspire me. Since it became an official city in 1984—largely because of the conviction of residents, activists and business leaders like former Christopher Street West Board Member and Frontiers Publisher Bob Craig, all of whom envisioned an LGBT mecca—much like Christopher Street West, it has served as a beacon, lights shining brightly offering hope and sanctuary to those oppressed, in other countries and our own. Our complementary missions have kept us intertwined. It is one of the reasons L.A. Pride is in West Hollywood.
When I look at people leading by example, I am moved by the absolute commitment of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who truly walks the walk in the charge for equality. As a small example, until he moved into Getty House, the official residence of the L.A. Mayor, it had never before hosted an LGBT organization. He continues to show up and stand up for us all.
And I am enormously inspired by the courage of young people, like the youth who find a lifeline in L.A. Pride’s 2012 Community Grand Marshal, The Trevor Project. And the students in Gay-Straight Alliance Network whose parade contingent tops 300! And 2012’s Person of the Year, Chaz Bono, is inspiring too. He uses his celebrity to globally advance transgender visibility, probably more than anyone I know. When that first parade stepped off 42 years ago, his parents’ iconic TV show had not yet even aired. This is our timeline.
L.A. Pride is June 8-10, and on behalf of the hundreds of volunteers, staff and crew and the Christopher Street West Board of Directors, and those who so passionately created the world’s first Pride parade and everyone who has participated in the last 42 years, I invite you to attend. By showing up, you are instantly linked to our communal tapestry. Every single day, whether we are cognizant of it or not, the enduring progress our foremothers and forefathers made on the long difficult journey to LGBT equality is something we benefit from, individually and as a community. It is this shared legacy that inspires us to come together and each and every day to be proud of who we are.