Dan Ortega hadn’t been to an LA in at least a decade.
The 54-year-old realtor from Silver Lake, who is gay, had admittedly grown complacent with the LGBTQ movement — especially after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide two years ago and it seemed as though so many hard-fought victories had already been won. But things are different now that is president, Ortega said.
As he did when he marched during the Reagan administration to raise awareness about AIDS, Ortega felt compelled to speak out. So, on Sunday, he dusted off the cape he wore to previous Pride events and joined tens of thousands of people in a human rights march that replaced the iconic parade.
“I can’t just let the young people do it,” Ortega said, marching with his longtime partner. “I’m here in my little pink cape, in my own way.”
This year, LA Pride went from party to protest. Gone were the colorful floats and boozy crowds watching from the sidewalks of Santa Monica Boulevard. Instead, marchers flooded the streets of Hollywood and West Hollywood, the crowd stretching for several blocks for what can best be described as a symbol of the Trump era — a protest march with a hashtag in its name: the #ResistMarch.
“This year, the LGBTQ community is lending our iconic rainbow flag to anyone who feels like their rights are under threat and to anyone who feels like America’s strength is its diversity,” said Brian Pendleton, who organized the march, which he said was inspired by the massive women’s marches that took place the day after Trump’s inauguration.
Indeed, #ResistMarch participants held up handmade signs that spoke of many issues in addition to LGBTQ rights: healthcare, climate change, immigration. Many wore the pink knit “pussyhats” that became symbolic of the women’s march, and the crowd chanted, “black lives matter!” as they walked.
Like the first LA Pride parade in 1970 — which was so controversial at the time that the city’s Police Commission tried to stop it, citing a potential for violence against participants — Sunday’s march kicked off near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles. For many years, the parade took place entirely in the city of West Hollywood.
Nina Firooz, 31, of Granada Hills said she was deeply moved by the march starting in the same location and taking on a more political tone.
“This is what pride was originally about,” said Firooz, who is a lesbian. “We’re getting back to our roots.”
Firooz was attending the march with members of her North Hollywood church and wore a T-shirt with the words “Jesus Resisted.” She’s been frustrated by the rhetoric of the Trump administration and worries about the rights of LGBTQ people and others being scaled back. It’s been an emotional six months for her. Her parents are originally from Iran, and she has worried about them, too, as Trump pushed for a travel ban that included their home country.
“I am a queer Iranian woman in the Trump era,” Firooz said. “He really doesn’t like me. It’s not a partisan issue for me. It’s how Trump treats people.”
As people gathered for Sunday’s big event, a young boy sat near Mickey Mouse’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame clutching a sign that read, “Love Trumps Hate.” Not far away was Trump’s own star, covered in stickers that read, “I Resist Homophobia” and “Drive Out Trump/Pence Fascist Regime.” Up the street, activists danced beside a giant pink, blue and white transgender flag that stretched across Hollywood Boulevard.
There were cheeky signs and shirts galore. “Sashay Away Covfefe,” read one, poking fun at the president’s infamous tweet typo alongside a photo of Trump wearing a pink drag queen wig.
Edward Gould, 48, and his boyfriend, Bradley Land, 52, both from Pasadena, wore red shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Make America Gay Again,” a riff on Trump’s campaign slogan.
Miguel Luevano, 42, of Pasadena held up a large Trump piñata with red devil horns. People kept walking by, wanting to hit or spank it, Luevano said, chuckling.
“I put horns on him because I see him as the devil,” said Luevano, who works in law enforcement. “He’s against women one week, then he’s against Latinos and against gays.”
The #ResistMarch came a year after Christopher Street West, the nonprofit that organizes the annual event, tried, controversially, to re-brand LA Pride as a music festival to woo millennials. Protesters who organized under the moniker #NotOurPride derided the event as a commercialized “gay Coachella.”
Joey Valadez, 34, has participated in previous Prides but said parades “can be overrated” if they seem to show the gay community just “to be about partying.”
“Earlier, you might have seen half-naked people running around. Today, you see people representing a political will,” he said.
James Lewis Perdue Jackson II marched in the first LA Pride parade, which was organized to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Back then, Jackson said, participants were “more anarchist” and “more destructive.”
They had to be, he said. The LGBTQ community had experienced police brutality, and just publicly being out as a gay person was risky.
“We’ve been in this fight a long time,” Jackson, 71, said.
A symbol sign of changed times, Sam Burdick-Morris, marched on Sunday with his mother. The 13-year-old came out as gay a few months ago and wore a rainbow flag around his neck and a shirt reading “Proud to Be Gay” in pink letters. He said he felt “really, really happy.”
“There is such a big community and unity here,” the middle school student said.
Last year’s parade took place hours after 49 people were killed in a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando. Before the event, Santa Monica police arrested an Indiana man with a carload of weapons and explosive materials who told officers he was going to Pride, triggering a panic.
On Sunday, Kassandra La Giusa-Riedeman marched with one of 49 giant purple balloons honoring the Pulse victims. The 21-year-old Cal State Channel Islands student described herself as a straight ally and said her boyfriend had been concerned about her safety after what happened last year.
But she wouldn’t have missed it. She marched with her mother, Jacki Riedeman, a married lesbian who has been bringing her to Pride parades since she was an infant.
Carrying the balloon, La Giusa-Riedeman said the Orlando victims were on her mind and that she could “feel the weight of the loss.”
Her mother said she, too, had Orlando on her mind.
“It reminds us that we have so far to go — still,” Riedeman said.
As the march proceeded into West Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard, marchers passed Russian bakeries and pharmacies with Cyrillic writing, a sign of the city’s large Russian population. In the crowd, signs with Trump’s face read: “Making Russia Great Again.”
At the end of the march, a veritable parade of speakers addressed the crowd, the atmosphere akin to that of a political rally.
“For years, we have gathered in these streets to celebrate our pride, and this year we are as proud as ever, but we are also mad as hell,” said U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. (D-Los Angeles), known for her acerbic comments about Trump, said of him: “He’s not my president. He’s not your president. He lies. He cheats. He’s a bully. He disrespects us all. And if he thinks he can mess with the LGBT community, he’d better look at what happened right here in West Hollywood.”
The crowd, many still clutching rainbow flags, joined her in a chant of “Impeach 45!” before she told them to “Stay woke.”