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The Bash Gets Bigger : Gay pride: The 25th annual festival ends in a parade expected to draw 400,000 participants and spectators to West Hollywood on Sunday. Its popularity among heterosexuals is growing.

June 22, 1995|SCOTT COLLINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The gay parade has grown up.

West Hollywood this month celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival, culminating in a massive parade down Santa Monica Boulevard on Sunday.

Organizers say the event, expected to draw as many as 400,000 participants and observers, has grown into the third-largest parade in California, behind only the Tournament of Roses and Hollywood Christmas parades. And the festival is proving increasingly popular among the heterosexual crowd.

"We have observed increasing numbers of non-gay and non-lesbian people coming to enjoy the parade," said Michael Yates, executive director of Christopher Street West, the nonprofit group that organizes the parade.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 25, 1995 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 3 Zones Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Gay parade--A story in the June 22 Westside section incorrectly reported the terms of an agreement two years ago between parade organizers in San Francisco and West Hollywood. Under the agreement, both cities hold annual gay parades in June, alternating weekends each year.

Many observers see this anniversary milestone as more than a good excuse for a party. To them, this year's celebration measures just how far the gay pride movement has come since its birth a quarter-century ago.

With time, the movement's emphasis has shifted from basic civil rights to health and family issues, such as the AIDS crisis and the push to legalize gay marriage. The parade reflects this journey from social ostracism to an increasingly accepted lifestyle.

In 1970, "the scientific community still regarded homosexuality as an illness," said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Hollywood.

"Today, we have gay police officers and openly gay elected officials," she said. "There are non-discrimination laws in almost every major urban area in the country. And we have a President who has actually spoken on behalf of gay and lesbian civil rights."

"It's a generational thing," agreed West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman, who is gay. "More younger people are very comfortable with who they are, and have more visible gay role models now, . . . [but] there are some who don't know the history, and don't realize people had to fight for this parade."

Indeed, the parade's early years were often marked by protest.

At the 1978 parade on Hollywood Boulevard, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk attacked the anti-gay efforts of singer Anita Bryant. Milk became a martyr to many gays after he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed later that year by Supervisor Dan White.

Leaders say the parade retains some political flavor but focuses on more celebratory aspects of gay culture. Many visitors are drawn by the colorful melange of floats, dancers, baton twirlers and drag queens.

Organizers expect about 6,000 participants in this year's parade, which gets under way at 11 a.m. The route covers a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, between Crescent Heights and Robertson boulevards.

Along the way, businesses hope to draw thousands of paying customers. The West Hollywood Convention and Visitors Bureau spends almost half its $25,000 annual advertising budget plugging the event. Restaurants and hotels typically report sellout business the entire weekend.

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John Douponce, general manager of the 110-unit Le Montrose Suite Hotel de Gran Luxe, estimates that local demand for hotel rooms during parade weekend has grown 10% to 20% annually. (Organizers reached an agreement two years ago that alternates the parade location every year between San Francisco and West Hollywood.)

"It gets bigger and bigger year after year," Douponce said.

Even as the parade grows, gay leaders have little fear that it might grow too mainstream.

"There are far too many pierced body parts and tattoos for the parade to ever be considered establishment," Heilman said with a laugh.

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