L.A. Pride represents a rainbow-colored gold mine for marketers

Now in its 41st year, there’s no arguing that L.A. Pride is solidly over the hill.

Queen’s processional · Korean-American comic Margaret Cho entertained attendees at Sunday’s Pride Festival with a brief standup set that acknowledged her historically robust following in the gay community. - Photo courtesy of Christopher Street West

From its pointedly political origins in May 1970 (the first annual parade was conceived as a West Coast commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the infamous police brutality in New York that came to be known at the Stonewall Riots), the parade and accompanying festival now represents one of the most consistent economic boons for the city of West Hollywood and is among the largest gay pride events in the country.

For the first time in the history of L.A. Pride, a “Purple Party” celebrating women kicked off the weekend-spanning celebration. Billed as an “homage to the ‘L’ of LGBT,” the event featured guest DJ sets by leading female DJs as well as an appearance by castmembers of Showtime’s The Real L Word and a performance by R&B’s preeminent grandmaster of rasp, Macy Gray.

Sunday’s parade along Santa Monica Boulevard started at 11 a.m. with U.S. Olympian-turned-reality-TV-star Johnny Weir serving as Grand Marshal. The figure skater first caught the nation’s attention for his bejeweled skin-tight get-ups — flamboyant even by competition skating’s standards — and his controversial fur advocacy. His show Be Good Johnny Weir on the Sundance Channel showcases Weir’s myriad side-projects — designing clothes, recording music and more — but his perch on the parade’s Grand Marshal float undoubtedly served as his introduction to a great many of those in attendance.

In keeping with the far-reaching trend of the commercialization of L.A. Pride, easily half of those marching in the parade represented some form of business or corporation. Media conglomerates (NBCUniversal, for instance), international retailers (Macy’s) and even grocers (Albertsons) had rainbow-clad representatives marching in the parade. Businesses eager to emphasize their pro-gay stances also had plenty of representation in the festival compound itself in the form of fully staffed booths, replete with promotional giveaways and prizes.

Photo courtesy of Don Martens

Appearances within the festival grounds by Raja Gemini and Manila Luzon, the winner and first runner-up of the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, sparked the formation of an hour-long line at the Logo booth that never truly abated — others were simply prevented from getting in line once a cut-off was announced. Raja and Manila signed photos and posed for photos, though near the end of the meet-and-greet engagement, Manila apparently couldn’t be troubled to stop eating kettle corn for a photo op.

Although not the last performer of the night, British pop artist Estelle was the headliner for Sunday’s Pride Festival events. After opening with a nearly stock-still rendition of “Freak,” Estelle continued performing as if contained within a glass box that no one else could see. A run-through of “American Boy” showed that the song doesn’t need Kanye to get crowds worked up, but it was “One Love” that marked the audience’s clear favorite.

Perhaps the most exciting news emerging from L.A. Pride in the realm of music — for the USC community, at least — was the unprecedented appearance of USC musicians performing with the Lamdba LGBT Association in Sunday’s Parade. The association’s usual refrains of “We are ’SC” and the SoCal spellout were supplemented by musical accompaniment, marking the beginning of what’s sure to become an annual tradition.

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