“I’m heartbroken. I love you all, and I’m so proud of you for being here tonight,” declared Carly Rae Jepsen, a headline performer of Los Angeles Pride.
Singer Hailee Steinfeld, who had preceded Jepsen on the main stage, also praised the crowd on being “so courageous, so confident, so strong… I love you guys, be safe,” she cautioned.
Big Freedia, amidst feats of derriere dancing, did not allude to a tragedy. But Freedia’s performance to Beyonce’s charged hit “Formation” conjured the floodwaters in the midst of the celebration.
Not that the attendees needed any reminders of fear or its consequences from the singers. Overhead West Hollywood Park, which glittered with lights and disco balls for the occasion, a helicopter circled. A searchlight flickered on and off the festival grounds Sunday, where Pride both roared and whispered, unsure of its place in the light of a gay bar shooting that had recently taken place across the country in Orlando.
This is not to mention the man who had been apprehended in Los Angeles hours beforehand, his car packed with guns and a material used for pipe bombs, who told police he was on his way to L.A. Pride. Pride-goers feared he intended to wreak havoc and harm on the local LGBT community, but still they were there. In the City of Angels, metal detectors guarded every entrance to the Pride festival, while men and women in uniforms surveyed the revelers in rainbow attire.
This wavering tone between celebration and mourning began in the early hours of the day, when organizers grappled with a national tragedy. The night beforehand, the deadliest shooting in U.S. history had occurred at the gay bar Pulse in Orlando. Most folks in Los Angeles were unaware of this unfortunate history until they woke up to it hours afterward, and the news came to many of them through a morning press conference before the Los Angeles Pride parade commenced.
“We are Pulse. We are Orlando. We are Americans. We are all LGBTQ community members today,” declared Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti beneath gray skies, before a moment of silence was held for the dozens murdered. Afterward, Garcetti marched alongside members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, leading a display of strength into a day fraught with insecurity.
The parade — joyous, sorrowful, and outraged — continued with an uneven beat. Trans activist Bamby Salcedo, megaphone in hand, urged action in the face of violence, the colors of the transgender Pride flag waving at the front of the procession. The parade announcer, during a moment’s break, read a prepared statement of mourning before the floats resumed their track. A few marchers and onlookers wore handmade shirts or waved banners printed with “Orlando.”
But most marched as they would have without the fresh reality of the violent night. The shirtless men of the gay bar Micky’s danced on a fire truck. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles sang and lipsynced hits for the crowd. The employees of NBC and Universal, in promotion of their upcoming live musical Hairspray, danced in foam wigs. As the song goes, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
The news of the shooting affected LGBT folks in different ways. Michael Rohrbaugh, the partner of KTLA reporter John Fenoglio, told The Advocate how news of the shooting spurred him to march in the parade alongside his partner.
“We need to demand gun reform and make our cities, our country a safer place to be,” he said, hoping the shooting and demonstrations will encourage the United States to reevaluate gun laws.
However, many others weighed whether to venture out on Pride day, which in the light of violence reminded some of the risks that can come with being out en masse. “The lines are a lot shorter than last year,” remarked one passerby, observing the wait to enter the festival, before Jepsen, Steinfeld, Freedia, and other headliners took the stage.
Marquita Thomas, a board member of L.A. Pride, urged LGBT folks not to stay at home after the shooting. To do so, she told The Advocate, defeated the whole purpose of Pride, which originated as a protest against violence.
In this spirit, Thomas urged the LGBT community to “not sit in fear, to own their Pride, to continue to celebrate, and to not let this be an excuse to marginalize another community.”
“Stand in solidarity with people who share your values,” Thomas added. “Don’t let anybody take your Pride away from you.”
Chris Classen, the president of L.A. Pride, echoed Thomas’ message: Come out.
“Honestly, it was devastating,” he said, of when he learned about the shooting at about 4 a.m. Sunday morning. “We’ve been doing this parade and marching in the streets for 46 years, and to find out we have to do it again today breaks my heart. But that’s why we do this.”
“If you are not planning on coming, you should be here,” he told the Los Angeles LGBT community. “This is the exact reason we hold these rallies. Come out and support your community and support Orlando.”
Conflict had plagued this West Coast event from the onset this year. The Los Angeles Times dubbed it the “gay Coachella” after critics expressed frustration with rising festival prices and a heavier emphasis on music.
However, a national tragedy like Orlando had sparked its own comments about what Pride should be within The Advocate’s live stream of the Los Angeles parade, a forum that surged with hope, criticism, and fear throughout the morning. Some argued that the lively music, so soon after tragedy, was distasteful. Many were encouraged that the show went on and the rainbow banners yet waved. “Stay safe,” more than one commenter warned.
But the sadness endured even after the music faded and the shirts came back on. Steven Smathers, a dancer at the gay bar Micky’s West Hollywood, wept after the parade’s conclusion, when he was faced with the reality of the weekend’s tragedy.
“What could inspire someone to do a mass shooting? It’s probably motivated by hate,” reflected Smathers, who contemplated not going to Pride due to the violence in Orlando. “The only thing I could do, to do my part and to try to make anything hateful better, is to try to focus on compassion and tolerance for every individual.”
And so, he marched.