So Long For A While: West Hollywood’s Hit Parade Waves Goodbye, for now

Photo: Q Voice News

Photo: Q Voice News

In the pantheon of Great American Parades from Pasadena’s preeminent Rose Bowl Parade and its floral floats to NYC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and its Snoopy balloons, the West Hollywood Gay Pride Parade ranks right up there with its unique brand of pageantry.   

As a journalist, transfixed bystander, standup comic, and parade groupie, I’ve watched it grow from infancy into the biggest gay pride parade in the US with the freebie condoms to prove it.

My ongoing love affair with this bizarre public spectacle began in ‘84 when I moved to West Hollywood where I’d been hired as a paid regular at the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory on the Sunset Strip.

It was a decade before gay comics started coming out of the closet, like clowns coming out of that tiny circus car, but this clown wasn’t one of them. The only thing latent in me was a desire to do standup and I didn’t want the parade to pass me by, so to speak, which turned out to be the Gay Pride Parade. The only parade in America where everyone is the queen!

I remember the shock and awe I first felt seeing 150 hardcore lesbian bikers, known as ‘Dykes on Bikes’ kick-start their Harley’s and snake their way west along the seven-and-a half mile parade route on Santa Monica Blvd. riding loud and proud.

Anticipating a double dose of revulsion, I was mesmerized by outlandish groups with ludicrous names like Lesbians against Brunch, Gay Nazi’s For Jesus and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence openly flaunting their sexuality.

Photo: UCLA

Photo: UCLA

Spellbound, I watched gay Mormons pedaling their bicycles preaching anything but the missionary position while Jewish parents marched in support of their ‘fagela’ children chanting “Oy Vey, the kids are gay!”

It was unlike any parade I’d ever seen watching brigades of leather boys in chaps and S&M muscle men who looked like action figure dolls.

What knocked me out most were legions of dolled up drag queens and transgender babes, as seductively alluring as their female counterparts sending me into a tailspin questioning my own sexuality. No matter, I was already in love.

Needless to say, the parade that day (and years after) was anything but a drag, culminating in a Bacchanalian love fest at West Hollywood Park.

This June, however, after a 32-year run since WeHo became a city, "The Mother of All Gay Pride Parades" is taking a 3-year hiatus until the West Hollywood Park expansion project is complete. Short of grief counselling, I’ll miss it.

I’ll miss the deafening roar of Dykes on Bikes who renamed themselves Women on Motorcycles with the advent of the Politically Correct Movement in the ‘90s, a regrettable lament.

I’ll miss taking pics of star studded attendees to add to my album which includes Anna Nicole Smith who blew me a kiss;  Elvira “Mistress of the Dark”; funny girl Margaret Cho; 60’s sex symbol Mamie Van Doren; and my perennial favorite, feminist attorney Gloria Allred, impeccably dressed in all white.

Photos: Rick Sandack

Photos: Rick Sandack

Backed up by “The Beat Goes On” I’ll miss the next crop of transgender beauties and those award-winning Latinos so flamboyant that when they came out of the closet, they took the door, the door jams and the hinges with them.

But I won’t miss those gay bashing Bible ghouls with their loud mouth taunts of “Go back in the Closet” parading their “God Hates Fags” posters, offset by the one poster that dwarfed them all: “If God hates fags, why are we so cute?”

The parade never failed to show the community’s hardships, as a hushed silence descended over the crowd with the arrival of the AIDS Memorial Quilt embroidered with the names of the deceased on each panel. As the numbers grew, so did the quilt, becoming so astonishingly large that by l995, it spanned the length of the parade 7 times over and once blanketed the entire Washington DC Mall.

They marched against Proposition 8 banning same sex marriage and they rejoiced when the US Supreme Court overturned it in 2015, legalizing marriage equality in all 50 states and igniting a cheer that drowned out Dykes on Bikes.

They marched in solidarity for transgender restrooms; in mourning for the massacre in Orlando. And they’ll march for gender equality in an upcoming Protest Rally this June that will replace the parade.

So yeah, with the absence of this year’s addictive fix, I’ll miss it. But in the words of Donna Summer: “I will survive” sustained by the liberating freedom that comes with declaring your true gender identity and the open invitation to come out, come out, whoever you are and join the parade.

As for me? Now free of the homophobic fear that once possessed me, I’ll be on that double-decker bus come 2020 when the parade picks up again in full Cher drag, gyrating to “The Beat Goes On.”

 

Words: Rick Sandack