Q & A

Pride Organizer Bringing In Olivia Newton-John, Promoting on YouTube and MySpace

By Shilpa Gopinath June 5, 2008, 1:50 PM EDT

Christopher Street West's Rodney Scott

Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Street West

Rodney Scott is the president of the board of directors of Christopher Street West, the organization behind the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender festival L.A. Pride, which draws around 400,000 people. Scott oversees the event, working closely with the city, vendors, and CSW staff to ensure events within the festival run smoothly. This year's program begins on Friday and runs through the weekend. Festivities include a 5K run on Santa Monica Boulevard, a march to support issues around lesbian health care and advocacy, a festival with entertainment, dancing, and education, and a Joss Stone performance.

What’s new this year?
We are doing a “silent celebration.” We are asking all of our participants in the festival, and those watching, to take a moment of silence at noon on Sunday to remember all those people who are no longer with us due to violence, the war, issues around H.I.V./AIDS, cancer, or whatever the reason. Try getting three people to be quiet—now imagine 400,000.

The mayors of Los Angeles and West Hollywood will be marching with us [in the parade on Sunday]. And we have Olivia Newton-John. This will be the first time she’s ever performed at a U.S.-based gay pride celebration.

How did you come up with a three-year ongoing theme?
Our theme is “Our Agenda: Love, Equality, Pride.” This year, we are focused on the pride message. For the past three years we said our organization has an agenda: love, to have the ability to; equality, that under the law we should be protected as everyone else; pride, that I should be proud of who I am and of what my community has accomplished and where we’re going. This will complete our three-year theme, and next year we will either adopt a single-year theme or a different multiple-year theme.

I expect our festival to be bigger [this year and going forward] because we did a more effective job on getting the word out, and the fact that the political climate and the communities involved are stronger.

How has the legalization of gay marriage in the state of California affected the festival?

Absolutely positive effect. So many of us live in this shadow—not protected under the law, don’t have the same rights; we’re still a class that’s discriminated against. And then we wake up one morning and the court decides that you are just as equal and should have all the same rights, privileges, and obligations. This is a great celebration.

How do you get the word out?
We’ve upgraded the broadcast; we are live on Time Warner all over the Los Angeles area. We are partnering with the City of West Hollywood to make our parade available over the Web. We created a partnership with Logo Television; we are running programs post-Pride with them, too.

As a nonprofit, we use whatever resources we can to market our event. We use MySpace and send out commercials through YouTube. We use online ticket sales. We are very big on street marketing. Word of mouth is an incredible tool. We spend a lot of time with the city council and leaders of the community, who get the word out for us.

What other nonprofits do you work with, and how do these partnerships work?

The City of West Hollywood, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, most of the H.I.V./AIDS providers in the Los Angeles area, Lambda Basketball, and of course, our sister Pride chapters. We have partnerships with dozens of nonprofits that serve our community. We do collective partnering—we support them by giving their client base tickets to the festival, they support us by putting us in their newsletters and email messages.

How do you find volunteers and secure sponsors?

An individual can come to our Web site and volunteer their talents to us. A nonprofit organization can also gather its volunteer base for us. For example, Organization A has 50 volunteers. We will pay for each hour those volunteers work to Organization A, through community working grants.

Our sponsors range from people who have been with us for a couple years to 20 years. We very much go out for new sponsors and educate them about the value of partnering with us and reaching a new consumer base.

What are you working on right now, before festival kickoff?

Really getting the word out to the press. And inviting our families and friends to come. It’s a historical year for us. We will be celebrating that the courts did what was right—that no one should ever be discriminated against.

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