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Town’s Pride festival canceled due to chaotic organizational in-fighting

People marching, someone has a rainbow flag held up
Photo: Shutterstock

A Pride celebration slated to take place is being cancelled. Not because of the pandemic, but because two groups, both factions with the same name and deriving from the same originating organization, couldn’t decide how to move forward on their own or together.

After weeks of confusion, the Whittier Pride Festival will not be held at all, leaving thousands in the Los Angeles-adjacent city without a way to recognize the LGBTQ community there.

Related: Something isn’t kosher: Jewish eateries in New York send out mixed messages about Pride

The Whittier Daily News reported this weekend that the planned third Whittier Pride Festival, scheduled for September 25, is not happening.

The first one was held in 2019 to praise and success on all accounts, with thousands of people in attendance.  It was the first ever Pride in the history of Whittier, which is where former President Richard Nixon grew up, went to high school and college, and met his wife Patricia.

With the pandemic precluding any large scale festival from happening last year, a car festival was held in its place. Beginning this year, the organizers planned to hold a “hybrid” celebration, with another car festival taking place during Pride Month, but then the festival being planned for this month.

The car festival seemed to go off without a hitch, but after that is when things first started to look strange. The city’s parks and recreation commission received a permit application for the festival from Whittier Pride on July 12. The application began processing and the city moved to accepting it.

Then, on August 13, they received another application for a festival at the same place and time — filed from an organization of the same name, Whittier Pride.

“We received two applications for the same event on the same day and time,” city manager Brian Saeki said. “For us, it was all procedural. We moved forward with the first application.”

What was happening wasn’t an administrative oversight, however. A splinter group had formed within the originating Whittier Pride organization. That group had made the first application, although they retained the same name, leaving the originating group out.

There was a “power struggle” over the group’s business status, in the words of new Whittier Pride organizer Lisa Perez.

“The one thing they lacked was transparency and accountability,” she said. “We didn’t have a nonprofit organization structure, and that made us weak and divisive.”

So members left, formed their own group, and legally filed paperwork to become a not-for-profit, all before the old Whittier Pride even filed paperwork.

Still, Perez says she was nothing but open to accepting the people organizing in the old group to join their new group. “We never stopped reaching out to them to be part of it with us,” she maintained.

Members of the old Whittier Pride group felt that not-for-profit status for the whole organization was unnecessary as they already had sponsoring from other, larger non-profits. So they initially planned to proceed with the festival as planned, keeping their application in tow as the city considered how to move forward.

Former city councilmember Josue Alvarado informed the parks and recreation commission of the two group’s separate-but-similar celebrations in August. The commission decided to keep moving as they would under normal procedures and granted the new Whittier Pride group, which applied first, the requested permits. The request then went on to the city council for approval, which was scheduled for their meeting this week.

Just as City Manager Saeki’s office did, the Whittier City Council similarly decided to stay out of it and let the two groups continue to spar on their own.

Alvarado told the Daily News later, “There’s nothing wrong with two groups fighting for the same causes.”

Unfortunately, things did go wrong from there. Right before Labor Day weekend, the new Whittier Pride suddenly withdrew their already-accepted application, according to the assistant city manager.

It remains unclear why, and the person who filed for them, Claudia Jimenez, did not respond to requests for comment from the Daily News.

That left space for the old Whittier Pride to proceed with the festival, but they too decided not to proceed at this late date with their smaller group.

Blythe Leszkay, one of the members of the originating group, said, “We’re regrouping and planning an event for early next year. We’re scrapping the September festival. We’re going to make it bigger and better.”

For now, though, Whittier will join a number of cities around the nation that won’t hold any Pride celebration this year.

“If they were to have an event on a different date, I would support it,” Alvarado said of the old Whittier Pride group.

The website previously attributed to Whittier Pride, whittierpride.org, could not be reached at time of publication. A website on LA CADA’s domain remains dedicated to the Whittier Pride Festival and the car parade held earlier this year.

Over the last few years, internal conflicts have plagued several organizations around the country that plan the world’s largest Pride parades or celebrations, such as New York’s and Boston’s. Boston’s originating Pride Parade has been canceled indefinitely by the organizing group’s folding, although several grassroots organizations are planning to take up the cause.

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