Pride Arrives to the Barrio: An Ethnographic Reflection of Boyle Height’s Orgullo Fest

How do queer communities of color stake out a territory beyond ghettos and enclaves and beyond demarcated moments such as Pride Days and ethnic celebrations? These questions haunt the struggles, rituals, and practices of African American, Latino, and Asian American queers as they engage with the travails of urban life today.

–Martin F. Manalansan, “Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Spatial Politics in the Global City”

Rainbow flags filled the barrio landscape of Boyle Heights, a historically low-income working class Latinx immigrant neighborhood just east of downtown Los Angeles. Street vendors, food trucks, drag queens, and residents of all ages came together that sunny Sunday afternoon in celebration of Pride Month. I arrived at Orgullo Fest with my younger sister, 15, and my three younger cousins, ages 14, 17, and 19. The Covid-19 pandemic remained a lingering threat but the vaccines, which had begun to roll out months prior, offered some comfort to congregate once again. I admittedly stepped into Orgullo Fest feeling a bit nervous. Was my younger sister going to see dildos or other “inappropriate” things? To my surprise Orgullo Fest was very family friendly – as advertised. On the one hand I did not mind the sanitized experience as I avoided having to explain what a gay bear was to young teens. On the other hand, a raunchier sex-positive scene could have probably generated a fruitful conversation on healthy sex practices. Indeed, as queer Latina scholar Juana Maria Rodriguez warned us before, the “normative” queer and “perverse” queer stand at odds within the terrains of the family friendly pride festival.[i] In the end, the only question came from my youngest cousin, Vanessa: “Wait, so is she really singing?” She was referring to Jessy Cruz, a drag queen who performed an incredible lip synch to Thalia’s live concert audio of “A Quien Le Importa” while holding a microphone. The drag illusion was a success![ii]

Orgullo Fest was Boyle Heights inaugural pride festival.[iii] The block party took place on June 27, 2021 on the corner of East 1st and Soto. In collaboration with Los Angeles’ 14th District Councilmember Kevin de Leon, Orgullo Fest was organized by El Place (formally known as Noa Noa Place), the new queer Latinx bar which opened its doors on November 5, 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The bar remained open for one year, officially closing its doors on November 22, 2021. “There wasn’t enough capital. Los Angeles has one less queer Latinx space,” commented Steve Saldivar, a Los Angeles Times journalist. Despite its short temporary stay in Boyle Heights, El Place offered us Orgullo Fest, which brought together a range of talent: mariachi, banda, baile folklorico, drag queens, drag impersonators, and other queer performers.

During my time at Orgullo Fest, I also came across a familiar face: Ceci. I met Ceci at the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA), an anti-gentrification organization dedicated to defending marginally housed tenants facing unjust evictions. Ceci works as a street vendor and sells a range of Mexican food outside her home. She migrated from Mexico 40 years ago and has been living in Boyle Heights for 14 years. Ceci lives on the corner of East 1st Street and Soto. You could see the Orgullo Fest stage from her home. Ceci joined LACCLA back in 2017 after facing violent landlord harassment and an unjust eviction. LACCLA organizers and lawyers came together to help Ceci fight and win her case in court. Since then, Ceci has partaken in many housing justice movements in the larger Los Angeles area as a proud LACCLA member and housing justice activist. I walked up to say hello. It had been a while since I had physically seen Ceci. Once the pandemic hit back in March 2020, LACCLA’s communication and organizing efforts now took place over zoom. I spoke to Ceci about her thoughts on Orgullo Fest:

A mi esposo no le gusta salir. Yo me fui. Agare mi silla y me sente a mirar el show. A mi me gusta apoyar. Estaba bien organizado. Escuche que Kevin de Leon fue el padrino del nuevo bar y que van hacer el festival mas grande pal proximo año. A mi me gusto mucho, me gustan los festivales. [iv]

Seeing Ceci walk through Boyle Height’s first annual pride festival sparked an important reflection I hope to explore further here. After greeting Ceci I could not help but wonder what Orgullo Fest meant for the future of Boyle Heights, a neighborhood who has and continues to mobilize against gentrifying threats. I wonder: Is Orgullo Fest a signal of larger neighborhood changes to come? As many gentrification scholars and activists have reminded us before, queerness came become commodified alongside processes of gentrification (see Manansalan 2005, Handhardt 2018, Haritaworn 2015, Duggan 2003).[v] For example, Christina Handhardt’s important work on the histories of gay neighborhoods reminds us that the Mission District barrio in San Francisco was directly impacted by gay gentrification back in the 1970s and 1980s during the height of the Gay Liberation Movement.[vi] We can also look at the important documentary Flag Wars which captures the violence of gay gentrification in the historically Black neighborhood of Old Towne East in Columbus, Ohio. In the documentary we see Old Towne East gentrified by incoming white gays and lesbians who rely on legal violence to criminalize and banish long standing Black residents through housing code standards.[vii] In their generative text Queer Lovers and Hateful Others, queer urban space scholar Jin Haritaworn offers us the language of queer regeneration to think about the relationship between queerness, race, and urban changes:

It is in the shadows of degenerate bodies, and the architectures of formerly degenerate spaces that queer regeneration occurs. As the old trope of the degenerate ‘ghetto’ converges with the new trope of the ‘recovering’ inner city, where the properly alive like to live, eat, and party, a recognizable queer subject worthy of protection and visibility comes to life. (37)

Haritaworn’s queer regeneration points attentively to the racial and colonial scripts that determine who gets to stay and live in the gentrifying neighborhood.[viii] For example, a common script that emerges alongside queer regeneration is the anti-queer immigrant perceived as incapable of accepting queerness, thus becoming easily expendable. Queer regeneration also includes the emergence of the white queer who, in search of an ideal safe space, finds refuge in the formally “dangerous” region now deemed “queer friendly.” Another figure deeply entrenched within this cast includes the queer person of color with race and class privileges who actively participates in the neighborhood’s transformation. This participation includes but is not limited to the use of legal violence as landlord, transforming the neighborhood through a culturally sensitive lens (gentefication), or moving into the neighborhood and replacing long standing tenants who could no longer afford raised rents.[ix] Ultimately, two important reminders arise from Haritaworn’s work: 1) no one sits neatly outside the economies of gentrification and 2) one’s ability to successfully embody the respectable citizen determines whether or not one is welcomed into emerging spaces (queer and non-queer).[x]

Scholars and activists have also pointed to the ways police and media actively advance gentrification through racist policing. Here we can think of Martin F. Manalansan’s important research on the queer enclaves of Jackson Heights and Christopher Street piers in New York City post 9/11.[xi] To demonstrate how displacement and beautification efforts operate through state-sanctioned racist policing, Manalansan moves away from using “gentrification” as it relies on a dominant narrative in which “outsiders” come into a neighborhood to make changes. Instead, Manalansan deploys the notion of “neoliberal urban governance,” a framework that pays particular attention to how “various neoliberal agents and institutions such as mass media, private businesses, and the state (including the police) mediate discourses about changing urban space” (141). Manasalan’s approach, which he productively describes as a “triangulated exploration of space, race, and queerness,” urgently reminds us that the call is sometimes coming from inside the house; the agents advancing urban changes are in the region operating as a “global financial center” (142). Manasalan argues that by advancing a homonormative politic, neoliberal institutions “anesthetizes queer communities into passively accepting alternative forms of inequality in return for domestic privacy and the freedom to consume” (2). Thinking alongside Manalansan’s work, I wonder: How have media and police in Boyle Heights worked to mediate discourse on local urban changes? Moreover, if urban renewal, queerness, and race have historically held a complicated relationship, what does the arrival of Orgullo Fest – the first pride festival co-signed by a local politician – tell us about the future of Boyle Heights?

Throughout the past 9 years there has been a lot of attention focused on Boyle Heights. Two mainstream television shows about Boyle Heights’ fight against gentrification are now streaming online – Starz’s Vida (2018) and Netflix’s Gentefied (2020). Vast academic scholarship has also focused on this East L.A. barrio. This hyper focused attention has given rise to a lingering sentiment that insists we move on – an urgence to look elsewhere. However, despite this national spotlight, what has remained unexamined are ways queers of color make claims to space within this gentrifying barrio and the negotiations that take place alongside race, class – but also – sexuality, and gender. Thus, the point of my reflection is not to mark the queer Latinx/Chicanx as a gentrifier. I keep in mind Haritaworn’s reminder – there is no cite of innocence within processes of gentrification. Rather, I want to consider how Orgullo Fest sits alongside the longer history of revitalization in Boyle Heights. I’m particularly interested in how media and police in Boyle Heights have worked to re-frame local anti-gentrification efforts. In what follows, I suggest that local politicians, police, and media in Boyle Heights relied on a seemingly race-neutral logic to frame local anti-gentrification activism – a movement critical of how race and class operate within gentrification – as incoherent efforts. As such, I argue that Orgullo Fest, while a site of queer Latinx empowerment, must also be observed as a deeply political playground entangled with the barrio’s revitalization.

Local neoliberal institutions (media, private businesses, and police) have attempted to re-frame the historically racialized barrio of Boyle Heights as an “up-and-coming” destination. For example, in May 2014 realtor Bana Haffar distributed a flyer inviting home buyers on a bike ride tour of Boyle Heights: “Why Rent in Downtown When You Can Own in Boyle Heights?” After receiving immense push-back from community activists, Haffar eventually canceled the tour and released a statement where she described the community’s concerns as “a very sensitive nerve.”[xii] A year later, in 2015, the Boyle Heights community encountered another threat: “aggressive arts-oriented development.”[xiii] Funded by 36 million dollars, the project included the redevelopment of the Sixth Street bridge which would connect the “new” arts district in Boyle Heights to the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles.[xiv] The redevelopment brought in more than a dozen new art galleries. Responding to what was a clear gentrifying threat, local activists formed a new coalition – Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing & Displacement (BHAAAD). Questioning the role of culture and art within gentrification, BHAAAD mobilized against the emerging art galleries which they argued were a form of artwashing. Cultural anthropologist Arlene Davila reminds us that artwashing, or culture, “works” within economies informed by neoliberal logics of extraction that aim at “‘softening’ the aggression of displacement and gentrification through developments wrapped in cultural offerings and choices that seem edgy, democratic, alternative, and even ‘authentic.’”[xv] Consequently, surrounding property values increase, resulting in the displacement of vulnerable long-standing tenants.[xvi] By the end of 2018, BHAAAD shut down 12 art galleries. Amongst those was PSSST, an art gallery which originally set out to center queer artists of color. Despite these efforts, BHAAAD stated that “queer” as an identity category did not absolve the gallery from its complicity in advancing gentrification.[xvii] “Queer Real Estate is Not Queer Safety,” they declared.[xviii] According to Union de Vecinos, a long-standing community organization, over the last twenty years more than $3 billion dollars have been invested into Boyle Heights, resulting in the displacement of twenty-five hundred families[xix]

Media and police in Boyle Heights have also mediated local narratives on neighborhood changes through a seemingly race-neutral language. According to Zacil Pech – a Defend Boyle Heights leader – local organizations and activists have been racialized by media and police as “aggressive angry brown” groups.[xx] For example, protesters rallying against the new art galleries spray painted “white art” outside one of the buildings. While such an act critically marked the space as a white gentrifying force, local media and police re-worked the narrative. Detective Parra of the Los Angeles Police Department Hollenbeck station framed the graffiti as “anti-white” vandalism.[xxi] Similar tactics were used against protesters who rallied against a newly arrived coffee shop. Activists used flyers to re-name the shop – Weird Wave Coffee – into “White Wave Coffee.” These efforts were also quickly demonized as hostile and racist. Councilmember José Huizar took to the Los Angeles Times to speak against anti-gentrification activists by offering a response sympathetic to the arrival of the new establishments: “…targeting people solely based on race, that goes against everything Boyle Heights stands for.”[xxii] Urban space sociologist Alfredo Huante best describes this response as a form of “colorblind racism,” rhetoric used to disguise whiteness as an innocent and ahistorical agent (13).[xxiii]

It is also worth noting that on June 23, 2020, Councilmember José Huizar was arrested and indicted for corruption charges. Huizar accepted bribes and campaign donations from real estate developers in exchange for his help in passing regional development projects.[xxiv] Huizar, who advanced the gentrification of Boyle Heights, was then replaced by Councilmember Kevin de Leon, the central supporter of Orgullo Fest. De Leon is also currently running for Mayor of Los Angeles. As such, De Leon’s partnership with Orgullo Fest echoes what Manansalan describes as “neoliberal urban governance.” In other words, Orgullo Fest, a site of queer Latinx visibility and empowerment, also became a pivotal political playground for De Leon’s campaign. Another question surfaces here: What is at stake in queer visibility politics? On the one hand visibility politics promise a future of acceptance and liberation. However, as Duggan reminds us, queer visibility politics tend to rely on “homonormativity” which “rhetorically remaps and recodes freedom and liberation in terms of privacy, domesticity, and consumption” (142).[xxv] Here, I want to hold two very real realities: 1) Orgullo Fest is deeply entangled with local histories of revitalization that have set forth Boyle Heights’ gentrification and 2) The arrival of El Place and Orgullo Fest in Boyle Heights is nothing less than a momentous occasion. When planning Orgullo Fest, Luis Octavio – one of the three co-owners of El Place (alongside Donaji Esparza & Deysi Serrano) – set a goal to center and celebrate the queer Latinx community:

I want Orgullo Fest to be a place where regardless of your economic background, regardless of how much money you have in your bank account, you could still come out, have a good time, dance the day away and for at least that day forget about all your worries and feel like you have a place. We are far more than just a theme night. We are far more than just a Thursday or Sunday night. We are Latino 24/7 and we should have spaces like this in our own community.

Luis points to the racial dynamics in mainstream gay spaces like West Hollywood which often treat Latinx customers as an afterthought. Working against this model, Orgullo Fest intentionally catered to the local community, a predominantly low-income immigrant Latinx neighborhood. Free of charge, Orgullo Fest brought friends, families, queers, and non-queers together. As a cisgender queer Chicanx man born and raised in Boyle Heights, I was thrilled! Walking through the festival I felt a sense of belonging that affirmed both my Chicanx and queer identity. At the same time, I wondered about the implications of Pride in the barrio, an attractive celebration that also welcomes speculative forces. Indeed, I write this personal and political reflection in part to remind us of the dangerous ways neoliberal cities commodify spaces and identities for the sake of profit. However, I also want to observe the arrival of Pride in the barrio as an opportunity – a chance to honor the histories of queer of color spaces in East Los Angeles that often go unrecognized within global city histories. Here I’m thinking specifically of queer working class Latinx/Chicanx spaces that, like Luis explains, de-center white queerness. As such, I want to end this reflection with a brief overview of queer spaces in East Los Angeles as a way of thinking about Boyle Height’s queer past and futurity.[xxvi]

Histories of queer spaces in East Los Angeles are histories of struggle; these histories show us that queers of color have always made claims to space, and they will continue to do so. Just 10 minutes away from the Orgullo Fest celebration stood Plush Pony, a historic beer-and-pool bar frequented by working class queer Latina/Chicana women. The bar closed in 2010 due to increasing rents.[xxvii] Today, these histories remain alive through Laura Aguilar’s photography, a “brown queer archive” capturing working-class queer women’s nightlife adventures through portraiture (Gómez-Barris).[xxviii] Another local long-standing working-class lesbian bar is Redz, formerly known as Redheads and Redz Angelz. Redz opened in Boyle Heights during the 1950s, shut down in 2015 but then re-opened in 2016.[xxix] Redz also participated in the 2021 inaugural Orgullo Fest alongside El Place. Another important East L.A. queer space is Club Chico, considered the first gay bar of East Los Angeles which opened its doors in 1999. A 2001 Los Angeles Times news report described Club Chico attendees as “gang-banger looking toughs.”[xxx] According to queer Latinx scholar Richard T. Rodriguez, we can better understand Club Chico attendees’ style as a “queer homeboy aesthetic.”[xxxi] Today Chico has left its original location in Montebello, East Los Angeles due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is now primarily based in Hollywood.

To the West of Downtown Los Angeles, areas like Silverlake and Echo Park also hold rich queer histories. For example, one of the first actions against anti-queer police brutality began at the Black Cat Tavern, a gay bar located in the famous Sunset Junction. The Black Cat Tavern protest took place on February 11, 1967, two and a half years before the more well-known Stonewall Riots. Moreover, in the 1970s, a combination of gay real estate and affordable housing echoed in an era of queer regeneration, resulting in the displacement of long-standing working-class Latinx families.[xxxii] This queer regeneration gave way to the famous Sunset Junction Street Fair, a neighborhood festival created with the intention of easing tensions between long-standing Latinx working-class residents and incoming gay and lesbian residents.[xxxiii]

I began this reflection with Manalansan’s words where he describes the relationship between queers of color and the neoliberal city as a haunting. Indeed, as these histories clearly show us, queer of color spaces are ephemeral. Yet despite this continuous struggle for space, queer futures in East Los Angeles continue to emerge. In 2021 – alongside Orgullo Fest and El Place – the barrio also welcomed its “very first queer mercado of East L.A.,” a friendly space for LGBTQ businesses to sell merchandise. The haunting is clear – holding onto queer of color spaces in the neoliberal city is no easy task. Therefore, as changes in East Los Angeles continue to arrive it is more important than ever to remain vigilant of ghosts – queer of color histories and ancestors that can offer us guidance as we continue to navigate the neoliberal city so deeply invested in sanitizing, privatizing, and commodifying queerness.

[i] Rodriguez, Juana Maria. Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings. NYU Press, 2014.

[ii] Jessy Cruz is a drag queen who specializes in impersonating famous Mexican pop singer Thalia. You can contact and book Jessy Cruz here:

[iii] Reyes-Velarde, Alejandra. “Inaugural Orgullo Fest Brings Gay Pride to Boyle Heights.” Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2021.

[iv] Translation from Spanish to English: My husband does not like to go out. I went. I grabbed my chair and sat down to watch the show. I like to show my support. It was well organized. I also heard the Kevin de Leon was the godfather (sponsor) of the new bar and that they were going to make the festival even bigger next year. I really liked it. I like attending festivals.

[v] Handhardt, Christina B., Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence. Duke Press, 2018; Haritaworn, Jin. Queer Lovers and Hateful Others: Regenerating Violent Times and Places, Pluto Press, 2015; Duggan, Lisa. Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy, Beacon Press, 2003

[vi] Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence by Christina B. Handhard

[vii] Goode-Bryant, Linda, and Laura Poitras. Flag Wars. Berkeley, Calif: Berkeley Media, 2003.

[viii] While queer regeneration points to the ways queers become situated within processes of gentrification it is also important to remember that queers of color do not participate and experience gentrification in the same way as heterosexual cisgender people (white and non-white). Moreover, queerly visible bodies, particularly trans women of color and gender-nonconforming racialized bodies, are not afforded the same protection from violence (eviction, homelessness) as cisgender queers and non-queers. Queer people (cisgender and transgender) experience homelessness at higher rates than cisgender straight people. As such, queer regeneration points more directly to local investments made my businesses, politicians, real estate agents and other speculative forces that seek out to profit from a distinct regional queerness, one that is digestible and profitable; one that can advance alongside the neighborhood’s elevated cost of living through arts and other cultural amenities.

[ix] I borrow Alfredo Huante’s definition of gente-fication from his article “A Lighter Shade of Brown?” Huante argues towards understanding gente-fication (gentrification advanced by other Latinos/Chicanos) as a contested term informed by racial and classed differences amongst residents. For some, gente-fication includes transforming the neighborhood through a culturally sensitive lens, one that affirms local identities and sensibilities through arts, aesthetics, and other cultural amenities. This culturally sensitive transformation usually occurs through the circuits of entrepreneurship and laissez-faire. The opposing definition of gente-fication is one rooted in a working-class solidarity that centers marginally housed residents fighting to stay in their homes.

[x] In Queer Loves and Hateful Others Haritaworn suggests that one’s ability to secure proper and respectable citizenship determines who gets to participate in the gentrifying neighborhood: “If a blunt distinction between ‘gentrifying queers’ and ‘displaced queers’ is insufficient, in that no positionality is automatically outside of gentrification, our proximities and distances from the good multicultural subject on the one hand, and the degenerate disposable non-citizen on the other, shape the kind of invitations we get, and the performances we must make, to become or stay part of queer spaces forming in gentrifying areas” (51).

[xi] Manalansan IV, Martin F, “Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Spatial Politics in the Global City.” Social Text 1 December 2005; 23 (3-4 (84-85)): 141–155. doi:

[xii] Alfredo Huante, “A Lighter Shade of Brown? Racial Formation and Gentrification in Latino Los Angeles,” Social Problems, Volume 68, Issue 1, February 2021, Pages 63–79

[xiii] O’Brien, Kean, et al. “Boyle Heights and the Fight against Gentrification as State Violence.” American Quarterly, vol. 71 no. 2, 2019, p. 389-396

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Davila, Arlene. Culture Works: Space, Value, and Mobility Across the Neoliberal Americas. NYU Press, 2012.

[xvi] Mathews, V. (2010), Aestheticizing Space: Art, Gentrification and the City. Geography Compass, 4: 660-675.

[xvii] Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement. “QUEER REAL ESTATE IS NOT QUEER SAFETY,” 2017.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] O’Brien, Kean, et al. “Boyle Heights and the Fight against Gentrification as State Violence.” American Quarterly, vol. 71 no. 2, 2019, p.389

[xx] Alessandro Negrete, Elizabeth Blaney, Zacil Pech, Nico Avina. Panel Discussion. Public Housing & Activism Series Pt. III: Resisting Displacement in Boyle Heights Streamed live May 9, 2017, UCLA.

[xxi] Carrol, Rory. “‘Anti-white’ graffiti in gentrifying LA neighborhood sparks hate crime debate.” The Gaurdian, November 4, 2016,


[xxiii] Alfredo Huante, “A Lighter Shade of Brown? Racial Formation and Gentrification in Latino Los Angeles,” Social Problems, Volume 68, Issue 1, February 2021, Pages 63–79


[xxv] Manalansan IV, Martin F, “Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Spatial Politics in the Global City.” Social Text 1 December 2005; 23 (3-4 (84-85)): 141–155. doi:

[xxvi] I borrow Jose Esteban Munoz’s notion of “futurity” from his book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity to think about the relationship between queer placemaking and temporality. Futurity here refers to queerness as unfolding in a nearby future or what he calls the “not yet here.” Therefore, the futurity of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles is a future that while located in “the horizon,” is still deeply informed by its histories of queer spaces (parties, bars, enclaves etc.).

[xxvii] Timmons Stuart and Federman Lillian. Gay LA: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. UC Press, 2006.

[xxviii] Gómez-Barris, Macarena, “The Plush View: Makeshift Sexualities and Laura Aguilar’s Forbidden Archives” in Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, 2017.

[xxix] Ibid, 199.

[xxx] Rodríguez, T. Richard.“Queering the Homeboy Aesthetic.” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 31 (2006): 127-137.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Timmons Stuart and Federman Lillian. Gay LA: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. UC Press, 2006.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

Vicente Carrillo is a Ph.D candidate in the department of Chicanx & Central American Studies at UCLA. His research explores the terrains of queerness, Latinidad, and gentrification. Vicente’s dissertation explores queer of color belonging alongside the revitalizing barrio landscape of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. Vicente is also currently an IUPLR/Mellon Fellow and a Gold Shield Alumni Fellow. Outside of academia, Vicente is a practicing artist/painter. He is currently working on strengthening his painting skills with acrylics.

Photo by Carolyn Cole and the Los Angeles Times, used with permission

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