WEHO TIMES landed an exclusive interview with Jackie Steele and Stevi Shari, the two hosts/emcees for the 2023 Women’s Freedom Festival at the WeHo Pride Street Fair Community Stage on Saturday, June 3 from 12-6 pm. The event is produced by the L Project Los Angeles, the historically lesbian non-profit 501(c)3 organization, with a mission to promote and support emerging LGBTQI BI+POC women and non-binary creatives.
Jackie Steele is a comedian, activist, resident of West Hollywood, former Public Safety Commissioner, former LGBTQ+ Advisory Board member, and Co-host/emcee of this years Women’s Freedom Festival.
Stevi Shari is an advocate, social media influencer, athlete and just someone who wants to give a helping hand to others. She served in the United States Navy before becoming renowned on social media and has become a peer supporter and motivational coach for veterans of the service. She is a former college basketball and track and field athlete and currently just competed in her 3rd season of American Ninja Warrior. Stevi serves on the Women’s Advisory Board in West Hollywood and is and co-host/emcee of this years Women’s Freedom Festival.
What is your Weho origin story?
J: I first came to West Hollywood shortly after I relocated to LA in search of Queer Community. I immediately fell in love with the City. I moved to WeHo in 2012 when I accepted a job as a Director at an Experiential Marketing agency based here in West Hollywood.
S: I was in the Military and knew about West Hollywood being a safe space for LGBTQ people. I knew about that and Hillcrest in [San Diego]. I came here because it was a safe space.
How did you become involved with the City of West Hollywood?
J: I met one of the greatest friends I have ever come to know and love, Robert Gamboa and the unstoppable Jimmy Palmieri…I started volunteering to support their efforts. I still have pics of supporting The Tweakers Project, #Boom and #Sizzle from those early days. It’s just grown over the years. Robert and Jason Frazier reached out at one point when the City wanted to do a Bi Pride, to ask if I would step in to produce it, which I did (pro bono of course) and we held the first Bi Pride (I believe in the world) right here in West Hollywood. I’ve produced a few of the West Coast fundraisers for True Colors United which advocates for our unhoused LGBTQ+ youth here in West Hollywood as well. West Hollywood has always been a place that invites the community to get engaged and involved. It’s one of my favorite things about the City. And of course I’ve produced many (many, many. so many. too many?) comedy shows at the Comedy Store and Hollywood Improv.
S: I wanted to get more involved and I connected with Jackie through Zekiah Wright’s campaign. Jackie brought me into the community in a more engaged way.
Tell us a bit about your involvement with L Project and how you came to be the Emcee of Women’s Freedom Festival and Dyke March?
J: I met Chris Baldwin through community and we hit it off immediately. I’ve been supporting L-Project in any way I can since. Anything I can do to elevate Women/Non Binary folks and the BIPOC + Queer community, I’m all the way here for. I was honored to be asked to be the host of the Dyke March for the last four years and have worked on its planning and programming since, as well.
S: I met Chris at a West Hollywood event. Chris and I connected and talked about L Project and my organization and how we could support each other. I offered to support L Project with social media and soon after, Chris reached out about hosting WFF.
You’ve had the experience of serving on the City’s Public Safety Commission and its LGBTQ+ Advisory Board – how have those experiences helped your approach to the production of this year’s Women’s Freedom Fest?
J: Public Safety is important and takes many forms. Working with City Staff from the Event Services team to Director Danny Rivas, we have had dialogue about what that safety looks like from all angles for many events. Everything I do is through an LGBTQ+ lens. And that means looking at our events with a 360 approach–what does inclusion actually look like? What does the community need? How do we bring everyone along for the ride? For example, we have invited the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to join us on stage at the Dyke March and to kick off the March with us this year. Many of our gay men will be marching to stand in solidarity with the Sisters, Queer Women, Trans Men etc. We have a responsibility I feel to show bigots what community and pride actually looks like.
S: I’ve recently been appointed to the Women’s Advisory Board. I’m hoping to bring more inclusion and raise opportunities for Queer Women including financial growth and visibility.
This will be a big year with most of society being out of quarantine, versus last year, how have you seen audience reactions, crowd interactions- evolve these last few years?
J: People are READY and loving it! I think we had to readjust in a lot of ways and learn to pivot as things come up – this has always been the case, but post quarantine, there are a few more factors at play to consider. Overall, I think the LGBTQ+ community needs these events more than ever.
S: I feel like people are just ready to be free and have a bit of normalcy.
What has it meant for your performance to adjust to these evolving conditions?
J: As a comedian, that was a bizarre transition from zoom shows to parks, and then back to a stage/in-person audience. As for community events, there is a real joy for people to get back out and so it’s just reminding them to get out, get in community, and HAVE FUN!
S: My presence is mainly online so it has not been a huge adjustment but I’m getting more and more requests to host live events etc., and that has been amazing.
As part of the board and the events emcee – would you say that either are conflicted in your opinion or input about the event schedule or featured artists?
J: Conflicted – not at all. Influenced – always. My work influences everything I do and I carry my commitments to community with me at all times and in all ways. I will always advocate for LGBTQ+ Artists and diverse lineups. I don’t produce events without them, ever.
S: I don’t think there has been any conflict with either role. I’m really excited about all the artists, DJ’s and guest speakers.
What do you hope attendees get out of this year’s festival?
J: Fun and a little spark to get involved in the uplifting of our community. The LGBTQ+ Community is under attack in so many ways, and we have an opportunity to use these stages and gatherings to light a fire back into community to stand for itself and with each other.
S: I hope that they realize how important it is to come out and support women and queer artists. If we don’t do it, no one else will.
What event are you most excited about during Pride Month in West Hollywood?
J: Women’s Freedom Festival of course. We have an incredible lineup. Dyke March is a staple and too fiery to miss. I am also proud to have worked with many community groups to take advantage of the community booths and funding the city offers to support grassroots LGBTQ+ orgs. I will also be supporting Cherry Bomb at their events at Hotel Ziggy and Beaches, along with Queer Prom produced by Nik Kacy, and of course, the West Hollywood Chamber’s Kickoff Celebration. Working with our businesses to show support through pride is so important and the Chamber ALWAYS shows up for community.
S: Obviously, Women’s Freedom Festival!
Who would be your dream headliner next year?
J: All Queer artists please!! I’d like to see a return to Pride where we give the top dollars and visibility to Queer artists/performances. On that note, I’d love Queer owned media to get 1st pass at artists interviews, exclusives, red carpet etc. 🙂 Oftentimes at Pride (all over the country) you’ll see straight media that gives us very little and tepid-at-best coverage throughout the year get all the access, while Queer Media has to fight for access. Thank you to Weho Times for all you do!
What’s next for you, after the festival? Any upcoming gigs or projects we should know about?
J: I’m at the Hollywood Improv monthly. I’ll be hosting and performing at a huge festival on the East Coast in July (that I think we could model future prides after. Completely free to the public, 300,000+ ppl annually with a real focus on local business) and i’m always around on some stage or hosting panels etc. you can find me at @jackiesteelexo on most platforms.
S: You can see me on the upcoming season of American Ninja Warrior and find me at @Stevi.Shari.