On Sunday June 26, 2015, over 1.8 million people, which is more than double the city’s population, flooded through the streets of San Francisco, radiating color, and most importantly—pride. LGBT activists marched proudly down Market in vibrant unity as the parade celebrated the 46th anniversary of San Francisco Pride.
SF Pride did not always attract the number of people that it does today. The first gathering of Pride in SF was in homage to the first anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. The uprising in response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn—targeting its gay patrons—sparked the beginning of the modern Gay Liberation Movement. In 1970, on the first anniversary of the riots, a small group of gay rights activists organized a march down Polk Street and staged a small “gay-in” at Golden Gate Park.
In 1978, Gilbert Baker introduced the first-ever LGBT rainbow striped flag as a part of SF Pride, and over the last few decades, the parade has expanded and flourished, alongside the idea of gay pride itself.
No one attending the earliest parades ever could have imagined the magnitude of what they started. Currently, the Pride parade in San Francisco has been described as, “the largest gathering of LGBT people and allies in the nation.” With the growing numbers of people in attendance, some members of the LGBT community who attended the festival are worried that Pride is becoming just an excuse for people to party in the Castro and drink all day, not to acknowledge the roots and reason for the celebration.
Kate Chaloemtiarana ‘16, one of the co-leaders of Lick’s GSA club, points out that many people are eager to celebrate the advances and accomplishments of the LGBT community, but this involvement is frequently limited to the Pride parade. Chaloemtiarana goes on to explain that, “Every year at pride you see people that you know because it’s huge and everyone goes, and I do see a lot of people from our school, who go to pride and then they don’t come to our GSA meetings. It’s understandable—you don’t have to go to our club to show your support, but it’s just that you wouldn’t really see them at a queer-focused event anywhere else.”
Many others relate to this view, and agree that for many “allies,” Pride is really the only LGBT-centered event that they attend, which calls into question the authenticity of many people’s motives in going to Pride. Yet, as stated by Thomas Stafford, a musician, educator and member of San Francisco’s gay community, “Regardless of what they do once they get there, to me, simply the fact that there are parents in San Francisco allowing their kids to go to the Pride Parade is a huge step forward.”
Looking back on the roots of Pride, the entire message is around letting people do what they want, so why not allow people to celebrate however they choose to? The fact that Pride is so widely publicized is vital to San Francisco’s LGBT community, however, “what they do once they get there,” actually does affect and create stigmas around Pride for the very community around which it is centered. Chaloemtiarana explains, “The actual event of pride itself does kind of feel comparable to St. Patrick’s Day— It’s kind of gotten distracted from the idea of celebrating sexuality and identity.”
Their opinion is shared by many. Chaloemtiarana and others point out that since many people seem to have ulterior motives in coming to Pride–other than supporting the cause and raising awareness, there seems to be a growing disidentification with the entire event. When asked why Chaloemtiarana chose not to fully celebrate the Pride parade, they said, “As a queer person, I don’t really identify with anything that it has to do with. I don’t really find a community there.”
They do not mean to discredit the event’s attendees, but Chaloemtiarana also emphasizes, “The event of Pride is important, and I think that I would never discourage a straight person from going. I think it’s the most important thing that they know why–why it happens, why we do this, why it’s important.”
However, this growing disassociation with the event exemplifies the fact that Pride is now designed to appeal to the masses and not necessarily the queer community. Of the 53 headlining performers for Pride over the last few decades, only five of them have openly identified as members of the LGBT community. Regarding this information, Stafford states that, “I guess these are just headliners brought in to attract crowds, but I think that as long as these are people willing to carry this cause on their backs, then they should be appreciated just as much.” Bringing in well-known “headliners” is an understandable and necessary marketing strategy for Pride, however, this goes to show that the main focus of the parade itself has become entertainment, not spreading awareness.