Pride in SF this year saw the pandemic shutter its iconic parade and almost all other events. But, one of today's LGBTQ rallies galvanized the notion that the fight for radical, all-inclusive acceptance isn’t over — and helped reintroduce Pride to its activist origins.
Pride has always been profoundly political and racially progressive, born from an act of defiance that included Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black trans woman, who later became an LGBTQ activist and community leader.
Not gay as in “happy”— Joe Wadlington (@JoeWadlington) June 29, 2020
Queer as in “defund the police” pic.twitter.com/eeZmj5KSjX
Alas, after this year's more traditional Pride revelries fell like dominos — SF Pride withdrawing its official parade down Market Street; Juanita MORE!'s Pride Party bowing to Sars-CoV-2; smaller, more intimate queer happenings inside still-closed gay night clubs ceasing all together — there was only one feasible option left: to get back to Pride's roots in San Francisco. And in the case of the “People's March & Rally” that entailed a trudge down the old SF Gay Freedom Day route, which began on Polk Street where it was held in 1970. (There, too, was a small "gay-in" at Golden Gate Park that same day and year.)
For years — as we've winked at before — there's been a communal gnashing of teeth over how corporatized San Francisco Pride has become. To many, the flood of capital has muddied its meaning throughout its more recent iterations. (Just ask our queer elders.) But today's "Peoples March & Rally” that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Pride in San Francisco (while weaving in tangible episodes of activism), was a welcomed, much-needed nod to Pride's protesting past.
Hundreds convened at the intersection of Polk and Washington streets around noon to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matters and support of queer rights — flanked by two buses blasting, amongst other tunes, hits from SF Pride's Saturday headliner Big Freedia. Advocating for an end to systemic racism and police brutality, the crowd soon took to marching behind what was later deemed “the stage bus" as it slowly drove down Polk Street toward City Hall.
People danced. They sang. Marchers and bystanders rallied in unison; it was a sea of face coverings and blown, weightless vanilla kisses. Elbow-bumps between loved ones and friends — many of whom hadn't seen the other since shelter-in-place began March 17 — were plentiful and amicably received. When the wave of walking bodies eventually crashed outside City Hall, organizers, speakers, and entertainers took to several mics to pontificate and perform.
Put on in tandem by drag-maven Juanita MORE! and tireless community organizer Alex U. Inn, the duo took turns acknowledging and applauding those in attendance. MORE!, specifically, again reminded onlookers of Pride’s inherent bend toward dissenting: "[Marches like these] happened because of the Compton's Cafeteria riot," she mused from the podium, her uncluttered get-up catching a mild breeze. "Never, ever forget that fight for human rights isn't over until we're all free and equal."
Alex U. Inn, having earlier wielded a black megaphone down Polk Gulch with palpable confidence, followed MORE! and grabbed one of two small microphones. Inn took the beat to reiterate demonstrations like these began from unrest — and should continue as long as there are injustices.
She reflected on the plights Brown and Black people face daily, in spaces not unfamiliar nor unfrequented by majorities.
Before stepping aside to let Black Voices and Allies Leadership Committee members Shaun Haines and Cherelle Jackson wax on their newest joint venture, U. implored white listeners to hold themselves — including "the spaces [they] occupy" — accountable for lifting up the voices of minorities.
"And when there's no room in that room for a black or brown person to hold space," she adds, "it's your job to get the f–k out of that room so that [minorities] can walk in."
The crowd soon livened with the sound of cellphones slapping against sunwarmed palms.
During the rally, another demonstration, "Pride is a Riot," was taking shape less-than two miles away at 19th and Dolores streets. That protest, as well, was a true harkening back to Pride’s roots in San Francisco. With less marching and more standing (the bobbed signages were fantastic), a gathered cohort at Dolores Park demanded police departments be "defunded, dismantled, and abolished" as we know it. (In a nod to the former Black Panther and pivotal Civil Rights activist, Angela Davis: it was a gathering of "abolitionists.”) Like-aligned speeches were given, and the assemblage eventually took to the streets and proceeded to meet MORE! and company in The Castro later in the afternoon.
VIDEO: Demonstrators at an unofficial San Francisco #Pride2020 march cheer as they chase off a police van after hitting it with a skateboard— KQED News (@KQEDnews) June 29, 2020
LGBTQ marchers proclaimed "Pride is a Riot" and called for solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations pic.twitter.com/szUW8aBTfS
While the "Peoples March & Rally" was peaceful and led by an SFPD motorcade — vandalism might've played out against law enforcement at the other demonstration. KQED News earlier today shared a video on Twitter showing what was described as a police van being hit with a skateboard and chased off by people chanting "pride is a riot.”
Nevertheless: as the hours begin to set on the fiftieth year of Pride in San Francisco — the day's foot traffic fading (hopefully sans impromptu firework shows) and those of who were once scantily dressed now dawning outerwear — what was previously assumed to be a day of bemoaning and listlessness, ironically enough, evolved into a reckoning; a rumbling; a true return to form for Pride in the seven-by-seven.
Image: Instagram @jameslandau