San Francisco plays host every June to one of the biggest LGBTQ gatherings in the world, reminding everyone that this city is still the epicenter of the queer universe — even if that universe has grown much bigger since the early days of "gay liberation."

The history here goes deep. There is ample evidence that gay men were drawn to bawdy, rowdy San Francisco going back to the Gold Rush era — and for a man who preferred the company of other men, the early years of San Francisco would have been a playground and very much a male-dominated space, with very few women overall.

But it was after World War II, when countless gay men disembarked from Navy ships or left the army and found each other here, when the city started taking on its reputation as a queer haven. And by 1970, when New York was celebrating the one-year anniversary the Stonewall Rebellion with a march through the city, San Francisco's queer community was ready to celebrate and make their presence known too.

Still, the LGBTQ civil rights fight dates even further back in San Francisco. Performer and activist Jose Sarria, who was one of those army soldiers who came to SF after the war, ran for city supervisor in 1961 as the first openly gay candidate for the job. And five years later, queer and trans sex workers in the Tenderloin would stage the first open revolt against police harassment in the country.

Photo via Facebook

Trans March Celebrates 20 Years

Even if it's become much more of a party weekend in the minds of some, many queer and trans people will still tell you that Pride is a protest. And the weekend kicks off Friday with the Trans March, which has now been an integral part of Pride Weekend for 20 years.

To commemorate the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria Riot, which happened at a diner at Turk and Taylor streets, the Trans March traditionally marches from Dolores Park to that corner in the Tenderloin — now part of the country's first Transgender District.

This year's 20th anniversary march will be no different, and could be larger than in years' past.

"In San Francisco, the transgender community stood up and fought police repression and brutality," says Niko Storment, production manager for the march, speaking to the Bay Area Reporter. "Though the world tells us we don't matter a lot of the time, our voices are at the front of making these changes and catalyzing the next era."

The march is preceded by an intergenerational luncheon at the Women's Building (3543 18th Street), followed by a resource fair from 2 to 6 pm in Dolores Park, with the march starting at 6 pm. A rally happens at the end of the march route, with speakers addressing the crowd outside the building where Compton's Cafeteria once existed.

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Dyke March Has Always Been a Protest

Though it is, at least officially, canceled this year, Dyke March has always felt like an organic thing. Begun by the Lesbian Avengers in New York, the first Dyke Marches happened simultaneously in 1993 in New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta — growing out of the sense of community empowerment people felt at the April 1993 March on Washington.

Since then, the march has started with a gathering, and often a rally with political overtones, in Dolores Park. And in years' past, the march would be led by a contingent of Dykes on Bikes, who also traditionally have led the SF Pride Parade on Sunday. Dykes with disabilities, traditionally, would get to ride in one of those party trollies. Though there have been proscribed routes, the march seemed to take Pride in going rogue some years, and there was a particularly raucous fight over the march in 2015, when a renegade faction decided to form its own march and defy a city-permitted route plan.

"Each March reminds us that complacency is not an option," Dyke March organizers say on their website. "Our community with cracks in the foundation but no options for division — we must uplift voices who have been deprioritized over & over again... Dyke is not just a sexual orientation. It’s a political identity. It stands for community. It stands for solidarity. It stands for radical fight."

We shall see whether the radical fight takes the shape of a renegade march this year, organization be damned.

RIP, Pink Saturday

Sadly, at this point, Pink Saturday in the Castro is commemorated only as the Pink Block party hosted by DJ collective Polyglamorous, far outside the Castro at Great Northern. But starting in the early 90s, and organized under the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence starting in 1995, Pink Saturday was a big, neighborhood-wide party that happened on the eve of the Sunday parade, in the wake of the Dyke March earlier in the evening.

Like Halloween in the Castro, the party got fouled by teens and ne'er-do-wells from outside the neighborhood who brought weapons, who seem to want to show up at every big free event and get in fights.

One person was killed two people were injured in a shooting during Pink Saturday in 2010. And then in the ensuing years, a couple of robberies and hate-fueled attacks on people in and around Pink Saturday put the final nails in the party's coffin. The 2015 edition tried to shift to a daylight-only affair, and in 2016 the Sisters announced that Pink Saturday was done for good.

A float in 2005's parade. Photo: Wikimedia

The Big Parade

The first Pride weekend in San Francisco of course wasn't called that. And there wasn't any parade. The year following the riots outside the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village, in June 1970, a group of a couple dozen "hair faeries" staged a small march down Polk Street, followed by a "gay-in" at Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park that was attended by about 200 people.

The march, while small, still managed to attract some negative attention from the cops.

"We told [the police] that we were only indulging our constitutional right of assembly and asked them to dismount and join us in our love, but they wanted to hassle us instead," said participant Leo Laurence, describing the first Gay Freedom March in the Berkeley Barb a few days later. "The gathering was beautiful and peaceful before the police came, the homophiles gathered in pride in their identity. But if they continue to persecute minorities like ours, we have no choice but armed revolution."

The first Gay Freedom Day Parade came in 1972, on Polk Street, drawing an estimated 2,000 participants and 15,000 spectators. The picnic tradition continued as well, with a picnic following the parade in Marx Meadow in Golden Gate Park in 1973.

By 1975, the parade had outgrown Polk Street and moved to Market Street, with an estimated 72,000 spectators and 10,000 parade participants.

Harvey Milk remarked on the numbers, noting that this was despite the fact that neither the Chronicle nor the Examiner, SF's two biggest news outlets, did any coverage ahead of the parade.

"No prior coverage by either of our daily papers. A lot of people just didn’t know about it until after the event. What would have been the size of the crowd if the Chronicle and the Examiner had played it up ahead of time?” Milk said a the time, speaking to the Bay Area Reporter.

The Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978 sought to actively bring in more participation from women, as the GLBT Historical Society explains, and that year featured more organization, an even bigger crowd, and the first rainbow flag created by Milk's friend Gilbert Baker. An iconic photo was taken of Milk in that parade, his first since being elected to the Board of Supervisors, wearing a lei and carrying a sign that said, "I'm From Woodmere, N.Y." He would be assassinated just five months later.

In the 80s and early 90s, the parade became the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade. And the weekend would only be given the Pride name and become more inclusive of other identities in 1995, dubbed the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration.

The parade and festival in Civic Center now regularly attracts an estimate 1 million people from the greater Bay Area and beyond, and while celebrations in New York can be just as large or larger, the parade and Sunday festivities here tend to draw more of a concentrated, massive crowd.

And over the years, the Civic Center mainstage has drawn a bevy of famous names, including Lady Gaga, The B-52s, En Vogue, Grace Jones, The Pointer Sisters, and Erasure.

Go celebrate Pride kids, however you may celebrate — and be careful out there!

Top image: Eddie Hernandez Photography/Wikimedia