The Pride Evolution

By David Helton (Image by Chris Knight)

Pride is now behind us. Thank God. It’s always an epic weekend of parties and music and friends and, for most of us, at least I hope for most of us, a time to be grateful that we live in this wonderful City. San Francisco doesn’t just allow us to celebrate our diversity, the City encourages us to celebrate it on a massive scale. Consequently, there is nothing like San Francisco’s Pride Celebration. Nothing.

At the Left Magazine Stage on Sunday at Golden Gate and Polk, we looked out into a sunny sea of smiling, happy faces. I was thrilled to be a part of the event again this year and even though it’s a lot of work, it’s all worth it when the music kicks in and these kids throw their hands in the air and let loose. I remember when I moved here many years ago and I was a kid in the crowd, soaking it all in. I feel like it’s my turn to do for them what was done for me. However, things have changed.

I used to worry that someday there would be a terrorist attack during San Francisco’s Gay Pride Celebration. I feared that some maniac might one day pull some Boston-Marathon-style bullshit on us and blow up some gays with a rice cooker to make a useless political point and get his 15 minutes on CNN. However, I realize now that if a bomb exploded at Gay Pride, very few gay people would be injured in the blast. Instead, we’d be hauling a lot of fucked up straight kids to the hospital, many of them in lingerie and covered in glitter.

What the hell has happened to our Pride Celebration?! Is it me or has the crowd become progressively younger and straighter and more reckless? Maybe this was an off year, but something didn’t feel right. I think, quite simply, the issue is this: they’re not afraid of us anymore.

That’s a good thing for the most part. This means we’ve come a long way. The gay neighborhood is no longer considered a ‘bad’ place, but is instead a trendy and fun place to go. The Gay Pride event is really more about San Francisco’s Pride, with just as many straight people attending the gay event. This is a victory. We can’t do this without the support of our straight brothers and sisters so it’s imperative that we have their support. However, it also means that we no longer have that one special weekend when the gays can get together and be with our tribe without being outnumbered by straight people.

We have homogenized as a culture and that is part of the positive social evolution in this country. However, there is nothing worse than hitting on guy after guy in a gay bar and learning that each of them are straight. It’s even a bit unsettling to watch them hang on to their girlfriends strolling through the Castro and affirming their straightness. Dude. We get it. Get off her.

On Sunday afternoon after the parade, a young lesbian couple, Jen and Jakkie, were walking to the BART Station near 9th and Mission when six men began using homophobic slurs against them. Without warning, the grown men attacked the two girls, kicking them and beating them in the head and faces. Jen told NBC news, “I held my head and curled up into a little ball,” she said. “And I tried to protect my face as best I could. I thought I was going to die.”

That’s not just shocking to me; it’s heartbreaking. You would think that in San Francisco – of all places – we’d be free of this sort of attack. Gay people being attacked at the Gay Pride parade? There were a few issues of gun violence throughout the weekend, one man was killed on Friday near McLaren Park. On Saturday, there was a shooting at Market and Mason at about 7pm. That victim managed to survive. Statistically, given how many people are in town and how many people live here, a few incidents are expected. I would argue, however, that even one person getting killed on Pride weekend is too much.

What’s the solution? How do we change course and host a better event? How do we protect everyone? How do we also continue to include everyone? Like the people who attend Pride have changed, the event itself needs to change to accommodate these changes as well as the new influx of people moving to San Francisco. My recommendation is that we relocate the Pride Celebration to Golden Gate Park. We take over the fields where they have the Outside Lands event and we host a secure, well-managed two-day festival complete with a fairground, several stages, a main stage, food and drink. It’s a beautiful, centrally located place. We should have secured entrances and exits. We should have plenty of bathrooms. We should have a medic tent. I would even recommend that we section the event off by age. To enter on your own you must be 16yo with an ID, otherwise you need to be accompanied by an adult. If you are 21 and over, you are given a wristband to enter a section of the festival where alcohol is served.

We should also sell tickets. Nothing deters would-be troublemakers like a cover charge. We would probably raise enough money to bring in some serious talent, cover all the costs of production and also raise quite a bit for charity. Cher on the MainStage at Pride? Bette Midler at sunset in Golden Gate Park? Maybe even an appearance by Elton John or Beyonce or J-Lo? While I respect Pride’s insistence that the event be free, I would argue that we’ve evolved. I would also remind them that you get what you pay for. Of course, we should give away a lot of tickets for those who can’t afford it. But we need to acknowledge that some people come to the festival now only because it’s free and they are there to cause trouble. There are countless escape routes for anyone who commits a crime downtown and a sea of victims to choose from, most of them underage and fucked up on drugs. It’s only a matter of time before we have some sort of major incident at Pride.

I’ve worked with the Pride organization for many years and it’s tough. People have no idea how hard it is to put together something like this year after year. The people at SF Pride work their asses off in a thankless job that often means giving up a lot of personal time. The list of volunteers is endless. The people at the organization are good, smart people. The problem is that the people who we are putting this event on for are no longer coming. I would say that most of my friends (90%) don’t go to the festival anymore. They couldn’t even be bothered to come to the stage that I hosted (and I have drink tickets!) That’s sad. A cocktail can’t even lure you to Pride? Quite a few friends even said they were getting out of town for the weekend. Can you imagine?! Leaving town to AVOID Gay Pride?!  The people we are throwing the event for don’t want to come anymore – instead, we have this alternative crowd who might not have the same level of respect for the event – or it’s meaning.

Something has to change. The Pride event has grown and the crowd is different and it has to be managed. We need to manage it. We don’t want to see Pride go the way of Halloween in the Castro.

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