San Francisco hosts one of the biggest Pride parades in the world, with millions of people visiting and coming out to celebrate the LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual) community. This isn’t surprising considering the fact that in all America, San Fran has the largest proportion of LGBTQ people living there. This year however was particularly significant, as many came to remember and mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which many consider to have been a pivotal moment for the LGBTQ community. People from around the world joined the festivities that took place on Market Street starting from 10.30am on the last Sunday in June. The place was filled with joyful folk dancing and singing as they watched on the parade showcasing some incredible talent from the performers. People’s elated screams could be heard from distant building blocks as the remnants of this vast event, from lost balloons to trailing confetti, flew far and wide. The city became a colourful and happy place where everyone was welcomed and wanted to support one another. Despite a few protesters and word that some men carrying guns had been arrested, this didn’t stop the party from carrying on in true pride style – so beautiful, wild, free and daring.
Moments like these are important especially in the current political climate. Although LGBTQ communities have never been so prevalent and outspoken with major improvements to the rights of those persecuted for too long, and positive developments in Australia embracing gay marriage as well as more representation in films and pop culture – nonetheless, we still have a long way to go.
Currently there are 71 countries on this planet where being gay is illegal. As is well known, parts of the world such as Egypt, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan among others have remained hostile towards LGBTQ people for many years now, yet there have been more recent terrifying developments in other countries too. With the support of their president Bolsonaro who has made dreadful homophobic remarks since coming to power, many across Brazil have new found confidence in outwardly persecuting those who don’t consider themselves heterosexual. Last year, Turkey banned public LGBTQ events and in late December Chechnya saw the rounding up of many supposedly gay men with the plan to publicly humiliate them, harm them and eventually kill them. Two of them were, indeed, murdered. The same year, 26 transgender people were killed in the US, and only now have the UN General Assembly received its first report on violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Despite these depressing facts, there are many out there who aren’t discouraged. We must commemorate these brave individuals as well as take a day (or hell, why not a whole week!) to spread the love and celebrate the achievements we’ve all made so far. San Fran’s pride parade was such a day and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve never felt such pure love, acceptance and happiness on one street, in one city. I spoke to a number of people from different walks of life, different genders, different ages, and most importantly different sexual orientations.
Here are several interesting responses I received when I asked them several identical questions. I have kept two of their names anonymous to protect their identity.
Firstly, an anonymous man living in the city.
Why is San Francisco so open to the LGBTQ community?
ANONYMOUS: Well, when we look at the historical background that led us to SF Pride in 2019, we must consider that the city was always known for its relatively libertine attitudes towards sex and pleasure. From the Early Gold Rush, the Barbary Coast and the ports brought together travellers, sailors, and transients far from the prevailing rules “back home”. SF was the Wild West, with gay bars popping up as early as 1908, and the US’s first public Lesbian Organisations in the 1950’s – contributing to an un precedented sexual openness that gave San Francisco a reputation of directly challenging the sexual repressiveness that prevailed in the rest of the country. This in turn made San Francisco an attractive destination for those deemed “outlaws” by the dominant morals of general society. By 1964, Life Magazine had labeled SF as “The Gay Capital of America”, and Beat Poets such as Allen Ginsburg were bringing Gay Culture into the mainstream spotlight as an achievable lifestyle here in The City. Our community grew as those seeking freedom of expression flocked here and were willing to fight to protect the family they had found. San Francisco was home to communities who were determined to organise and advocate for themselves to maintain the “Wild West” of love and art- Communities who had decided that their “otherness” was their unifying strength. As LGBTQ+ culture has slowly become less stigmatised and moved into the mainstream across other major American cities, the early history of “misfits” in San Fransisco has held the homefront in the unrelenting battle for safe space for expression for over a hundred years. This space which was insisted upon by early Gay activists in SF started a precedent of refusing to be undermined and forgotten, such as Milk’s aggressive door-to-door populist organising techniques to get elected to the city’s Board of Supervisors in the 70’s. Today I see the struggle of the local community to maintain its “weirdness” as San Francisco is flooded by rising rents and new tech money. It is my hope that new residents and visitors see the battle that has kept SF alive as a queer haven and strive to preserve the commitment from those who created such an amazing social space.
Why have you come today? What does this parade mean to you?
ANONYMOUS: I have come today to celebrate, to reflect, and to learn from our history. Pride takes place in the month of June because of the historical June 1969 Stonewall riots, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of that defining moment in our history. I came out as Queer to close friends and family over 10 years ago, but my understanding of sexuality and the individuals in our community evolves every time we get together and open up to new ideas. In a time and age when gay rights are increasingly becoming a reality in many nations, gay pride still matters. Showing up and supporting your community matters…. Because there’s still more work to be done, because others can’t always celebrate with you, because it’s so important to have public support… And, of course – because we all deserve to have a little fun.
Do you consider this to be the biggest event of the year in San Francisco
ANONYMOUS: I think that it very well may be! A part of the sheer size of the event might be the amazing spectrum of participants encompassed in the celebration. Pride is an open door, not just to the LGBTTQQIAAP Community, but to the entire Bay Area and anyone who wants to join.
Straight ally? Get over here! Questioning? Ask me anything! Other or Undefined? No problem. We love you. This inclusiveness is a central theme of the festivities and makes for one heck of a celebration.
Another person I spoke to was Marina, a straight 29 year old woman living in SF:
Why is San Francisco so open to the LGBTQ community?
MARINA: SF has always been the most progressive state and is known to be the most accepting and open community in the states. I’ve only been here for four years, but during that time I have never heard anyone speak negatively towards a certain group or minority. This is a state that’s focus is love and acceptance.
Why have you come out today? What does this parade mean to you?
MARINA: I think it’s so important to celebrate and have fun as this brings light to very dark situations. And when there’s light, we can all see so much clearer. I’m here to celebrate and support, and bright light & positivity towards the LGBTTQQIAAP community and the issues they face globally.
Do you consider this to be the biggest event of the year in San Francisco?,/strong>
MARINA: Absolutely, both personally and in business.
And, to end, a quote by another anonymous Pride-parader.
I’m here to celebrate myself and others! I feel comfortable and happy in this city, because of how supportive it is to the LGBTQ community. I’ve never seen so many pride flags dotted around one city. And the openness and liveliness one feels here is contagious!