Brokeback Festival: How Financial Mismanagement Marched Pride to Brink of Disaster

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When the troupe of tracksuited drag kings launched into a thumping Marky Mark cover, this much grew clear: It was going to be one hell of a party. Ice cubes clinked in cocktails as men and women in matching gowns grooved to the good vibrations. Mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty threw his hands in the air like he just didn't care and danced like nobody was watching. It was last year's San Francisco Pride "40 and Fabulous" gala. And everything was, well, fabulous.

And then the bill arrived.

Pride’s interim executive director, Brendan Behan, says obituaries for the organization are premature.
Jean-Philippe Dobrin
Pride’s interim executive director, Brendan Behan, says obituaries for the organization are premature.
Mikayla Connell counts her years 
atop Pride’s board as one of her life’s great failures.
Jean-Philippe Dobrin
Mikayla Connell counts her years atop Pride’s board as one of her life’s great failures.

A birthday is reason enough for a party, but Pride had additional motivation: It needed to bring in the big bucks. Former Pride board members claim they'd been assured the gala's hundreds of attendees would provide tens of thousands of much-needed dollars. But Pride managed to lose funds on its fundraiser. Throwing spectacular, well-attended events — and losing money prodigiously — has become a recurring Pride motif. By the end of last year, the nonprofit that runs San Francisco's massive yearly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parade and festival was deeply broke.

Worse yet, it didn't even know it was broke — while comatose at the fiscal wheel, its board and staff didn't realize they'd veered sharply into the red until the organization outspent its revenue by nearly 25 percent. Pride spent at levels far exceeding the prior year. The organization then blithely doubled its paid staff, right as revenue slowed to a trickle.

In the months since, Pride has also experienced a leadership exodus befitting a Central American junta. Its dysfunctional board has burned through four presidents in eight months. Virtually none of the organization's full-time employees returned after being furloughed. With Pride weekend looming on June 25 and 26, newly installed interim executive director Brendan Behan has been forced to assume the role of a fiscal battlefield medic. He's charged with stopping Pride's bleeding — with a tourniquet if needed — and pulling off this year's event, despite being $160,000 in debt.

No one SF Weekly spoke with said this year's parade and festival wouldn't happen. The permits have all been granted; the actual staging of the event is handled by veteran, professional contractors; and — come what may — some 1 million revelers will flock downtown on the last weekend in June, fully expecting to eat, drink, and be gay (or at least gay-friendly).

But after the main stage is dismantled and the last eventgoer heads home to Duluth, Peoria, or the Outer Sunset, the world-famous festival may change drastically. Both of San Francisco's openly gay supervisors have stated that Pride must be placed under new management — whether it likes it or not. "Pride is an organization that is no longer viable," David Campos says. "We have tried to be helpful. We've given them the benefit of the doubt. But you do reach a point where you have to fish or cut bait."

Adds Scott Wiener, "We're seeing an organization that has really atrophied. ... This is a good opportunity for us to take Pride to the next step and align it with a stronger organization." Both supes noted that government intervention could be necessary, as Pride belongs to no organization or individual, but to the community. Pride's attorney, however, notes that "the community" hasn't trademarked the phrase "SF Pride."

Yet this debate — along with notions of "governance" or "cost recovery" — means little to the throngs that attend San Francisco's free yearly event. For them, regardless of who's running the show, Pride offers an opportunity to openly and unabashedly live their lives the way they see fit. Or, less altruistically, to have a killer weekend. Either way, they're coming — and so is their money. From humble origins, Pride has grown into a multimillion-dollar cash cow for San Francisco businesses — the organization's in-house surveys calculate it brings $80 million to $100 million into the city. In 2006, the Convention & Visitors Bureau honored Pride with its annual Silver Cable Car award for contributions to the city's "visitor industry" (fellow winners include Fisherman's Wharf, Willie Mays, and, yes, sourdough bread).

But Pride doesn't just bring money in — it also doles it out. The festival has given more than $1.7 million since 1997, and serves as a vital payday for area nonprofits benefiting from the event's philanthropic largess. Put bluntly, there's too much money in Pride for it to cease; it really is too big to fail, even if the organization putting it on does. But what the festival will look like in years to come — and what defines "success" — is as clear as a pint of Guinness.


In 1978 — the same year Harvey Milk paraded down the street wearing a floral necklace and a mile-wide grin — Gilbert Baker asked for some money. He got it.

The artist was awarded $1,000 from the parade committee of what was then called Gay Freedom Day, and acquired spectacular quantities of multicolored cotton fabric. Working with teams of volunteers at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove St. (don't look for it, it's not there anymore) Baker crafted two 30-by-60-foot rainbow flags, creating what is now a worldwide icon. Asked whether the first flags are still around, he laughs. They weren't built to last. They're long gone. So, too, are the smaller and more homespun Gay Freedom Day celebrations, when tens of thousands of attendees might end the day with a picnic — or a "gay-in" — at the park.

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16 comments
Si Se Puede Deportar
Si Se Puede Deportar

Hilarious if it weren't for the fact that the taxpayers will be ponying up to keep the inept and corrupt "organization" going "for the community". Perhaps public floggings of prominent public figures could be auctioned off to raise funds? After all SF is known for out in the open BDSM.

Thom Lynch
Thom Lynch

All of this is so sad and at one time unavoidable. Many people met with the board before they hired Amy and suggested a major overall of the board was required and that the membership structure should be revisited. Spending had to be reduced, having 26 stages to place everyone is ludicrous. This was widely known by non-profit exports who knew the LGBT groups in town and their problems too. But pride stood out as one of the worst and didn't listen to anyone until it just too late.

Dp1965nj
Dp1965nj

HA HA! In Pride We Trust

Jward
Jward

i dunno. i have little faith, and there's more to be done than one woman/man can do alone. merging with another organization = get a clean slate. if this organization tried to do more than give a short parade and flaunt corporate sponsors, cocks and boobs, then maybe i'd be more enthusiastic. where is the contribution to humanitarian causes? what about us gay families with kids? what about poz people? sure, let's party and have a parade. but let's also do some GOOD for the community rather than just wreak havoc.

Sanfranguns
Sanfranguns

OK, so Marc has obviously never been to a pride celebration. Anyone with a real comment?

Sanfranguns
Sanfranguns

Can we please stop calling this an Economy issue? Do you know that people have given MORE money since the country's fiscal crisis started. I work for a non-profit and yeah, its maybe harder to find money - but there's still money to be had. Pride's mis-management and derelict board is what caused all this. Nothing more

Marc
Marc

San Franciscans, especially LGBTQ ones, don't deserve this celebration. You've done nothing to be prideful of for at least the past seven years. It's become a reason to drink and drug and nothing more and it is quite clear you don't have a clue how to bring in money for anything except personal coffers. And don't even get me started on sponsorship by companies such as Clear Channel. Shame on you.

dariamilan
dariamilan

what the article fails to include is that Amy Andre did have financial training in the MBA for Berkeley that she got after the Point Foundation paid for it. Ms. Andre is excellent at taking money from others but seems woefully lacking in paying it forward even when she is getting a paycheck to do just that. The fact that board members are able to take responsibility but she just brushes it off as a "learning experience" is truly sad. She withheld info from the board and the public and has never taken responsibility for it. All after getting her MBA paid for with the promise to serve her community.

thixotropic
thixotropic

My first impulse was "Government money?!? No way in hell!" But the city does get tax revenue from it, and Pride has the benefit, in lean times, of reliably putting of plenty of money in the hands of local merchants. A million people with an above average income spending it is worth 160K in debt.

But fiscal and organisational changes are paramount. Those of the current crew responsible should be held accountable, and competent people must be engaged to replace them.

garrett
garrett

We are going thur a bad time folks, things are shutting down, stores are closing and people are losing homes. Non-profits are having to cut back, less money nowadays. If Folsom is doing well change the model to them. As for getting public money, Why.

MissMimsey
MissMimsey

Lord hep me Jesus.

David Campos says you have to fish or cut bait.

The dam ting MUST be a total mess.

MPetrelis
MPetrelis

kudos to joe eskenazi for a comprehensive, fair and balanced look at the mess known as SF Pride. he did a fabulous job of giving some of the tortured history of the board and most recent executive director, and also acknowledging the extensive reporting of the bay area reporter.

i have one big question after reading joe's piece, and i say this as someone who avoids the pride parade and festival at civic center: what is the gay political point of the damn parade and party on the last sunday of june?

____
____

Pride comes before a fall.

Maria
Maria

Wow. Excellent report (though a dubious title).

What I find especially frustrating is that in the relatively close-knit core of gay people who've lived in the city for decades and know all the players and have a nose for trouble, this narrative has been known for years.

We all winced with every new pronouncement emanating from the Pride org about an ever more edge-case focus on politics and buzz-words and ever dwindling accountability and financial health. Its been going on for years.

In this city, large non-profits are enabled to operate without accountability, to spend tax dollars with out any meaningful tracking of outcomes vs. promises, and in the end we all lose -- except of course the non-profit executives who pocket fat salaries.

Marc
Marc

Really? I'm curious as to what you base your assumption on?

You're quite wrong by the way. I've been a volunteer for SF Pride even but please enlighten me as to why you make that statement.

Sanfranguns
Sanfranguns

If all you've seen at a pride celebration are people getting drunk and high then you've either not been there or you're an idiot. I was being kind

 
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