For weeks, rumors swirled around the queer community that San Francisco’s June 28 Pride would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the shelter-in-place order hit, then was extended, and extended again, it became obvious that the 50th anniversary of the massive event — which draws tens of thousands of people to Market Street each year — was not going to be able to go forward. It’s the first time in Pride’s history that the event has not existed physically (there are still a fair amount of events happening online).
Then, in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s killings, the Black Lives Matter protests began anew, and intersectionality took center stage in the LGBTQ community. Marches have been led by students, teachers, union members, and skateboarders. The last weekend in June, forever earmarked as Pride Weekend by the city, this year holds an opportunity for queers to turn out in support of the Black and Brown community. In many ways, Pride is returning to its roots this weekend, as those leading the marches focus on pressing issues and hard realities — without the distraction of police posing for photo ops in front of corporate floats.
For the organizers of one Sunday march, titled Pride is a Riot, this return to the issues is key. The protest’s name is a nod to two foundational riots in queer history. In 1966, transgender individuals stood up against police brutality during the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in the Tenderloin. Three years later, a similar uprising against cops occurred at Stonewall in New York City. While modern-day Pride marches tend to be peaceful and colorful, the origins of the movement to liberate queer people began with physical conflict.
The anonymous collective behind Pride is a Riot has kept mum about their identities, but SF Weekly did manage to track them down for an interview. It wasn’t easy; we reached out to queers in the poly community, in politics, in union organizing, in the bar scene, and even asked staff from Pride itself. No one had any idea who the organizers were. It seemed like a dead end, and then, nearly two weeks after we began our initial inquiry, we received a message through the encrypted messaging app Signal — from someone simply identified as “T” — and began to talk.
“We are an autonomous, multi-racial, collection of friends, acquaintances, and comrades who have momentarily joined in the struggle to destroy the racist death-cult that is policing, incarceration, and all systems that uphold white supremacy,” they told us, when we inquired about who they were. As the group has many members, they preferred to speak collectively and keep their individual identities hidden.
The collective behind Pride is a Riot was the first to announce a Pride Sunday march, but details thus far have been hard to come by. There is no Facebook event, though contingent groups are organizing through the platform. Instead, there are flyers circulating on Instagram and a few sparse details on IndyBay.
The choice of Pride Sunday for this event was intentional. “We saw a hole in the fabric of space-time and chose to fill it,” they said, explaining that the window of Pride being canceled offers a fresh opportunity to rally the masses without the distraction of a massive parade. “We do not need the blessings of any bureaucrat or corporate boot-licker to revel in the streets with our friends and lovers-to-be,” they wrote, adding “We have nothing against the sensuous licking of boots between lovers, but are extremely allergic to the footwear of those in power.”
There is also an element of reclamation to Pride is a Riot.
“Corporate pride has never been for the queers or the rebels who live outside of co-optation, binaries, and tropes of domestication and normativity,” the collective tells SF Weekly. “Corporate Pride erases queer and trans BIPOC. We need a Pride that will elevate and center Black queer and transgender communities and their voices and demands. This is our priority in organizing Pride is a Riot. Any city sanctioned ‘business as usual’ Pride would serve only to dilute and flatten the call from Black revolutionaries to abolish white supremacy, police and the terror they inflict.”
This commitment to lift up the voices of people of color is central to their work — but so is, evidently, a nature of whimsy.
“Total liberation is impossible without centering Black liberation,” the group says. “We are inspired by the ongoing Rebellion for Black Lives and want our comrades to know that the mischievous ones are with them and have been throughout time.”
While the mission is clear — “This event is meant to celebrate those BIPOC ancestors to whom we owe so much, in a way that permitted, corporate sponsored pride could never do” — details of the event itself remain under lock and key.
“There will be gnashing of teeth, bacchanalian revels, righteous anger, ecstatic dancing, voices of rage and pain and refusals of silence,” they wrote. “There will be everything our friends and friends-to-be bring as offerings to the Spirit of Rebellion. Sunday, June 28, 2020, is a spell waiting to be told by all who choose to speak.”
As for the organizers of the large, canceled Pride, they say they support the protests taking place this weekend.
“This is a year like no other, and we completely understand the many people in our communities who will celebrate #PrideAtHome,” says Fred Lopez, executive director of San Francisco Pride.
Lopez, along with other staff members from Pride, will be attending a rally at the African American Arts and Culture Complex on Sunday, celebrating trans rights leader Marsha P. Johnson.
“We also see clearly that supporting our Black trans siblings is essential,” he said.