San Francisco Pride is turning 50 — and going virtual. The June 27-29 celebration, which will be held entirely online, comes half a century after a series of 1970 demonstrations by gay, lesbian, and transgender activists in San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere, who refused not only to keep their identities hidden from public view — but proudly and loudly proclaimed their queerness to the world.
On the one-year anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a small group of about 30 queer activists marched down Polk Street to San Francisco City Hall. In the decades that followed, SF Pride has grown into one of the country’s largest LGBTQ gatherings, drawing hundreds of thousands of people every year to a weekend-long celebration of queer identity. 2020 marks Pride’s 50th anniversary, and the team behind SF Pride was anticipating upwards of a million attendees this year. But in early spring, as the scope of the coronavirus pandemic became clear, Pride organizers in every city realized that their events might have to change dramatically. By April, SF Pride Executive Director Fred Lopez knew that a traditional, in-person Pride wasn’t going to happen. On April 14, SF Pride cancelled all in-person events.
“It was heartbreaking,” Lopez says. “There’s a lot of folks that we have really come to love working with that we weren’t able to bring back for the year. And everybody’s completely understanding. But it’s rough.”
However, Lopez says, he’s excited by the creative ways they’ve been able to adapt. Alongside Pride events around the world, SF Pride has pivoted to a completely virtual format, featuring 13 hours of live-streaming and pre-recorded content. The weekend-long online celebration — headlined by New Orleans hip-hop artist Big Freedia on Saturday and R&B legend Thelma Houston on Sunday — will feature live performances, speeches by queer elected officials and activists, conversations, spotlights on this year’s Grand Marshalls, reflections on the history of the LGBTQ rights movement, and more. In addition to main stage events, concurrently streaming content from “community stages,” including a Latin Stage and a Women’s Stage, will also be available.
What’s harder to preserve in a virtual context, however, is the claim that Pride events have traditionally made to public space. Visibility is an essential component to the annual demonstrations of queer solidarity in San Francisco and around the world — as they serve to loudly and unabashedly call attention to the existence of a historically marginalized community.
“I don’t know if the goal really is to translate that kind of visibility to an online celebration, but I really think that to sort of offer a sense of connection in a time when we’re not really able to be in the group like we usually are,” Lopez says.
And despite the transition online, the magnitude of this year’s Pride will be hard to overlook. SF Pride is partnering with Global Pride, a 24-hour streaming event that will feature content from the hundreds of planned Pride events around the world that were impacted by COVID-19.
“I think that it’s pretty clear from the variety of offerings that are showing up, from San Francisco Pride, to Trans March [which] is going virtual, to any number of Pride celebrations that are taking place, both this weekend and into the summer, that there is an effort to really maintain that sense of visibility and that sense of connection,” Lopez says.
It’s hard to predict how many people will tune in, Lopez said, but SF Pride has a wide reach on social media, and he expects the transition to an online format, coupled with the inclusion of performers from around the world— such as popular Brazilian drag queen Urias—to attract a global audience that may not otherwise have been able to attend.
This year’s Pride celebration will certainly be unusual, but perhaps that’s fitting: the anniversary it marks is “monumental,” according to Lopez. Pride is turning 50 in an unprecedented moment in history, amid a pandemic, economic strife, and a national wave of uprisings against the legacy of American racism and state violence. It’s hard not to be reminded of the Stonewall Riots, which are commonly cited as the impetus for the first Pride demonstrations in 1970 (although local queer historians will point out that the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco occurred three years earlier, in 1966).
Reflecting on the last half century of activism, Lopez says there are a lot of achievements and victories worth celebrating, but he also emphasizes that it’s important to ask what the next 50 years will look like. In that spirit, the theme of this year’s SF Pride is “Generations of Hope.”
“I think if you had told us four or five years ago some of the things that the current administration [is] trying to do in order to roll back some of the hard-won privileges that we’ve gotten,
I think we would have been like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy.’ But here we are,” Lopez says. “And so I think it’s clear that the work continues, and that the activism continues, and that we need to continue to foster that connection and to foster that visibility, and make sure that folks know that we’re still here, we’re not going anywhere.”
San Francisco Pride