The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have suspended the Pink Saturday street party in San Francisco’s Castro district, meaning there may be no planned event in the area the night before the annual LGBT Pride parade, but massive crowds are still expected in the neighborhood.
Citing concerns about violence in recent years, the charitable drag nun group voted last week to step away from the street party that it’s organized for almost 20 years, which draws tens of thousands of people to the neighborhood the last Saturday of every June. The Bay Area Reporter broke the news in a blog post last Friday.
The move wasn’t a surprise, as the group expressed strong uncertainty about continuing the event after one of the Sisters and his husband were attacked last year. Among other incidents, Stephen Powell, 19, was shot to death around the time the festival ended in 2010. The investigation into Powell’s death remains open.
In an interview Friday, February 13, shortly after the Sisters announced their decision, Sister Selma Soul said, “We all feel awful” about the suspension, but the Sisters didn’t feel they should continue with no clear leadership “and no clear vision coming together” for this year’s festival, which would have been June 27.
Soul, also known as James Bazydola, said it was possible the Sisters would allow the Pink Saturday name to be used for a new event depending on whether the organization felt confident it would be “safe and successful for the community.”
The party has helped raise thousands of dollars for charities, but Soul said the group has “diversified our funding a lot,” so it’s not as dependent on the annual pre-LGBT Pride event.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose District 8 includes the Castro, told the Bay Area Reporter he’d work with police and other officials on “how Pink Saturday will be managed and by whom. I’m optimistic that we will have a path forward.”
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Many in the neighborhood are expressing support for the Sisters’ move.
Daniel Bergerac, who’s president of the Castro Merchants group and co-owns Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub near Castro and 18th streets, said he respects the Sisters’ decision, but he’s “very concerned” about crowds flocking to the neighborhood even if there is no Pink Saturday.
“I think this year’s Pride is going to be very well-attended,” said Bergerac, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in June whether same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states.
There will either be “a party or a protest,” he said, and even if there’s no scheduled event, the large crowds “that are genetically preprogramed to come to the Castro on the Saturday night prior to Pride” will appear.
Bergerac, who lives above the dog washing service, said he’s stood in front of his door during Pink Saturday to prevent people from urinating in his doorway and breaking windows.
“My preference” would be for gates and security personnel to “weed out troublemakers,” he said, and a “full police presence.”
However, “I just don’t know what a good solution is,” said Bergerac. “I don’t want it to be a police state, yet at the same time I don’t want Sisters getting beaten up.”
Greg Carey, chair of the Castro Community on Patrol volunteer group, said with “large numbers of people” still likely to come to the neighborhood, there will still need to be “a layer of security there that the public will respect and not see as a police action.”
Like others, Carey’s concerned about “non-LGBT troublemakers.”
“Maybe if there’s not a party, maybe they won’t show up, but I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “That’s my biggest concern, is people intent on causing harm to LGBT people” and making it “open hunting season.”
Carey noted the police presence and other forms of security at the event in past years, and he said his group would need to see any new plans, including security, “to see whether it’s advisable for us to have volunteers in the event.”
The Sisters put an “amazing” amount of work into the festival, said Carey, and “I’m not sure other organizations are as well-equipped” to handle “the behind-the-scenes logistics.”
Pink Saturday has often been mistaken as an official Pride event, but Pride festivities are organized by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee.
George Ridgely, Pride’s executive director, said his organization doesn’t “have the resources to take on an event” the size of Pink Saturday as his group works on its own parade and two-day festival.
“I don’t see a way that we could take it on,” he said.
‘Out of hand’
Judith Hoyem, 78, who’s lived near 17th and Castro streets for 44 years, said Pink Saturday had gotten “out of hand,” and she supports the Sisters’ decision.
“It became a very unpleasant event that was happening with people not having anything to do,” said Hoyem. When the party originally started, “it was actually kind of nice. … It was a small event, and it was local, and it wasn’t drawing crowds of people. I don’t know what happened, but it became just so outrageous.”
She added that lately, “I didn’t think it was a good party, it was just a crowd. That in itself is a dangerous situation.”
Hoyem wouldn’t support the city organizing another party to replace Pink Saturday, but if something is planned, “I really would like to see it be local.”
She’s not too concerned about the lack of an event if large masses of people who are in the city for Pride come to the neighborhood.
“I think it needs to be very well announced that there’s no event,” she said, and “if people come and see that nothing’s happening, maybe they’ll just go away.”
The Castro’s streets used to be closed off each Halloween, but that was stopped in 2007 after that party raised increasing safety concerns.
“Halloween stopped,” said Hoyem, and “there’s no reason” for Pink Saturday not to end, too, although the first year without it “might be tricky.”
Many feel the crowds at each Pink Saturday got rowdier as the evening progressed, and the discussion over the party’s future in recent months has included the idea of starting and ending the event earlier.
Asked why the Sisters didn’t try that option before pulling out of the event, Soul, who coordinated the festival from 2012 through 2014, said problems included “conflicts with the timing of the Dyke March,” the annual event that kicked off Pink Saturday. Soul reiterated that there is no “clear leadership” to guide the Sisters’ organizing.
“We keep trying different scenarios every year,” Soul said, but each year, it’s been “a matter of convincing enough people in the order to continue producing” the party.