Thirty-Eight Years of San Francisco Pride: Reflecting Our Community’s Victories, Struggles & Diversity
Held on the last Sunday in June, the San Francisco Pride Parade is recognized as one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world and one of the largest annual public gatherings in the United States. Thirty-eight years after the city’s first Pride march in 1970, community historian Greg Pennington responded to our questions about the early growth of the celebration and its ongoing evolution to reflect the diversity of LGBTQ people.
Pennington moved to San Francisco in 1977 as part of the massive wave of gay men who emmigrated from across the United States and beyond during that decade. A cofounder of the GLBT Historical Society in 1985, he has long focused his research on the history of Pride parades in the United States. He was active in the leather community for many years and is one of the curators of the leather exhibit now on display as part of “Queer Past Becomes Present” at the GLBT History Museum.
When gay-liberation activists called for marches to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, what was the response in San Francisco?
New York gays responded to the rampant police harassment of the bars with the Stonewall Riots in June 1969. In San Francisco, homophile organizers had already put an end to routine raids of gay bars by 1965. That’s one reason gay people in San Francisco barely responded to the call to commemorate Stonewall in June 1970. In San Francisco, about 20 people marched from Aquatic Park down Polk Street to City Hall. We had no Pride event in 1971. Finally, in 1972, we held the first of our unbroken string of annual parades.
When did the San Francisco parade grow into the huge event we now know and what factors drove the growth?
From 1972 to 1975, between 40,000 and 80,000 people watched the parade. The crowd in 1976 swelled to 120,000. The first of the massive parades on Market Street took place in 1977, with more than 200,000 in attendance. Political events of the late 1970s, including Anita Bryant’s attacks on gay rights, brought ever bigger crowds.
By 1981, more than 250,000 people participated, forming what was believed to be the single largest LGBTQ gathering anywhere to that point in time. For many years, our parade remained the largest in the world due to LGBTQ migration to San Francisco, the city’s model of excellent care for people with HIV and the city’s popularity as an international travel destination.
How has the parade reflected the concerns and the diversity of the LGBTQ community over time?
The parade has always reflected the community’s victories and struggles. The early parades expressed a celebratory atmosphere as gay men from around the U.S. arrived in San Francisco. A few years later, lesbians would follow in claiming a prominent place in the march, with Dykes on Bikes leading the parade every year since 1976, initially as an informal group before becoming a registered contingent.
San Francisco Pride also has evolved to reflect our diversity. Straights for Gay Rights, the Third World Gay Caucus and a gays with disabilities contingent marched in 1977, followed soon after by Black and White Men Together, then the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance. With the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, the People with AIDS Coalition led the parade in 1983.
At the same time, visibility and specific political demands remained a concern for lesbians and for transgender people, sparking the founding of the Dyke March on the Saturday of Pride in 1993 and the Trans March on the Friday of Pride in 2004. Both have become annual events, so LGBTQ people and our allies now take the streets of San Francisco on all three days of Pride Weekend, marching in protest, in celebration — and often both at once.
Photos: Images of the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade (1977-1979) by Marie Ueda; from the Marie Ueda Photographs Collection in the archives of the GLBT Historical Society. The parade was renamed San Francisco Pride in 1995.
Gerard Koskovich serves as communications director for the GLBT Historical Society.
|From the Staff
New Initiatives for Learning About LGBTQ History
by Nalini Elias
My insatiable curiosity and eagerness to learn led me to the GLBT Historical Society. As I’m passionate about the intersection of art, history and culture, I seek to immerse myself in interdisciplinary projects that test my abilities and continually challenge who I am. That’s why I was thrilled when the society hired me this spring as its new program manager.
My background in art history, museum studies and education along with experiences in program development and community-building have prepared me for this role. Through collaborations and partnerships with multicultural organizations, communities, activists, artists, historians and scholars, I plan to create public programming that reflects LGBTQ history as a vital, dynamic and inclusive force.
Interpreting Archives & Exhibitions
I’m excited to help build an education department for the GLBT Historical Society by interpreting our archives and exhibitions and by reflecting the diversity of LGBTQ history and culture. With the guidance of historians, curators and interns, we’ll develop interactive materials for museum visitors as well as resources and curricula for educators to easily adapt in their classrooms. I also aim to further engage and inspire our dedicated volunteer base and to reach out to new groups and individuals who are interested in getting involved with LGBTQ history.
Becoming the program manager at the GLBT Historical Society is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. Fortunately, I’m embarking on this alongside a devoted and talented team. I understand the role the GLBT History Museum plays in serving one of the most intercultural cities in the country. More importantly, I embrace the opportunity to facilitate understanding of queer history, culture and arts. Stay tuned for a variety of programs, volunteer opportunities and learning materials!
Nalini Elias is the program manager at the GLBT Historical Society.