San Francisco has changed radically since 1970, going from a sleepy artistic backwater to international powerhouse, but one thing remains the same: each June it’s time to celebrate loud and proud. The City by the Bay will host its 46th Pride celebration on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26.
This year, the cast of Transcendent will serve as celebrity Grand Marshal, Peaches will perform at the Main Stage celebration at Civic Center, and Black Lives Matter has been selected as Community Grand Marshal by local voters. Pride is expected to welcome almost two million participants during the festival weekend and Sunday parade, all coming to celebrate the 2016 theme of Racial and Economic Justice for All. This year should be particularly fierce and fiery, coming on the heels of the atrocity in Orlando and on the anniversary of marriage equality for all.
But SF Pride is by no means a modern celebration. It’s more of a decades-old tradition that’s been happening since before Harvey Milk was an LGBT icon, since even before the Castro was the world’s greatest gay mecca.
“San Francisco has changed over the last few years in that it feels new,” SF Pride board president Michelle Meow said. “I’m lucky to be among those who are still here to tell stories from 50 years ago when the gay liberation movement started for us in San Francisco.”
The early years
Those stories might start in 1970, with just 30 “hair fairies” marching down Polk Street, San Francisco’s O.G. gayborhood. The crowd grew as they marched to Golden Gate Park for a “gay in” that became known as Christopher Street Liberation Day.
Although there was no similar gay celebration in 1971, there was a queer-friendly parade down Folsom Street in 1971 called the Age of Aquarius. Yep, this is in the San Francisco history books, folks. The following year, Gay Pride came back with a vengeance on June 25, 1972. Renamed Christopher Street West, this predecessor attracted over 50,000 people celebrating for the first time in Civic Center, and it laid the groundwork for LGBT parades to come.
From 1973 to 1980, it was known as Gay Freedom Day, and attendance skyrocketed to 250,000 people. During that time most of the post-parade celebrations took place in Civic Center, expect for a particularly balmy Pride in 1976 when the temperature reached 94 degrees. Understandably, festival-goers decided to celebrate in Golden Gate Park, and some decided to do so without any clothes on. Oh, the 70s. This clothing-optional Pride celebration actually provided footage for Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign, so some Pride goers at the time got to check that off their list.
A modern celebration
From 1981 to 1994, Pride became known as the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, but since 1995 its full name has been the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration. Since it’s inception, the event has had a wide range of superstar performers, from Grace Jones to Lady Gaga.
In 1993 came the Dyke March, an unofficial gathering of queer women and supporters that has taken place every year on Pride Saturday. About 50,000 participants start off at Dolores Park in a march that culminates in the Castro. Since it started, the Dyke March organizers have never applied for a permit from the city of San Francisco, citing their First Amendment Right to congregate in public.
In June 2004 the Trans March started, quickly becoming the largest transgender event in the world. Similar to the Dyke March, participants march from Dolores Park to Civic Center on the Friday before Pride.
Last year, Laverne Cox and almost 20,000 other people participated in the march and City Hall was lit up in the colors of the trans pride flag.