This story is part of a Thursday series leading up to Pride weekend at the end of the month in which The San Francisco Examiner will spotlight The City's LGBT community in anticipation of our special section for San Francisco Pride on June 27 and 28.
The radical Pride party known as Pink Saturday teetered on the edge of death this year.
Now with the help of Supervisor Scott Wiener and the LGBT Center a new street celebration will be birthed in its place: The Pink Party.
The nascent Pink Party has some big high heels to fill. Pink Saturday wasn’t just a party, but a community touchstone, birthed from turmoil.
Fear and death permeated San Francisco’s LGBT community beginning in the 1980s, as the AIDS virus took its toll on the world, and on The City.
More than 300,000 died worldwide of AIDS epidemic by June, 1990, over 5,000 of whom were San Franciscans. The San Francisco Examiner reported at the time that 63 percent of US doctors refused to treat patients, and funding for AIDS treatment was stalled in government.
In response, protesters from the radical LGBT group ACT UP torched city streets, and were met by SFPD batons under then-Police Chief Frank Jordan. Amid the sorrow, a call to reaffirm life arose. One day in June 1990, at the end of a major AIDS conference protest on Castro street, ACT UP protesters spontaneously threw a party, one which became famous at San Francisco Pride for decades to come.
This was the first Pink Saturday, a street party which screamed to the world the LGBT community’s will to live, and thrive.
ACT UP activist and now-Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club co-President Laura Thomas was one of the activists there at the first Pink Saturday.
“It’s a bit of a cliche way of putting it,” Thomas told The Examiner, “but it’s human nature to find life in the midst of grief, anger, and loss.”
For over two decades, Castro’s Pink Saturday hosted DJs aplenty, and throngs of LGBT folks (and straight allies) of all ages danced to thumping music in unity.
“The Castro went through 15 years of absolute hell with a disease with no treatment,” Supervisor Wiener said. Pink Saturday coincided with a host of new drugs which helped those with HIV to live longer.
“All of a sudden,” he said, “it was a very different vibe in the neighborhood.” The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a radical gay group of nuns, took over Pink Saturday in 1995. But as the years wore on, the party changed. Some in the local LGBT community say Pink Saturday became popular with straights as gains in LGBT rights made many more comfortable with their gay neighbors.
Recently, violence plagued some Pink Saturday parties. Last year, a Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence member and her boyfriend were attacked. In February, the Sisters announced they would cease hosting Pink Saturday.
“Challenges of funding and challenges of safety were the main reasons to not continue Pink Saturday the way we’d been doing it,” Sister Selma Soul, who long planned Pink Saturday, told The Examiner.
But a loss of Pink Saturday would not only be cultural, but financial: A study commissioned by Supervisor Wiener shows Pink Saturday partiers (many from out-of-town) spend $2.7 million at area businesses.
So Supervisor Wiener jumped in, and helped begin a new celebration in the same location on Castro street, known as the Pink Party.
“I approached the LGBT center and asked them to step in for the Sisters,” Wiener said. “It was a very short notice, with only four months to the event. It was clear the event wouldn’t go forward without financial support.”
That may be why Wiener, in conjunction with Mayor Ed Lee, committed to paying the yet-to-be-determined cost of the new Pink Party. Last year’s Pink Saturday cost over $80,000 to host, which the Sisters raised by donations.
Eliote Durham was named as the new producer of the party. She had previously helped produce Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The Pink Party will take place earlier in the day too, and will end at 8 p.m. in order to avoid late night violence.
“I think we’re looking at the Pink Party to be a strong celebration of the LGBT community and culture,” LGBT Center chief Rebecca Rolfe told the Examiner. There will still be DJ’s, she said, but there will also be a focus on stage entertainment. The LGBT Center is still in the process of booking performers, she said.
She also said they were beefing up security, to address prior years of violence. For Wiener, restoring a party to coincide with Pink Saturday’s old location at Pride was also personal.
“My first Pink Saturday may have been in 1995. I was 25, spending a summer out here during law school,” Wiener told the Examiner. “I was just blown away at this wonderful street celebration with an enormous number of gay people and the festive atmosphere.”
Though Pink Saturday will be absent from Pride for the first time in 25 years, Sister Selma Soul delivered some good news. Next year Pink Saturday proper may be revived at a new venue.
And as for the Pink Party?
“I’m hopeful for them and this event,” Selma Soul said. “I wish them the best.”
IF YOU GO:
Streets will be closed for Pink Party, which will run from Market and Noe streets, down to Market and Castro streets, and down Castro to 19th street.
Saturday, June 27, 3-8pm
Suggested Donations, no one turned away for lack of funds