Pride parade organizer in financial hole

People who took part in the San Francisco Pride events might have walked the parade with their heads held high, but the organization that hosted it stumbled out of the festivities with its pocketbook and leadership in shambles.

A Controller’s Office report determined that the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee, the group in charge of organizing the annual parade and accompanying events throughout The City, is $225,000 in debt. With just six months to go until the next Pride weekend, the organization has furloughed its entire paid staff and had several of its leaders flee in recent months.

The committee’s general counsel, Brooke Oliver, acknowledged that the organization had dug itself into a financial hole, but she said the report found no wrongdoing — just that “mistakes were made.”

Oliver said a large part of the group’s debt is to The City for permits and other expenses.

“I really feel like The City ought to eliminate some of that this year … because I’m sure the hotel tax alone brought in by people who attend Pride far outstrips that,” she said.

The suggestion was not met with enthusiasm by outgoing Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose district includes the Castro and who requested the controller’s report.

“It’s not at the top of my to-do list,” Dufty said. “A lot of nonprofits are suffering right now, and I think you have to treat each event fairly.”

According to the controller’s report, the event’s budget was $1.8 million in 2010, but the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee overspent by $380,000, allocating extra money on the 40th anniversary events and personnel. To reduce the shortfall, $155,000 in reserves were used, and since then $45,000 from a donor and a pledge for a $55,000 loan have been secured.

To make fiscal matters worse, neither the organization’s executive director nor its board of directors considered themselves responsible for raising money, and board members did not seem to recognize how bad the situation was until the event was over. In the months since, the executive director has resigned, as have several employees and board members. The rest of the employees are on furlough through January.

Oliver said the problems are being actively addressed and the event should be back on firm financial ground soon.

Entertainment Commissioner Audrey Joseph, who has been hired to manage the event’s main stage for many years, said the situation deteriorated so badly because leadership at the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee has been lax and “no one’s watching the store.” But she said that while the organization might be in dire straits, the event itself is not.

“Even if nobody organized it, there’d still be a parade going down the street for Pride. It’s that kind of movement,” Joseph said. “This community won’t sit down and let Pride not happen.”


Brimming with pride

A brief history of the San Francisco Pride event:

  • June 28, 1970: Christopher Street Liberation Day Gay-In, in Golden Gate Park and on Polk Street; several hundred in attendance; commemorates anniversary of Stonewall riots
  • June 25, 1972: Redubbed Gay Freedom Day; held at Civic Center; parade route is Pine Street from Montgomery to Polk streets; 54,000 in attendance
  • June 27, 1976: Celebration held at Marx Meadows; parade route is Pine Street, Market Street and Noe Street to Duboce Park; first mayoral proclamation, by George Moscone; anti-gay activist Anita Bryant uses footage from event in her Save Our Children campaign
  • June 25, 1978: Held at Civic Center; parade route is Spear, Market and Grove streets; 240,000 in attendance; Harvey Milk rides in parade as first openly gay man elected to major political office; first year of city funding
  • June 27, 1982: Named International Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day; 200,000 in attendance; man is run over by float in parade; AIDS begins to be a focus
  • June 28, 1998: Named San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and Celebration; estimated economic impact of parade is $78.5 million; first year U.S. president signs letter of support
  • June 27, 2004: Theme is “Out for Justice”; estimated economic impact of parade is $125 million; 1 million in attendance; first Pride after Mayor Gavin Newsom authorizes same-sex marriage in San Francisco
  • June 26, 2010: Theme is “40 and Fabulous”; organization hosts special 40th anniversary events, but overspends budget by $380,000 and is forced to draw upon reserves and furlough staff for months to make up difference

Source: San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee

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