San Francisco Pride’s Board of Directors, allegedly fearful of losing corporate sponsors, has opted not to turn the annual Pride parade into a resistance march against President Donald Trump’s administration, according to sources with knowledge of the decision.
In Los Angeles, the annual Pride celebration was turned into a full-on resistance march, and in nearby San Jose, an equality marched cried out against Trump.
Not so for San Francisco.
Instead of seeing hundreds of thousands march in unison against Trump, the revolution-spurring “Resistance Contingent” will be in one section of the parade, leading the pack, before streams of marchers representing corporate-led sponsors like Facebook, Google and Bud Light march by with what critics are calling “safe” messages about tolerance.
In a news release, the Pride board wrote its front-running contingent encourages participants to “send a strong message against the regression and exclusion demonstrated by the current administration in Washington D.C.”
That doesn’t sit well with drag king Alex U. Inn, a Pride community grand marshal and performer in the hip-hop group Momma’s Boyz. Alex fought for months to persuade the Pride board to turn the parade into a resistance, which they said eventually morphed into the resistance “contingent,” as a compromise.
“It would’ve been a much bigger punch if everyone going down the parade had a similar message, for hours,” Alex told me. When the compromise was made, Alex said it felt “like this is something you’re pacifying me with. I said that in the meeting.”
Alex is no stranger to resistance, from the original ACT UP protests during the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, to the My Name Is campaign against Facebook as the social-media giant deleted the accounts of LGBT members and their allies who used chosen names, which made national news.
Behind the scenes, Alex argued for a return to Pride’s roots, which traces its history back to the original Stonewall rebellion in New York City.
“We had a healthy debate over that one,” they said, and those opposing protests within Pride said they were “not interested in anything but ‘celebration.’”
All over the country, resistances are arising at Pride parades.
Earlier this month the L.A. Times described Los Angeles Pride march as a resistance that saw “tens of thousands” hit the streets, a bellwether of the LGBTQ community’s “heartaches and victories.” The New York Times wrote Monday that Pride parades across the country, like Washington, are weighing the choice to march in protest of Trump, or to “dance their worries away.”
Trump’s administration is a direct threat to the LGBT community: His cabinet is stacked with people who oppose LGBT rights, including the civil rights office, whose new head Roger Severino reportedly accused former President Barack Obama of coercing children into “pledging allegiance” to radical gender ideology, according to the New York Times.
Insiders speaking to me on background said San Francisco Pride’s decision stemmed from fear of losing corporate sponsorships, which can be as much as $50,000 a pop. They said money was needed for the many “consultants” utilized during Pride, including for security, the multiple sound stages for performances and, notably, the “staggering” costs of liability insurance.
“There’s some cautiousness around not wanting to lose their sponsors,” Alex said of their discussion with the Pride board. “It’s their biggest fear.”
Lito Sandoval, co-president of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, said the decision to narrow the resistance “shows the Pride board” is prioritizing money versus “making a statement over pride or queer rights.”
“Corporations can sponsor all they want,” said Lito, a former ACT UP protester, “but when it affects the messaging of the parade, we need some kind of balance.”
For its part, Pride wrote that the decision to feature a resistance contingent was taken with “careful consideration,” and the board “collectively made the decision.”
Though she initially picked up the phone when I called, Pride board President Michelle Meow did not respond to calls for further comment beyond the press statement.
Alex still applauds Pride for taking some ownership of the Resistance Contingent, which Pride said would include groups like the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, Indivisible and the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition.
Still, they said, it could — and should — have been far stronger.
“They neutered the resistance,” Alex said. “I’m telling you, people are not happy.”
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That isn’t the only heat toward Pride, it seems. One community grand marshal, Dani Castro, has bowed out.
“I won’t be participating in Pride or their events,” Castro told me Monday.
The Pride Board of Directors voted to nominate Castro as a parade grand marshal because of her role as project director of Community Based Research for the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at UC San Francisco, and as a transgender community advocate who “creates positive change through her work.”
Castro told me, “I hate to speak badly about people that are overworked and underpaid,” of the Pride staff, but felt her community, trans people of color, wouldn’t find a safe space at Pride.
And, for the record, Castro agrees with Alex on the need for resistance.
“Pride is really investing in corporations and prioritizing their floats in the march,” she said. “I want Pride to rethink their strategy — to include people instead of corporations.”
Based on their track record, that seems unlikely.