Grand marshal Beswick will miss SF Pride parade

Gay rights advocate marks four decades of activism

San Francisco’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Executive Director Terry Beswick is honored to be a community grand marshal for San Francisco Pride’s 50th-anniversary celebration. But with events being observed virtually this year as a result of shelter-in-place orders, he knows his experience won’t be as exciting as it might have been.

“I was disappointed about being selected as community grand marshal the year the parade was canceled,” said Beswick. “There’s nothing like riding in the parade and seeing the crowds. Being a part of that is really a big thrill.”

Beswick — one of six marshals including documentary filmmaker StormMiguel Florez; Bay Area Lesbian Archives founder Lenn Keller; Spahr Center founder Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr; San Francisco Community Health Center CEO Lance Toma; and the LGBT Asylum Project — should know. He’s been in the parade so many times, he’s lost count.

In the late 1980s, he joined as part of the controversial ACT UP San Francisco contingent. Beswick, who co-founded the local chapter of the group that pushed for a federal response to the AIDS crisis, says he remembers receiving a lot of applause from onlookers who appreciated the organization’s protest work.

He kicked off the 1990s by driving his then-boss Martin Delaney, founding director of Project Inform, one of the longest running HIV education and advocacy organizations, through the parade.

In ensuing years, he marched with Living Sober, the GLBT Historical Society, and, in 2019, with resistance groups, protesting Donald Trump’s administration’s lack of LGBT acceptance and attempts to destroy recent human rights’ gains.

Beswick said that attending his first Pride parade four decades ago was what inspired him to get involved in activism in the first place.

“I remember standing on the sidelines and seeing the Dykes on Bikes for the first time,” said Beswick. “When I heard the roar of the Harleys and then saw wave after wave of lesbians, waving their flags and riding their motorcycles, it was so inspiring to me.”

In addition to his early AIDS activism work, Beswick has, in more recent years, helped save the Castro Country Club, a gathering place for queers with substance use disorders, and co-founded the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District.

With the GLBT Historical Society, he was working toward establishing the first full-scale museum of LGBTQ history in the U.S.

Just as Beswick was signing the letter of intent to enter into a lease for a vacant space at 2355 Market St. in the Castro, with 10 times the exhibit space of the museum’s current location at 4127 18th St., his plans were halted, as expected funding from the city and state was redirected to combat COVID-19.

After processing his initial disappointment, Beswick and his team turned their efforts to finding new ways to engage with constituents through online work, including three virtual exhibitions for Pride month.

“Performance, Protest & Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker” honors the life of the late rainbow flag designer. “50 Years of Pride” is a photo chronicle of five decades of protest and celebration, and “Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride 1970–1980” zeroes in on the event’s formative years.

Beswick also will join SF Pride’s additional virtual programs with his own contribution for those who want a taste of the parade experience. He plans to have his boyfriend film him “riding” around his living room in a cardboard cutout of a convertible and then post the video to social media.

“Not having the celebration and the parade is disappointing and, at the same time, exciting that we’re finding new ways to connect with people — not just in San Francisco but around the world,” says Beswick. ”Since they’re not going to have us be grand marshals next year, this is our year, so we have to do something.”

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