After a year of in-person event cancellations, what will this year's Pride event look like?
With mass vaccinations underway and new COVID-19 infections falling, states are opening and easing up on their pandemic policies. While the idea of being able to return to "normal" may be exciting to some, many are also coming out of this somewhat traumatized by the impact on our communities wondering if going back to normal is even what we want.
San Francisco Pride was considered one of the largest Pride events in the country, attracting millions to the beautiful City by the Bay. SF historically was considered a beacon of light for many LGBTQIA+ people, but also seen as an iconic and world destination for travelers, the curious, voyeurs, foodies, and those looking to freely express themselves. As the event itself grew in population and popularity, the city's microcosm of diverse communities—such as the tech community—also grew. This would lead to certain criticisms from community members that the celebration had outgrown its own LGBTQIA+ community. Perhaps the sudden and abrupt interruption of the pandemic was the pause button we needed to think deeply about what Pride means to us—and what it should be 51 years after it began as a protest.
During the pandemic, our communities came together and mobilized. Drag queens started a nightlife fund to save our bars, nightclubs, entertainers, and artists. Leaders fought for funds directly for the LGBTQIA+ community. Friends and neighbors donated food, masks, and health-care supplies. Community members got on Zoom every day for constant connection. We forged ahead regardless of a pandemic.
Each year, members of the public select the SF Pride Community Grand Marshals, and this year they have chosen sisters Melonie Green and Melorra Green, co-executive directors of the African American Art & Culture Complex (AAACC), in SF.
Sisters Melonie Green (left) and Melorra Green, 2021 SF Pride Community Grand Marshals.(Photo by Annie Sprinkle)
Melonie tells SF/Arts that the pandemic proved to be a time of connection and service.
"To be honest, our core motivation is driven by the commitment of team members, our vision, and knowing that if we keep moving we'll always find a way. Being a stand for love, community, and connection has been key as we figure out how to move forward."
"We literally went to work when things shut down," Melorra adds. "We advocated for our funding to go to a general operating fund and we took a percentage of that to pay our artists to learn, to cope, to heal, to vibe and all of that. It's one of my proudest accomplishments. We built an open-air gallery in our parking lot. We commissioned 30 Black creators to share anything in a mural: the pandemic, mental health and wellness, grief, healing, graduation—anything; even painting the Black Lives Matter mural. We just kept going to work. If it was going to bring in sustainability, then that's what we were going to do. It empowered us to have conversations with other cultural centers and other organizations to do the same."
Now, as we approach a Pride season with more opportunities for in-person gathering and innovations, perhaps Pride 2021 will shift in focus to highlight the voices of our LGBTQIA+ people and prioritize the needs of our local communities.
This year, SF Pride's main event is in partnership with Frameline, the SF International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and the SF Giants, who are providing two movie nights at Oracle Park. The world's longest–running and largest showcase of queer cinema takes place June 10–27 and is expected to be the most attended and longest festival in Frameline's history. In addition to Oracle Park nights, this year's offerings also include a mix of in–person and virtual offerings for the duration of the festival.
Frameline's new director of programming, Allegra Madsen, says that finding a space big enough for so people can be together safely and have a good time has been a real blessing.
"We get to recognize a moment of transition and we get to do that with community. This moment to be together as a local SF Bay Area–focused queer community is something special that we might not get again. It's a moment of healing for us."
'In the Heights' will screen at Oracle Park on June 11th. (Courtesy of Frameline)
There will also be a special Juneteenth event with the African American Art and Culture Complex, celebrating the intersection of Black history and LGBTQIA+ culture.
We're here at this moment to heal, the hope being we take the ongoing fight for equality in our community to a level of actual change, especially around racial injustice and issues affecting our LGBTQIA+ communities.
Our 2021 Community Grand Marshalls reflect that hope.
"When we're celebrating without a real victory, we question what we're celebrating," says Melonie Green. "But collectively, what have we done that we can celebrate once a year? Did we take care of our queer elders? If so, then yes, let's celebrate! Are young people safer in the streets? If so, then yes, let's celebrate!"
"Until our actions change, the whole conversation about the reset button means nothing," adds Melorra Green. "The universe brought me and Melonie to the table, because if there's one thing we do, we show up. We don't mind the uncomfortable conversations, we don't mind being wrong. We don't mind failing. We just want to love. We want to provide opportunities. We want people to be seen. I think we are the right people to figure it out. Are you ready? Are you ready for us?"
In the five decades since Pride marches, protests and parades first broke out on the nation's streets, maybe parts of Pride celebrations had become more mainstream. But one thing is certain: nothing has changed about the fact that we are activists and advocates in our community who are fighting for liberation by taking care of our communities, especially BIPOC liberation. As Melonie and Melorra Green ask, who are you in the "we?" Perhaps this is the moment for us all to come together in the most meaningful ways possible.
// For a full list of Pride month events, visit sfpride.org.
This article was written by Michelle Meow for SF/Arts Monthly. Meow is the producer and host of "The Michelle Meow Show" and the former president of San Francisco Pride.