Not only was Sunday's incredibly fun, huge rave-scale 2008 San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration & Parade the best party of the year so far but it was also a landmark historic event: one that marked the California Supreme Court very recently making it legal (second to Massachusetts) for same-sex couples to marry. And this significant step forward (in a long uphill battle) for human rights clearly was prominently on the minds of the revelers who descended upon San Francisco this past weekend.
Sunday afternoon's giant celebration was essentially a really, really large wedding party since so many in attendance had just gotten hitched in the days leading up to the event. Included were the happy couple pictured left in front of City Hall where, they cheerfully informed me, they had gotten married two days before.
The first part of Sunday's mega-event was the long colorful parade that slowly snaked down Market and left onto Eighth Street, and along whose route Mayor Gavin Newsom got numerous ovations for his role in pushing the envelope in the same-sex marriage issue, starting four years ago shortly after he took office.
The parade was immediately followed by the "celebration" portion of the long fun afternoon. This giant party kicked into gear from the get-go and the energy didn't let up all day. The sprawling celebration extended for blocks in every direction and featured over twenty different stages in addition to countless spaces and booths that took over all the streets around the Civic Center area of downtown San Francisco.
There was nothing but great music everywhere that covered virtually every genre. The majority were DJs who mostly played funky house and hip-hop with some spinning other genres too including various Latin sub-genres. And to top it off, as if in sync with the uniqueness of the celebration, even the sun magically made an unexpected appearance and stuck around for most of the afternoon before the San Francisco summer fog rolled in.
The celebration, which never seemed overcrowded despite the large numbers in attendance, drew a refreshingly diverse crowd-- all orientations from all age, racial, and economic backgrounds, and from all places too it seemed: some from as far away as Australia, others from just up the street in San Francisco's Western Addition.
Everyone at the distinctly San Francisco flavored party seemed to get along together just fabulously. Nothing but good vibes and positivity filled the air, proving that it is indeed possible to have really large gatherings of people in open public places in SF without any problems. Also worth noting was the fact that SFPD were really cool, keeping a positive, respectful, & low key presence throughout the event and not even tripping off the stank of quality dank that permeated the air all day.
There was simply so much going on at the celebration that spread out five blocks in each direction that there was no way you could possibly see everything or catch every DJ or performer no matter how hard you tried -- but odds were, whatever you did get to see would be fun.
There was a lot of good hip-hop (of various schools) to be heard including at the Homo Hip-Hop stage on Golden Gate and at the Soul of Pride African American Village stage one block down on McAllister Street, where the DJs I caught played lots of crowd-pleasing old school jams. Meanwhile over at the main entrance to Civic Center Plaza in the Scion tent DJ Shockwave (pic. below) was keeping everyone happily dancing on Larkin Street as he threw down, among other tracks, lots of current Yay Area hyphy hip-hop hits.
At the Tantra Underground Dance Stage (pictured at top of page) the DJs were playing some sick electro dance punk and funky house that got the crowd in front of the stage on Hyde Street near Golden Gate dancing like crazy. It was a similar scene four blocks down Hyde toward Market near Grove at the Shadowplay tent where the day's DJs, including DJ Domino (above) and DJ Candy (pictured up above in red dress), were also spinning a really satisfying mix of good electronic music including funky house, electro, and other good bass-driven dance choons.
Meanwhile up and around the corner and down on UN Plaza over in the Faerie Village (described by organizers as "an oasis of spirituality, art music, and love" which was a grassy cordoned off area) music selectors included DJ Shawna, pictured below left with her extended DJ crew who were tag-teaming and throwing down some funky funky house music. And people were clearly loving it!
Across the plaza on the slightly raised stage at the LGBTQ Writers and Readers Village, aka the Out Words Garden, another cordoned off grassy area, local longtime multi-media man Larry Bob Roberts of the Queer Things to do in SF List and one of the stage's organizers (read Larry Bob's Amoeblog interview) was among those reading insightful material throughout the day.
Down the opposite end of Fulton and smack in front of City Hall was the main stage, where the wide variety of acts for the day included, towards the end of the afternoon, the dance music divas Kat DeLuna, Inaya Day, whose set included her soulful cover of Janet Jackson's "Nasty Girl," and nineties house music star Crystal Waters. Flanked by two hype-men/dancers, Waters didn't waste time and got to her huge 1991 hit "Gypsy Woman" (la daw dee, da da da) by her second song. Just as entertaining as the singer was her sign language interpreter (every vocalist had one) on stage, who was totally getting into the music as much, if not more, than Waters herself. Fun!
The 2008 event was also the 30 year anniversary of the unveiling of the rainbow flag (up til then the only gay symbol was a pink triangle), which was unveiled at the 1978 SF Gay Freedom Day parade.
That historic event thirty years ago in SF also marked the first time a mayor (George Moscone) rode in a gay parade. But the real hero of the 1978 parade was Harvey Milk, city supervisor & stubbornly dedicated gay rights activist, and more importantly the very first openly gay man to win a major political office in the United States. Tragically just a few months later, in November 1978, Milk was murdered in cold blood along with the mayor, Moscone, by then-recently resigned city supervisor Dan White.
Milk, whose image graced the cover of the Pocket Pride guide for Sunday, and who was also profiled at length in the magazine-size Pride 08 guide (with John Waters on the cover), was fresh on peoples' minds. Just the previous month a bronze sculpture of the man (pic below) was unveiled inside City Hall (long overdue, it should be noted).
Additionally the anticipated biopic on the slain leader by director Gus Van Sant, in which Sean Penn plays Milk (picture at left taken on the set in the Castro), wrapped filming in San Francisco earlier this year.
If Harvey Milk were alive today he would now be 78 years of age and no doubt would have been inspired by the significance of Sunday's Pride celebration. Come think of it, if his life had been spared Milk would have likely gone onto greater political power and as such accelerated such basic human rights issues as same-sex marriages a long time ago!
What really made the 2008 celebration so special was the overriding positive vibe of the entire event and its impassioned feeling of hope: hope that, even in these regressive post Patriot Act days with many civil rights eroding, that there still might be a chance for progress in America. Not surprisingly then, Barack Obama's image and message of hope and change seemed to be everywhere Sunday, both subliminally and on stickers and T-shirts with captions like Obama Pride and BA-RACK the Vote. Obama also got shout-outs from most every MC or speaker on the various stages.
And unlike so many SF LGBT Pride events of past years & decades, which were marred by the tragic reality of HIV/AIDS, this year's event seemed much more focused on celebrating the positive developments rather than mourning the negatives.
Sure the cloud of HIV/AIDS still hangs over the gay (as well as every other) community, as a visit to HIV/AIDS Pavilion near the main stage on Sunday quickly proved, but even it could not put a damper on this year's upbeat celebration. In fact, not even the petitioners circulating the event reminding folks that an initiative to ban same sex marriage qualified for the November ballot could spoil the positive attitude. Perhaps the theme of the 2008 event said it all: United by Pride. Bound for Equality.