I’ve been Out in Gay Mecca for 20 years. On the last Sunday of every June, I make a beeline from some point west of the Ferry Building down to City Hall, crammed between convertibles and motorcycles, dodging men on roller skates dressed in day-glo G-strings and bristling with balloons, and batting down pamphlets against gale-force winds. I have helped build giant glitter-encrusted plywood cakes and a 4-foot-tall Music Man hats that are screwed onto flatbed trucks and roped to booth supports. But in 20 years, I’ve never actually seen the Pride Parade. Never watched it live end to end from a Market Street sidewalk.
As long as I’ve been Out, I’ve only seen the half block of the parade occupied by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band at any given moment.
That and whatever contingent rides ahead of our banner, whatever contingent cruises behind our sousaphones, and the faces and photographers on either side. I joined the Band in 1991 specifically to have someone to go to the parade with, and she’s been my date every year since.
The first year I marched, the parade was amazing. I’d gone through my “I’m The Only One” phase in San Francisco (proving you really can do anything if you set your mind to it). My boss had told me that she fired a man for being gay and then noted my blushing as a smoking gun. When my clenched teeth turned into a rapid-fire eyelid tic, I quit the job and joined the Band. That year seeing Market Street festooned with rainbow flags, I secretly felt Pride was a party thrown for me. And when my band and I turned onto Market Street playing “California, Here I Come,” the roar of a million people cheering bounced around the skyscrapers over our heads and I felt like Dorothy entering the Rainbow City. Ding dong the witch was dead indeed!
Twenty years later, coming up on Pride 2011, the magic of the rainbow had worn thin before my middle-aging eyes. The Pride Committee had chalked up more abdications than Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. After last year’s fund juggling, the theme “In Pride We Trust” sounded more like an Orwellian slogan than a rallying cry. Watching Pride squabbled over and carved up, its parts wrapped in cellophane and handed to the highest bidder was enough to make me seriously consider vegetarianism. There was some open speculation among the cynical about whether there’d even be a Pride Parade next year.
My compulsive volunteerism for the Band’s publicity team turned the lead-up to the Pride Concert into an ulcer-inducing, sleep-stealing job. When the publicity shift was over, I still had five performances in three days and the only event I was really looking forward to was sneaking home for the nap I’d planned between gigs #2 and #3. My heart, some people say, was two sizes too small.
The steamroller that was Pride Weekend began its relentless roll immediately after work on Friday with the Pride Concert. The audience filled the seats at Everett Auditorium, the lights dimmed… and then the Pride Concert began to do that thing that it does every year. Trauma Flintstone, dressed in a smart patriotic-blue skirted suit with Barbara Bush curls and big white pearls, stepped to the microphone and announced that New York State had just legalized gay marriage. The audience went wild – thunderous applause for 10 times longer than the Loma Prieta at about the same magnitude. Then the music ensembles piled on and off the stage in various combinations. Whether performing Lady Gaga or Leonard Bernstein or Francis Scott Key or June Bonacich, the Band, Lesbian/Gay Chorus of SF, Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, SF Gay Men’s Chorus Ambassadors and Bay Area Rainbow Symphony were met with the same ecstatic applause, the audience adopting us all like parents at a music recital. Zoe Dunning was presented an award for her work getting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed, and more applause, another ovation. And I began to feel… well?… huh… proud.
Each gig on my dance card had the same effect. At the Pride Brunch, the grand marshals talked about their life’s work. Who wouldn’t be proud of Victoria Kalokowski, the first openly trans trial court judge in the U.S., or Therese Stewart, fighting legal battles to make Gay Marriage legal in California, or Aaron Belkin, fighting DADT in the media? Hosts Gary Virginia and Donna Sachet announced the brunch had now raised more than $200,000 for Positive Resource Center over its 13-year run, and my jazz combo, Dixieland Dykes+3, had been proud to provide the musical soundtrack for most of those years.
Saturday night, the Band waded into the Pink Saturday crowd and carved out a circle in the middle. Defying the amplified music, we played tunes surrounded by the masses as our twirler, Ed Boeke, tossed glowing batons above the Muni cables. A young woman from Idaho, in town for a French horn symposium, ran up and asked if she could get some music, so we stuck a mellophone in her hands and she played along. I offered her a Band business card, but she already had three. Clearly, we’d adopted her. And the party crowd cheered us Band geeks above the recorded music like a dramatic closer to an instrumental episode of Glee.
Next morning: the Parade O’ Pride. At Main and Market, I found uniforms clustered around Sue Leonardi, one of our lead trumpeters, in her wheel chair. Her Trumpet Mobile was decked out in style with Band logos glued to the wheels by her partner, Julie Williamson. A few months earlier a charging dog had barreled into Sue, taking out her knee. A battle ensued over who got to push her in the parade, and Steven Keys, a horn player who swore a decade earlier that he’d never march again, won the fight. He’d always wanted to be a pusher, he claimed, but the truth was any of us would have dropped out to include Sue. Mike Wong, our new drum major, blew his whistle and put the Band into gear. And as we marched between skyscrapers, Sue’s trumpet sang out with the rest of Band’s musicians as we all moved up Market Street together.
Marching up Market Street with my peeps, the true meaning of Pride became clear. Pride isn’t a production or rainbow banners or even a parade. It’s a gathering place for the people in our neighborhood to celebrate the community we’re building.
And a final note from a longtime musician: all cynicism aside, thanks to the SF LGBT Pride Committee and all the various community event producers who take on the challenge of staging this wild and wonderful weekend that is meant to represent and celebrate and include and keep safe the million+ of us who arrive at your door each year. It’s a crazy brave thing that you do.
Story originally published in http://www.sfbaytimes.com/index.php?sec=article&article_id=15449
That (Heidi’s) story makes me laugh being reminded of that damn cake we built. I remember after putting the finishing touches on it, the morning of the parade, it started ringing. Yes, I had left my cell phone inside the cake with no way to get at it and the damn thing rang all the way up Market St. in front of the band. LOL.