Diverse group selected as Pride grand marshals
by Seth Hemmelgarn
This year's San Francisco Pride Parade grand marshals are a diverse bunch, ranging from the country's first elected out transgender trial judge to African American faith leaders.
The San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee reported that with the online voting system that debuted this year, 2,736 people made their choices known. That surpassed the pervious high count by more than 500 ballots cast. The grand marshal program was largely on hiatus last year.
Winners were selected as the result of the combined votes of Pride's general membership, board of directors, electoral college, and the community at large.
Community grand marshals
The biggest category is individual community grand marshals.
Aaron Belkin, 45, is probably best known for his work to dismantle the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military. He's the director of the Palm Center at UC Santa Barbara and an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State.
In December, President Barack Obama signed a bill to repeal DADT.
"As a community we just won one of the greatest civil
There's also been progress on other fronts in the past year.
In November, Victoria Kolakowski, 49, was elected to serve as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court, making her the first openly transgender trial judge in the nation.
Kolakowski, who's married to Bay Area Reporter news editor Cynthia Laird, said, "One of the reasons why I feel it's important for me to do this sort of thing" – serving as grand marshal – "is so people can see me." She added that perhaps "a young transgender person will hear about me and feel there's more hope for their future."
Another woman being honored by Pride this year is Christiana Remington, who founded Butterfly Productions in 2002 to create a space where lesbian women of all shapes, sizes, and colors could gather.
In a statement provided by Pride, Remington said her focus is "to continually nurture multi-cultural events that help strengthen our community."
Therese "Terry" Stewart, 54, is likely one of the best-known grand marshals this year.
Stewart is San Francisco's chief deputy city attorney and has represented the city in cases involving same-sex couples' constitutional right to marry. That includes the federal Perry vs. Brown case, which is aimed at overturning the state's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban.
"I feel like I've gotten to do this amazing legal work. Then, to get honored for it, is kind of above and beyond," she said of the grand marshal honor.
She said she hopes that the community sees in her "an effective advocate, and a voice for them in the courts."
The faith community is also represented this year.
The Reverend Roland Stringfellow, 42, directs the Coalition of Welcoming Congregations, a program of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Sexuality on the campus of Pacific School of Religion and works with California Faith for Equality.
Stringfellow said as an "out and proud" African American Christian minister, he's "honored" to be a grand marshal.
"I hope my presence in the San Francisco Pride Parade will provide a broader vision of community and encourage open minds and hearts to what it means to be spiritual and gay," he said.
Graylin K. Thornton, 50, is another gay person of color who's deeply involved in the LGBT community.
Thornton is a past recipient of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Leather Leadership Award, among other honors. He continuously volunteers, judges, emcees, and supports local and national charitable events.
Thornton said he was "overwhelmed" by his Pride honor.
"We do the things we do, and we do them thinking we'll be never be recognized, because that's not why we do it," he said.
One grand marshal is being recognized for lifetime achievement.
Bishop Yvette Flunder, 55, is an ordained Minister of the United Church of Christ and senior pastor of City of Refuge UCC.
Responding to the needs of the AIDS epidemic, Flunder and her staff developed Ark of Refuge Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides housing, direct services, education, and training for people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Flunder, who is African American and identifies as a same-gender loving woman, said she appreciates being selected as a grand marshal, particularly as a person of color, as a native San Franciscan, and as a person of faith.
"... So much of my life experience in San Francisco is knitted together in all those things, so I appreciate the community choosing me, and all of who I am," said Flunder. "That's a great blessing."
In addition to individuals, two organizations are being honored this year.
San Francisco's GLBT Historical Society is the 2011 local organizational grand marshal. It recently opened a museum in the city's Castro neighborhood.
Paul Boneberg, the historical society's executive director, said the group is "very honored" to be a grand marshal, which he noted should provide visibility for the museum.
The Trevor Project, which runs a hotline for LGBT and questioning youth, is this year's national organizational grand marshal.
Former Executive Director and CEO Charles Robbins said in January, shortly after the group was selected as a grand marshal, that the project is "honored that people care about young people and their safety."
Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who is on the group's board of directors, and David McFarland, interim executive director and CEO, are representing the organization, according to Pride.
Two people will be Pride's honorary grand marshals this year.
Susie Bright, 53, is the author of Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir.
In an email, Bright, who is bisexual, said, "A lot of people associate my name with sex-positive feminism, with sexual self-determination, with the insights I get from politics and sex. My float theme may very well be, 'Clits Up!'"
Ron Wong, 67, is a previous Pride board member and treasurer, and he's also been involved with AIDS Project East Bay, among other groups.
Wong, who's married to DeWitt Hoard, said it's "great to represent the community in general," and he's also "glad to be represented as a person of color, and to represent same-sex marriage."
Celebrity grand marshals
As usual, Pride's honoring a number of celebrities.
One has made San Francisco particularly proud. Yigit Pura, 30, was crowned the winner and fan favorite on the premiere season of Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts. He hopes to open a high-end pastry shop in the city by the end of the year.
Pura, who is gay, would also like to be a role model, including for LGBT youth. He'll be at a queer youth summit in San Mateo this weekend.
He said being a grand marshal's a "tremendous honor" that means "I need to keep up the work that much harder."
Chaz Bono, who's most famous for being the child of singing legend Cher and the late Sonny Bono, is also a transgender advocate, author, and speaker. He transitioned a couple of years ago amid some publicity.
"I am extremely pleased to have been selected grand marshal of one of the nation's largest community pride events," Bono said in a statement from Pride.
Bono isn't the only grand marshal with a connection to Cher.
Actress Olympia Dukakis, who won an Academy Award for her performance in the film Moonstruck, in
"Daunted – totally," Dukakis, a straight ally, said in a brief statement to the Pride Committee.
Not all the Pride awards are happy ones. The Pink Brick goes to the person who has caused harm to the LGBT community. This year's brick "winner" is Lou Engle, who's been linked as a supporter of Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill.
An assistant to Engle said in an email that he wasn't available for an interview, but included some thoughtful words in her message: "May He bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you."
This year's Pride festivities are June 25-26. The theme is "In Pride We Trust." For more information, visit http://www.sfpride.org.