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SF Pride cancels 2020 event

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A contingent marched in last year's San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter
A contingent marched in last year's San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

The 2020 San Francisco Pride parade and festival has been canceled, according to an April 14 news release from the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, which puts on the annual commemoration of the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots that kicked off the modern LGBT rights movement in the United States.

"Uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified in recent weeks, and the organization has concluded that the risks to public health of a large-scale gathering such as Pride preclude this year's production of the annual event," the release stated.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, SF Pride officials announced last week that celebrations "will look very different" in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which by press time had killed almost 25,000 Americans since its emergence in late 2019. That announcement came after the B.A.R. reported growing calls from community members that the celebration be canceled or postponed.

"Since the coronavirus first emerged, we have held out hope that the situation would shift and we would be able to gather later this year," SF Pride Executive Director Fred Lopez stated in the release. "Well before the first shelter-in-place order, our team began to balance our excitement for Pride 50 and evaluate possible alternatives. With heavy hearts, we have decided not to go forward with the Parade and Celebration in 2020."

Lopez stated the decision was a difficult one. The annual parade boasts an attendance of one million people, and the weekend festivities put millions of dollars in the coffers of local nonprofits and community groups, not to mention the city's LGBT businesses, LGBT districts such as the Castro, and the city's tourism sector.

"This was not a decision we arrived at lightly," he stated. "Far from it: Our staff has been in frequent talks with our board, our production team, our partners at many departments of City Hall, officials at other Pride organizations worldwide — and most of all, our LGBTQ communities. We have heard from people who urged us to cancel, and from those who implored us not to."

The decision was made by the SF Pride board of directors, the news release stated. The 2020 parade would have been the 50th annual iteration of the celebration for San Francisco and other major cities such as New York.

"While the board and staff are disappointed not to showcase the physical celebration so many had hoped for, SF Pride plans to join a constellation of Pride organizations worldwide in a 'Virtual Global Pride' on Saturday, June 27," the release stated. "SF Pride will be announcing additional collaborations, primarily in digital formats, to commemorate Pride throughout the summer. These alternate celebrations, presented alongside other community organizations and supporters, will roll out throughout the coming weeks and months."

After SF Pride stated an announcement would come the week of April 12, several prominent LGBT nightlife and business leaders issued an open letter to the SF Pride board, as well as civic leaders such as Mayor London Breed, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, asking that the public portions of Pride be postponed to October or November rather than canceled outright.

Cecil Russell, a gay man who is the head of Cecil Russell Presents and Gloss magazine, was involved in the effort. He told the B.A.R. via phone shortly after the cancellation that the open letter was a way to "get an answer" from SF Pride leaders.

"We thought this was going to happen. We agree (June) is too early," Russell said. "We know this can come back strong and what we wanted was to get an answer. We definitely get it from a public health perspective."

For their part, those to whom the open letter was addressed supported SF Pride's move in the release.

"No one wants to celebrate with the entire community more than I do," Breed said. "However, we are in an unprecedented public health emergency with an uncertain future, and we must do everything we can to protect our entire community and put public health first."

Wiener said it was a "very tough" decision.

"I have no doubt that SF Pride will put together a terrific slate of virtual events for this year's celebration," Wiener said. "Pride is my favorite part of every year."

Mandelman struck a similar chord in his statement.

"While I am of course disappointed that we can't celebrate in person this year, I'm excited to see the virtual alternatives that our LGBTQ communities come up with," Mandelman said. "We know how many people Pride brings to San Francisco, and we hope to welcome everyone back soon."

Larry Nelson, who created the 2018 "Generations of Strength" SF Pride theme that was spun off to create the 2019 "Generations of Resistance" and the 2020 "Generations of Hope" themes, was an early proponent of SF Pride being rescheduled or canceled.

"One day, we will look back and we will know that the measures taken by our community along with all others around the world were the correct measures," Nelson said in a phone call with the B.A.R. April 14.

"For decades, 'the Movement,' as we call it, has led the way in our historic struggle for unaltered and equal civil rights, not special rights, but equal rights and expression. ... We still have much to be proud of and much to accomplish. Together, we keep the Movement alive."

The virtual global pride that San Francisco's event will be subsumed into will be livestreamed Saturday, June 27.

"The unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 mean that most Prides will not take place as planned in 2020, but we're determined that this won't stop us from coming together as a united, strong LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate who we are and what we stand for," Kristine Garina, the chair of Baltic Pride (in Riga, Latvia), wrote in a news release announcing that event.

San Francisco's is one of the last of the major Pride celebrations to be canceled or postponed. Los Angeles Pride was postponed in early March, but organizers have not announced an alternative date yet.

Smaller Pride events may still occur
SF Pride board of directors President Carolyn Wysinger discussed the decision and its ramifications in a talk via Zoom with Manny Yekutiel, a gay man who owns a cafe and event space at 16th and Valencia in the Mission district.

Wysinger said she was a proponent of postponing SF Pride, but determined within the last week — she would not specify a day — that since health officials don't have an exact timetable of when the outbreak will end, it is impossible at this point to pick a specific date later in the year.

Wysinger said that canceling the event was "one of the saddest, hardest decisions I've had to make," but told viewers that events such as the raising of the LGBT flag and the installing the pink triangle atop Twin Peaks may take place in-person with limited levels of attendance. Wysinger added she did not know the current status of the Trans March or the Dyke March.

She also encouraged historical retrospectives such as those television stations broadcast during Black History Month.

"A virtual Pride is the most important thing to come out of this because we wouldn't have been forced to think of these things before," Wysinger said.

Updated: 4/14/20: This article has been updated with additional comments from community and SF Pride officials.

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