Oakland set to get its Pride back this year

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday March 31, 2010
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Oakland is set to get its Pride back this year.

After a six-year absence, the East Bay Pride festival will return to downtown Oakland Sunday, September 5 during Labor Day weekend. It will be renamed Oakland Pride.

Another facet of the former LGBT event, which ran from 1997 to 2004, will not make a return appearance �" the rainbow necklace around Lake Merritt. Due to recent work done on the pathways and lighting surrounding Lake Merritt, the city is no longer able to replace the white lights with pink bulbs.

"It really is a shame. The person who had the lights said, 'Let us know when you are ready to hang them up.' Because of the new landscaping we are not going to be able to do it," said Amber Todd, an out lesbian Oakland city employee who is co-chair of the Oakland Pride Committee. "A lot of the lake lights aren't lit anymore. The landscaping is such that in some areas there is no way to get a forklift or lifter to change the lights out without destroying the agriculture."

Talk has turned instead to perhaps having pink or rainbow lighting for City Hall or placing Pride banners along city streets to lead people toward the celebration.

But Todd said "that is the least of our worries right now."

Pride organizers are more focused on signing up corporate sponsors to help cover the cost of staging the event. Pacific Gas and Electric and Walgreens have both expressed interest, said Todd, and office space at the Port of Oakland has been donated by developer Ellis Partners for the group to use.

"A lot of big money is coming down the pipeline. We are just putting all our ducks in a row to make sure we are legitimate," said Todd, the executive assistant to Assistant City Administrator Marianna Marysheva-Martinez.

Todd is working with Joe Hawkins, an Oakland-based party promoter and event producer for gay African American men, on the revival of the city's Pride event.

"I have four daughters and this is another baby. Joe and I are like co-parents," said Todd, who never attended the previous Oakland Pride events.

Out of the Bay Area's three biggest cities, Oakland has been the only one not to host a major LGBT Pride event in recent years. San Francisco holds its Pride event June 26-27; San Jose is moving its event to August 21-22 this year. The lesbian-focused Sisters Steppin' in Pride, which takes place alongside Lake Merritt in late August, has filled the vacuum since the demise of East Bay Pride.

The Pride festival began in 1997 at Preservation Park in downtown Oakland and was known as East Bay Gay Mardi Gras. As the celebration grew in popularity it relocated to the larger Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall.

But then the Art and Soul Oakland festival launched in 2000 and began competing directly with Pride over Labor Day weekend for visitors and street space. Eventually the multi-day music showcase subsumed East Bay Pride, which had a booth at the 2005 Art and Soul event.

"When Oakland created their Art and Soul festival it really displaced East Bay Pride. They literally tried to integrate a gay event, which preceded it, into their new event. It just didn't work," recalled Hawkins, who throws parties at Oakland gay bar Bench and Bar and was on the board of East Bay Pride.

In 2009 the music fest organizers moved up their dates to mid-August, freeing up the calendar on Labor Day weekend. The reconstituted Oakland Pride reclaimed Labor Day Sunday to have its event but decided to locate the LGBT celebration in Oakland's Uptown District not far from the newly renovated Fox Theatre on Telegraph Avenue.

"It freed up our Pride date again, which was when East Bay Pride was at its height. It was extremely well attended," said Hawkins.

Years in the making

Pride's revival has been years in the making. After out lesbian Rebecca Kaplan captured the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council in 2008, she reconstituted the LGBT Roundtable to work on gay-specific issues. One of the group's main objectives was to see Oakland's Pride celebration reborn.

The Pride Committee has been working since 2009 for the return of the event. There is an 11-member board and it is working on posting info to its Web site at http://www.oaklandpride.org. A marketing committee is developing a theme for the inaugural Pride.

"Our goal, of course, is to be able to produce Pride annually," said Hawkins.

Hawkins said the plan this year is to have a parade kick off from Lake Merritt at noon that Sunday and end up near the festival grounds centered at the intersection of 22nd and Franklin streets, just blocks from both the Fox and Paramount theaters and close to the 19th Street BART station.

"The city of Oakland wanted us to do it downtown again in front of City Hall. We feel Art and Soul has branded themselves with that location," said Hawkins. "We want to go into a new, more up-and-coming area of Oakland."

It also helps that LGBT bars like the Bench and Bar and its sister space Club 21, as well as gay-friendly Luka's Taproom and Lounge are nearby.

"It is right in the middle of both of the gay bars so it is perfect," said Hawkins.

And the event's main purpose, other than to foster a sense of community among Oakland's LGBT residents, is to raise money to build an LGBT Community Center in the city. Creating such a facility is another top priority for LGBT Roundtable members.

"This is not only us producing an event but us producing an event that can help us in starting a center in Oakland," said Todd. "Pride is the fun but exhausting part. The outcome, we hope, is something that lasts not just one party or one or two days out of the year."

For more information about Oakland Pride, call (510) 545-6251 or e-mail mailto:[email protected].