Oakland unifies for one Pride celebration this weekend

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 6, 2023
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The Blue Shield contingent took part in last year's Oakland Pride parade. This year's event is Sunday, September 10. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
The Blue Shield contingent took part in last year's Oakland Pride parade. This year's event is Sunday, September 10. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

As San Francisco's Castro neighborhood awaits new bar and nightclub openings, Oakland is already experiencing a renaissance of sorts in its LGBTQ scene. It will be on full display when the East Bay city welcomes visitors from around the Bay Area and beyond for its Pride festivities this weekend.

"It's a challenge for all LGBTQ venues right now," said Sean Sullivan, a gay man who is the longtime co-owner of the Port Bar and now co-owner of Fluid 510, which opened earlier this year. "Oakland added several in the last year, and it's the more, the merrier and more places for people to go to. I can say, from my own side, we'll be celebrating Pride all weekend long."

Oakland Pride is back as one celebration on one weekend — in 2022 there'd been the regular Oakland Pride on Labor Day weekend, followed by Pridefest Oakland the following weekend. The latter was spearheaded the year before by Sullivan and others after Oakland Pride abruptly canceled its 2021 event just weeks before it had been planned.

Emails sent to the Bay Area Reporter at that time showed an organization in disarray. Sullivan told the B.A.R. that things have improved to the point where Pridefest and Pride could move forward as one.

"In the spirit of unity we really wanted to come together to do one event," Sullivan said. "Our community has been attacked across this country, with over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills being put forth, and with crimes against trans people and violence against LGBT people so high."

Indeed, hate crimes against gay men, lesbians, and trans people all rose last year in California, according to state data announced by Attorney General Rob Bonta's office in June. This summer also saw a number of high profile crimes that officials say were motivated by hate — the killing of O'Shae Sibley, a 28-year-old gay Black man in New York City, and the killing of Laura Carleton, a 66-year-old straight ally in San Bernardino County, the latter ostensibly for flying a rainbow Pride flag outside her business.

Oakland itself has seen the killings of two known gay men this year.

Curtis Marsh, 53, a gay Black man, was killed in his Oakland home earlier this year, though authorities have said it did not appear to be a hate crime. Sweven Waterman, a custodian at UC Berkeley, has been charged in the case, but not with hate crime counts. His preliminary hearing is set to be scheduled soon. Waterman remains in custody and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

A second gay Black man, Devonte Davis, was fatally shot in Oakland just after Marsh's killing but the two cases are unrelated, police have said.

George J. Smith III, a gay Black man who's the vice president of Oakland Pride's board of directors, said the ability of the two organizations to work together this year is a positive sign.

"Us coming together as a community has always been our focus — to do a really safe Pride celebration for the East Bay and downtown Oakland, spreading joy," Smith said. "We want to continue this in the coming years."

Two-plus days of celebrations

The weekend's events will be split over two days, Sullivan said, though there are plans for a Friday night party as well. Pridefest will be putting on a bar crawl on Saturday, September 9, "featuring most, if not all, the LGBT-owned bars," he said, as a fundraiser for the Oakland Pride organization. A $25 donation is suggested to participate. The bar crawl starts at 3 p.m. at the White Horse Bar at the Berkeley-Oakland border, and concludes at the Town Bar and Lounge at 8:45 p.m.

On Friday, September 8, Bacardi is sponsoring another bar crawl, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Que Rico nightclub and concluding at 8:30 p.m. at the Port Bar.

On Sunday, September 10, the Oakland Pride organization is putting on the parade at 11 a.m. It will run up Broadway, from 14th to 21st streets. Grand marshals have not been announced as of press time.

"We expect a really fun time — 30 to 40 contingents," Smith said. "We are really, really excited about it."

The East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club will hold its Pride breakfast at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

Starting at noon and ending at 6 p.m., a celebration and festival will fill the streets of Uptown Oakland, as in years past. The entrance is at Broadway and 20th Street. Festival admission is $20 for adults, $15 for seniors over 65, $10 for children 12-18, and free for those under 12.

Canadian straight ally Deborah Cox will be the headliner on the main stage and Mexican longtime straight ally Diana Reyes will headline the Latin Stage, produced by Valentino Carrillo, a gay man who's the owner of Que Rico.

Reyes told the B.A.R., in remarks translated from Spanish, "You guys don't know how much I love to sing in gay pride events because it gets loud, super fun, a lot of singing and partying — so thanks Club Papi for taking me into account. See you guys in Oakland Pride."

Carrillo told the B.A.R. that he's "excited to once again return to Oakland Pride."

"I was the original producer of the Latin Stage until 2019," Carrillo stated. "This time I will be co-producing the Latin Stage with Club Papi together. We also produce the Latin Stage at San Francisco Pride and can't wait to bring our experience to Oakland Pride once again. I hope to see everyone at Oakland Pride and at the Que Rico Nightclub afterparty after the festival."

Cox did not return a request for comment for this report as of press time.

Regina Voce, a drag performer who is in the top four of "Drag Race México," will be among the entertainers.

"I'm going to be performing on Saturday and Sunday at the Pride and, of course, at the official Pride parties with Que Rico nightclub so Que Rico join me there," Voce said.

Safety first

Oakland, like San Francisco, has had its reputation tarnished in recent years over crime. Earlier this month, a movement to recall Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price filed an official notice of intent as discontent reaches a fever pitch.

Sullivan said he hopes these concerns don't stop people from all over the Bay Area from coming to see what The Town has to offer.

"We wish it was safer. ... I would say it's difficult day-to-day — I still struggle," Sullivan said. "Criminals who break windows don't care if they are breaking an LGBTQ person's car window or a heterosexual person's car window, but that's on both sides of the bay. It gets situated in Oakland, but it's the same as downtown San Francisco, and other parts of San Francisco, but LGBTQ people are undaunted and we will not let unfortunate incidents stop us from celebrating queer joy."

Sullivan said that "the owner of Town Bar [and Lounge] was featured crying on TV about crime, and we are right around the corner."

Joshua Huynh, the owner of Town Bar and Lounge, which like Fluid510 is an LGBTQ establishment that opened just this year, told KNTV-TV he'd had staff and "some special guest" robbed at gunpoint.

Huynh told the B.A.R. that the businesses are looking out for each other.

"We can't do anything but what we're continuing to do — getting with all the business owners in finding out how to support the city and support each other," Huynh said. "Doing nothing isn't helping."

Huynh said that Oakland's burgeoning LGBTQ scene is a welcome breath of fresh air.

"We're part of two bar crawls — one on Friday, one on Saturday," Huynh said. "I think there's a definite need for queer spaces in the East Bay because people don't want to travel over the bridge. It's a completely different vibe from what Castro's giving. In Castro, you know what you're going to get. If you go to all the bars in Oakland, every single one is completely different."

For more information, go to oaklandpride.org.

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