Online Extra: Amid racial strife and health crisis, Bay Area cities celebrate start of Pride Month

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday June 1, 2020
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Clayton Mayor Julie Pierce, left, and Councilman Carl Wolfe hold the rainbow flag shortly before it was raised in front of City Hall Monday, June 1. Photo: Cynthia Laird
Clayton Mayor Julie Pierce, left, and Councilman Carl Wolfe hold the rainbow flag shortly before it was raised in front of City Hall Monday, June 1. Photo: Cynthia Laird

With the country rocked by the ongoing health crisis and nationwide protests against police brutality and the killing of black and transgender Americans, Bay Area cities Monday marked June 1 as the beginning of Pride Month.

Around the Bay the day dawned with the raising of the rainbow flag, the international symbol for the LGBTQ community, outside the city halls in Pinole, Emeryville, and Redwood City. The Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose also held a morning ceremony to raise the flag in front of its District Service Center building at 645 Wool Creek Drive in the South Bay city.

Gay Emeryville City Councilman John Bauters hoisted the flag in his city, which over the weekend saw its commercial area alongside Interstate 80 targeted by looters. Similar scenes played out around the Bay Area over the last several days as largely peaceful demonstrations against the police killings of African Americans were overshadowed by the looting of chain stores and locally owned businesses and the imposition of nightly curfews in numerous cities.

In a tweet Monday morning, Bauters noted how Pride evolved out of the riots that occurred at New York City's Stonewall Inn the night of June 28, 1969 when patrons of the gay bar rose up against the police who had raided the establishment. It led to the first Pride parades being held the following June and is largely regarded as the start of the modern LGBT rights movement.

"Pride began as a riot — a stand against injustice and police brutality. I ask everyone to honor the history of #PrideMonth by reflecting on how hard it is to struggle for equal rights without allies. Justice and equality do not exist in a silent society," tweeted Bauters.

At noon the rainbow flag flew for the first time in the East Bay city of Clayton and the coastal Peninsula city of Half Moon Bay. In the afternoon Richmond city officials flew the flag along with one marking the annual Juneteenth commemoration marking the June 19, 1865 emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy.

"Given COVID and the national news it is even more important to celebrate moments like this," said Richmond City Manager Laura Snideman during a broadcast via Zoom of the flags being raised.

Monday night the city of San Mateo is set to fly the rainbow flag for the first time in front of its City Hall, and South San Francisco officials are to light up their City Hall in the colors of the rainbow flag for the second year in a row.

"Harvey Milk said all young people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential. I could not agree more," said Half Moon Bay Mayor Adam Eisen at his city's flag raising ceremony. "The city is proud to stand with you today."

Its ceremony came at the behest of LGBTQ leaders and residents of San Mateo County who launched a Pride Visibility campaign to see all 20 cities and towns in the jurisdiction mark June as Pride Month. Over the course of the next three weeks ceremonies and the issuance of Pride Month proclamations are expected to be held by nearly all of the municipalities.

Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak resulting in the cancellation of in-person Pride events this month and their being replaced with virtual gatherings, such as the weeklong series of online events San Mateo County Pride organizers will be hosting next week, the Pride Visibility campaign took on even greater importance for the LGBT community.

"With the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and the difficult times going on in the world, we wanted space for the LGBTQ community to express its Pride," said Dana Johnson, a co-chair of the county's Pride Initiative who also represents Redwood City on the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission.

Speaking at the Half Moon Bay ceremony, Johnson called out the names of several African Americans whose deaths have sparked protests across the country — George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery — as well as Tony McDade, a black transgender man.

"We are still not safe to express our gender identity," said Johnson, who is black and gender nonbinary. "Fifty years since the Stonewall riots and there is still a lot of work to be done. So let's get back to work and fight for justice for all."

LGBT leaders in Contra Costa County also pushed this year to see all 19 cities in its jurisdiction celebrate Pride Month. One of the last two to do so was Clayton, whose city council unanimously voted last month to recognize its LGBT residents.

Mayor Julie Pierce joined with her civic colleagues Monday for a small gathering to witness the raising of the rainbow flag in front of the town's City Hall, where it will be flown for the entire month. Rainbow flags will also fly at the Contra Costa County city's library nearby and the Grove, a park in the downtown area.

"It's a historic day in Clayton," said Pierce, who read a proclamation, highlighting diversity and inclusion.

City Councilman Carl Wolfe was also on hand, as were officials from the Rainbow Community Center in Concord.

"This is a big day for us," Wolfe said.

RCC board members Chris Wikler and Stefano Gonzalez said they were there to show their support, while Executive Director Kiku Johnson handed out rainbow face coverings to many in the small crowd that attended the ceremony.

Next year, city officials hope for a bigger celebration should the pandemic be over and it is safe again for people to gather in larger groups. In a message she emailed to her constituents Monday morning, lesbian state Senate Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) noted how Pride organizers across California had found creative ways to hold events this year while adhering to social distancing recommendations aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

"Thinking about the changes to Pride this year, I'm reminded of a scene written by one of our local treasures, Dr. Seuss. Remember when the Grinch sees that the Whos are still celebrating Christmas despite all his worst efforts? 'How could it be so?' He said. 'It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.' Pride's like that," wrote Atkins. "Now that we have found each other, Pride won't go away. In-person or virtually, we will continue to celebrate and support each other no matter what. No ribbons required. Though maybe some boas, which there is time to make, and will look just as fabulous online."