Safety measures in place for Pride, officials say

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 22, 2022
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People shared a message of love at the 2019 San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter
People shared a message of love at the 2019 San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The increased activities of white nationalists and other right-wing extremists around the country, and particularly recently here in the Bay Area, has San Francisco Pride event organizers and authorities thinking of security at this year's event a little more earnestly than in previous years.

Kids attending a drag queen storytime at the San Lorenzo public library in the East Bay were confronted by right-wing protesters June 11, as alleged members of the Proud Boys barged in and harassed drag queen Panda Dulce as she was reading to the children. While that was going on here, in Idaho the same day, police officers arrested 31 people who are believed to be affiliated with the white nationalist group Patriot Front, after they were seen gathering near a Pride event in the northern city of Coeur d'Alene.

Add a bomb threat placed to gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) the following day, and an earlier bomb threat called in to LYRIC, an LGBTQ youth organization based in the city, at the end of May, and you have security concerns placed front and center for a high visibility event like San Francisco Pride.

The recent June 12 anniversary of the 2016 shooting at the popular LGBTQ Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, at which a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others, only adds to the anxiety.

"This week marks six years since the Pulse tragedy, and we commemorate the loss of so many lives taken from us," stated SF Pride Board President Carolyn Wysinger earlier this month. "We have always been vigilant when it comes to safety and are working on a very coordinated basis with local law enforcement, city and community leaders to ensure this year's Pride is safe and people can enjoy themselves knowing we are taking every precaution possible."

SF Pride officials did not answer a question about what their policy would be should there be a disruption in the parade, which happened in 2019 that delayed the extravaganza for nearly an hour.

"Historically we haven't disclosed the details of our security planning," Wysinger stated in an email to the Bay Area Reporter, "but we do work closely with local law enforcement, city, and community leaders to take every precaution possible so that people can celebrate in a safe environment."

The San Francisco Police Department is planning on being out in force.

"The public should expect to see a significant police presence, including members who will be mobile in the parade and festival areas," SFPD stated in a news release. "The department is also working closely with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to make the events as safe as possible."

Aware of the incidents in San Lorenzo and Idaho, SFPD "will be staffed to handle all calls for service citywide, and to provide adequate public safety staffing at Pride events throughout Pride Month. Our officers will be vigilant for unlawful or unsafe activity and will respond as appropriate," said Officer Kathryn Winters, public information officer for SFPD, in an earlier statement.

Toward that end, visitors to the Pride festival at Civic Center June 25-26 should expect to find walk-through metal detectors and security using hand-held wands as well as the possibility of additional searches as they enter the event. (That measure was put in place following the Pulse shooting in 2016.) Police are encouraging people to avoid bringing too much with them to the festival so as to avoid unnecessary delays while passing through security. Avoid, too, bringing alcohol from outside the festival bounds.

"No outside alcohol will be allowed into the venue and possession of open containers or consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on city streets," SFPD stated. There'll be plenty of alcohol for sale inside the festival and there will be a 100% ID check, as well, the statement continued.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman expressed his concern, given the recent incidents.

"I've reached out to the police department and Department of Emergency Management and they're coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security," Mandelman told the B.A.R. June 20, referring to the SF Pride parade and festival. "People should not be fearful but they should be alert and aware."

Mandelman said that he and members of the police department's Pride Alliance were recently in the Castro inviting businesses to put up signs indicating they're a safe space where people could go.

"I think people need to pay attention," Mandelman said, both in the Castro and at other Pride events.

John Weber, left, Alex U. Inn, Juanita MORE!, and Leandro Gonzalez led the People's March down Polk Street June 27, 2021. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

People's March plans
The People's March, organized by activists Juanita MORE! and Alex U. Inn, is looking at security issues as well, said Inn, although their approach is more discreet. The People's March will follow the first Pride march's original route along Polk Street although organizers have yet to announce where the march will end up. (The previous two People's Marches have ended near City Hall, which this year is the site of the SF Pride festival.)

People's March organizers had been in talks with Castro Community on Patrol, the organization of uniformed volunteers who patrol the LGBTQ neighborhood, as a second pair of eyes, said Inn, but CCOP doesn't have the ability right now to assist.

Because of COVID, said Greg Carey, a gay man who has led the CCOP for the past 14 years, the group is short-staffed.

People's March organizers are also looking to Oakland-based Community Ready Corps, a Black-operated volunteer organization that "focuses on providing community-based solutions for community safety," according to its website. Hand to Hand, a women's martial arts group in Oakland, has had a security presence at the People's March since it started in 2020, Inn said, and, like CRC, its volunteers are also dressed in street clothes so as not to stand out. People's March routinely uses volunteers to act as security, but "a little more stealth," said Inn.

"We have queers who do not have citizenship and they're fearful of police," Inn continued.

Castro safety
On Saturday, June 25, thousands are expected to attend the Castro Merchants Association's Family Pride Block Party and there will be plenty of security on hand there, as well, said Dave Karraker, co-president of the business group.

"In terms of security for the block party, we will have two off-duty police officers, private security and our own community patrol officer," Karraker told the B.A.R. in an email. Carey confirmed he will be on hand for security but as a private security presence.

"I will be there in my green outfit," he said over the phone.

The merchants' group is coordinating with SFPD captains Chris Pedrini of Park Station and Gavin McEachern of Mission Station on "a detailed security plan not only for the Castro Merchants Family Pride Block Party, but the entire weekend," said Karraker.

"It's unfortunate that recent events, including the storming of a drag queen storytime in the East Bay and death threats to our state senator, have led to security being a major focus of this weekend versus celebrating the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made over the past several decades," Karraker added, "but this is the environment that has been created by politicians and right-wing activists. We feel confident that through cooperation with the SFPD and other city agencies, everyone will be able to come to the Castro, celebrate Pride safely, and support local small businesses in the process."

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