Community groups locked out of SF Pride beverage sales

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 6, 2022
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Crowds enjoy the San Francisco Pride parade June 26, but LGBTQ sports groups and others were left out of beverage sales this year. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Crowds enjoy the San Francisco Pride parade June 26, but LGBTQ sports groups and others were left out of beverage sales this year. Photo: Rick Gerharter

A decision by San Francisco Pride to have a third party operate the organization's alcohol and beer booths during last month's Pride festival has had a serious impact on the budgets of several LGBTQ community and sports organizations.

Numerous community organizations have relied on the chance to staff the booths over the years; the benefit in doing so is receiving a 25% cut of the proceeds plus tips, which helps support the groups financially. For small, volunteer-run organizations the proceeds earned from the annual event — which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors — could amount to several thousand dollars.

For the nonprofits' leaders, the decision was made even more difficult by the apparent way it was carried out. After being invited to participate, and led to believe they would be running the booths as they had for years, they were informed only a few weeks before Pride — and more than three months after they had filed their applications — that the booths would be staffed by a third-party for-profit organization.

At least 20 community groups were affected by the decision, said Vincent Fuqua, commissioner of San Francisco Gay Softball League, just one of the groups affected. In a Zoom interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Fuqua and SFGSL treasurer Sheryl Phipps said they had been led to believe that everything was proceeding as it always had prior to the COVID pandemic that temporarily sidelined the annual parade for two years.

Fuqua and Phipps said that invitations to apply had been sent in March, a little later than usual, and, after applying, they had received confirmations that their applications were in place. It wasn't until May, however, that they were informed by Marsha Levine, SF Pride's community relations director, of SF Pride's decision to move to a third party.

The decision to switch from community partners to a third party, they were told, was a result of "post-pandemic realities," Fuqua said. "I'm not really sure what a post-pandemic reality is."

As consolation, the community groups were offered donations from SF Pride, based on each group's revenues from 2019.

After this article was published, SF Pride spokesperson Kristin Sommers sent over a statement attributed to SF Pride interim Executive Director Suzanne Ford.

"In the wake of the pandemic and other recent incidents, some adjustments were required to this year's Pride events to ensure the health and safety of all those attending," Ford stated. "Some of those measures unfortunately required us to contract professional service vendors in order to meet legal mandates and guidelines, particularly those required for handling and serving alcohol. As a non-government funded organization currently navigating our own funding challenges, we understand and recognize how important events like Pride are to local community groups and organizations, which is why we are allocating funds to pay out a portion of the compensation they would have received in exchange for their services."

As the B.A.R. reported this week in a story on San Francisco's budget process, the Board of Supervisors earmarked $300,000 for SF Pride to help it recover from having to cancel the in-person parade and festival in 2020 and 2021.

Third party switch

The decision to switch to a third party, however, was made under former executive director Fred Lopez, according to Andy Copperhall, who has served as beverage manager for SF Pride both as a volunteer and as a paid employee since 2002. Lopez stepped down as executive director in February.

"I contacted [Lopez] in December last year to continue conversations around the event for this year, and was told that they had already awarded the contract to run beverages to someone else and did not need me," Copperhall told the B.A.R. in an email. "They had not spoken to me about this or given me the first right of refusal or even the opportunity to discuss the year. I am not certain they would have even told me if I had not reached out."

At that point, Copperhall said, the management of the alcohol and beer booths was to be handed over to IDK Events, a San Francisco-based event company, whose president, Scott Shuemake, is a friend of Lopez, Copperhall said. Shuemake's company has long had a hand in producing SF Pride, and helped produce SF Pride's Movie Night at Oracle Park in 2021, an alternative to the Pride parade that had been canceled as a result of the pandemic. Shuemake's company was also a partner in the short-lived Shared Spaces program that closed off a section of 18th and Castro streets to vehicular traffic in an attempt to draw foot traffic to the neighborhood during the pandemic, as well as Oakland Pride before it apparently folded in 2021.

Lopez declined to be interviewed for this story, and Shuemake did not respond to requests for comment.

After hearing that Lopez had moved on from his post as executive director at SF Pride, Copperhall said early in 2022 he again reached out and spoke with Ford and, despite what he described as a "very positive conversation," was told that SF Pride was in a contract with another company and "they did not want to negate that."

As all this was happening, the community groups were still under the impression they would be working the booths at SF Pride. In May, those groups learned they would not be doing so.

But still, things turned out even more differently than anticipated. According to Copperhall, SF Pride instead awarded the contract for alcoholic beverages in early June to a company called Event Hospitality Solutions, based in Nashville, Tennessee. The company has handled other Bay Area events such as Bottlerock in Napa County and works with Beverly Hills-based Live Nation, a concert promotion company.

"My understanding is that this company was in a revenue share agreement with a guaranteed minimum, and that they would use paid bar staff for the event and the tips go to these paid staff," Copperhall said. "So, no community involvement whatsoever. This is the bit I find hardest to come to terms with."

In other words, not only would SF Pride be handing over part of the profits to an out-of-state, company, paid staff would be receiving payments rather than volunteers giving their tips to the community groups they represented. Tennessee is also on the state and city's no-fly list, meaning that taxpayer funds can't be used to travel to states that have adopted discriminatory laws against LGBTQ people. San Francisco's list also restricts city agencies and departments from signing contracts with businesses based in those states.

A text Copperhall said he received from an employee of Matagrano, a South San Francisco-based beer and beverage distributor and the longtime supplier to SF Pride, said that beer consumption — due to longer wait times and lines — was down to 183 kegs from 2019's 425 kegs.

"Good afternoon 183 barrels a total shit show Peter's booth right across from mine to beer pores [sic] 5 to 7 people in each beer booth pouring beer and cocktails totally crazy beer lines 100 deep all day... our guys are not very happy we need you back," the text read.

The decision to change how Pride operates the booths has been a huge disappointment, Phipps said. "I just felt sad."

Levine and Ford did not return multiple messages seeking comment, though SF Pride officials released a statement reference above.

Updated, 7/7/22: This article has been updated to include a statement from SF Pride that was received after this story was published.

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