Cash-strapped Pride to accept donations on parade route

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 3, 2023
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SF Pride Executive Director Suzanne Ford. Photo: Courtesy SF Pride
SF Pride Executive Director Suzanne Ford. Photo: Courtesy SF Pride

San Francisco Pride will be taking donations on the parade route for the first time because the committee that runs the annual event is strapped for cash.

Suzanne Ford, a trans woman who is the executive director of San Francisco Pride, said in an April 12 interview with the Bay Area Reporter that Pride is in need of finding $800,000. The lack of parades in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic was particularly hard on the organization's coffers.

While city supervisors allocated $300,000 for the Pride committee in the fiscal budget they approved last summer, that money is separate from the current $800,000 shortfall, according to SF Pride spokesperson Shaun Leavy.

"COVID was devastating - we didn't have revenue for a couple of years but we still had costs," Ford said. "In 2019, we had a half-million in reserve - [former executive director] George Ridgely had done a great job - Fred [Lopez] came on [board] and the pandemic hit. Last year it was a miracle we got it together. The city did help us with funding. Everyone helped. The price has gone up incredibly more, and we still have additional money to find ... We're working hard to find partners in the community. It's a challenge. We do have some left in the reserve and we're proud."

One way Pride is seeking to fill the gap this year will be by raising money on the parade route itself. The committee has traditionally accepted donations at the festival's gates.

"We've never taken donations on the parade route - how would you do that safely?" Ford said, before explaining, "we will have approximately 150 people on the parade route with devices with a preset amount."

Attendees will be asked to tap their credit or debit card on the devices, which will be held with a selfie stick. The transaction should take two seconds, Ford said.

"I think it's going to be important [that] people understand we've authorized this," Ford added.

Gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who represents part of the parade route, told the B.A.R. on April 13 that "I'm meeting with the mayor and will discuss it [Pride's shortfall and the potential for city funding] with her tomorrow." He did not respond to a follow up April 24 asking if that had happened.

Victor Ruiz-Cornejo, a gay man who advises Breed on LGBTQ issues, stated to the B.A.R. the same day that there is "no new update" to report on the issue. As of early April the city was projecting a $291 million budget deficit for next fiscal year, prompting concerns about what programs and services will end up being cut to balance the books.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who is serving this year on the board's budget committees, told the B.A.R. April 12 that "I am supporting Pride's budget ask and am hoping the mayor will fund it in whole or at least in significant part."

He updated the B.A.R. May 3 that "most big decisions have not yet been made" in the ongoing conversations with his office, Pride, and the mayor's office.

Dorsey stated to the B.A.R. May 3 that he has "advocated for funding for Pride — together with funding for priorities that include HIV/AIDS, overdose prevention in the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, and making good on our commitment to end trans homelessness. I know it's an ongoing conversation given what a difficult year it is in terms of our budget shortfall."

Ruiz-Cornejo did not reply to a request for comment Wednesday to ask if there's any update.

As for SF Pride, it has yet to respond to an inquiry as to Ford's salary. According to its IRS Form 990 for Fiscal Year 2018-19 (the last year for which a 990 is publicly-available when an executive director served a full fiscal year), then-executive director Ridgely received $108,631 in total compensation.

This year, SF Pride will collect donations along the parade route. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

'We're Not Gonna Take It'
Ford, the first trans person who is paid to be executive director of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration Committee, is promising a parade and festival that will speak to the city's commitment to LGBTQ equality at a time civil rights are being threatened.

"The parade means everything to people from here, but there's also the lens of how important it is to people across the country and the world," Ford said in the interview.

The battle cry for this year's event was going to be "We're Not Gonna Take It," the iconic 1984 Twisted Sister song, the San Francisco Chronicle reported May 2. Dee Snider even agreed to perform the song on the main stage, however, this had to be scrapped after he liked a transphobic tweet from Paul Stanley of Kiss that stated, "There is a BIG difference between teaching acceptance and normalizing and even encouraging participation in a lifestyle that confuses young children ... as though (it is) some sort of game and then parents in some cases allow it" in reference to gender-affirming surgery.

You know what? There was a time where I "felt pretty" too. Glad my parents didn't jump to any rash conclusions! Well said, @PaulStanleyLive
- Dee Snider🇺🇸🎤 (@deesnider) May 1, 2023

Ford's journey
Ford, 57, became Pride's interim executive director in February 2022 and its permanent executive director this February>; she agreed to speak to the B.A.R. in April about her appointment.

Ford moved to the Bay Area from Louisville, Kentucky, she said, and currently lives in Novato.

"In the 1970s, I, on national TV, saw San Francisco Pride on the news," Ford said. "Once a year they would show it on the news and I knew deep down inside if I could somehow get here I could find my people. That's what it meant for me."

That dream came true in 2018, when she joined the board of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration Committee, the nonprofit that puts on the parade and celebration. That year was also her first marching in the parade.

"When I marched with the board contingent at the front of the parade it meant everything," Ford said. "It's incredible and that's why I know - especially right now for queer families, queer people in these red states - how important it is to know San Francisco exists; it's a magical place - not that we have it all solved - and it's a place we can go to be ourselves. It's a tremendous responsibility."

Ford is going to be the honorary starter for the Zappos Bay to Breakers run on May 21. Last year, after a public outcry to an SF Gate article that reported awards would only be given to male and female runners, even though participants could register as being nonbinary, race organizers reversed course and awarded Cal Calamia as the first nonbinary winner of the event.

"I'm proud to run," Ford stated in a news release. "Bay to Breakers represents the celebration of diversity that makes San Francisco San Francisco. Here we don't run away from our challenges, we rush forward to meet them head on."

Kyle Meyers, the CEO of Silverback, which puts on the event, stated that "In one sense, Suzanne is just one of our several thousand runners. ... However, her participation is about much more than being a good sport. She represents everything that Bay to Breakers represents: a true reflection of the creativity, resilience and community that make San Francisco so special."

It's not Ford's first tie to athleticism; she co-founded the world's first and only PGA-endorsed LGBTQ+ golf event, SF Pride's Pro-Am Golf Tournament Fundraiser, which has raised more than $200,000 over four years.

Police uniform controversy
When Ford took over last year, she had to address the controversy of how much, if at all, uniformed police should participate in the actual parade.

A ban on uniformed officers from the San Francisco Police Department marching in the parade was enacted in 2020 after officers detained protesters who blocked the 2019 parade, leading to allegations of excessive force, as the B.A.R. reported. One of the protesters, Taryn Saldivar, alleging violations of their constitutional rights, battery, and false arrest and imprisonment, later sued the city and the police department, receiving a settlement of $190,000 in September 2021.

Due to COVID-19, the Pride parade did not take place for two years. As a result, the ban didn't become an issue until 2022, when it prompted outrage from many quarters including Mayor London Breed and gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who said they themselves wouldn't participate if the restriction on police uniforms was enforced.

Breed and Dorsey reversed course when a compromise was reached whereby the police chief and command staff were allowed to march in full uniform while others would be allowed to march out of uniform. (As it turned out, Breed had COVID in late June and was forced to miss the parade and related activities.)

The compromise terms - which SF Pride clarified to the B.A.R. April 12 would be the same for the 2023 parade set to take place Sunday, June 25 - allowed the city's police, sheriff, and fire departments to march together, with command staff allowed in uniform but without visible weapons. Some adjacent officers were allowed weapons for security, but the largest group had to be out of uniform, in shirts with department logos.

"There was really no decision made, we just kept the agreement in place and started to work on it," Ford said. "We're just using the agreement from last year."

Security issues marred 2022 event
At the end of last year's celebration there were false reports of a mass-casualty shooting that caused a stampede in the Civic Center. Separately, there were physical fights, and someone sprayed pepper spray into the crowd.

"It was very unfortunate that occurred, but overall it was a very safe event and parade, which I was so grateful for on the other side Monday," Ford said when asked about it.

Ford said that JJLA, the Los Angeles-based live event and entertainment company that will be producing the event, will be bringing in new security.

"There's one security contractor that reports to them and reports to me," Ford said. "We will obviously be hiring other security companies. Not just one. And we will hire some queer-owned security companies that will help too."

JJLA did not respond to a request for comment for this report as of press time.

Ford said there will be metal detectors at the entrance to the celebration grounds, as there have been in years past.

Ford comes from "the packaging industry" and was a regional consultant for Revere Packaging.

"I transitioned in place in Novato and in a quite public way came out at work," Ford said. "I came out in Novato when my kid was starting in public school and it was quite a public transition."

Ford's child is now at Cal Poly. Ford is trying to move to San Francisco in the summer.

"I'll be getting to have my dream, my Mary Tyler Moore moment, and move to the city," she said.

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