Benton puts soul into Pride

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday June 25, 2013
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"I feel that we are all equal," said Mario Benton, one of the community grand marshals in this year's Pride parade. "God made us all the same. It's about having a relationship with God. It's a blessing to still be here and celebrate."

Benton, 47, grew up in San Francisco, but now lives in Oakland. He's already a staple in the Pride parade, where his Soul of Pride floats have given visibility to the LGBT African American community.

"I've been doing Soul of Pride for seven years," he told the Bay Area Reporter. "It makes me feel good to bring black soul to the parade. I do it for the youth �" the youth enjoy being part of Pride."

Youth is a big part of Benton's work in the world of high fashion. His Mario B Productions participates in and stages fashion shows that are designed to give underprivileged kids the skills and self-confidence they need to succeed in the often-cutthroat world of high-end modeling. In doing so, he offers them an opportunity toward a better life for themselves. Growing up as a gay, African American kid, Benton knows all too well of the obstacles they might face.

"There's a lot of racism in the gay community," he said. "And it's very racist in the fashion industry. It's still that way. Black models have to work twice as hard. I make these kids understand the challenges. I tell them to put their priorities first and to be on point."

Benton's work has been instrumental in raising the glass ceiling, but he points out that his goal is to lift up LGBT youth from all walks of life, not just from one community or another.

"I did the first national campaign with a black gay man on a billboard," he said. "It focused on young gay men ages 14-19, to make them more aware of HIV. Other issues we work with are personal transformation: we work with youth of all ages and nationalities. We are about total diversity."

Transgender people hold a special place in Benton's heart. Though he's not trans, he understands the pain of isolation.

"I came out at age 13, and was ostracized," he said. "My heart goes out to the transgender community: they should be a part of Pride." Benton recently did a fundraiser for the trans community, which focused on HIV and homelessness.

As he prepares for his duties as Pride grand marshal, a notable sense of joy came into Benton's voice.

"I'm very excited. It was my turn, and it feels really good to me," he said. "I grew up in San Francisco and saw my community hard hit by AIDS. I faced a lot of challenges and I'm blessed to still be here in 2013."


More information on Benton's work can be found at