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Participants walk around Market Street before the San Francisco Pride Parade.
A joyful crowd celebrates the return of the San Francisco Pride Parade.
The San Francisco Pride Parade draws a mix of participants.
Grand Marshall Vinny Eng waves to the crowd during the San Francisco Pride Parade.
Disarm Hate members march against gun violence during the San Francisco Pride Parade.
A joyful crowd takes part in the San Francisco Pride Parade.
Gustavo Ordonez Aguigas dances in the San Francisco Pride Parade.
The San Francisco Pride Parade makes its way up Market Street.
Spectators line the streets and cheer during the San Francisco Pride Parade.
At 10:30 Sunday morning, 200 motorcycles started up in unison to announce that Pride is back after a two-year, too-quiet absence. Two minutes later, the parade coordinator counted down and they were off, the roar of the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes Motorcycle Contingent mixing with the roar of the crowd six deep along Market Street. What may be the most politicized Pride Parade since the first one, 52 years ago, was under way.
“It feels so amazing that it makes me want to cry,” Calder Storm said as he stood along the route in glittering coveralls and a singlet made up of miniature disco balls. “Community is imperative, especially given the state of the nation right now.” Storm held a sign that read “Queer Joy is Resistance” on one side and “Protect Trans Kids” on the other. He made it Sunday morning, which is about the only way to stay ahead of the news.
The second contingent, after Dykes on Bikes, was a troupe of people chanting, “Whose bodies? Our bodies,” in reference to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion.
“Battles we thought we had won we have to fight all over again,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, who wore a fitted rainbow T-shirt and rode in a white pickup truck. “I’m an optimist, and we are going to win this,” he said. “But now is the time to recommit.”
A week earlier, police searched Wiener’s home for bombs after threats were made against the senator. That happened the same day men believed to be from the far-right Proud Boys stormed a children’s story program hosted by a drag queen at the San Lorenzo Library and shouted slurs.
This year marks the 52nd annual San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration and Parade, counting the 2020 event, which was virtual, and 2021, which was a ticketed social distancing affair at Oracle Park. San Francisco police said Sunday they estimated the crowd for the event reached 500,000. The procession up Market, from Main to Eighth streets, took four hours before marchers and spectators all emptied into a huge, pulsating party on several stages at the Civic Center.
The theme for Pride 52 was “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and organizers needed it to pull off the marquee event of the weekend — the annual parade — amid the threats to the LGBTQ community, the ongoing pandemic and controversies surrounding the event itself.
In 2019, a group of queer protesters within the parade sat down in the middle of Market Street, stopping the event in its tracks. Police in uniform responded, and while they were clearing the scene, one woman was mistreated to the point that the city had to pay a settlement. The episode shocked those in the parade, including former state Sen. Mark Leno, who is 70 and old enough to remember that the first Pride was a response to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, in which the gay community in New York City battled police over longstanding charges of abuse.
“The trauma of Stonewall and pre-Stonewall, and how law enforcement treated us, is still with us, and to see that happen in real time was seriously disturbing,” Leno said. “It was ugly.”
The Pride board of directors voted to ban police in uniform and carrying weapons from marching in the parade, as is tradition among officers, gay and straight. When it was enforced for 2022, a backlash ensued and Mayor London Breed announced that if there were no police in uniform, there would be no mayor either.
Officials scrambled to initiate a compromise. In the end, 30 officers marched, said SFPD public information officer Kathryn Winters, with captains and above wearing dress uniforms and about eight rank-and-file officers wearing SFPD Pride shirts. Breed relented and said she would participate. But on Wednesday, she tested positive for the coronavirus and entered five days of quarantine. She was not at the parade.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi was there, waving from a red convertible. The House speaker was greeted with a cheers and one or two jeers when she rode by, with a rainbow gavel in one hand while waving with the other. One car behind was retiring Rep. Jackie Speier, who twirled a rainbow umbrella from a long vintage Cadillac Eldorado. As they made their way through the parade route, marchers carried signs saying “They won’t stop at Roe,” “mother by choice, mother for choice” and “if you cut off my reproductive rights, can I cut off yours?”
In spite of the grim political atmosphere, the mood was celebratory.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day for 2½ years,” said Kate Brown, president of SF Dykes on Bikes. “While we ride throughout the year, none of our rides bring the same amount of exhilaration as the ride that kicks off the parade on Market Street.”
The pent-up energy was overflowing on the other side of the barricade, too. “I couldn’t wait to get here today. I’m very happy to have the parade again,” said Saray Pacheco, a Cuban emigre who was wearing a rainbow lei over her shoulders and a BabyBjörn carrying her 6-month-old daughter, Adeline Guerra. Adeline’s father, Reinier Guerra, was providing a shoulder-top view to their other daughter, Amelia, 3. “We support everyone living together regardless of gender,” Pacheco said. “I want my daughters to see it as well.”
Tamela Bessler picked up her friends Sarah Singleton and Amy Noack in Stockton at 5:30 a.m. It was their first Pride, and Singleton was up on her tiptoes for 10 minutes at a stretch to see over the crowd.
“We are three moms giving mom hugs,” she said. “We’re here to spread our love wherever it is needed.”
As the Dykes on Bikes came roaring past at one point, the fog started to lift, and a woman in leather named Susan became as emotional as she was when she saw her first Pride Parade in 1990.
“I was in tears, just seeing the sheer power of these women,” she said. “I’m not even remotely gay. But I am a woman.”
At 6 p.m., as the celebration after the parade was ending, a fight broke out near Hayes and Polk streets. Responding officers found enough people involved to require backup. Police broke up the fight, the crowd dispersed, no injuries were reported, and no arrests were made.
Sam Whiting and Megan Cassidy are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SamWhitingSF, @meganrcassidy
Sam Whiting has been a staff writer at The San Francisco Chronicle since 1988. He started as a feature writer in the People section, which was anchored by Herb Caen’s column, and has written about people ever since. He is a general assignment reporter with a focus on writing feature-length obituaries. He lives in San Francisco and walks three miles a day on the steep city streets.
Megan Cassidy is a crime reporter with The Chronicle, also covering cops, criminal justice issues and mayhem. Previously, Cassidy worked for the Arizona Republic covering Phoenix police, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and desert-area crime and mayhem. She is a two-time graduate of the University of Missouri, and has additionally worked at the Casper Star-Tribune, National Geographic and an online publication in Buenos Aires. Cassidy can be reached on twitter at @meganrcassidy, and will talk about true crime as long as you’ll let her.
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