By Amanda Strouse
When Cleve Jones first came out, it was illegal to be gay. It was illegal for him to have sex or even dance with another man. It was illegal for him and other gays and lesbians to be themselves.
Jones, a human rights activist and founder of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, said he has seen incredible change in his lifetime. There has been an observable increase in tolerance and activism to support the LGBT community, he said. Today, the LGBT Pride Celebrations which are held nationwide every year are hugely popular.
This year is San Diego’s 35th Pride celebration. The festivities, including a parade, a two-day festival and many other social events, began July 1 and run through July 19.
Sure, these celebrations are attended by millions of Americans who want to wave rainbow flags, gaze at the brightly colored floats, take handfuls of free condoms and show off their flamboyant clothing (or lack thereof). But to Jones, the events are more than just entertainment. To him and many others, these gatherings symbolize the consistent need to assemble, to create support and to spawn change for the gay community.
“It’s not just a celebration, but it’s about continuing the fight,” said Jones, who has been chosen as the San Diego Pride’s 2009 Grand Marshal because of his activism. “We have a lot to celebrate about, but we also have a lot of work to get done.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City. On June 28, 1969, violence broke out as a result of police raiding the Stonewall Inn bar and attempting to arrest supposedly gay people. The riots made their way into the history books and became the stepping stone for the gay rights movement, launching activist groups and the Pride events that are prevalent in many major cities today.
The first organized gay and lesbian protest march in San Diego was held downtown in 1974. Although it was small and lacked a city permit, it paved the way for the following year’s march and rally in 1975, considered the first official San Diego Pride events.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Ron deHarte, the executive director of San Diego Pride. “We’re not marching down the streets of Hillcrest to Balboa Park with paper bags over our heads anymore, out of fear. A lot has changed, but at the end of the day, some of those fundamental issues that were around in the ’60s and ’70s continue today. The addressing issues of homophobia and hate crimes, looking at being treated equally and not being separated in the law of the land.”
DeHarte said Pride is the largest civic event in San Diego, and means something different to every person. “We create the opportunity to allow the community to come together in this celebration, in this protest, in this call of the community to celebrate diversity, to celebrate human rights,” he said.
The San Diego Pride celebration kicked off with a flag raising ceremony on July 1. The parade takes place July 18, starting at 11 a.m., at University Avenue and Normal Street. Roughly 30 boldly-decorated floats and between 8,000 to 10,000 participants will head west on University Avenue, then south on Sixth Avenue to Upas Street.
An estimated 175,000 spectators are expected to watch the parade, deHarte said. Celebrity participants will include television chef Sam Zien – also known as Sam the Cooking Guy, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. The parade’s grand marshals include Jones and famous drag entertainer The Lady Chablis.
The parade will be filmed a broadcast later on Aug. 6 at 8:30 p.m. on Channel 19, Aug. 8 at 4:30 p.m. on Channel 19, and Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. on Channel 95.
About 300 vendors and at least 80 different performing groups will be at the festival in Balboa Park, which will run from noon until 10 p.m. on July 18, and 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. on July 19. The festival will feature carnival games, adult face painting, prize give-a-ways and tent dances. There will be more stages than last year to host various types of performances and bands, such as Berlin, Shiny Toy Guns and The Bird and the Bee. There will be an Art of Pride exhibit, which will showcase local LGBT artists; a Children’s Garden, which will have entertainment and games for kids; three different wine or beer gardens; and a Get Tested Pavilion, which will offer free and confidential HIV Early Tests.
The festival will also have a few new additions. There will be a farmer’s market, which will sell fresh fruit and flowers, to promote a healthy lifestyle. There will also be a Green with Pride Zone, which will have 15 to 20 exhibitors focused on interactive, eco-friendly booths.
Even though the Pride Parade and Festival are the most popular affairs in the celebration, many other events have been organized.
The San Diego Dyke March and Dyke Fest will start on Centre Street at 11 a.m. on July 12. The Official Pride Concert will feature the San Diego Men’s Chorus at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., also on July 12, at 5757 Morehouse Drive. The Pride Community Breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on July 17, at The Center at 3909 Centre St., is scheduled so people can meet other community members and be able to look back on past Pride events. The Launch Party, an outdoor house party from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. on July 17, is a bigger event each year, according to deHarte. And the Run and Stride with Pride 5K Run and Walk starts at 10 a.m. on the morning of the parade.
Although the Pride Celebration is a major event in San Diego, deHarte said the gay community stills needs a lot of public support. “As long as people are treated separately, we need more support,” he said. “It’s about creating a world where everyone is treated equal. Until that happens, we have to continue to call on the community.”
–Tickets for the festival are $20 – $10 for students and seniors – and can be bought online or at the festival’s entrance. Other events may have admission fees. For more information, go to www.sandiegopride.org
Amanda Strouse is a freelance journalist in San Diego