Missing the Pride Parade was not an option for Emily.
Though she attended numerous parades in the past as an out lesbian, recent political attacks on the queer communities imbued a different sentiment for Sunday’s parade.
“People think it’s time to have a rager,” Emily said. “But our rights are in danger as we speak.”
So the 19-year-old threw on her rainbow-striped button-down and, friends in tow, came to San Francisco’s annual LGBTQ Pride Parade determined to counter “the [negative] way Republicans paint us.” How? By celebrating. “Queer joy is really radical right now,” she said.
On Sunday, the city’s 52nd annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Parade kicked off at the Embarcadero and ended in usual fun at Civic Center. Parade participants included local gay politicos State Sen. Scott Wiener and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, longtime queer organizations like Dykes on Bikes and San Francisco Bay Times, and any company that could capitalize on the optics.
But as Emily said, for many spectators, it was a few hours of radical joy.
Take Malaki, a 16-year-old from Fresno. He didn’t know he was going to Pride until yesterday — his very first one — and the gay young man was thrilled. “I was visiting my family, and they asked if I’d like to go. I was like, ‘Yeah, Oh my god!’”
It’s been years since Malaki started noticing his feelings toward men had changed and, as a sixth grader, realized he was gay. Luckily, Malaki’s family is supportive and inclusive, and joined him Sunday.
“It’s so good to be here,” said Malaki, flashing a huge smile. “I feel so safe. I have a warm feeling that I am not alone, and that I’m able to be who I am. I can be hype!”
It was 13-year-old Bibi’s first Pride Parade, too. “I really wanted to go,” he said, waving a transgender flag and holding a stream of colorful balloons.
The new teen rose at 7 a.m. to make it from Novato on time, and thus he was perfectly positioned in front to collect the tiny flags and beaded necklaces that parade participants threw out.
Bibi, assigned a female at birth, realized at the age of 10 that he was a transgender boy and bisexual.
Accompanying him at the parade was his mother, Sol Rocha, who is still learning about how best to support her son. “It hasn’t been easy,” she said. “I’m learning, and it’s a process. But I want to understand. As parents, you have to accept them no matter what. Like when you held them as babies for the first time: Unconditional love.”
Just a few people over, Courtney, Ash, and Trystan whooped at the roller skaters and pocketed Planned Parenthood condoms.
“I wanted to go to Pride in , but the pandemic happened,” Courtney said, who uses she/they pronouns. This was their first one “out” as a bisexual. “With everything going on, I wanted to support everyone. People want to take away our rights,” they said.
Relatives on Courtney’s mother’s side rejected her after coming out, but after her mother died, she cares less what her family thinks. And “if they think that I should stay in the closet, I don’t want to be in that family.”
Their friend Ash came from Willows, a small town near Chico. In that environment, Ash said he doesn’t correct people when they misgender him, for “safety reasons.” But the parade is a relief, and a nice place to be with “like-minded people.”
Trystan agreed. “Pride has always been a big thing for me until Covid-19 stopped that. This is my first as an adult. I can dress up more,” they said, pointing out the rainbow sequins on her face and the yellow, black, blue, and pink striped jersey.
Other parade veterans celebrated the post-pandemic party as well. Oakland resident Greg Cabiness, 66, and San Franciscan Sam Kaufman, 59, said “it was good to be out.” The pair have been partners for 10 years, and after some typical couple back-and-forth, figured out they had marched in it twice.
“It’s nice. We may go to Civic Center after this. That’s where the party is at,” Cabiness said. “It seems like a more diverse crowd. A lot more allies and acceptance is good to see,” Kaufman added.
And Emily, the 19-year-old in the rainbow button-down, brought along plenty of allies from home. One of Emily’s friends, Isaiah, noted he was adopted by gay parents. He’s been at Pride for years, and it’s a joy to return. His other friends stressed the importance of love at Sunday’s parade in the face of politics.
“When there’s so much shit happening with Roe v. Wade, it’s important to stick together and show there’s resistance,” said Matt, a Lower Haight resident. “People want to think of Pride as a party. It’s a protest.”