RECAP: America's Pride in San Diego | Detailing the Poppin' of my Pride Cherry

July 24, 2012

The San Diego LGBT Pride Festival made history as it drew a record of nearly 200,000 people to Hillcrest and Balboa Park for a weekend marked by monumental movements towards our government’s acceptance of the equality of its citizens, no matter the sexual orientation.  In doing so, the celebration lived up to its chosen theme – America’s Pride.  It did so on its own terms, without pretense and without problems, and for a first timer, the festival was all I could ask for – good vibes, kind people, music, food, and fun in an accepting and glorious setting.  And although it was my first experience at Pride, the event consisted of a series of firsts for all participants and organizers alike.  While we at greatly appreciate the direct progress made by the LGBT community and are thankful for the enjoyable experience, I’m taking cue from the weekend and staying true to me in this recap article, and you all can take from it what you wish.    

Pride kicked off with an honoration on Friday, July 20th, as the Spirit of Stonewall Rally paid tribute to the history of the movement’s origination and those that have helped cultivate its progress over the years.  Following the moving speech by keynote speaker Dr. Clarence B. Jones, the grand finale of the Rally was the raising of the Pride Flag on the new 65’ tall Hillcrest Pride Flagpole, marking the first time that a massive rainbow flag was raised by the community as a symbol of the diversity of San Diego.

An impromptu Pride proposal
Saturday morning’s Pride Parade marked a ‘first-ever’ in the history of Pride and the United States, making world news as marchers were joined by uniformed, active-duty service members and their families, all with the Pentagon’s express approval.  Another first for Pride occurred during the middle of the parade when a gay sailor proposed marriage to his boyfriend, temporarily halting the procession to allow fellow marchers to enjoy the blissful occasion.  I’m not sure that the Department of Defense saw this coming when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued a military-wide directive, making exception to the longstanding policy barring troops from marching in uniform in gay pride parades.  However, the DoD was sure to explicate that the exception was valid for this year’s parade in San Diego only.

We thought Comic
Con was over!!
For $20/day, attendees were able to join the two-day Pride festival and Parade, stroll through hundreds of vendors, enter beer gardens, listen to music, comedians, and entertainers, and even rave at one of the random DJ dance tents.  We also had the chance to stroll through an “Adults Only” leather section, which left me troubled, grasping for what made this section any different from main vendors  (or any of the half naked festival participants) to necessitate segregation at an event meant to celebrate openness and acceptance.  While having to show ID and duck through layers of black plastic garbage bags to an alleged land of the hedonic added a bit of (albeit underwhelming) allure, Dr. Dildo was stationed damn near adjacent to 7-11’s free slurpee stand in the main arena (my favorite vendor of the swelteringly hot day!) for crying out loud, and no ID was necessary there to play with pyrections (made that up myself) and take pictures with nearly-nude, gun-shaped-dildo-wielding nymphs!.  Moral of the story, don’t make me show my ID to get in when I look well over 18, and if you do, shake my preconceptions.  Shake ‘em good.

City Council members (and maybe a
future mayor) in attendance
at the flag raising
Entertainers from Sandra Bernhard to Natasha Bedingfield entertained, as festivalgoers marched by.  Unfortunately, we were not in attendance for such performers, and instead caught one memorable act being booed off stage, launching a mass exodus from the main stage’s lawn.  A man in drag with a huge red Mohawk calling out audience members and referring to them as “Bitches” was not my idea of family-friendly entertainment (nor anyone else’s, apparently).  I guess I could/should have redirected my attention to one of the other musicians, bands, or dance performances, but the main stage also happened to be where the VIP section was located, and complimentary beers and fried chicken prevail for this reporter!

While I’m all for openness and celebrating personal expression, when you’re trying to attract families to an event, and/or to gain the understanding and support of the community at large, it may be a good marketing strategy to establish some code of conduct (dress code, language, etc.), whether express or implied.  A stroll through the Kid Zone was all I needed to see that the family-friendly marketing failed, as it was like a ghost town in there.   I understand the tactic of fostering productive change by shaking the sh*t out of preconceived conceptions, societal norms and mores, but this technique may be offsetting when trying to thrust into mainstream acceptance in a city with a conservative majority.

As humanitarians and devoted advocates of forward thinking and progress in the global acknowledgement of human rights and equality, we greatly appreciate how certain events at this year’s festival signified a shift toward a nation more accepting of sexual equality, and equality in general.  The specific purpose of San Diego Pride is “to produce civic, cultural and educational programs, which support and encourage pride within San Diego’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.”  While I’d love to say that I was swept away by the elated passion of the Pride community, I wasn’t.  Sadly, I was somewhat disengaged by the overwhelming number of individuals acting out in the spirit of sheer shock value as the weekend progressed.   You either know what I mean, or you don’t.  But still, the event was a valuable and groundbreaking demonstration of the vibrant, but marginalized community of people who contribute to make this America’s Finest City, and for that, we salute you!  Thank you for bringing San Diego to the forefront of the equality movement in America!