San Francisco Pride announced today that it is cancelling this year’s June Parade and Celebration—the largest in the Western United States—as COVID continues to take its toll. (Pride now joins other major local cultural events like Burning Man and the SF International Arts Festival in skipping 2020 for, hopefully, reinvigoration in 2021.)
The massive annual rainbow-festooned, glitter-strewing festival, which is funded by sponsors, donors, and city grants, draws more than 500,000 people to commemorate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a touchstone of the contemporary gay rights movement, and distributes an average of $2.5 million to local nonprofits and community partners afterwards. Beyond its importance in terms of LGBTQ+ community visibility, the SF Pride event pumps millions of dollars into the local economy.
“It’s heartbreaking, we’re all disappointed,” SF Pride Executive Director Fred Lopez told 48 Hills over the phone. “But the safety and well-being of our community obviously comes first, which is our main focus, and the meaning behind the event in the first place.
“This was a huge decision about a huge event—there’s a reason the two largest Pride celebrations in the country, San Francisco and New York, are among the last to announce changes like this,” Lopez said. “We were in constant communication with City Hall, the Department of Public Health, our vendors and contractors, and members of the community.
“We know Pride is not just historically essential but also important to the livelihoods of so many local people and businesses. The people who come to Pride stay in our hotels, drink at our bars, dance at our nightclubs, visit our museums. It’s a true citywide event, so it took us time to really figure out what we needed to do and the right way to do it.”
Does the decision to cancel Pride outright put the organization itself in jeopardy, financially? And why cancel rather than postpone?
“Pride will absolutely always welcome any donations from the community,” Lopez said. “We have a small but mighty staff that works year-round to execute this huge event. Like pretty much every other organization right now, we will have to look at how to stay nimble and tighten our belt.
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“That said, in some ways the decision to cancel does in fact protect the future of Pride. The uncertainty of any type of postponement presented financial challenges. An event of this size moving to fall before being absolutely sure it could take place then would have been too much of a risk for everyone involved.”
The floats may be stalled in 2020, but don’t mothball those hot pink tutus and feather boas just yet. The Pride plan is to dry all the drag queens’ and queer teens’ tears with online options, as well as amplification of efforts on the ground.
“This is an early stage of the announcement, and we will be rolling out more ideas as we move forward,” Lopez told me. “But now that the decision has been made, our team can pivot its talents and expertise toward fulfilling our mission in other ways. However much we’re all sad about what’s happened, this is an opportunity to try new and interesting stuff out.
“We’ll be involved in Interpride’s Global Pride online event on Saturday, June 27—an international Pride experience that will showcase what celebrations around the world have to offer,” Lopez said. “For the past couple years we’ve been collaborating with the GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives, and their 50th anniversary Pride exhibit at the GLBT History Museum and City Hall is still planned to take place in some form this year. And we’ve been so inspired by the way the community itself has come together to support one another during this crisis. Things like the Queer Nightlife Fund and other grassroots efforts show just how resilient our community is.”
This is Lopez’s first year as SF Pride’s executive director, and the organization has many new board members as well, who reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. This is a strange debut for them, to say the least, especially with an event whose theme this year is ‘Generations of Hope.”
“Our board, staff, volunteers, and entire community worked so hard on this event, and throughout this they have been thoughtful, compassionate, and smart,” Lopez said. “Of course, this shift is disappointing and challenging. But SF Pride was built over 50 years by the community, and I know we can deal with this situation in that special way we have countless times before in our history.”
The full SF Pride cancellation press release is below:
SAN FRANCISCO — Today, the Board of Directors of San Francisco Pride announced that this year’s Parade and Celebration, originally scheduled for Saturday & Sunday, June 27-28, will not take place as planned. Uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified in recent weeks, and the organization has concluded that the risks to public health of a large-scale gathering such as Pride preclude this year’s production of the annual event.
“This was not a decision we arrived at lightly,” Executive Director Fred Lopez said. “Far from it: Our staff has been in frequent talks with our board, our production team, our partners at many departments of City Hall, officials at other Pride organizations worldwide — and most of all, our LGBTQ communities. We have heard from people who urged us to cancel, and from those who implored us not to.
“Since the coronavirus first emerged, we have held out hope that the situation would shift and we would be able to gather later this year,” Lopez added. “Well before the first shelter-in-place order, our team began to balance our excitement for Pride 50 and evaluate possible alternatives. With heavy hearts, we have decided not to go forward with the Parade and Celebration in 2020.”
“We know what Pride symbolizes for San Francisco — and to LGBTQ+ people around the world,” Board President Carolyn Wysinger said. “We know our decision means disappointment, canceled plans, and one less thing for us all to look forward to. We also know that protecting the safety of all our communities is the most important. We look forward to gathering with all of you, our friends and our families and our allies. In the meantime, SF Pride will offer new and creative ways to commemorate LGBTQ+ Pride.”
For decades, SF Pride’s Parade and two-day Celebration have brought hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ revelers and allies to Downtown San Francisco. As 2020 is a historic 50th anniversary, upward of a million people were expected to attend, to witness more than 275 contingents march down Market Street toward Civic Center, where more than 20 community-programmed stages and gathering spaces highlight the diversity of all LGBTQ experiences.
“Pride is one of my favorite times of the year in San Francisco, and no one wants to celebrate with the entire community more than I do,” Mayor London N. Breed said. “However, we are in an unprecedented public-health emergency with an uncertain future, and we must do everything we can to protect our entire community and put public health first. The City will continue to work with SF Pride to celebrate everything Pride stands for in the weeks and months to come, and San Francisco will emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.”
“SF Pride has made the right decision,” said Sup. Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the Castro. “While I am of course disappointed that we can’t celebrate in person this year, I’m excited to see the virtual alternatives that our LGBTQ communities come up with. We know how many people Pride brings to San Francisco, and we hope to welcome everyone back soon.”
“First and foremost, I want to thank SF Pride for making the right — albeit very tough — decision to cancel in-person pride events this year,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “I have no doubt that SF Pride will put together a terrific slate of virtual events for this year’s celebration. Pride is my favorite part of every year, and though it’s disappointing that we can’t be together in person, we will find creative ways to uplift and celebrate the LGBTQ community.”
While the board and staff are disappointed not to showcase the physical celebration so many had hoped for, SF Pride plans to join a constellation of Pride organizations worldwide in a “Virtual Global Pride” on Saturday, June 27. SF Pride will be announcing additional collaborations, primarily in digital formats, to commemorate Pride throughout the summer. These alternate celebrations, presented alongside other community organizations and supporters, will roll out throughout the coming weeks and months.