Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 49 / 7 December 2017
 

Parade offers Orlando tribute

NEWS


Marchers carried placards at Sunday's Pride parade for each of the 49 people killed in the recent Orlando massacre. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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After the quintessential roar and cheering that always accompanies the Dykes on Bikes leading the LGBT Pride parade Sunday, June 26, the 46th annual event turned somber due to the hastily formed contingent "We Are Orlando," which featured people carrying 49 large placards with pictures of those who died at the recent massacre at a gay nightclub.

The contingent was organized by Florida transplant Richard Sizemore, 29, who identifies as queer and has many fond memories of time spent at Pulse, the bar where the June 12 shootings took place.

"That's where I met my friends when I was coming out at age 18," he said, "It's literally the place where I became the person I am. I learned the lingo and how to be gay."

Devastated by the news of the massacre at Pulse, Sizemore said, "I had to do something but I didn't know what."

Sizemore reached out to several existing contingents with his idea about an Orlando theme after Pride officials told him the deadline had passed for new contingents.

A man danced atop a contingent during Sunday's Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter

With just two weeks until the Pride parade, Sizemore wondered if he had the time and resources to do something on his own.

"I'd never been an activist or done anything like this," he said.

But Sizemore got a positive response from two women friends to help with the design and printing of the 20-by-30 placards and from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to join him and convince Pride officials it was a good idea.

Then, said Sizemore, parade manager "Marsha Levine really went the distance for us," placing the Orlando contingent just behind the cyclists and arranging for 30 seconds of silence when the group was in front of the parade grandstands.

"Walking the three quarters of a mile in the parade turned out to be the most moving moment of my life," said Sizemore in a phone interview. "The response we got – the clapping and the crying – people really appreciated our efforts to memorialize" the victims.

In addition to several hundred marchers reached through social media, 16 members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence completed the contingent.

Sister Roma, a previous parade grand marshal, told the B.A.R. that this year's parade "was very different" from the 11 previous ones she had attended.

"You could feel the sadness in the crowd," Roma said.

Comments from those along the route echoed that sentiment.

Nicolas Carlson, 82, has been coming to the parade since 1978, when he was "on my way out."

A woman raised her umbrella during the Dyke March Saturday, June 25. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

"The parade made me realize that the great preponderance of gays and lesbians" – those living outside the Bay Area – "had no such support in their lives," Carlson, a gay man, said. And, he added, "I realized how wonderful it was going to be to have such great people having my back."

But after moving to Vacaville recently Carlson had planned to skip the parade "since it's now more difficult than the days I could just jump on Muni."

He changed his mind when "the events in Orlando gave impetus to the notion of solidarity with our own. The least I can do is show my face to support my LBGTQA family," Carlson said. "The parade is a visual sign of pride in our ability to be ourselves and gratitude that we live where such an event is not only possible but supported by thousands, if not millions, of people."

For 34-year-old Leonardo Herrera, a filmmaker who moved to Brooklyn several years ago, "coming back to San Francisco for Pride is the gay equivalent of the pilgrimage to Mecca," Herrera, who produced and directed the Frameline film festival trailer in 2012, said. "There is nothing like it that can feed the queer soul mentally, sexually, and spiritually."

When Black Lives Matter, the organization grand marshal, withdrew from the parade last week, Herrera said that the group's stand protesting the increased police presence at Pride "reminded me of the honor and complexities of our community."

"And of course," he added, "because of my Mexican heritage, I identified with the communities of color" that were victims in the Orlando tragedy.

Another former San Franciscan, Joie King, 29, a straight woman from Grass Valley, California, brought her husband and three children – ages 4, 1, and 2 months – to the parade this year.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Dykes on Bikes, which led the San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter

"I was born and raised in San Francisco and realize that early exposure to all sorts of people would be important," she said. "I wanted to give my children the advantages I had learning about diversity from an early age."

Changes in the makeup of the parade were mentioned by Russ Gowen, 74, a gay San Francisco man. Gowen, a retired high school teacher, said, "In the old days, the parade was mostly about gay groups, protests, and outrageous conduct. But of the groups we saw today, quite a few were businesses, such as Apple and Netflix."

"At first I thought that the dilution of gay voices was a bad thing," said Gowen. "But this showing of unity and acceptance from important segments of the 'real world' is very positive. Today's video will look good if it's shown on 60 Minutes or the network news."

Over the years, the parade has tilted more heavily toward corporate contingents, mainly those with large groups of LGBT employees. There has also been the steady presence of local nonprofit groups, such as the Shanti Project and Project Open Hand, as well as the usual gaggle of politicians, whose politics often are in sync with the LGBT community.

 

Pride officials pleased

Overall, officials with the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee were pleased with Sunday's parade and festival. In reaction to the Orlando shooting, people attending this year's festival in Civic Center were subject to bag checks and metal detectors.

George Ridgely, SF Pride executive director, said lines to get in were manageable.

Peaches rocked the main stage at the Pride festival Sunday. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

"We really did not experience any significant lines on Saturday," he told the B.A.R. in an email Tuesday, referring to the first day of the festival that is usually not as crowded. "Lines on Sunday were consistent throughout the day; however, the feedback we received thus far is that wait times were typically 10 to 20 minutes."

Ridgely said he had not heard of any major violent incidents and that no decision has been made as to whether the enhanced security would be in place next year.

"We are always planning for the future and for the next event, but right now we are still cleaning up, packing up, and debriefing with all of our partners, participants, and constituents," he said.

Ridgely put the size of this year's event at about 1.2 million people over Saturday and Sunday.

He also said that the Orlando shootings, while horrific, had an effect on San Francisco's Pride parade and celebration.

"I felt a renewed sense of community throughout all of the Pride Week events, a greater sense of love and commitment, and most certainly a sense of resolve to show up for one another and look out for one another," Ridgely said.

 

Warm welcome

This year, all the contingents seemed to get a warm welcome from the crowd, even those groups with ongoing beefs with the community, such as Facebook, which clashed with transgender people last year after requiring members to use their real names.

Apparently, riders on one contingent felt they had received only a lukewarm reception. When a snazzy vintage car with Mayor Ed Lee drove by a large group, one member of his contingent, riding the side of the car, shouted out, "Hey, this isn't a funeral. It's a parade," in a plea for a heartier welcome.

As reported on the B.A.R.'s blog last Friday, in addition to Black Lives Matter, grand marshal Janetta Johnson and honoree St. James Infirmary dropped out of the parade, citing the increased security. (See http://ebar.com/blogs/pride-honorees-withdraw-from-parade-festival/.)

In addition, about 100 women motorcyclists from the Dykes on Bikes contingent also chose to stay home this year. Although there was no formal announcement of their rationale, co-president Vick Germany, who identifies as a butch dyke, said, "presumably, many were responding to the aftermath of Orlando," including the increased police presence.

"We support their decision," she said.

Officer Carlos Manfredi, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, said that the screening did not detect any potentially troublesome items. Several reports of suspicious items turned out to be false alarms, he said.

As a precaution, he said, the SFPD's explosive ordinance disposal truck drove behind the parade.






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