One of the city’s most celebrated events, the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is the culmination of LGBT Pride month events that take place over the month of June. More than just a parade, this whirlwind of rainbow flags, wild costumes, and celebratory smiles has been overflowing with love vibes since its beginning in 1970, when it was simply called the Christopher Street Liberation Day Gay-in. Over the last 45 years, the parade’s incarnations – Christopher Street West (1972), Gay Freedom Day (1973-1980), International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade (1981-1994), and as we know it today, the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration (1995-present) – have upheld, at their core, the fundamental human right to love and be loved, without regard to gender, sexuality, creed, or politics. It is a day to celebrate both individualism and community, to share support and shout out loud, “Equality Without Exception!”
Here in the GLBTHS archives, snapshots – both figuratively and literally – of San Francisco Pride history can be found in nearly every collection. When the parade first began in the 1970s, a man named Lou Perica (#1991-15) took it upon himself to film some of the early parades. Spanning 1974 to 1981, Perica’s various Pride Parade films reveal a sampling of the figures, organizations, costumes and causes that have become so integral to LGBTQ history.
Perica’s footage of Harvey Milk seems to evoke the feeling that we are right alongside his convertible, up at the spectator line, glimpsing Milk as his political career was evolving, before and after the mustache. In what would be Milk’s last Pride Parade appearance before his tragic 1978 assassination, Perica’s film gives viewers today a glimpse of this charismatic individual. Through the Visions and Voices project, and with the digitization leadership of GLBTHS volunteer John Raines, we are able to bring to life the spirit of Milk within the context of this celebration.
The parade is not designed to discriminate; both participants and spectators come together during this one special day a year to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Perica’s films capture much of this communal spirit, placing viewers within a myriad of marching contingencies, from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to the Dykes on Bikes and the Rainbow Deaf Society.
But films are not the only medium here in the GLBTHS archives in which past Pride Parades take form. With the growing prevalence of compact cameras in the 1970s and 80s, photo snapshots and the documentation of the day-to-day became more commonplace, and by the late 1980s and early 90s, the vast diversity of San Francisco Pride participants becomes crystal clear. In the Spencer N. Nutting photographs (#1990-18), for instance, images of the San Jose group the High Tech Gays marching in the 1989 Pride Parade are shown embracing the parade’s long held tradition of including witty yet poignant hand signs, with one reading “Nobody DOS it Better!” Similarly, the Mark C. Goniwiecha photographs (#1998-15) include the ACT UP contingency with a sign demanding “Earn Your Attitude ACT UP”, as well as the Stop AIDS Project – perhaps embracing the then popular Right Said Fred song – sporting a “No one is TOO SEXY for a condom”. Another Pride-rich collection, the Sabrina Mazzoni photographs (#2006-03), contains over one hundred various snapshots of different San Francisco Pride weekend events in the early 1990s (“Don’t Ask – It’s Clear We’re Queer!”/ “Don’t Tell – Thank God We’re Gay!”).
Without a doubt, the sampling of collections mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg in the GLBTHS archives’ documentation of the San Francisco Pride Parade. With this year’s event taking place in just a few days, one can look to these films and photographs not just as historical documents with enduring value (of course, they are), but as a reminder of how strong the LGBTQ community voice once was, is today, and will be long into the future.
To view any of these collections or discover others, stop in the archives on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month, or make an appointment.