Thursday, July 28, 2005 | San Diego Pride’s first rallies consisted of 100 or so brave activists gathered in a grassy bowl of Balboa Park, risking police harassment, job loss and excommunication to talk openly about gay issues.
This year, feathers and leather will be held in check, temporarily, as Pride pays homage to its roots. Friday’s rally in the old location will rev the political engine of what has grown into one of the city’s largest and most ostentatious annual weekend events – a two-day festival and parade that draws more than 150,000 spectators and participants of every orientation.
Then on Saturday, the tension will explode into a rainbow of color, as a mile-long entourage of bronze muscles and golden curls, patent leather and pink heels parades through the streets of Hillcrest, followed by a whirlwind of festivities lasting through Sunday.
The nostalgia of this year’s celebration is appropriate in the wake of political conservatism that is currently sweeping the country. The weekend’s theme, “Equal Rights, No More, No Less!” is a reference to the recent slew of debates casting a backwards-looking gaze on gay participation in such hallowed institutions as parenting, marriage and the military.
Frank Sabatini, Pride’s media coordinator who built its public relations campaign from the ground up 12 years ago, says the mood of the event vacillates from year-to-year between protest and celebration. This year’s event, he anticipates, will advertise a more political brand of pride.
“The political quest of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community is back on the forefront, stronger than it has been,” said Sabatini. “It’s a defensive response to the offenses launched by other groups who have been very vocal of late.”
A protest zone will be set up at Ninth Street and University Avenue, designed by the San Diego Police Department to accommodate noisy groups who inevitably arrive with competing messages. Sabatini says the parade participants are encouraged not to engage in verbal battle with protestors, and that the weekend has been largely without incident for the past several years.
Instead, political messages, especially regarding gay marriage, are likely to be woven through Saturday’s parade, as floats designed to reflect the weekend’s theme provide the LGBT community with some of the most visibility it receives all year.
Competing with the pomp and plumage will be the staid but significant presence of dozens of San Diego businesses, church organizations and city agencies and officials who support the gay community, including state Sen. Christine Kehoe, City Attorney Mike Aguirre and Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla.
Police Chief William Landsowne will lead a regiment of several hundred from regional police and fire departments.
“Of all the parades that I go to, this is the one that’s the most exciting,” said Landsowne. “There’s a mile and a half of community members laughing and cheering. We certainly appreciate diversity within the community as part of the rich heritage that San Diego’s all about.”
According to Sabatini, the sight of hundreds of public safety-keepers supporting the cause is a rousing emotional spectacle for both new and veteran Pride-goers.
“I’ve seen spectators moved to tears by the sight of [the officers] marching,” said Sabatini.
Eight local churches will also join the revelry to advertise their appreciation for diversity and to draw in new members. Mark Van Milligan and Marty Townsend are behind the “float ministry” for the Pacific Beach United Methodist Church and have spent the last three months designing an extravagant float themed “God loves all children,” which sports 8-foot-tall pinwheels, Styrofoam lollipops and suckers, and pop-up puppeteers.
“Our church is referred to as a reconciling church; we welcome people from all walks of life,” said Townsend. “The float ministry is a way of advertising that openness.”
The weekend will draw to a close with a public, mass commitment ceremony on the main stage of the festival grounds, officiated by a reverend from the Metropolitan Community Church. Here, anywhere between 10 and 50 couples will officially register as same-sex partners within the state of California.
Sabatini notes how the festival’s ending expresses social change that has taken place since the early Pride rallies. “Back then, the issues of the day were how to juggle being out and holding a job. Today, we’re addressing the national government and the Christian right. That’s where visibility has brought us,” said Sabatini.
A weekend that began with nostalgia will end with a look to the future, accompanied by its most appropriate symbol: a wedding cake.
Please contact Jessica L. Horton directly at