Over the years, I’ve been to a lot of Pride festivals. I’ve been to San Diego Pride, San Francisco Pride, Brooklyn Pride, New York Pride, Washington, D.C. Pride, and a variety of others both large and small.
Pride is the time of year when millions of LGBT individuals (like myself) and our allies gather en masse to celebrate and educate ourselves about our diversity.
I remember my first Pride in San Francisco like it was yesterday – it will be one that I always remember. At the time, I was heading up the high school marketing/recruiting program for the Academy of Art University, a large private art school in San Francisco. In order to get to work every day, I had to take the BART to the New Montgomery stop, which is right off Market Street – the city’s main street – near the Embarcadero.
One June morning – as I walked up the New Montgomery BART stop stairs – the cool summer sun (my fellow San Franciscans know what I mean) beat down on me as I exited the station. As I shielded the sun from my eyes, I saw a rainbow of color.
Right above me was a giant rainbow Pride flag flapping in the wind.
As I stood staring at the flag, a feeling of exhilaration and comfort consumed me.
Just three years prior to this moment I had been living in Ann Arbor, a liberal college town (Go Blue!) in Michigan, which can feel quite accepting if you’re old enough to go to the gay bars – but I wasn’t.
Because I was too young to go to the bars, I would turn to AOL chat rooms (to give context, this was before the days of Friendster) to connect with like-minded individuals. Or I would drive to Ferndale, a gay-friendly neighborhood in Detroit, which organized an LGBT teen group at their local LGBT Center. The drive was about 45 minutes from Ann Arbor on a good day, so getting there was not easy.
It was in this moment – on the corner of New Montgomery and Market Street – that I realized I wasn’t in Michigan anymore. I was in San Francisco, a city that I’d never visited before moving to, yet knew would be a place that would accept me for me.
I looked down Market Street toward the Castro and saw not one, not two, not three, but dozens of rainbow flags lining Market street from the Embarcadero near the water down to the Castro, a well-known neighborhood with rich historic LGBT roots (Harvey Milk). Even the large retail stores – like Virgin Records – had LGBT Pride flags hanging from their storefronts.
Pride was the real deal in San Francisco!
It was in this moment that I knew (I mean really knew) that there were lots of people who accepted me for me.
I had made it out of Michigan (there were times when I thought that I wouldn’t), and it was in this moment that I knew that I was going to do whatever I could to help others make it out, too. Happy Pride, San Francisco – I will always be forever grateful for your acceptance and inspiration!
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