2019 Pride Parade in San Francisco. Dylan Burdette/Vanguard

50 Years Later

It’s still not clear exactly what happened at the Stonewall Inn that late June in 1969. Police raided the New York club and someone from the crowd fought back, inciting an uprising. No one can agree who threw the first brick or why, or even if it was a brick that was thrown. However, what is known for certain is how this revolt became the precursor to LGBTQ+ protests and celebrations across the world. This year’s Pride month was particularly significant because it marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the celebrations along the West Coast were a mixture of safety and solidarity more than riotous actions.

In both of the Portland and San Francisco Pride festivals, police primarily ensured that people stood in long metal-detector lines and tossed out their drinks before entering. “Long Beach Pride charges to get in, so it really cuts out the rabble,” said an older woman standing in the hour-long line for the San Francisco festivities. Luckily, neither Portland or San Francisco explicitly charged, though they both asked for donations.

At past San Francisco Pride events, people attending acted like they were at a gay Coachella, publicly getting drunk and passing out in the grass. Fewer groups of young people roved the pavement searching for a dizzy good time this year. The celebration in the Bay was massive, in terms of both attendance and physical size, but the crowds at both Prides were full of remarkably genuine people of all different ages, races, genders and sexualities.

In Portland, children ran around using Pride flags as capes, elderly couples held hands and parents offered hugs to passing people who might need it, creating a lovely familial air. People exchanged smiles, openly complimented each other’s looks and made light conversation with their neighbors in line. With the abundance of fried food and small makers’ booths lining dirt paths, Portland Pride almost felt like a queer Renaissance Faire. Stalls ranged from LGBTQ+ owned organizations to local businesses and commercial pandering.

There was definitely a corporate presence at both Prides, though the Portland crowd didn’t seem as bothered by the short-lived rainbow logos on businesses as San Francisco was. The main parade there was actually stopped by a group of activists laying in the street to protest Pride’s commercialization. Some signs reading “ACAB! Eat the rich!” and “Queer Liberation, Not Capitalist Exploitation” were carried, then left on the street after the protest diffused.

The main difference, other than size, was in tone. Inside the festival, San Francisco speakers tended to be angrier, more fed up with current situations. The “Fuck Trump” presence was heavy, and Pride attendees spent a lot of energy protesting the situation at the border as well as the transgender military ban. Speakers stressed the idea that the fighting is not over yet, and asked the audience to let spite inspire change, closer embodying Stonewall’s original values. The general message from San Francisco Pride sounded more like “We’re still here, deal with it!” rather than “Love wins.”

Portland Pride, in contrast, led a group sing-along of “We Shall Overcome” by Portland’s Gay Men’s Choir. The performers on stage were smiling at various people in the audience who were singing with them, and a sense of solidarity befell the crowd. This Pride brought everyone together through a glimpse into a harmonious future, lending people hope. This was less to the original spirit of Stonewall, and more to the spirit of Pride in Portland, encouraging everyone to come together no matter what.

Today, Pride increasingly means different things to different people. To some, it means temporary safety to present their gender with no fear of ostracization from society, unlearning years of shame regarding their sexuality. To others, it’s one day a year where they don’t have to be in the closet, whatever that means for them, where they can give a big sigh of relief going into a public space where being cisgender and heterosexual is not the norm. Pride parades and festivals have evolved far beyond the riots of Stonewall, but the overarching themes of loving yourself, loving those around you and making a place for oneself in society still ring true.