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SF Pride Theme Falls Victim to Inclusiveness 

Wednesday, Sep 30 2015

Forty-five themes were proposed for San Francisco's 2016 LGBT Pride celebration, including one commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Compton's Cafeteria riot and another honoring Stonewall. But on voting day, two themes emerged as frontrunners: "Trans Lives Matter" and the more catchall "For Racial and Economic Justice."

When the floor opened for comment, five African-American activists stood to oppose the trans theme, saying it impinged on and co-opted #BlackLivesMatter. "For Racial and Economic Justice" was deemed a more representative message and declared the winner.

"It was actually really beautiful to see democracy in action and see black members say, 'We want to preserve the authenticity of the Black Lives Matter movement,'" says Gary Virginia, president of the Pride board.

Melanie Nathan, a newly elected Pride board member, seconds that: "It was not controversial at all."

But according to Mahnani Clay, one of the activists who opposed the trans theme, there was controversy — and that was the point.

"I tried to make sure it was seen as [controversial] during the meeting by asking SF Pride to acknowledge the collective voice of the five black people in attendance," Clay says. "The controversy was not over whether there should be a trans-focused theme. It was specifically over the choice of verbiage."

What happened at the Pride meeting is a local iteration of dust-ups occurring nationally. In July, Democratic presidential hopeful and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley faced pushback when he declared "all lives matter." A month earlier, Hillary Clinton made the same gaffe while speaking to a black church in Missouri. (Another unpopular remix post-Ferguson, Mo., is "Police Lives Matter.")

"I am a staunch advocate for trans liberation, and I feel strongly that we can support our trans sisters and brothers without diminishing or diluting the most powerful tool we have in our fight for black liberation," Clay says.

While there's no denying that SF Pride supports trans rights — and has had trans grand marshals — the event hasn't had a trans-specific theme in its 45 year history. Nor one advocating for the city's black queers.

Nathan says 2016 isn't the year to change that.

"To isolate one community feels shortsighted," she says, citing the upcoming presidential election as a reason to mobilize behind racial and economic visibility in the LGBT community — especially in San Francisco, where race and class are increasingly harbingers of displacement.

Not that the middle road is inspiring either. Clay says that Pride "has yet to actualize its aspirations to be truly inclusive."

She says she's encouraged by the board's championing of diversity, but adds that the "historical homogeneity of the organization's top leadership" will be of little comfort as San Francisco continues to become more segregated.

"Pride needs to represent everybody," Virginia counters, which may be an organizational handicap. After all, people "with the advantages of privilege" are speaking on behalf of the city's LGBT community, Clay notes, which doesn't inspire pride — no matter what language you use.

About The Author

Jeremy Lybarger


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