San Diego LGBT Pride is celebrating its 40th anniversary and has grown from a mini-gathering downtown in 1974 to the sprawling fest that begins Friday, with the Saturday parade in Hillcrest remaining the centerpiece of the action. The events draw 300,000 people a year and now include a music festival, community block party and family and youth activities. Times of San Diego talked to Fernando Lopez, who heads up public outreach for San Diego Pride, about the event’s history, its growth and major milestones along the way, including several firsts in the movement that happened here. San Diego snagged another one this year – Lopez said there will be an interactive display from NASA at the festival, “the first time the space agency has participated in a Pride Festival in this way.”
San Diego’s Pride has been around for 40 years now. Does it seem like the last few years, with so many gains in equality, have been the most remarkable part of that progress?
The growth and progress of San Diego LGBT Pride has been staggering. From a few dozen people marching in the streets of downtown San Diego, some of which had paper bags on their head to this region’s largest event. The dynamic growth of support across the spectrum of San Diego residents has been inspiring. Whether (it) is schools, faith congregations, first responders, our service members and vets, or our elected officials – our supporters are as diverse as our community, and that gives me great hope for the rest of the country.
What are the big milestones in San Diego Pride history?
One of the biggest milestones came with the repeal of DADT. San Diego was the first (Pride) in the country to have a fully represented contingent of active duty service members from every branch of the military in 2011, and then in 2012 our Pride became the first in the country to receive full approval from the DoD to allow service members to wear their uniform in a Pride parade. With San Diego being such (a) military town our attendance numbers have gone through the roof, and (these) historic steps have helped make San Diego a destination Pride.
What is San Diego Pride’s place among all of the national Pride events? How big is it compared to other noted events?
It’s hard to gauge the exact size of San Diego Pride in comparison to other celebrations since so many factors could go into this, including budget size, attendance, civic impact and more. However, San Diego Pride is among the largest Pride celebrations in the nation, with over 300,000 people expected to participate this weekend. In fact, the San Diego LGBT Pride Parade, which will attract 250,000 people, is the largest civic event in San Diego County. More people attend our parade than any sporting event, convention, or other large gathering in the region, and our reach is global. With many of our recent milestones, including our historic military contingent, we have made international headlines, and through our international diplomacy efforts, in the last few years we have worked directly with over 100 delegates from 56 countries around the world.
How has the local organization shifted to keep Pride relevant to a younger generation?
San Diego Pride has continued to evolve year after to remain relevant, while maintaining very strong ties to our history. Our entertainment line-up, for example, is incredibly diverse (with over 280 performers) and includes artists who appeal to different tastes. We re-branded our festival this year to be the “San Diego Pride Music Festival” and the weekend’s line-up is incredible. We also add new features as the community’s needs change, including the addition of the Friday night Pride of Hillcrest Block Party three years ago. We’ve had a Children’s Garden at the Festival for 23 years and were the first in the country to do so. We also host a Youth Zone put on by and for LGBTQIA youth.
Everyone pays so much attention to Comic-Con in July, but clearly Pride brings a big boost to San Diego too. What is the benefit to the economy from tourism and travel related to Pride compared to years past?
San Diego Pride makes a huge impact on the local economy, and many businesses and elected officials have begun to realize this. Already this year, our online ticket sales show that tickets have been purchased from eight countries, and 25 states and 160 cities. Pride attracts a truly global audience. With over 300,000 people participating in Pride, coming from all over the county, state, and globe, there is a huge impact. And it must be mentioned that the proceeds from San Diego Pride are all giving back to community organizations, with over $2 million granted to charitable groups since 1996.
San Diego Pride events kick off at 6 p.m. Friday with a rally and block party at Normal Street and University Avenue in Hillcrest and continue at 11 a.m. Saturday with the 40th Pride Parade, beginning at Normal and University and heading west to 6th Street, then south to Balboa Park. A festival follows at the park. For more information, see SanDiegoPride.org.
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