Wells Fargo has been one of several large corporate sponsors of San Diego Pride that activists say also fund LGBT community opponents. (Photo by Tristan Looper)

homepage news

San Diego Pride will not be Resisting

By Thom Senzee

July 12, 2017

During his recent visit to San Diego, LGBTQ rights leader Cleve Jones, a close confidant and protégé of the late Harvey Milk, said that queer people have a unique opportunity to resist the regressive perils of Trumpism.

“I think Harvey would want to celebrate the amazing achievements we have accomplished in the last four decades,” said Jones, who was in town receiving a lifetime achievement award at the annual Harvey Milk Breakfast here.

“But I think Harvey would caution us to be vigilant. We cannot take things for granted,” he stressed.

Yet according to some activists, major multinational companies and Wall Street banks, not least among them Wal-Mart, Anheuser-Busch, and Wells Fargo Bank, take annual Pride celebrations for granted by trying to have it both ways, often sponsoring our opponents to a greater degree than they support our champions.

It’s a situation that has San Diego equality activist Will Rodriguez Kennedy worried.

“We’re probably going to give (San Diego Pride) our endorsement,” Rodriguez Kennedy, president of San Diego Democrats for Equality, told the Los Angeles Blade. “But before that happens, we want to know that San Diego Pride understands this year’s different—that the progress LGBTQ people made under Obama is now being threatened.”

Rodriguez Kennedy’s group is one of the largest LGBTQ Democratic clubs in the nation.

“We’re not asking them to cancel the Pride parade,” he said. “But we are asking them to act with more integrity and selectiveness to avoid taking funds from, and promoting companies…that hurt our community by supporting politicians like Donald J. Trump.”

In June of this year, as #ResistMarch was underway in cities nationwide, including one unrelated to Pride in San Diego that attracted 5,000 people, Rodriguez Kennedy’s organization initially withheld endorsement of a San Diego Pride as usual.

“Look, [San Diego Pride] did have a (protest) march in June,” Rodriguez Kennedy said. “That’s good—that’s really good – but what a lot of us in the progressive movement want to resist taking corporate funding. What L.A. and other cities did in June was to show that you can.”

Rodriguez Kennedy insists he’s not against all Pride affiliations with corporate America.

“It just can’t be the only thing you’re about,” he said. “But you have to be vigilant and make sure you’re not giving your endorsement to companies that support politicians who consistently vote against our equality. It’s hypocrisy. They support equality on the one hand, then fund our enemies with the other hand.”

National Equality March for Unity and Pride co-chair, San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez says vigilance is indeed needed.

But he isn’t convinced that the national queer resistance movement is harmed by San Diego Pride’s corporate affiliations this year—or that doing so is an endorsement for “business-as-usual” mood in 2018.

“I agree that the commercialism has become too great when we’re still fighting for our equality,” Ramirez told the Los Angeles Blade. “We need to be vigilant, and all parades should be prepared to be marches in 2018. But this year, in San Diego, we’re just going to have a parade.”

As national co-chair of the Equality March in Washington, D.C., Nicole Murray Ramirez received reports about the degrees to which cities across the nation converted their Pride parades to resistance marches. Aside from Los Angeles, there wasn’t much resistance, according to him. That assertion runs contrary to other reports.

“I understand that San Diego is the last major parade of the year,” Murray Ramirez said. “I’m not too concerned that it will be a parade and not a march. But like I said, we have to be vigilant for next year. If anything happens, we should be ready to march nationwide.”

Inasmuch as San Diego organizers may be inclined to look to Los Angeles to shape their Pride parade, there’s a wealth of experience to consider.

“The leadership of Christopher Street West were against the idea at first,” said Los Angeles #ResistMarch organizer, Brian Pendleton. “They had their hearts set on a business-as-usual parade.These guys are music festival producers and were worried that a march would impact them financially.”

A veteran event producer himself, Pendleton understood the concerns of CSW’s board, which organizes L.A Pride. But understanding isn’t the same as agreeing.

“…[A]fter seeing the overwhelming support from the Southern California community, they waived a bunch of rules, and invited me to join the board,” he said.

It could be argued that L.A.’s march was as much a response to years of growing dissatisfaction and a widening perception that Christopher Street West had itself become over-commercialized, as it was a reaction to the potential perils of far-right forces taking over all three branches of government.

Last year, a Los Angeles Times headline screamed that very sentiment with cutting clarity: “LA Pride has sold out and become ‘gay Coachella,’ critics say.”

But San Diego’s reputation as a more modest, milder-mannered metropolis than Los Angeles appears to be holding fast as thousands of visitors arrive for this weekend’s Pride events. Despite rumblings that self-proclaimed #Resistance protesters might show up to shadow the parade, San Diego Pride appears poised to call its tiny version of last month’s march in solidarity with L.A.’s #ResistMarch “good enough” for 2017.

“I don’t think they’re going to cancel the parade and call for a march,” Rodriguez Kennedy said. “And that’s fine. But if they’re going to be part of the movement, San Diego Pride’s board needs to be diligent about where their corporate funds are coming from and not sell us out.”

Brian Pendleton recognizes there may be differences between Los Angeles and San Diego.

“While we’d love to see a sister march in San Diego to keep #ResistMarch momentum going, we support whatever they do,” he said. “Every city has its own politics. Every city has its own economics.”