It's Pride Weekend here in the 49-acre woods, and everyone's dance card is filling up faster than a Marina District bar at happy hour, and yes that goes for me too. For someone who is one of those "born and raised" you hear about, I have watched Pride grow over the years with a combination of satisfaction and also a little sadness.
Why sadness? Well, growing up in San Francisco meant that I was blissfully unaware that someone being gay was different. Scratch that, I knew it was different, but I filed it into the same box that also included "tall," "short," "redhead," and "lives too far away to loan them my basketball."
We knew who all the gay kids were in school and in the neighborhood, sometimes before they did. On the shattered concrete of the basketball court of Alta Plaza, we didn't care; they just had to be able to put the ball in the basket.
The first time I started to realize that something was off was when the AIDS crisis started. Local rock promoter Bill Graham was a close friend of my mother's, and through him we befriended many people in the Bill Graham Presents corporate family. Two of my favorites were Queenie, BGP's legendary booker, and publicist Zohn Artman. Often while "other" things were going on that a young lad should not see, Zohn would keep me occupied.
So it was with some confusion that my mother and I went to Zohn's house one day. She told me that we had to go see him, but would not say why. When we go there, he was in bed, and what I saw shocked me. I had not heard of AIDS, I did not know what was happening in the gay community. But seeing a skeletal Zohn Artman made me suddenly realize how much I didn't know.
A few years later I was off to high school in the wilds of New Hampshire, where gay people were treated very, very differently than I had observed in San Francisco. This was sadly contrasted with the picture back home, which was becoming more grim. While I was freezing in the New England winters, AIDS was latching onto the gay community and not letting go. In fact, at the beginning, it wasn't even called AIDS, it was called GRID, for Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Every vacation back to San Francisco brought more stories of people I knew, their friends, and their lovers succumbing to the mystery disease, one after another.
By the time I came back to the Bay Area for college, GRID had been replaced with AIDS by the Center for Disease Control, but the result was still the same. The early '80s were when people finally started to realize that this was not a "gay" issue, but a systemic health epidemic. At least that was the national conversation. Here it was more personal, more immediate as people just kept dying.
The sadness was at times replaced with anger. Anyone who wonders why we take Proposition 8 so personally around here just needs to look back at this time, when the deaths started taking on an almost absurd "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" feel: everyone knew someone who had been devastated by this.
Which brings me back to Pride weekend. This week there was an interview with Gilbert Baker, the man who created the iconic rainbow flag. He told the SF Weekly in the interview that he hates the word "pride," and prefers liberation, or freedom. He said that he is not proud that he is gay... he just IS gay.
I hate to disagree with the man, but I disagree with him. I left the comfort of San Francisco and saw a world where being gay was a huge difference. And I saw the people who had to fight every day just to be themselves. Then I come home and continue to watch the battle over Proposition 8, which feels like a game we can never win because they keep adding more innings to the damn thing. The game isn't over folks, not even by a long shot.
This weekend I will be sad for people who can't come to grips with the fact that we are all created equal, but, with all respect to Gilbert Baker, yes, I do feel pride for the fact that in San Francisco people can live without having to doubt who they are.