What a week! Tammy Baldwin announced her historic run for Senate. Prop 8 is in court AGAIN. Homophobes are lurking in every dirty corner.
Despite the ups and downs of our political world, I am aglow. I spent a great day on Sunday in Oakland at the Oakland Pride Festival.
After nearly 14 years in the City, I am a recent transplant to the East Bay. I have quickly come to appreciate warm days and grass and easy parking. And in the spirit of my new identity, and as the new editor of Bay Times, I happily tottered off to the 10th Anniversary of Sistahs Steppinâ€™ Dyke March on August 27 and Oakland Pride on September 4. What I saw has changed my perspective on the Bay Area.
Two Sundays ago, about 200 women gathered at Astro Park at Lake Merritt for Sistahs Steppin. When we arrived, my party was quickly approached by volunteers to assist with safety because the Oakland Police (the â€śpo poâ€ťâ€¦ I never get tired of that) had abruptly cancelled their support of the event (they did eventually arrive, protecting the marchers at key intersections late in the march). We were unable to oblige because we were carrying the Bay Times banner.
The drumming women began 30-minutes before the appointed start and continued for hours, throughout the march and into the festival grounds after.
The drumming was primal, insistent, powerful.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner spoke passionately prior to the march about the issues facing the LGBTQ community in Oakland. Quan mentioned the long shadow thrown by â€śthat other cityâ€ť and her pride in the Oakland community. She thanked the group for helping her get elected. Skinner spoke of her lesbian daughter and the various fights for survival that continue for the LGBTQ communities in the East Bay. Retired Navy Commander Zoe Dunning and her partner marched.
The assembly of women (and a few men) walked through the streets of Oakland, around Lake Merritt to Snow Park. The streets were not blocked off, nor were they lined with hundreds of thousands of supporters. Reporters and broadcast trucks did not jostle for position. In fact, the only other people around were attending the farmerâ€™s market. The group was buoyed by frequent car honks and fist pumps. We marched for ourselves and each other.
We marched for the women that could not be there.
The following Sunday offered another sunny afternoon for Oakland Pride. This time a few streets were blocked off downtown. Four stages book-ended the grounds. Nearly 100 informational booths, food stands and beer tents lined the streets. Several thousand people wandered the area, picking up free give-aways and eating enormous corn dogs and falafel (the funnel cake was not to be missed). I met as many people as I could that day and as the dame and I toured the grounds, we loved what we saw. Families of every descriptionâ€¦ LGBTQ couples with babies, young kids, even teens. Drag queens of every size. Many transgender folks. There were lots black women and men there. In fact, a very high percentage of the attendees were black. Imagine that? They donâ€™t add to the diversity of their community, they ARE the community.
I have a profound love for San Francisco. I consider it to be MY city, but it is depressingly white. Thank God for our API and Latino brothers and sisters. I get tired of looking at a bunch of pasty whites like me. Oakland is a treat for the eyes.
Oakland Pride was a very different experience from San Francisco Pride. SF Pride is about performance. SF Pride is a celebration. Much is taken for granted. The small, but mighty Oakland Pride activities took nothing for granted. The difference was in the attitude. Oaklandâ€™s Pride activities create and build community in a way that San Francisco does not (but does really need to). Festival participants made connections that are strengthening the fabric of their community. Hyperbole from a sentimental editor? Perhaps, but I saw a sense of purpose in this event that was exciting.
It should serve as a lesson and a reminder to all of us that our fight is not yet done. We may live in a gay oasis, but we must be careful to avoid complacency. Living in San Francisco, itâ€™s easy to believe that we have overcome the hatred and bigotry that has plagued our community, but just across the Bay, our brothers and sisters do not enjoy the same privileges. They cannot walk safely hand in hand in many areas; their supporters do not outnumber their opponents, lining the streets to celebrate their sexuality and gender identity. But the LGBTQ community of Oakland does clearly have one advantage over their compatriots in the City: they understand that a gathering of queers is still an important and powerful political act, not just a party.
- Write to Dayna Verstegen at firstname.lastname@example.org.