Police Raise Batons at SF Pride Marchers, Oakland Passes Torch in Solidarity

A San Francisco police officer raises a baton at a crowd near a police van at the 'Pride is a Riot' march Sunday in San Francisco, which was organized by an anonymous group. (Anna Vignet/KQED)

At an impromptu San Francisco Pride protest march, demonstrators called for solidarity between the LGBTQ community and the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing parallels between decades-long police violence to both communities.

Carrying echoes of those cries, police wielded batons at San Francisco Pride marchers in a tense clash, Sunday afternoon.

While the city’s official 50th annual Pride celebration went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person celebrations sparked a gathering at Mission Dolores Park, with hundreds taking to the streets for a "Pride is a Riot" march.

An anonymous group of organizers came together to put on the decentralized protest, which called back the anarchist roots of Pride in solidarity with the recent nationwide protests against police violence.

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But, when Pride demonstrators marched from Dolores Park and tried to turn left onto Valencia from 18th Street, a white police van drove south down Valencia Street and parked across it. That lone police van and roughly a half dozen police officers formed a line to try and stop hundreds of marchers from heading up Valencia.

Protesters shouted “quit your job!” and “you’re killing black people.” The officers then tried to leave and inch forward, but could not exit the crowd, which surrounded them. Pride marchers spray painted the van. Officers exited the van again, as demonstrators kicked the van and hit it with their fists. Officers rushed towards them with batons raised and pushed members of the crowd away. 

One marcher spray painted an officer in the face with red paint. Eventually, the van exited the crowd to an alleyway. San Francisco Police Department spokespeople said they were “not aware” of any injuries or arrests, but said “we are aware that bottles were thrown at officers who were at Mission Station” and officers were also "assaulted" with "improvised wooden shields."

The march continued towards Market Street. By evening, the protesters reached the Castro and started a dance party.

Before the incident, speakers at the Pride celebration drew a parallel between the criminalization of being gay and transgender and the recent police violence and protests across the country.

Local activist Norma Gallegos was there and said she feels over the last decade, Pride has been “gentrified, corporatized and commercialized.”

“Stonewall was the historical movement in New York, where Marsha P. Johnson, the Black trans woman, threw the first rock in the Stonewall Inn,” Gallegos said, “but here in San Francisco, we have Compton’s Cafeteria where it's also about fighting the police brutality that was happening in the trans community at the time in the late 60s and early 70s.”

Gallegos said she wants to see systemic change and Pride return to its roots. She said Pride has historically been anti-capitalist, queer and militant with the issues that have plagued and created barriers for Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

Last year’s San Francisco Pride march also saw police arresting activists from the transgender community, leading to harsh critique from the community. SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott later publicly apologized for decades of “past actions” against the transgender community. 

“We want to listen to you and want to truly hear you,” Scott said, publicly. “We will atone for our past.”

Uniting of Two Cities and Two Prides

On Saturday, the Bay Area community passed a pink torch from Oakland to San Francisco in a first ever joint-city Pride event.

Over a dozen people gathered outside Oakland City Hall where mayor Libby Schaaf kicked off the celebration by passing a pink torch to Joe Hawkins, the founder of Oakland Pride and CEO of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center.

Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf and Joe Hawkins, founder of Oakland Pride and CEO of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, hold up the Pink Torch as they kick off the procession outside Oakland City Hall.
Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf and Joe Hawkins, founder of Oakland Pride and CEO of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, hold up the Pink Torch as they kick off the procession outside Oakland City Hall. (Julie Chang/KQED)

"You are such a leader in our city," Schaaf told Hawkins, "You create a space of love and joy for our LGBTQI community, our family. And you have been doing that for years, even before you had a physical space, you were creating that space."

Hawkins took the torch from Schaaf and addressed the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Black people in this country were enslaved for longer than we have been free," Hawkins said. "And Black LGBTQ lives matter, too. We have, for a very long time, been the targets and in between pillars of hate: homophobia from our own community — of Black people — and racism from white queer people and white heterosexual people. Today, this symbolic uniting of the Bay Area is hopefully a step forward," he added.

Hawkins told KQED that in the past there has been a division between Oakland and San Francisco, but this event would help bring them together at a time when everyone is locked down and sheltering in place. "It brings us all together finally, like this has never happened. So we're very grateful, and we're so happy to have this pink torch to help carry us into the future,” he said.

Hawkins walked over to Feelmore, a sex toy shop in downtown Oakland, and passed the torch over to Nenna Joiner, owner of the shop.

Joe Hawkins, founder of Oakland Pride and CEO of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, passes off the Pink Torch to Nenna Joiner, owner of sex toy shop Feelmore in downtown Oakland.
Joe Hawkins, founder of Oakland Pride and CEO of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, passes off the pink torch to Nenna Joiner, owner of sex toy shop Feelmore in downtown Oakland. (Julie Chang/KQED)

The pink torch continued its journey as it circled Lake Merritt, with torchbearers passing it from one person to the next at locations significant to the LGBTQ and black community, including the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, the site of the infamous “BBQ Becky” incident and a historic Black Panthers site.

The torch eventually made its way across the Bay Bridge and was handed off for a final time at Twin Peaks, where it was used to symbolically light an art installation of a massive pink triangle made of LED lights.

This is the first time the Pink Triangle was made with lights instead of fabric since its debut 25 years ago. The creator of the annual Pink Triangle ritual, Patrick Carney, said the canvas used for the triangle would typically be laid out with the help of hundreds of volunteers, but due to social distancing restrictions amid the pandemic, they wouldn't be able to do that this year.

Carney teamed up with Illuminate, the group responsible for the dancing lights on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge known as the Bay Lights, to turn the Triangle into an art installation which features 2,700 hot pink LED lights and covers nearly an acre of ground.

The Triangle will stay illuminated until July 10.

The pink triangle was used as a symbol of hate during the Holocaust when gay men were forced to wear it on their chest as an identifier, but organizers say it has been embraced by the gay community as a symbol of empowerment and pride.

Vandalism strikes Pride

Just hours before the torch procession took place, Hawkin’s LGBTQ Center was attacked.

Oakland LGBTQ Community Center vandalized. Witnesses say a man approached the building Saturday morning and shattered its windows with a golf club while yelling racist and homophobic comments. The Oakland Police Department is investigating the incident.
Oakland LGBTQ Community Center vandalized. Witnesses say a man approached the building Saturday morning and shattered its windows with a golf club while yelling racist and homophobic comments. The Oakland Police Department is investigating the incident. (Courtesy of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center)

Witnesses say a man approached the building around 10 a.m. Saturday and shattered its windows with a golf club while yelling racist and homophobic comments.

“I was crushed like the glass, but I was also more determined to keep our center open and to encourage people and tell them we are not broken,” Hawkins said.

The center will be up-and-running shortly and plans on opening a LGBTQ health clinic in September.

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The Oakland Police Department says it’s investigating the incident.