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SF Pride 2023: How to Safely Enjoy the Party

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A scene of the Pride parade on Market Street in San Francisco. In the foreground is a white woman wearing rose-colored glasses and holding a rainbow flag with both hands above her head. She is surrounded by other marchers and towers of green and orange balloons. It is sunny, and this is a joyful scene, as the woman is smiling broadly.
Organizers estimated 50,000 people participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade on June 24, 2018, in addition to 100,000 who watched from the sidelines. (Anne Wernikoff/KQED)

San Francisco Pride 2023 is here. And with Pride comes parties, shows and the chance to meet new people. But we can’t gloss over the fact that with certain activities sometimes comes risks.

What you do this weekend is your business, so we want to make sure that you have the information you need to take care of yourself and those around you. This guide includes when and where everything is happening at this year’s celebration in San Francisco’s Civic Center. But it also includes advice from experts on how to protect yourself from COVID-19 risks, take care of your sexual health and avoid being exposed to fentanyl if you’re planning to use heavier drugs.

And one thing to keep in mind: Pride is a time to celebrate the progress and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community, but as many advocates point out, it’s also a time to continue pushing for better protections of queer people across the country. Making sure you and those around you are safe this weekend is part of that work.

Jump straight to:

Heading to the Pride parade? Know the logistics

Sunday’s Pride parade is not the only way to enjoy Pride, but it definitely is one of the most emblematic Pride celebrations in the country, bringing together hundreds of groups and organizations, along with tens of thousands of people, with hours of music and dancing down Market Street.

If you’re not feeling the parade this year, there’s a whole universe of events and parties happening across the Bay Area this weekend: See KQED Arts’ guide to some of the best Pride parties, and look for other online guides to the myriad cultural and celebratory events going on, like 48 Hills’ Ultimate Pride Guide 2023.

And if you are planning to head over to the parade, here’s a quick breakdown of what to expect:

When is the Pride parade? And what’s the Pride parade route?

The schedule for the Pride parade on Sunday, June 25:

  • Starts at 10:30 a.m. at Market and Beale streets (closest BART station: Embarcadero)
  • Ends at Market and 8th streets (closest BART station: Civic Center)

Save this Pride map to your phone’s camera roll, in case you’re in an area with poor or slow cellphone service:

A mag that reads "San Francisco Pride" in the top left corner.

Check the weather forecast — and stay hydrated

Currently, the National Weather Service forecasts mild temperatures for San Francisco this weekend, with highs around the low-to-mid-60s. SF’s weather is nothing if not changeable, though, so keep an eye on the forecast, pack your sunscreen (you can get surprisingly sunburned even on a cloudy day) and remember to bring a lot of water. (Although, remember that the official Pride parade prohibits water bottles, “sealed or not,” and only allows you to bring empty plastic water bottles inside the parade area.)

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Check the prohibited items list if you’re planning to attend the Sunday Pride parade

There’s a high chance any bag you bring will be searched at Sunday’s Pride parade upon entry, so pack accordingly. Organizers have a description of the kinds and sizes of bags allowed at the parade on the Pride site. Be sure to look over the list of items that are prohibited, which include:

  • Weapons, regardless of permit
  • Umbrellas
  • Cans, thermoses and glass bottles
  • Any water bottle, even if sealed (although empty plastic water bottles are allowed)
  • Outside food and beverages, including alcohol
  • Narcotics and marijuana
  • Hard-sided coolers
  • Chairs of any kind
  • Drones
  • Pets (except service animals)
  • Bicycles

Speaking of prohibited items, the San Francisco Police Department says there will be “a significant police presence during Pride activities,” and that “both uniformed and plainclothes officers” will be present. SFPD’s Pride advisory also says that because there is “no organized event taking place Saturday in the Castro District” and no street closures, “laws prohibiting possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages and drinking in public will be strictly enforced.”

Know your public transit options (and how you’ll get home)

Your regular bus or train home may be rerouted or disrupted by Pride, so make a plan for getting around and getting home safely before you head out. (See a list of Muni routes disrupted or closed by Pride setup and celebrations all this week.)

BART officials say there will be more service for this year’s Pride Sunday than for any previous year, opening at 8 a.m. that day and running a five-line service until 9 p.m. “with added special event trains as ridership warrants.” After 9 p.m., that service will be reduced to a three-line service.

Expect crowding at BART stations near the parade, as well as in the train carriages (a reason you might consider bringing an N95 mask along). BART recommends using Montgomery Street and Powell Street stations instead of Civic Center or Embarcadero stations, for this reason.

What to know about accessibility at Pride

Accessible viewing areas at Pride

Sunday’s Pride parade has an accessible parade viewing area, which organizers say provides “unobstructed parade viewing” for free, for individuals plus one guest. This seated parade viewing area at the parade grandstands also has accessible restroom facilities. You can request a spot for you and a guest using this Google Form.

Pride organizers say the parade’s main stage also has a seated viewing platform with ASL interpretation, and that wristbands for this area will be available at the Pride information booth on Fulton Street at Larkin Street. Find more information about accessibility at Pride.

BART and accessibility

All BART stations have accessible elevators, but being prepared for issues with those elevators is a good idea. You can sign up for BART alerts to be notified if there’s an issue with the elevator at the station you’re planning to use to attend Pride, or check the status of elevator operations at any station by calling (510) 834-LIFT or (888) 2-ELEVAT.

If you discover that an elevator is not working at a particular station you’re planning to use, call the BART Transit Information Center to get information about transit alternatives at (510) 465-2278 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday.

In a statement about accessibility, Pride organizers say the event has a “zero-tolerance policy for harassment, discrimination, or any form of violence,” and that Pride security personnel, “in collaboration with law enforcement, will be vigilant in enforcing these guidelines and addressing any inappropriate behavior.”

A wooden box hanging on a bar wall is open, with medication, cups, instructions inside.
A harm-reduction box created by Josh Yule hangs on the wall at Mothership bar in San Francisco on April 11, 2023. The boxes include Narcan and instructions on how to administer it, along with fentanyl test strips. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Always test your drugs

In the past few years, there’s been a spike nationwide of accidental fentanyl overdoses. Many party drugs, including cocaine and molly, are increasingly laced with fentanyl. Just in San Francisco, hundreds of people have already lost their lives this year due to fentanyl overdoses.

Kate Franza, who leads the behavioral health services team at the San Francisco Community Health Center in the city’s Tenderloin District, says it is very common nowadays to find other drugs laced with fentanyl and that if someone is going to consume drugs like cocaine or molly, they should very much consider the possibility that there may be fentanyl present.

“We don’t want folks to be anxious,” she said, “but we want folks to know that there’s ways that they can prepare themselves and do things to be safe so that they can check if their drugs have fentanyl in them and then make an informed decision.”

Consider testing ahead of time

If you know you will be taking drugs this weekend, Franza says one way to reduce the risk of being exposed to fentanyl is bringing your own substances that you have already tested and know are free of fentanyl. That way, you avoid consuming from unknown sources at places, like a crowded party, where it might be harder to test.

Testing, Franza says, is critical. “Because if your drugs are cut with fentanyl, you can die. It can trigger an overdose. It can trigger death,” she said. “And if folks feel shame or embarrassment, they can test privately as long as they have the strips.”

Know about Narcan

Franza also recommends bringing your own water and a Narcan kit. Narcan is the brand name for a naloxone nasal spray that is administered to someone when they are experiencing an opioid overdose (that includes fentanyl).

Anyone can buy and apply Narcan. You can buy a Narcan kit at a pharmacy without needing a prescription, and you can also get it free of charge at the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Community Behavioral Health Services pharmacy at 1380 Howard Street. The pharmacy is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“Mixing various substances increases the risk of access to fentanyl, but [also] overdose with uppers and downers,” said Franza. “Be mindful of making decisions as best as you can about what drugs you want to do and minimize mixing.”

Set up a buddy system

Your friends are key in keeping you safe, especially when you’re taking harder drugs, adds Franza. She recommends setting up a buddy system where each person reminds the other to test whatever you will be taking, drinking enough water and having emergency contacts ready if additional help is needed. Additionally, if you made a plan for the weekend, including specific limits of what you will consume and when, a friend can help you remember this information when you may not be sober.

“If you’re planning on going out a lot during Pride, you may want to set some limitations because each time you do it, it’s harder on your body,” Franza said. “Another strategy is buying less. The likelihood of you doing more if you have it on you is higher. So if you buy less, it’s essentially one step further to have to purchase more.”

What to know about Pride and mpox

What is mpox, and why should you be vigilant for it?

In the summer and fall of 2022, an outbreak of the mpox virusformerly known as monkeypox — hit the United States. This virus particularly affected gay and bisexual men, as well as trans and nonbinary people who have sex with men, in California.

After a mass vaccination effort led both by organizers from the LGBTQ+ community and public health officials, the rate of mpox infections dropped to virtually zero in California. But in May, with Pride around the corner, an outbreak in Chicago that resulted in 13 suspected or confirmed cases prompted Bay Area health officials to once again urge local communities to be vigilant for the virus ahead of Pride — and to seek out the free mpox vaccine.

More Guides from KQED

Cases of mpox have remained low in the Bay Area since last summer’s outbreak, and health officials in the city aren’t seeing any rise that’s giving them cause for concern, says Dr. Stephanie Cohen, director of HIV prevention for the Population Health Division at SFDPH. But with a huge number of gatherings and celebrations planned — not just over Pride weekend but well into the summer and fall — and also the volume of visitors to the city arriving for these celebrations from other parts of the state and the country, Cohen stresses that she and her colleagues in Bay Area public health will be remaining vigilant and cautious about mpox.

Small orange discs appear to float in a dense, thick brown substance.
Colorized transmission electron micrograph of mpox virus particles (orange) found within an infected cell (brown), cultured in a laboratory. (NIH-NIAID/Image Point FR/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

If I haven’t got an mpox vaccine, is it too late?

It’s definitely not too late, and you should “absolutely” get a free mpox vaccine if you want one, says SFDPH’s Cohen — even if your first dose is coming just days or even hours before Pride.

“The body will start producing the antibodies really soon after the vaccine is given,” said Cohen. “And some protection against mpox is definitely better than no protection against mpox.” Cohen also points out that although the vaccine doesn’t offer 100% protection against contracting mpox, “what we’re seeing is that people who got infected with mpox after having been vaccinated … have a much less severe illness.”

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease expert at UCSF, echoes this recommendation to get your mpox vaccine to keep yourself and the community safer — noting that not only does immunity start building quickly, but that the virus also has a longer incubation period than say, COVID.

This means that even if you get your vaccine within just a few days of exposure, “your body starts making immune cells that start to work,” said Chin-Hong — and the mpox vaccine can also “be used in a post-exposure prophylaxis situation (PEP), not just for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP).” And while your immediate thoughts may be on mpox exposure during Pride weekend, there are multiple Pride events happening all over the Bay Area for many months. “So think of it as an insurance policy beyond Pride in SF,” he advised.

Where can I find an mpox vaccine?

There are several places across the Bay Area to find a free mpox vaccine, which comes in two doses one month apart. Find an mpox vaccination clinic near you.

There are no longer any limitations on who can get an mpox vaccine: In 2022 public health officials were originally only offering vaccines to people who’d been exposed, or were categorized as higher risk, but all those eligibility criteria are no longer in effect. If you want an mpox vaccine, you can get one — free.

By getting an mpox vaccine, you’ll be joining many folks locally who have done the same. Cohen says that after SFDPH’s awareness campaign in May, the number of mpox vaccines being given in San Francisco every week has “about doubled.” Although some of these vaccinations are for people getting their second dose, Cohen said that “most of them are actually people getting their first dose.”

How does mpox spread?

Mpox is a disease that is caused when a person is infected with the mpox virus. As the name might suggest, the virus is related to the smallpox virus but is generally less severe and “much less contagious” than smallpox, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Mpox is not strictly a sexually transmitted infection. The virus can spread through close, skin-to-skin contact and through coming into contact with objects and fabrics used by somebody infected with mpox. This includes coming into contact with the rashes and sores that can develop on an infected person’s skin and even inside their mouth. The virus can also spread through respiratory droplets and saliva.

This makes it possible for mpox to spread during sex and other intimate actions, like kissing and cuddling. But it can also spread through nonsexual behavior, like using a towel or bedsheets previously used by an infected person that have not been washed yet.

What are the symptoms of mpox?

The incubation period for mpox — the amount of time between exposure and developing symptoms and becoming contagious — is usually between six and 13 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can, however, range from five to 21 days.

Mpox symptoms often start as flu-like symptoms, says SFDPH, but the virus also appears as a rash, or sores or spots that can resemble pimples or blisters on the skin anywhere on the body, especially around your genitals. These spots often start as “red, flat spots, and then become bumps,” says SFDPH, before the bumps become filled with pus, and turn into scabs when they break. See the full list of mpox symptoms from SFDPH.

“It’s really important that if someone develops a rash that they think might be related to pox, even if it’s subtle, to come in and see their doctor and get checked out and get tested,” urged Cohen. “And that can help us prevent the spread of transmission in the community.” See more on what to do if you suspect you have mpox.

Take care of your personal and sexual health

It goes without saying that taking care of your individual health and that of your partners involves practicing safer sex, and making sure you bring protection like condoms to Pride.

SFDPH’s Dr. Stephanie Cohen says that in addition to having a presence at stages at Friday’s Trans March and Sunday’s Pride parade, the department will also be marching in the parade on Sunday and handing out “harm-reduction supply” (such as condoms).

You can also find free HIV and hepatitis C screenings at the following events this weekend:

  • Trans March SF, Friday, June 23: The march will include a resource fair at Dolores Park from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., which will include free screenings.
  • Trans stage at SF Pride, Saturday, June 24: Screenings will be offered at the Trans Thrive booth on the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Polk Street, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • A&PI LGBT Community Stage at SF Pride, Sunday, June 25: Screenings will be offered at the the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Polk Street from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you need to get tested after Pride, your county may offer free or low-cost screenings. For example, San Francisco City Clinic offers low-cost STI testing, diagnosis and treatment on a walk-in basis, whether you’re insured or not. They also offer free condoms, and you can get at-home tests delivered via City Clinic in discreet packaging including screening kits for HIV and STIs.

A young Asian man with glasses and a moustache and goatee squeezes the sample liquid on a test strip while carrying out a COVID-19 rapid self test at home.
According to the most recent FDA data, antigen tests are effective in detecting arcturus and other omicron subvariants. (Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images)

Pride and COVID-19

Consider bringing an N95 mask with you

While the presence of COVID in San Francisco wastewater has steadily fallen after a spike in March, a huge amount of folks will be traveling into the city from other parts of the Bay Area, the state, the country and even the world — meaning it’s impossible to know just how many COVID-positive people will be present in the same crowded indoor space as you.

Even if you really don’t want to wear a mask at a party or inside a bar, you might want to slip one on when using a busy bathroom (or “well-worn” Porta Potty), on public transit or in a crowded store on a supply run — and carrying one in your back pocket or purse at least gives you this option. And since Pride is for everyone, if you’re going to a celebration that’s primarily attended by disabled folks or people who are otherwise at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID, you might be outright asked to wear a mask.

Stay home if you’re not feeling well (even if it’s not COVID)

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of COVID — which, with the arcturus variant, can include pink eye — seek out a test, and stay home if you’re positive. If you’re negative, but still feeling sick, consider staying home regardless. Missing the celebrations will hurt, but you’ll be keeping your community safer — even if it’s not COVID.

Feeling sick a couple days after Pride? Seek out a COVID test

Unfortunately, finding a quick, free COVID test — whether an at-home antigen test or a PCR test — has gotten progressively harder at this stage of the pandemic, as more sites and services have been shuttered for good. As of June 1, the federal government has also ended its free at-home COVID-test-ordering service through USPS. But you still have options: Find a free or low-cost test near you with our guide, or use the CDC’s COVID test locator — and read our guide to using at-home antigen tests in 2023.

How long should you wait after a potential COVID exposure to take a test? If you’ve heard that incubation times for the virus are getting shorter, you’re not wrong — people really are testing positive for COVID more quickly than they were in 2020, when the average incubation period was five days. That’s because “the incubation period is definitely changing with the variants,” said UCSF’s Chin-Hong, and the period keeps going down somewhat with every new variant.

Given this trend, even with a lack of studies on the arcturus variant, it “makes sense that if someone has symptoms as quickly as two days after exposure, they should test rather than waiting the full five days,” advised Chin-Hong. “But if [you test] negative at two to three days, rinse and repeat.” In other words: If you’re feeling sick as soon as two days after a Pride party, don’t assume it’s just a cold or you’re rundown after the celebrations — it could very well be COVID.

Lastly, remember: You don’t have to stick to the main Sunday parade

The presence of large corporations in the Pride parade can be jarring for some, who may not feel comfortable celebrating in this particular environment.

But there’ll be a huge amount of gatherings, celebrations, parties and safe spaces around Pride weekend — truly, something for everyone.

The 2023 Trans March and accompanying events will kick off Pride weekend on Friday, June 23, starting at 11 a.m. with the Señora Felicia Flames Intergenerational Brunch, and the march itself is at 6 p.m. The following day, on Saturday, June 24, the 2023 Dyke March begins at 5 p.m., starting from Dolores and 18th streets.

KQED Arts has a guide to several Pride parties taking place over the weekend.

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2023. We’ve published clear, helpful explainers and guides about issues like COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.

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