Thousands turn out for Oakland Pride festival

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Oakland City Hall displayed a rainbow flag above Frank Ogawa Plaza as part of the Oakland Pride celebration.

Susan Von Bergen moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest three decades ago. She settled in Oakland because she found it to be a more comfortable area to live than San Francisco or Berkeley.

“I want to live in a real neighborhood with trees, and a parking place, and neighbors I know,” Von Bergen said. “We wanted a place where we could raise our son and have him feel safe and accepted,” added her partner Laurel March. “He’s an adult now.”

March and Von Bergen were among the thousands of Oaklanders who turned out for Sunday’s Oakland Pride festival, savoring snow cones and listening to music from live stages. Festival organizers estimate at least 45,000 people came out on Sunday, up about 18 percent from 38,000 last year.

This year marked the first Oakland Pride festival since the Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriages to move forward in California. Same-sex marriage was previously banned under Prop. 8. After a long legal battle through state and federal courts, same-sex couples regained the right to marry when the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed a lower court ruling overturning Prop. 8.

That victory led to a particularly jubilant air at the festival, during which a number of same-sex couples held marriage ceremonies.

“Some people wanted to know if they could actually get a marriage license on-site,” said Carlos Uribe, a Pride organizer. “We weren’t able to issue on-site licenses due to various technical capabilities with the recorder’s office. However, we did hold ceremonies. There were at least two couples who got their marriage licenses ahead of time in order to get married at the festival.”

While some focused on the Supreme Court decision, others simply came to show solidarity with the diverse community that is Oakland.

“I just wanted to support. I’m an African-American gay male and you’re in my hometown,” said Darius Lacy. “I have to support my community, my kind, and for those that are not, I’m still here.”

Among dozens of booths, businesses like State Farm Insurance and Whole Foods, reached out to gay and transgender consumers.  Also offering services were a range of non-profit groups such as the Trevor Project, a youth-suicide-prevention hotline.

“We’re basically a safety net to make sure gay youth make it to adulthood,” said Rebecca Chekouras, a 62-year-old Oakland resident who volunteers with the Trevor Project. “There was nothing like it when I was a child. I would have given anything to have something like the Trevor project.”

Most Pride events across the country take place in June, which is considered national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride month. However, Oakland Pride decided to hold the event in September when it first began four years ago.

“Other Oakland events happen in other months. Art+Soul happens in August,” Uribe said. “We thought that having the event in September would help round out the summer.” 

The September date also helps distinguish Oakland Pride from San Francisco’s pride celebration in June.

I think anyone from Oakland would agree we do things differently on this side of the bay,” Uribe said. “Our event is a lot more family friendly. It’s a lot more about community.” To support families attending the event, organizers included a children’s garden complete with pony rides and a petting zoo.

“We try to bring artists that are well-known on this side of the bay, like Chaka Khan,” Uribe added. “From a demographics perspective, we have a lot more people of color at our festival. I think it is representative of the diversity that is Oakland.”

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