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Two women hug in the middle of an Oakland street, one draped in a rainbow flag, the other in white jens and a short black top.

Celebrating Oakland Pride: ‘It’s just beautiful that we have everybody coming together.’

on September 10, 2023

Oakland’s eighth annual Pride Parade began Sunday with a roar — the rev of motorcycles as parade leaders Dykes on Bikes rode up Broadway.

Thousands of people attended the parade, waving flags, cheering and dancing. The 83 community groups, government affiliates and corporate sponsors in the lineup bore their own messages, played music ranging from ABBA to the Jonas Brothers, and invited attendees to join in the celebration.

“Feeling invited is just a sacred part of the queer community — that open arms feeling,” said LaDonna Antoinette. She attended her first Oakland Pride Parade after learning that the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center allowed anyone to join it in marching.

Two women stand on each side of a motorcycle, wearing black.
Dykes with Bikes board members Barb Weiss (left) and Melissa Cherry. (Lisa Plachy)

Without any barricades along the route and a leisurely procession pace, the parade felt more like a moving block party than a formal event. People atop floats called out to and hugged friends on the ground. A car stopped its slow roll so that someone could get a good picture. Dogs in rainbow bandanas trotted along. 

“It’s just beautiful that we have everybody coming together,” said Mario Benton, a celebrity stylist and the producer of this year’s Soul of Pride float. His floor-length rainbow faux fur coat was among the parade’s most unmissable outfits.

Children — some in the crowd, some 150 representing the Oakland Unified School District — marched draped in pride flags and sporting rainbow face paint. They held handmade signs that said: “Love is love” and “Celebrate you.”

“It’s so important that our students feel loved and supported for who they are,” said Jennifer Everhart, a K-5 enrichment teacher at Peralta Elementary School. 

Along the route, children and adults alike scooped up multi-hued goodies from people in the parade —candy, flags, stress balls, scrunchies and even slap bracelets. Yet some things were intangible, like the feeling Alyssa Kufferath got after someone from the Free Mom Hugs organization gave her a hug. 

“I live in Solano County, and it’s not really a safe space for the queer community there,” she said, tearing up. “That just really got me and made me feel loved and welcomed.” 

Next year Kufferath plans to bring her two kids.

About 15 children waving rainbow flags walk behind an OUSD rainbow banner on an Oakland street.
OUSD students from Peralta Elementary School’s student-formed Rainbow Club. (Lisa Plachy)

The past history and current realities of the LGTBQ+ community’s struggles loomed in the background, even as attendees embraced the sunny day and each other.

“It’s really important that we show up and we’re supporting everybody in our community, especially those that are being targeted,” said Dori Young, who led a group from software company Workday in a coordinated dance to Dua Lipa’s “Levitating.”

A man stands in the middle of an Oakland street wearing a puffy, full-length rainbow coat.
Mario Benton donning a coat that nearly stole the show. (Lisa Plachy)

Among dancing revelers, another group chanted a reminder: “Pride is a protest. Stonewall was a riot.” 

This year’s parade reflected both organizational changes and a tense political climate. While last year, Pridefest Oakland and Oakland Pride held their own events, this year they came together. 

“It seemed more important than ever to unite since our community is under unprecedented attacks with over 400 bills aimed at hurting LGBTQ Americans,” said Sean Sullivan, co-chair of Pridefest Oakland, via email.

Maarkee Shelburne, a nurse in San Francisco, shrugged off the idea that this year is any different. 

“Pride is important every year,” they said. 

Shelburne showed up on Sunday for one reason: “To be with my gays.” 

(Top photo: Alyssa Kufferath receives an affirming hug from a member of Free Mom Hugs, by Lisa Plachy)

Correction: This story was updated to correct the county where Alyssa Kufferath lives.


  1. margaretburlingame on December 20, 2023 at 6:35 am

    How can I support the LGBTQ+ community in my area? I’m from blossom word game.

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