Found on the Fringes

Photo: Out and about. The San Francisco Pride Celebration turned 'Forty and Fabulous' this year, with the festivities grounded by the ongoing struggle for marriage rights.
Max Siegel/Staff
Out and about. The San Francisco Pride Celebration turned 'Forty and Fabulous' this year, with the festivities grounded by the ongoing struggle for marriage rights.

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Gay Pride Parade
San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

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A few times a year, thousands of people from the City, Tha Town and in between gather to celebrate a venerable Bay Area tradition: Getting drunk, breaking out the body paint and taking to the streets of downtown San Francisco.

October's LovEvolution (formerly LoveFest) and May's Bay to Breakers easily fall under such a category. Even abstainers can sense something's up when BART becomes unusually populated with neon-clad youths, navel-baring damsels and pantless gentlemen in fairy wings. Turning "Forty and Fabulous" as per this year's theme, the San Francisco Pride Celebration has acquired such a milieu. But though she's grown up, mama hasn't lost her cool.

At last weekend's festivities, a new generation of queens, queers and supporters of all orientations joined SF Pride's joyful dance, ushering in a wave of hope and acceptance for the LGBT community in the wake of Proposition Hate. But instead of waxing political and getting ourselves heated, let's reminisce about the even hotter gender-bending revelry at SF's Civic Center.

Since its inception, Pride's annual themes have reflected the fight for rights and justice, from 1974's "Gay Freedom by '76" to 1995's "A World without Borders." Now in its 40th year, the celebration has been recontextualized in a culture of sexually ambiguous fashion and entertainment.

Recent onscreen successes - like reality show "RuPaul's Drag Race" and "La Mission," a film about the queer and Latino communities in San Francisco's Mission district - attest to an amalgamation of gay and straight culture penetrating formerly untouched social spheres. Even the adjective "fabulous" has become associated with anything vaguely derived from the formerly occult worlds of disco and drag.

Last Saturday, the Pride Celebration dawned with gaggles of teenagers bumping their heads by the International Stage, E-40's "Yay Area" and other homegrown hip-hop on blast. Meanwhile, the Main Stage began the party with Diana Ross's infamous "I'm Coming Out." Though the Supreme Diva may have little to do with the E four O, these songs encapsulated the spirit of the festivities, with neighborhood pride and individuality permeating the air like rainbow flags. The music kicked off a day of dancing that trickled into the Castro district, joining up with the Pride Parade's female-led counterpart, the Dyke March, for the Pink Saturday nighttime carousal.

Sunday's Pride Parade offered a splendorous visual feast, with a variety of community organizations strutting their stuff down Market Street - mostly in costume, of course. Even the San Francisco Police Department flew rainbow colors. San Francisco Public Library volunteers toted signs proclaiming themselves to be the "Queerest. Library. Ever." while queens of different ages donned flamenco dresses, ultra-feminine Marie Antoinette get-ups or ball-flashing panties.

Though San Francisco boasts the nation's largest pride celebration, a sobering note resonated throughout the carnivalesque atmosphere. Longtime same-sex couples walked with signs proclaiming the duration of their partnerships, reminding onlookers of the continual struggle for marriage rights.

If anything, Pride numbs the pain with escapism and fantasy. After the parade, the Backstreet Boys and Andy Bell of Erasure performed in front of City Hall. The densely packed crowed screamed along to "I Want It That Way," each person belting out a private coming-out or coming-of-age soundtrack to a fight raging on.

Squish into a BART Millbrae train with Nastia at [email protected]

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