When Oakland Pride returned in 2010 after a six-year hiatus, the high turnout was indicative of East Bay residents’ demand for a large and cohesive LGBT celebration of their own (and no doubt of the enduring popularity of funk singer Chaka Khan, who headlined the event). Organizers estimate that 30,000 people gathered downtown for last year’s resurrection of the former East Bay Pride Festival, which ran from 1997 to 2003. Some media reports put the attendance figure closer to 50,000.
Event chair Amber Todd said that the success of last year’s festival came as a big surprise. “We were praying that after all our hard work around the year more than seventeen people would show up,” she said. “I definitely think we kicked open the closet door with that one.” So far, it’s looking like that momentum will carry over to the second Oakland Pride on Sunday, September 4. The event has nearly doubled its vendor list and drawn more than $21,000 in donations and sponsorships — due in part to a fundraiser organized by Mayor Jean Quan and City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.
Centered at 19th and Franklin streets and similar in scope and scale to last year’s event, this year’s Pride features a similarly varied musical bill, with singer and Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday, soul diva Thelma Houston, locals LaToya London and Martin Luther, and a host of other genre-spanning acts. It’s a carefully chosen lineup; organizers strived to select performers who have used their star power to advocate for the LGBT community. “Not all the artists are in our community, but they definitely are supporters of our community,” Todd said. “We hope that allies — and people who might not yet be allies — come out and have fun and listen to the amazing artists and see how we party.”
But it takes a lot of work to throw a big party. Todd said last year’s twelve-person board has shrunk to seven members, with organizers devoting forty- and fifty-hour weeks to planning while relying on a core group of volunteers to help prepare for a celebration that will span multiple city blocks and feature four stages of music and performances throughout the day. Organizers also had to contend with the initial logistical headache that arose when they realized the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo was booked downtown on the same day. “Everybody sees the party aspect of it, but the work is very time-consuming,” said Todd, who also works a day job in the Oakland City Administrator’s office, attends school, and has four daughters. “None of us gets paid a dime to do it. We do it for community.”
And that’s what Oakland Pride is all about, she said. This year’s theme, “We Are Family,” came about largely because last year’s gathering drew a large number of families with children. Consequently, a parking lot at 20th and Franklin streets will be designated this year as a supervised children’s area, with face painting, snacks, and other kid-friendly activities. Todd, who says she found last year’s familial atmosphere heartwarming, credits Pride events as essential tools for community growth. “It’s the only way we can grow as a society,” she said. “And that’s the only way we can grow as a community.” 11 a.m.-7 p.m., $5-$10. 510-465-7433 or OaklandPride.org