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In San Francisco, LGBTQ Pride is a Year-Round State of Mind

May 13, 2020 LGBT, Visit California No Comments

The 50th anniversary San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the spirit of this milestone event will still be celebrated, a time for acknowledging San Francisco’s LGBTQ heritage while celebrating all the fun and fabulous things that repeatedly make it one of the top cities in the world for gay travel.

The San Francisco Travel Association has created a new video to honor and celebrate the 50th anniversary of San Francisco Pride, acknowledging that, in this city, pride is a year-round state of mind.

What began on June 28, 1970 as “Gay Freedom Day” has become San Francisco Pride, the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) event in North America.

Over the next five decades, this modest gathering evolved into San Francisco Pride, a globally famous annual parade and celebration that welcomes hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators from around the world the last weekend in June.

An online photography exhibition, “50 Years of Pride,” displays nearly 100 photographs to celebrate five decades of San Francisco Pride, the city’s most beloved public festival.  It is presented by the GLBT Historical Society and the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries with the support of San Francisco Pride, beginning on May 15, 2020.   The exhibition will ultimately be displayed on the ground floor and North Light Court of City Hall.

The pride of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community has a long history, beginning as early as the Gold Rush in 1849.  It’s a big part of what the city is today – open, welcoming, inclusive, creative, colorful and caring.

San Francisco Travel, the city’s destination marketing organization, once created a campaign that said, “San Francisco’s gay neighborhood is called San Francisco.”

The geographic center of the LGBTQ world has shifted over the decades, from the Barbary Coast to North Beach to Haight Ashbury to the Castro District, known around the world as the Gay Mecca.  Today, rainbow flags are proudly displayed in every district of the city.

Several icons of the gay world began in San Francisco.  The rainbow flag was created here in 1978 by Gilbert Baker for San Francisco Pride.  It has since become a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community around the world.  The GLBT Historical Society has unveiled an online version of its exhibition “Performance, Protest and Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker,” which opened at the GLBT Historical Society Museum on Nov. 1, 2019.  The exhibition uses textiles, costumes, photographs and ephemera to paint a complex portrait of artist Gilbert Baker (1951–2017).

San Francisco is the birthplace of the first gay men’s chorus (1978), the first gay chamber of commerce (1974) and the first Gay Games Olympic-style competitions (1982).

The HIV AIDS crisis devastated the gay community, beginning in the1980s.  San Francisco General Hospital was the first to create an in-patient AIDS special care unit.  It became a model for AIDS treatment, both in the U. S. and globally.  Numerous advances in research, medicine and treatment have been made since then, though AIDS continues to be a serious threat to all.

The first panels in the AIDS Memorial Quilt were created in 1987 in San Francisco, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, to remember the names and lives of loved ones that friends and family feared history would forget.  It is being relocated to San Francisco Bay Area under the care of the National AIDS Memorial, whose peaceful grove is located the heart of Golden Gate Park.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon made history as the first same sex couple to be married in San Francisco in 2004.  The ceremony was officiated by then Mayor, now Governor Gavin Newsom.

Travelers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) can now arrive and depart in Terminal 1, the Harvey Milk Terminal.   Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the history of California when he became a San Francisco Supervisor in 1977.  He was assassinated in 1978.  The SFO terminal was named for him in 2019.

A visit San Francisco is far more than a lesson in LGBTQ history.  A survey of LGBTQ visitors found that, while they love San Francisco because it’s a place where people can be themselves and not feel judged or threatened, it’s the city itself that draws them in – the grand hotels, sparkling bay views, fascinating museums, charming cafes, and famous landmarks.

Arts and culture thrive in San Francisco with an abundance of world-class performing arts, museums, galleries and events.  Even architecture is art with works by well-known names like Renzo Piano (California Academy of Sciences), Snøhetta (SFMOMA),  and Herzog & de Meuron (De Young Museum) and large-scale light art installations like Leo Villareal (“The Bay Lights”), Jenny Holzer (“White Light”), Hank Willis Thomas (“Love Over Rules”) and Jim Campbell (“Day For Night”).

Food and drink have always been among San Francisco’s’ strongest points, with the most Michelin stars of any place in California and more three-star restaurants than any city in the United States.  San Francisco’s awards season in April and May revolves around the James Beard Awards and the release of the latest Michelin guide.  The city is famous for being the birthplace of the martini (as well as many other dishes) and the American debut of Irish Coffee.  Chefs frequent the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to build their menus around the freshest seasonal produce.

Life in San Francisco plays out against a background of icons – the Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars, Chinatown, Alcatraz, Coit Tower, Victorian houses, and Lombard Street – but it’s the charming streets in lesser-known neighborhoods that yield new discoveries and delights on every visit.

Shopping in San Francisco is a treasure hunt starting at the fine department stores and top designer boutiques of Union Square to quiet streets like Union, Haight, Hayes Valley, and, of course, Castro.

Sheer fabulousness takes place at night.  At AsiaSF, transgender beauties serve excellent Asian fusion cuisine accompanied by saucy lip synch numbers on the bar. Drag is always on at Oasis and Aunt Charlie’s Lounge.

The original place to “see and be seen” was and continues to be Twin Peaks Tavern, the first gay bar with windows.  At the nearby Lookout Bar, cocktails are served on the second floor where everyone can see what’s up down on Market St.

Here are plenty of places to party the night away, with inviting names like Badlands, Moby Dick, The Stud and the EndUp.

“Sundays a Drag” on the morning after Saturday nights combines a buffet brunch with entertainment by Donna Sachet and friends.

The San Francisco Travel Association is the official destination marketing organization for the City and County of San Francisco. For information on reservations, activities and more, visit or call 415-391-2000.

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