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    Donna Sachet, “As we approach the 50th anniversary of San Francisco Pride…”

    By Donna Sachet–

    As we approach the 50th anniversary of San Francisco Pride, we can’t help but be aware of the historical nature of this pandemic and its related effects on day to day living. When the fledgling LGBTQ Community of San Francisco gathered to commemorate the Stonewall Riots one year before in New York, they felt it was important to show solidarity and a few hundred people marched, establishing the Pride Parade and Celebration the last weekend in June that has occurred every year since. The GLBT Historical Society has made available online an extraordinary photo display marking those 50 years of Parades, some obviously protesting injustice and others gloriously celebrating diversity, inclusion, and progress. This collection was scheduled to be put on public display at City Hall, but the current pandemic has delayed that exhibit.  We encourage you to check it out at www.glbthistory.org/50-years-of-pride            

    The haunting part of viewing those photographs is to think back to where we were at any given time. During that first San Francisco event in 1970, where were you? Understanding that many readers are too young to address that question, we still know there are many who can. Perhaps you were in San Francisco, not yet out in any pubic way, reading some limited press coverage of the New York riots and the San Francisco event, but turning back to the pressures of your own daily life. But perhaps you, like José Sarria, Harvey Milk, and so many other San Franciscans, were involved in the burgeoning civil rights movement as it applied to the LGBTQ Community and could very well find yourself in those historic photographs. Perhaps you were in another city, another state, or outside the country, watching with fascination as these events unfolded, finding hope and encouragement in the images from San Francisco.

    Where were you in 1980? Maybe you were here in San Francisco to witness personally that year’s Parade, maybe joining in or simply on the sidelines, intrigued by historic developments or motivated by the tragic assassination of the Mayor and Supervisor Harvey Milk a few years before. You may appear in some of the photographs now available on that website. If you did not live here, maybe that year’s Parade became a clarion call for you to come to San Francisco, where so much seemed to be happening, so much progress made, and so much optimism developing. Maybe those events, although far away, led you to come out to your friends and family, to begin to organize similar activities where you lived, and/or to join the growing movement.

    Where were you in 1990? By then, the SF Parade & Celebration was shadowed by the specter of HIV/AIDS. Mixed emotions confronted promising progress, government indifference fought legislative advances, and new leadership struggled to activate lethargic observers. If you lived in San Francisco, could we find you in the photos of the SF Parade? Or were you not yet that involved in this growing and tireless struggle?

    Where were you in 2000? In 2010? And last year, 2019? Historic photos reveal many more images of celebration, perhaps including you. Legislative progress and court decisions have significantly advanced our cause, but battles remain. Whether in San Francisco or elsewhere, have you been involved with one of the many organizations born of our movement or observing from the sidelines? And appearing in photographs is not necessary, since many work behind the scenes in the trenches, advancing our cause step by step, while others capture the camera’s lens.

    As we review these decades of photographs, we reflect upon our own history from closeted non-involvement and sporadic volunteering to whole-hearted participation and leadership roles. All along, we have regrets about our hesitation to commit, our resistance to open association with the movement, and our misplaced priorities. Amazing leadership from people like Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin, Cleve Jones, Tom Ammiano, and Mark Leno paved the way, but why didn’t we do our part earlier?  Sometimes frozen by fear of AIDS, sometimes concerned about career repercussions, and sometimes simply more concerned about leisure activities and personal time, we remember observing long before participating.

    As much as the system of community titles, as within the Leather Community and the Imperial Court, are often criticized as mere beauty contests and ego trips, in our case, becoming Miss Gay San Francisco and then the 30th Empress of San Francisco gave us a platform from which to see the movement more completely, to realign priorities, and to take a leadership role. Title-holders often become longer-term leaders within their organization and within the larger LGBTQ Community. Beyond titles, simply volunteering within an organization with which one finds an affiliation often leads to a lifetime of giving of one’s time and talents to larger concerns. With so many specialized groups active in San Francisco, there is little excuse for not finding your place within.

    So, when we look back at this devastating and unprecedented pandemic, where will you appear? If a photo montage presents images from this time period, will we see you respecting social distancing, wearing a face covering, and carefully observing the City’s shelter-in-place directive? Have you found ways to contribute financially to the many funds established to support those most in need during the pandemic? While your favorite businesses, bars, and restaurants are shuttered by law, are you doing anything to ensure their return to business after the pandemic ends? Are you maintaining support in whatever way you can for those charitable organizations that are the backbone of our Community? Have you made an effort to show appreciation to those first responders among us? If nothing else, are you making the effort on a regular basis to check in with friends and associates who may be most at risk of contracting the virus or suffering the potential impacts of isolation?

    We are confident that history will record our LGBTQ Community as responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with beneficence, ingenuity, and grace. We encourage you to play a personal part in that effort, whatever that means to you. Yes, we shall get through even this, as we have survived so much before, but will you be a part of that recovery and active during its most punishing times? Volunteer opportunities await your participation, specific funds plead for your financial support, and friends would welcome your email or phone call. Please, don’t wait!

    Donna Sachet is a celebrated performer, fundraiser, activist and philanthropist who has dedicated over two decades to the LGBTQ Community in San Francisco. Contact her at empsachet@gmail.com

    Published on June 11, 2020