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    Donna’s Chronicles, “Like some of the best ideas to ever surface…”

    By Donna Sachet–

    Like some of the best ideas to ever surface, Pride Brunch was born during a conversation at The Edge in the Castro over several (make that many) drinks. In 1999, we were serving with Gary Virginia on the Board of Directors of Positive Resource Center at the time and tossing around ideas to raise funds to continue the important work they did. We both knew friends personally who had directly benefited from the sensitive and knowledgeable assistance of PRC in obtaining benefits after receiving a positive HIV test result. Lives that could have spiraled into despair were instead put on a new trajectory with essential support and positive encouragement. We also knew people who had lived with an AIDS diagnosis for years and who returned to productive work after receiving guidance and training at PRC. As this once fatal disease became a more manageable condition with medication, people who had given up or were struggling against insurmountable odds found new hope through PRC. Small fundraisers, especially at bars like The Edge, had been successful, but we were looking for an annual signature event that fit the agency’s needs and would appeal to our diverse group of friends and contacts.

    Although the details get hazier as the years go by, Gary remembers pulling Rusty Gaspard into the conversation. Rusty worked with famous chef Jeremiah Tower at Star’s and offered his help. Gary threw out the idea of finding a slot during SF Pride week when people were already celebrating. Picturing the usually packed schedule that weekend, we were less than enthusiastic. Long story short, we hit upon the idea of a brunch on the day before the Pride Parade, perhaps at Stars, and the details developed from there.

    So, in June of 1999, Gary Virginia & Donna Sachet’s Pride Brunch began its 22-year history, bringing us to this weekend when our second virtual event, A Taste of SF Pride, will air on Saturday, June 26, at noon. As always, it will benefit PRC and will again honor the Grand Marshals of SF Pride, offering each of them a chance to address our guests with prerecorded video messages.  And as always, there will be a number of surprises along the way. In preparing a short video montage of the many past Pride Brunches, a host of memories rose to the surface, a few of which we thought we would share here.

    At either the very first or second Pride Brunch, both at Star’s restaurant, we were surprised by the appearance of Mayor Willie Brown. Remember, we were just starting out and although we had a great, enthusiastic crowd, we had no expectation that the Mayor of San Francisco would drop by. Grand Marshals that year included Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin and Harry Hay, all of whom attended. The Mayor entered while we were speaking on the microphone, but Gary saw him and quickly let me know.  Off the top of our head, we came up with an impromptu introduction, something like, “We have a lovely surprise for you all.  Someone has just joined our event who needs no introduction, whose fame and power are exceeded perhaps only by the President of the United States. Please welcome Mayor Willie Brown.” He graciously took the microphone, thanked us, and said, “Donna, the only difference between President Bill Clinton and me is that I don’t lie about who I f***!”  To say we were flummoxed would be an understatement. We glanced over at Phyllis & Del, who were staring at each other in amazement. Gary fortunately took the microphone and continued the event. What a quote and what a memory!

    Of all the many Celebrity Grand Marshals, including Sharon Gless, Andy Bell, Bruce Vilanch, Tabatha Coffey, Alan Cumming, the casts of The L Word, Looking, and MILK, and so many others, we were most touched by the attendance of Sir Ian McKellan in 2002. Many times, the Celebrity Grand Marshals only come into town on Saturday night in time to ride in the Pride Parade the next day, so we are always particularly thrilled to have them at the Pride Brunch. The crowd of attendees was up to 200 by then and, of course, Ian was swamped with admirers. He sat at the head table with the other Grand Marshals, enjoying his brunch and posing for the occasional photograph, and was the last scheduled speaker. As he approached the microphone, someone in the crowd yelled, “Let’s see your tattoo!” Evidently, advance press had noted that he had recently gotten a tattoo of which he was rather proud and there were those in the audience that wanted a peek. Ian was perfectly composed, saying in his British clip, “Not yet. I have some prepared remarks.” He went on to share some powerful words about his own coming out late in life and the power he felt afterwards, and the crowd applauded warmly. He began to leave the podium, but suddenly turned back, saying, “You still want to see it?” To uproarious applause, he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled back one side to expose a fresh tattoo on his shoulder, the number nine in Elvish, a memento of his time working on The Lord of the Rings. What a great sport and what a memory!

    During the 22 years we have produced Pride Brunch, both hosts were honored at different times with Grand Marshal designations, presenting the rather odd situation of introducing each other to speak. Never were we more aware of how much we valued our friendship than when we had to compose a proper introduction for Gary. Pride Brunch has grown into a wonderful event, raising significant funds for PRC, affording the Grand Marshals a rare opportunity to address the public, and giving us the opportunity to gather our friends together during Pride for a spirited celebration. It is, however, a pretty big endeavor. While we receive and appreciate help from PRC staff and other volunteers, it is our event and we control many details in order to deliver an event we take pride in. It may come as a surprise to some of our readers, but in the course of preparations, sometimes tempers run hot, patience runs short, and tensions simmer. It is a testament to a true and grounded friendship that despite differences of opinion, we have always succeeded in dividing responsibilities, trusting each other, and bringing our individual strengths together.  None of us take enough time to appreciate the people in our lives, much less our dearest friends, but that year, we had the chance to thank Gary publicly for his years of service, his unwavering integrity, and his loyal friendship. Yes, there were some tears and there was a standing ovation. What a friend and what a memory!

    The stories could go on and on, but why not see for yourself! Tune in to the 23rd annual Pride Brunch this Saturday, June 26, at noon, as we take a tour of San Francisco sites with special significance to our community. Complete details appear in the ad across from this column. See us in action, bid on fabulous auction items, hear from each Grand Marshal, help support the work of PRC, and get ready for a few surprises along the way! And next year, we feel confident that the 24th annual Pride Brunch will be live and in person, so get ready to celebrate!

    Meanwhile, we wish you a hearty Happy Pride, San Francisco! Thank you for reading our column and for sharing our pride in this incredible City and our extraordinary community. Let’s make many more fabulous memories together!

    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

    Calendar a/la Sachet

    Thursday, June 24
    Divas & Drinks at the Academy
    With Donna Sachet, Mayor London Breed, SF Pride Community Grand Marshal Clair Farley, DJ Rockaway, Heather Freyer’s team from Bacardi, Anna Chase of Olivia, Kelly Gilliam of Mecca 2.0, and more
    The Academy, 2166 Market Street
    6–10 pm

    Thursday, June 24
    San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus: Wired
    Incredible choral music, meaningful messages, special guests
    Virtual concert including Homophonics and Lollipop Guild
    6 pm

    Friday, June 25
    An Evening with Donna Sachet
    Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, music, blackjack
    The Academy, 2166 Market Street

    Saturday, June 26
    Frameline 45 Film Festival at the Castro Theatre
    After 14 months, the Castro Theatre reopens!
    11 am, 3 pm & 6 pm
    $14 & up

    Saturday, June 26
    Gary Virginia & Donna Sachet’s 23rd annual Pride Brunch
    Online event featuring A Taste of San Francisco Pride with Grand Marshals of SF Pride & others
    Silent auction, delivered brunch & gift bags
    Benefits PRC
    Noon–1:30 pm
    $50 & up

    Sunday, June 27
    Frameline 45 Film Festival at the Castro Theatre Closing Night
    11 am, 2:30 pm & 6:30 pm
    $14 & up

    Sunday, June 27
    Juanita MORE!’s Pride Party
    Benefits SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund & Imperial Council of SF
    620 Jones
    Noon–10:30 pm
    $85 & up

    Published on June 24, 202