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    Reflecting on Nearly Four Decades of Pride Immersion

    By Marsha H. Levine–

    Sometime amid my late teens, I became aware and moved from being an oblivious child to a burgeoning adult. Atom bombs were very much a stark reality, the Cold War raged, Vietnam was grimly in the daily news, and America’s youth was revolting. Sit-ins and other demonstrations took place on several college campuses, kids were shot at Kent State for protesting, the SDS bombed a Greenwich Village townhouse, and prisoners at Attica rioted.

    These were turbulent times. And for me, the Stonewall Rebellion was but a whisper in my world, despite having known the word “lesbian” since I was 11 years old, having suspected there was something different about myself when I was five.

    My first lover was a school friend and we passed it off as just experimenting, as all the psychology books I perused in the library told me was typical for girls our age. There were two roles back then: you were either a butch/bull dyke or a femme. I was definitely the latter, and still a bit boy-crazy, though I believed that I loved Lori as much as I would have loved any man had I followed a heteronormative path. But loving a woman in the 70s was still considered the mental illness that defined homosexuality back then.

    When my mother discovered one of my love letters to Lori, I feared being institutionalized. We began to write in an elaborate cipher that we developed, and then I would burn them afterward. Or keep them in my school locker to reread for a bit before destroying them.

    Is it any surprise it took me almost a decade to finally accept the word lesbian without a negative connotation? And then another five years to finally come out—after having served two years as the President of the Boston Lesbian/Gay Pride Committee?

    Being a part of Pride, first in Boston, then in San Francisco when I relocated here, taught me a bravery that has since served me well. For anyone who thinks being a part of organizing Pride might be easy or a lightweight commitment, they should volunteer a season and walk in our shoes.

    Back when I started, your name and your phone number was the contact information for the Pride organization. You’d come home to find death threats on your voice mail (and have to copy for the police) or you would catch yourself avoiding walking in front of windows and looking both ways when you exited your residence. It’s not much easier now, when verbal assaults by way of nasty phone messages or snarky emails—from members of your own community—make you sad and ponder why do you do this.

    The answer is simple. Because somewhere in Wichita, Kansas, or Johnson City, Tennessee, an LGBTQ person is thinking that they are alone until they watch the news and find there are others just like them out there in the world. While many might pack a bag and move to the nearest LGBTQ+ mecca, there are the truly courageous who stand up and shout it from the rooftops from often homophobic settings and begin to build community at home.

    So, let’s think about that during the world celebrations of Pride. Be kinder to each other, use better words when we communicate, and above all, listen. The glimmer of someone’s turning point is often hidden among this chance to celebrate.

    Marsha H. Levine has been an executive officer for Boston Pride; SF Pride; the Consolidated Associations of Pride, Inc.; and, currently, InterPride. With over 39 years of Pride immersion, she now serves as Community Relations Manager for San Francisco Pride. Marsha’s nouns are she/her and she identifies as bisexual.


    Honoring Marsha Levine of SF Pride and Her Decades of Service

    We cannot think of Pride in San Francisco without having Marsha Levine come to mind. As our San Francisco Bay Times contingent has turned the corner from the staging area to Market Street, she has been there to guide and cheer for us and for all of the other contingents. When we got stuck in a human traffic jam after the parade, she and the also amazing “Safety Joan” and “Safety Freddy” helped us out. When we have had questions about the event, Levine has always provided the answers promptly and thoughtfully.

    She is an unsung hero of so many successful San Francisco Pride Parades. If you watch from home, you might not even know of Levine and her work, which often remain behind the scenes. When we recently saw her at the Mayor’s Flag Raising Ceremony and Pride celebration earlier this month, we therefore asked her to share her story. We present it here with tremendous gratitude for her continuing, much-needed service to our LGBTQ community.