50 Years of Pride Exhibit

Photography exhibition documents five decades of San Francisco’s iconic LGBTQ celebration.

Arts Arts and Culture Brian Webb

This article was published on March 30th, 2020

Three of San Francisco’s leading LGBTQ allied institutions, the GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC), and San Francisco Pride, have come together to present, 50 Years of Pride, a new art exhibition showcasing 50 years of San Francisco Pride history. The exhibit displays close to 100 photographs celebrating five decades of San Francisco Pride and the San Francisco queer community. It takes place on Thursday, May 7, 2020 on the ground floor of San Francisco City Hall at the North Light Court. 

Disabled gay rights contingent at the 1977 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade; photo by Marie Ueda, Marie Ueda Photographs (2006-12), GLBT Historical Society.

Pride began 50 years ago when a small brigade of LBGTQ people marched down Polk Street, San Francisco’s most prominent queer neighborhood in June 28, 1970. The event was called “Christopher Street Liberation Day”. It was meant to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Christopher Street, Stonewall uprising of New York City. That event preceded a small gay-in at Speedway meadows in Golden Gate Park. The very modest demonstration was the first seed of San Francisco Pride , what is now one of the largest annual parades and celebrations of LGBTQ culture and history in the world. The last week of June sees people flock from all four corners of the globe to participate in San Francisco Pride every year – it is a movement that has never stopped for a moment. 

Members of the contingent representing the San Francisco General Hospital’s HIV Clinic at Ward 86 march hand in hand, 1984; photograph by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography, used with permission, all rights reserved.

The exhibition is an assemblage of diverse media, featuring examples of portraiture, posters, photojournalism, fine-art photography, and magazine covers dating all the way back to the 70’s. It is curated Pamela Peniston and Lenore Chinn, two artists who have been deeply embedded in the San Francisco queer scene for years. The idea for the exhibit stemmed from them stumbling on to a repository of 35 mm photos and snapshots in the GLBT Historical Society’s archive. They combined their artistry with their knowledge of San Francisco’s queer history to piece together the story of San Francisco Pride and all it entails. 

The 20th Anniversary of Stonewall contingent photographed from above, 1989; photograph by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography, used with permission, all rights reserved.

The project doesn’t just rely on Peniston and Chinn’s lens to tell this story. It is purposefully collaborative; both artists  reached out to the queer community at large to garner community participation. The core archive may be the GLBT Historical Society’s, but a sizable portion was contributed by members of the community, people who walked step by step towards equality and acceptance to form the country we know today. Although we classify these events as gay history, we cannot forget that they are a part of American history. 

The Dykes on Bikes, 1988; photograph by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography, used with permission, all rights reserved.

The transformation of San Francisco Pride from a simple march and gay-in, to a global celebration that strives to include all communities, is a story we should not forget. What we love about Pride is that it represents the full spectrum of what America is, a country where gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ideology, etc. all intersect with one another. These photographs are not only proof that the queer community has always worked towards this end, but they are a road map for how to achieve that end.

“Rise, Resist, Unite,” 2017; photograph by Lenore Chinn, used with permission, all rights reserved.

If you are in the Bay this May 7, do yourself a favor and visit this exhibit. It is something that should be witnessed so that it isn’t forgotten. We enjoy Pride with its pageantry and parties, but it is important that we remember human beings made this movement with their dedication to certain principles. Don’t just celebrate the success; celebrate the steps that led to its success. 

Update:  That show is being modified to open online in early May, then the physical version of the exhibition at City Hall will open as soon as possible.

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