I’m Florent, from Grenoble, France, a small city located in the Alps, “my mountains”. I finished my studies a year ago and I decided to spend six months in an American city to improve my English. I studied English for three months in a school in downtown San Francisco, and am now working as an intern at Wcities. It has been a valuable opportunity to improve my English speaking daily with Americans in a professional atmosphere.
I knew before arriving in San Francisco that the Pride Parade is one of the most legendary events in the colorful city. I also knew that San Francisco is open-minded and liberated, but I couldn’t guess how much. During my first week in the city, I was strolling by Fisherman’s Warf with my friends when I saw two guys, completely naked, skating towards the Golden Gate Bridge. I looked at my friends and said, “Is it usual to see naked guys here?” They laughed and answered me: “This is nothing, in San Francisco, there are the Up Your Alley Street Fair, the Folsom Street Fair, and the biggest Pride Parade in the world,” they said. The Up Your Alley Street Fair is a summer fetish fair, and the Folsom Street Fair is an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair. It was at this moment I knew my six months in the city might be a bit kinky.
On Saturday of Pride Weekend, I looked for a costume shop to buy some items and put myself into a proper state of mind. At five o’clock, we ventured to the Castro neighborhood to experience a night on the street. We went to this eccentric neighborhood by subway and many people wore costumes.
Walking on the street or entering a pub was almost impossible because of interminable lines. My costume was a real success and a lot of people asked to take pictures with me. I wondered what place I had set foot in when I saw throughout the night maybe one hundred naked guys. That was a bit strange, but I had fun, sharing moments with gay, lesbian, transsexual, and heterosexual people. For the first time in my life, I did not see any difference, judgment, or barriers between genders. Everyone was really friendly and outgoing, perhaps because of the impressive amount of alcohol in their blood. At 2am, we were on the way back home, and we realized the party wasn’t only in Castro but everywhere in the city: a day, a night, and a whole city dedicated to Pride and equality.
I didn’t expect such an evening. I participated in the Pride of Montpellier, my home city in France, and it was more relaxed, less extravagant, and much smaller. This is strange but awesome: when a crowd gathers with the same values and beliefs, and for a specific event, all social and behavioral boundaries disappear.
Sunday Morning: The Pride
The next morning, I had a difficult time waking up after such a surprising night in the Castro. At 10am, I was on the way to the Pride Parade that kicked off on Market and Beale Streets. The entire city was dressed as a wonderful rainbow, the same rainbow I saw on peoples’ cheeks, t-shirts, and flags. Market Street was closed to cars, and boundaries were placed along sidewalks. The ambiance of the Pride Parade was similar to Saturday night’s, but I had the impression the goal was different. Indeed, families with their children, old couples, students, and workers stood across the barriers, celebrating the values and beliefs of Pride. The parade was less extravagant and anarchic than Pink Saturday.
In order not to miss anything, we watched the parade from the foot of San Francisco’s City Hall, where Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, once stood and addressed Pride-goers more than thirty years ago. After thirty minutes of waiting, the first contingent of the parade came towards us. Every contingent looked different, with Djs and dancers on some of them, and politicians and celebrities on others. Many groups walked the route, and I can say that each one was a real surprise for the little Frenchi that I am.
After seeing more than 200 contingents in four hours, with a heat approaching 90 degrees, and especially after the awesome party in Castro, I was really exhausted but it didn’t matter. The colors, joy, and madness that reigned in the streets and on the faces of everyone gave me enough energy to stay.
Afterwards, I remember thinking that there was no specific age, profile, or mindset needed to participate in the fantastic and open-minded event. I saw on the street a young girl, she was around 7 or 8 years old and was carrying a banner that said, “I’m not gay but I love rainbow.” It is difficult to describe the feeling I had watching her. It was moving, and the girl seemed happy celebrating Pride spirit.