Santa Cruz’s annual LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) pride celebration marks its 40th anniversary this Sunday. Over the years, the event has evolved from a march for recognition and rights, to a celebration.
Larry Friedman is one of the founders of the original event, now called Santa Cruz Pride. He says the first Pride included a picnic and a men versus women tug of war across the San Lorenzo River. It was 1975.
“It was to create visibility. We were not rallying around a particular political issue at that point. And it was kind of scary and daring to be in a public place,” said Friedman.
It was so daring that the first time Friedman’s husband Tom Ellison went in the late 70s, he stayed on the sidelines to scout out the event. Ellison didn’t join in until the following year.
“It seems like a very simple wonderful thing to have a picnic, or to have a parade down the street nowadays, but back then even though it was a social event, it was a political act,” said Ellison.
And it remained that way for decades. “In the beginning of things, churches would send groups, and they would kneel on the sidewalk as the march went by and pray for us,” said Mary Schaller. She’s receiving a lifetime achievement award at this year’s event. She coordinated LGBTQ Pride for 17 years.
She recalls that even in the 90s the volunteers who stood along the parade route had to have self-defense training. “They’d have to deal with the beer bottles being thrown at us,” said Schaller.
It’s a stark contrast from the event today. Churches participate in the parade rather than pray on the sidelines. And Schaller sees Santa Cruz Pride as more of a party than a political statement. She wonders what that means for the next generation.
“If you are just partying, you’re not thinking about where you come from, what it’s taken to get you there, and what work you still have to do,” said Schaller.
Santa Cruz Pride is a celebration that Angelica Marcial says gives her the opportunity to be herself. She’s a UCSC student and intern at the Diversity Center. The organization puts on Santa Cruz PRIDE. It also supports KAZU.
This year’s event starts with a parade followed by street festival and then an after party. Angelica says past successes are a reason to celebrate. “We are equal to everybody else. We can get married, and there’s equal rights,” said Marcial.
Being able to celebrate who you are is also key for an even younger group. Rory Diller is youth program coordinator at the Diversity Center. He works with kids as young as 12 from all over Santa Cruz County. He says many feel isolated.
“Having this day be all about celebrating and fun really encourages that opportunity to make new friends, and bond with new people. And once they do that they have a good group of support people in their roster that they can reach out to if they’re going through something challenging, or something awesome that they want to share with somebody,” said Diller.
It’s perhaps the beginning of the type of bond early participants in Santa Cruz Pride have forged over the past 40 years. Larry Friedman and Tom Ellison have friends flying in from all over to participate in Sunday’s event.
Friedman and Ellison also happen to hold the highest honor of the Santa Cruz Pride Parade, they’re the Grand Marshals. Ellison sees this opportunity to be front and center as an important one.
“Because I think being out is the most political act one can do,” said Ellison. And in that way Santa Cruz Pride will always be political.