SAN FRANCISCO – Thousands thronged the streets here June 26 and 27, enjoying the 40th anniversary of this city’s Gay Pride celebration with brilliant rainbow-hued costumes, musical and theatrical events, and just plain fun. On Sunday, parade participants and onlookers jammed the main thoroughfare, Market St., as they danced, sang and chanted their way to a festival at Civic Center.
The celebration had a serious side, too, with many signs and banners calling for marriage equality, and proclaiming the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), now before both houses of Congress, to provide basic protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a measure of how far the celebrations have come since the first march in 1970 brought out a few hundred participants, this year religious and community organizations marched alongside the floats and contingents of many corporate sponsors, and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered her congratulations by video to the festival.
A labor contingent brought together members of many unions, including hotel, hospital, theater, government and maritime workers, nurses, teachers and more.
Unite Here! Local 2, which represents some 9,000 San Francisco hotel workers who have been without a citywide contract since last August, was out in force. The slogan of the union’s joint campaign with the LGBT community, “Sleep with the right people – Support hotel workers!” was emblazoned on tee-shirts, signs, and a decorated bright red car that led the unionists down Market St.
Banners and signs proclaiming “Hyatt: Anti worker, anti gay!” focused on one of the giant hotel corporations involved in the contract struggle. All three San Francisco Hyatts are now under worker-initiated boycotts.
Local 2 spokesperson Israel Alvaran told the World that passing ENDA is essential so legislation barring employment discrimination is fully inclusive. He also emphasized the importance of marriage equality to ensure equal rights and benefits for workers.
Alvaran’s views were supported by Eileen Berkun, chair of Service Employees International Union Local 1021’s Lavender Solidarity Committee, who said gay and lesbian workers continue to encounter harassment in the workplace, and urgently need equality in benefits.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is fighting a specific instance of workplace discrimination. Hornblower Cruises, which operates a ferry to the historic Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay, fired deckhand Vincent Atos last November for allegedly “acting too gay” at work.
As he prepared to march in the parade, Peter Olney, ILWU’s Director of Organizing, said that besides being openly gay, Atos was a “very out” union organizer. “He was responsible for signing up over half the bargaining unit on authorization cards,” Olney said. “The company saw him as our prime organizer.”
In 2005 the historically anti-union Hornblower was chosen by the National Parks Service to take over the Alcatraz run from a union company, displacing some 50 workers who belonged to the ILWU’s Inlandboatmen’s Association and the Masters, Mates and Pilots union.
Olney said the east-coast International Longshoremen’s Association is supporting the ILWU in its efforts to organize workers on the Alcatraz run. The ILA has a labor agreement with Hornblower for its run to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
Most other San Francisco cruise lines are unionized.
San Francisco’s celebrations were not without their note of sadness. A young partygoer was shot to death Saturday night in the Castro, the traditional center of the city’s gay community, and two of his friends were injured. Police said the incident resulted from a personal dispute and was not a hate crime.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel