From the twenty-five foot, fire-breathing, iron snail to the two, rainbow-flag-toting women dancing on top of it in assless chaps, the Oakland Pride Parade was a surprisingly wholesome experience. Unlike San Francisco’s Pride, whose infamous extravagance I was far too young to comprehend when I first went with my mom at the age of six, Oakland Pride felt like a big, gay picnic that took over the stretch of Broadway between 14th and 20th streets.
Every year since 1997, with one exception, people of every race, gender, and sexual orientation have gathered to celebrate and embrace their differences in the East Bay. While the physical appearance of parade-goers varied greatly, all were united by a familial, calm, and accepting feeling. As soon as I and the 23 other kids from College Prep’s Gender and Sexuality Awareness club (GSA) ascended from the 19th Street BART Station, we were greeted by rainbows, bubbles, marching bands, and lots of free stuff. Most importantly though, the two feelings that struck me immediately upon arrival were acceptance and representation: two rights that the LGBTQ+ community has long fought, and continues to fight for.
CPS students marched with the contingent representing the city of Oakland which was made up of GSA, Jeremiah Jackson (our chaperone), and representatives from the mayor’s office. Our group was accompanied by a giant, iron snail that blew tufts of fire when a man wearing a leather hat pulled the reins, nonchalantly. He did so to the delight of the onlookers and the horror of whoever happened to be standing right in front of the snail.
From the A’s parade float to the Oaklandish t-shirts we were given upon arrival, the parade had many facets of Oakland’s culture. Oaklands’s Pride Parade was much smaller in numbers than San Francisco’s, but the smaller size did not make the parade feel any less grand. If anything, it just made it feel more intimate.
There was a festival set up at the end of Pride where vendors sold food, and organizations allied with the community gave out rainbow pins, candy, and information. A booth for a non-profit law group called Oasis that provides legal immigration services to LGBTQ+ immigrants was set up next to a mechanical bull. That dichotomy of serious and celebratory was the thing that characterized the experience of Pride. Pride is by definition a celebration, and it is one of such great magnitude because the queer community and their allies have made progress that is worthy of celebration. The LGBTQ+ community’s rights to march through the streets and to participate in societal institutions were hard-earned by our predecessors. That achievement, and more importantly that struggle, was not one that was easy to forget as we marched.