Monday, June 29, 2009

Pink Saturday: party or police state?

Okay, so I actually kind of like Pink Saturday, the night before pride when the Castro gets blocked off to traffic and people wander around getting smashed and dancing to terrible music blasted from sound stages in the street. I like it because it’s more honest than any other pride event -- no one’s pretending to do anything but wander the streets getting smashed, walking back and forth in a never-ending international gay suburbanite runway gawkfest. In all of its disastrousness, it is kind of fun to watch.

Over the last few years, Pink Saturday has gotten younger and younger, probably because San Francisco has never been a great place for queer youth, since there’s nowhere for queer youth to go. Except on Pink Saturday, when the bars are turned inside out so that the street is where it’s happening and inside just feels like a bad view. Oh, and the other thing about Pink Saturday is that it’s probably the only day of the year when dykes outnumber fags in the Castro, since the Dyke March ends right at Castro and Market and that’s usually where the main stage is placed. So there’s this crazy intersection between every dyke in the Bay Area and beyond, queer youth of all races flooding in from the suburbs, and the usual gay tourists and yuppies.

I like to sit in front of Harvest Market, eating vegan soup and watching the crowds, gasping at the outfits, and cruising the fashion masculinity fags I wish I wasn’t attracted to. Over the last few years, this has been a tradition I’ve shared with my friend Hilary, who is usually visiting from LA, but now she’s just moved here -- in fact, this year we actually decided to call it a tradition, and made a plan for 9:30 pm in our usual spot.

I decide not to take the underground to the Castro, since it’s always so crowded on pride, but then I regret my decision since the bus is so slow. It looks like Market Street is blocked off earlier than usual, since the bus is taking about 10 minutes per block, so I get out just after Church Street and sure enough there are all sorts of people sprawled out in the middle of Market and it kind of feels festive. I walk towards the barricades, and can’t figure out why exactly they go all the way across the sidewalk -- usually there’s a place where the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence harass people for “donations,” but only several blocks up. This time some guy in an orange security t-shirt starts yelling at me from behind the barricades that this isn’t an entrance, I have to stand in line over there, and he points to the other side of the street where there are hundreds of people crammed together, trying to get in. I say oh, I’m just going to Harvest Market, right over there, but he yells at me that I have to stand in line, so then there I am, in line with hundreds of suburbanites and teenagers, and suburbanite teenagers.

One of the Sisters is standing on the median in the middle of Market yelling through a bullhorn that we all need to stand in line, and I yell: why don’t you just open the fucking barricades? Then the blonde woman next to me, red-faced with booze, turns to me and says: do you think we should rush the line? I say not a bad idea, but people would probably get hurt, and she looks surprised and sad for a second, decides against that idea.

Get this: the security staff yells at us that we need to form separate lines for “men” and “women”-- I kid you not! Binary gender lines at a queer event in San Francisco, organized by a bunch of queens who dress as nuns. The security staff is frisking people and making people throw away water bottles, asking us if we have any drugs or sharp objects -- wait, I thought this was a public street, I didn’t realize we were visiting our friends in the tank at 850 Bryant.

As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone who’s working security is straight, and aggressive, and way behind the security line are the Sisters, standing with their donation buckets and acting like they don’t notice the screaming hordes. My turn and the security guard pulls my bag out of my hand and tells me I have to get rid of my water bottle. My water bottle is one of those overpriced metal things that I carry around so that I don’t have to waste plastic everywhere -- I don’t want to just throw it away, so I’m arguing with him and he says I’m not even supposed to let you bring your bag in, you’ll have to get in the back of the line, so finally I just throw the bottle to the side, in this pile of discarded plastic bottles, and then I walk through the financial checkpoint so enraged that my eyes are almost closed and it’s a good thing no one says anything to me because otherwise I would just rip them to shreds.

Over at Harvest Market, there’s no sign of Hilary and I’m worried that I’ve missed her because now I’m 45 minutes late. But no, turns out she got stopped at another checkpoint and they made her go home to return her backpack. Are you kidding? What the hell is going on? When did Pink Saturday turn into a police state? Not just security at the gates, but roaming around inside are dozens of uniformed SFPD officers. And probably a few hundred of the security monitors in orange shirts, almost all of them straight black men. Did the Sisters consciously make this racialized choice, or did they hire an outside contractor to do their dirty work? Triple Canopy? Dimecorp? Xe/Blackwater? Or, perhaps a local favorite like Bechtel Corporation.

You can’t even piss on any of the side streets, because then you have to go through another checkpoint. I go into a restaurant to use the bathroom and they stop me, I say I don’t mind buying something, but apparently that’s still not okay. The waitress points me in the direction of port-a-potties, and there they are with maybe 85 people in line.

Back at Harvest, the owner is working the register and I figure maybe he’ll have some insight, I say when did they decide to move the barricades so far back? He says I guess this year. I say what the hell is the point of all this security? He says oh I’ve seen it much worse -- he’s probably talking about Halloween, when roaming straights show up with baseball bats and a few years ago the police decided to shut the whole neighborhood down instead of letting anyone in. I say what do you mean, nothing has ever happened on Pink Saturday! He says it’s to keep away the outsiders. I say what the hell are you talking about -- 95% of these people aren’t from San Francisco!

At least Hilary and I can be angry together. For some reason the cops keep coming over and staring at people’s ginger ale bottles, telling people they can’t be drinking that in public. This is ginger ale! But, guess what -- you’re not allowed to drink anything that’s not in a plastic cup -- even if you’re sitting on the benches provided by Harvest Market, drinking something that you bought inside.

This is crazy. Earlier someone pointed out the huge disco ball hanging in the middle of 16th and Market, but somehow I didn’t notice that it was suspended by an enormous crane. Who the hell paid for that? I go closer. Oh, no -- it’s sponsored by some new vodka called Blue Angel -- I guess it’s like those U.S. Navy fighter jets that terrorize US skies to get people all excited about blowing up Iraqi or Afghani civilians -- drink Blue Angel, and double your pleasure -- get bombed, while you’re doing the bombing!

I forgot to mention that one of the other things I like about Pink Saturday is that it doesn’t usually have any of the corporate sponsorship -- at least not for the last several years. Way back I remember maybe it was sponsored by Budweiser, and was an official SF Pride event, but I never remember security checkpoints on all sides for blocks around, and right in front of us is a huge booth dispensing Popchips -- “Never Fried or Baked -- Love. Without the Handles.” You can even get your picture taken in a free photo booth -- as long as you’re holding a bag of Popchips. No doubt to use in their promotional materials. But can I guzzle my Blue Angel at the same time as I’m chomping on chips? Pop!

Then there’s a huge video screen suspended from the corner in front of the giant disco ball, Hilary and I are watching it to try to figure out what it’s advertising but we’re not sure. The dance stage, sponsored by corporate gay dance radio, starts playing Michael Jackson -- everywhere in the world, they’re probably playing Michael Jackson right now in one kind of corporate-crazed ritual or another. And then we spot the Budweiser truck parked on the corner -- oh, no! Sure enough, walking further we discover a huge booth, just like the ones at Pride, selling overpriced beer and cocktails and bottled water. Oh, that’s why they had us confiscate our bottles -- so that they could make more money-- they don’t even do that at pride!

What are the Sisters doing with all this money, I mean all the money that doesn’t go to Budweiser or Blue Angel or Red Bull, sponsor of the tables in front of the Budweiser booth, decorated with the Sisters insignia and featuring maybe 20 bartenders pouring drinks. And, of course, across from the Budweiser booth is an enormous booth selling Polish sausage and ribs -- this all explains why most of the neighborhood businesses look relatively abandoned. Supposedly the profits go to nonprofits -- I love that phrase, so let’s repeat it: the profits go to nonprofits. I love nonprofits that enforce a security state, how comforting!

But there’s more -- just as Hilary and I are trying to make our way through the crowds to get to one of the exit checkpoints, we spot a few friends, and guess what? This year, the Dyke March got stopped at 17th and Sanchez, stopped by the line of straight male security guards who demanded that all the dykes walk single-file through the frisking station. That’s right -- on the one day of the year when dykes actually flood the Castro, it’s important to make sure there’s extra security! Outsourced security, no doubt.


Piers Gaveston Jr said...

San Francisco is usually about twenty years ahead of/behind Atlanta. Is this what we have to look forward to?

Max Airborne said...

Wow, sounds heinous.

Billy Keefe said...

Wow. This is just sad.

aryenish said...

YESYESYES!! i was so enraged by all this. i experienced almost everything you described. thank you for outlining it all here!

Aidan Dunn said...

Crazy! I was in the Castro last night after Pride. Great atmosphere -- happy out-of-towners crowding the sidewalks, enjoying the weather and the social scene. Very relaxed, lots of fun. It was a beautiful summer night, lots of happy suburban teenagers/20somethings experiencing their first Pride.

But there were tons of police, everywhere -- holding plastic handcuffs! Not just carrying them, but holding them, looking ready to arrest the Fremont high-school dykes in their "I ♥ girls" rainbow t-shirts, should they step out of line.

What's with all this increased security in the Castro recently?!

whatsername said...

Holy shit... That happened in our SF?? Wtf is going on??

bint alshamsa said...

Wow! This sounds just awful. I'm so sorry that it has transformed into something so different from what it used to be. We have A LOT of festivals down here in Louisiana and, thankfully, the cops usually play a very minimal role. Tourism is the bread and butter of New Orleans, so they can't afford to piss off the folks who keep coming here to celebrate/party/get toasted/gawk.

Asher said...

Wow, that's crazy. My BF and I were there and we somehow managed to sneak past all of that, I had no inkling of it at all.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Piers, exactly!!!!

Max, heinous indeed!

And Billy, you're right -- it is sad...

Aryenish, thank you for the affirmation!

Aidan, at first, reading your comment I thought oh, maybe Sunday night is the better night, but then:

"But there were tons of police, everywhere -- holding plastic handcuffs! Not just carrying them, but holding them, looking ready to arrest the Fremont high-school dykes in their "I ♥ girls" rainbow t-shirts, should they step out of line."

Plastic handcuffs for Fremont high school dykes in the Castro, sounds like the future -- true enough, what is with all this increased "security" in the Castro -- is it the disastrousness of assimilation, Gavin Newsom's governatorial bid, the Sisters' hypocrisy, business owner hysteria -- I'm not sure, but it's worth investigating...

Whatsername, exactly -- our SF -- or, someone's...

Bint, that's so great to hear that the cops stay off the festivals in New Orleans -- here it's getting more and more insane for all the ones that are even vaguely countercultural.

Asher, you must've gone at the right time -- next year, I'm going with you -- wait, I mean next year I'm not going... I guess we'll see...

Love --

richard said...

thanks for posting this Mattilda, its deeply disturbing, and i hope this can be wrested away from its current direction. I dunno, if the city requires security, perhaps creating a queer security force (with a decent attitude!) might be an idea, in order to play the cities game...

again, SF surprises everyone. Iowa & South Africa have marriage equality, not California. And now this. wtf. blehh.

Thanks again, i reposted on my blog.

Hilary Goldberg said...

next year we need a new place to meet...sigh...

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Richard, so lovely to hear from you -- remember, it was the Sisters who hired the security, and last time I checked they're, um, queens in habits...

Iowa and South Africa can keep their "marriage equality," whatever that is.

And thanks for reposting!

Hilary, maybe we can meet in the Blue Angel booth?

Love --

richard said...

maybe the queens can hire some kings next time?

not a fan of the term marriage equality? is gay marriage preferable? or maybe just abolishing marriage altogether as a heteronormative capitalist institution? i should probably read more of your blog...

my pleasure to repost for sure! people are diggin it too, seeing a spike in my hits. thanks again for the important perspectives.

Jory Mickelson said...

This is horrible. I am glad that we left SF before we could see any of this.

We were driving north through Bend, Oregon on Saturday. They were having an outdoor Pride event in a park. We thought we would check it out until we noticed people collecting "suggested" donations of $5 from every person that went inside the fenced off "Pride" event. No mention of where the money was going.

I didn't know you had to pay to celebrate Pride. We went to the farmers market instead.

Who wants to pay to look at PFLAG and Unitarian booths? I thought the whole point of booths was to get your information out there to as many people as possible, not just to those who want to fork over $5.

XOXO Jory M.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Richard, maybe there doesn't need to be security at all -- and especially not gendered security!

And yes yes yes to abolishing marriage altogether, exactly!

And how lovely for a spike in your hits already :)

And Jory -- oh, no -- they're charging for pride in Bend, Oregon!!!

And, "I thought the whole point of booths was to get your information out there to as many people as possible, not just to those who want to fork over $5."

What a good point!

Love --

Jeff said...

Grim. That sounds like very little fun.

I wonder if the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence can be pressured into publicly denouncing the way it turned out. To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they didn't realize it would be so blatantly oppressive.

In any case, sorry you lost your metal water bottle and had such a bad time. Was nice to run into you at the De-Center action.

--Jeff G

Elusis said...

I believe Pride and other festivals are having to make the choice to charge because of steep fee increases by the city.

However, the "security theatre" stuff is just cracked, as is the "no outside bags/water/etc." Are you going to write the Sisters with your concerns? I'd like to know what their response would be.

Anonymous said...

sigh. my dreams of moving to sf get duller every day. is there no place in the country where we can just be free? i dont want to be treated like a criminal anymore. i dont want to have to judge whether i'll attend a "public" event by my ability to tolerate harassment that day. i just want an undisturbed lifestyle in a community of radical queers. where does that exist?

Nija M said...

...this makes me glad that I skipped all SF pride celebrations this year. I'll always have my happy memories of the hedonistic Pink Saturdays, when the Sisters did all the "security" without tarnishing those memories with the reality of the Pink Saturday of this year. :(

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Jeff, so lovely to see you too! And I think in my sudden absorption in a conversation with Blake I neglected to give you a hug, hug next time for sure!

I think the Sisters knew exactly what they were doing, but yes yes to pressure, either way!

Elusis, I don't believe in playing the city permitting game at all, and I may write to the Sisters directly, we shall see...

Mixedqueer, "i dont want to have to judge whether i'll attend a "public" event by my ability to tolerate harassment that day." So so true!

And, "i just want an undisturbed lifestyle in a community of radical queers. where does that exist?" I would say nowhere (especially the community part), but it does not mean that we can't dream.

Nija, yay for skipping all "pride" celebrations!

Love --

Julia said...

i know! so many things problematic and so far from queer liberation....thank you for commenting! yes, especially to the lack of spaces for queer youth.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Julia, thank you -- and yes yes, liberation, oh where?

Love --

Elusis said...

I don't know what you mean by "playing the city permitting game" - all the SF festivals are struggling with the increased costs, and the demand to pay them up front before the event is even held as well. I really don't see Pride/Pink Saturday being able to function as a guerilla event so organizers are in a corner.

I'm glad you're writing the Sisters though. I hope they respond in a useful way.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Elusis, Pink Saturday started as a guerrilla event, not a festival at all -- and I do think it would be better if it remained that way. The Sisters were threatening to pull out of the event this year, and I think that would've been a much better choice than to enforce a security state.

I believe this piece will be running in the Bay Times today, and was sent by the editor to the Sisters for a response...

Love --

Anonymous said...

The last time I went to a "pride" event was in SF, back in 2000 or 2001. Whenever it was that Gay Shame disrupted the Budweiser parade...after Tire Beach? Or was that the same year? Man, I am getting old... now they are the Sisters of the Perpetual Police State?

Poppers, Prada, Patriarchy, Petulance, Profits, Police and Pride.

Don't you just feel so fucking proud ?

This is almost as depressing as the oil that lives where the ocean used to be.

You and Hillary are both saints for not assaulting anyone or anything.



mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Elian, my dear --

The Gay Shame "pride" disruption was 2002, the year after the Tire Beach action...

And yes, my dear -- I just get prouder and prouder...

At least this year my film is screening on that same evening -- not the most desirable screening time, since hordes will be at the Dyke March aftermath or -- gasp -- Pink Saturday -- instead of our screening, but something to look forward to nonetheless :)

Love --