What you can expect from San Diego Pride as it returns in person after two years of hybrid events

The marching band, color guard, costumed dancers on the floats, and giant rainbow flag bearers appear. After two years of hybrid events, San Diego Pride returns this year in person, with all of its top-notch entertainment including the popular Hillcrest Parade, which draws more than 350,000 people most years, and a two-day festival in Balboa Park featuring a long lineup of diverse LGBTQ talent.

“There is no other time when so many people come together to show joy, love and diversity,” says Fernando Z. López, executive director of the San Diego Pride. “Anyone who attends sees it and soaks in it.”

The official week of events, which begins on July 9, offers something meaningful for all members of the LGBTQ community, such as the women-focused She Fest, the lighting of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Spirit of Stonewall Rally, a 5K run and UNITE! music fest.

The biggest draw is the family (and allies) parade, which begins at the Hillcrest Pride Flag, on University Avenue and Normal Street, at 10 am on July 16. It’s the largest single-day civic event in San Diego — crowds peaked in 2015, when same-sex marriage was legalized — and one of the busiest Prides in the country. From the colorful confetti to the deep camaraderie, the atmosphere is festive to the core.

Among the participants in this year’s march is the LGBTQ Youth Marching Band. “We were the first in the country to have a youth music band,” says López. “They perform at the demonstration and during the parade. They are the most moving group you have ever seen.” For López, who has worked at San Diego Pride for 11 years and has been a director, “We were the first in the country to have a youth marching band,” says López. “They perform at the demonstration and during the parade. They are the most moving group you have ever seen.”

For Lopez, who has worked at San Diego Pride for 11 years and has been executive director for five, the Spirit of Stonewall Rally that takes place the night before the parade is a highlight of the week. The first local Pride took place in 1974 to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, a series of spontaneous summer protests that galvanized the gay rights movement.

“My first Pride was in 2000,” says Lopez. “I had been homeless, like many LGBTQ youth, and I went to the Spirit of Stonewall rally. It was very strong. It was the first time I heard the words gay and lesbian said with pride and not as an insult. I remember feeling, ‘Oh my God, is this acceptance?’ The energy was kinetic. I felt like I was safe and home for the first time.”

Philanthropy Coordinator Melanie Viloria started working at San Diego Pride in 2020, just three months before it closed. Viloria helped organize the various livestreamed videos — part of a global virtual Pride — and small-scale events that took place during the pandemic.

“Pride has meant different things depending on the stage of my life,” says Viloria, who is of Filipino descent and grew up in Italy before moving to the United States. “At my first Long Beach Pride, I didn’t know I was queer yet, but I appreciated that people could express themselves freely.”

This will be the first large-scale celebration of San Diego Pride as a staff member for Viloria, who oversees the organization’s sponsorships and donations. Unlike strictly event-based Prides, San Diego Pride offers educational and community programs throughout the year and engages in LGBTQ diplomacy around the world. The parade and festival are the main fundraisers of the year.

“I know the community is looking forward to it,” says Viloria, “especially with so much anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2022. It’s super important that we get together and celebrate.”

Lopez says this year’s theme, “Justice with Joy,” reflects all aspects of celebrating Pride, as well as the many challenges facing the LGBTQ community right now.

“For a long time we have been denied these opportunities for collective joy,” says López. “Everyone has their first memory of Pride and how special it was to them, and so many first Prides were denied. This year we wanted to emphasize our joy and that joy goes hand in hand with justice. In the face of oppression and violence, our celebration is justice and our joy is defiance.”

To close out Pride week, the two-day ticket festival in Balboa Park fully embraces this theme. For this all-ages event, which features a kindergarten and LGBTQ Youth Zone, the Pride organization sought out a diverse group of artists to bring fun and use their platforms to call for social justice. The lineup is almost entirely local, with many artists performing for the first time at Pride.

“We wanted to highlight our local artists and entertainers,” says López. “Among the worst hit in recent years are people in the arts and culture — singers, drag queens, etc. — who couldn’t make a living. We often spotlight brilliant artists from around the world, but this year we’ve made it a point to keep the money in San Diego.”

Among the headliners at Pride Fest is rapper Snow Tha Product, who grew up in San Diego and performs on Saturday nights. In addition to several viral songs and a video that won an MTV Video Music Award, he has worked with Ludacris and had a starring role on the television series Queen of the South. Other headliners (not from San Diego) include blue-haired singer-songwriter Ashnikko, 21-year-old Grammy-winning sensation Daya, and rapper Baby Tate.

Tijuana artist MUXXXE is one of many locals who will be at the San Diego Pride Festival. Known for her androgynous, futuristic and faceless style, the third-gender Mexican artist and rapper performs intense reggaeton and has gained a following on both sides of the border thanks to a popular Instagram account and her club performances.

“I will perform unreleased music and rap a cappella,” says MUXXXE, who is part of the Mundo Latino lineup. “I want to take this opportunity to show everything I do and what I stand for: Being visible, not being afraid, and being vocal about specific situations I don’t approve of. As a queer/trans Latinx, I really feel the need to use this space as an opportunity to call out larger platforms and break new ground for my sisters out here who are struggling just like me.”

Like many of the people heading out for Pride, MUXXXE is looking forward to reuniting with her friends after an unusually long wait.

“And my mother will see me act for the first time. It will be a weekend of fun, love and beautiful memories and connections.”

San Diego Pride Week Highlights

Saturday, July 9: She Fest (noon to 6 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 13: Illuminate the Cathedral (from 7 to 9 pm)

Friday, July 15: Spirit of Stonewall Rally (6-7pm)

From Friday, July 15 to Monday, July 18: Join up! Music festival

Saturday July 16: Pride 5k Run (8 to 10 am)

Saturday July 16: Pride Parade (starts at 10am)

From Saturday July 16 to Sunday July 17: Pride Festival (opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday and ends at 10 p.m. on Sunday)

For more information, visit sdpride.org

Stephens is a freelance writer.

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What you can expect from San Diego Pride as it returns in person after two years of hybrid events