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

Ian Recio walks in the Apple contingent along the parade route during the annual San Diego Pride Parade.
Ian Recio walks in the Apple contingent along the parade route during the annual San Diego Pride Parade.
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘There’s no other time where you have so many people coming together to exhibit joy and love and diversity,’ says Fernando Z. López, executive director of San Diego Pride

Cue up the marching band, color guard, costumed dancers on floats and giant-rainbow-flag bearers. After two years of hybrid events, San Diego Pride is back in person this year, with all its marquee entertainment events, including the popular Hillcrest parade that draws more than 350,000 people most years and a two-day festival at Balboa Park featuring a long list of diverse LGBTQ talent.

“There’s no other time where you have so many people coming together to exhibit joy and love and diversity,” says Fernando Z. López, executive director of San Diego Pride. “Anybody who attends sees that and soaks it in.”

Kicking off on July 9, the official week of events offers something meaningful for everyone in the LGBTQ community, such as the woman-centered She Fest, the lighting of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Spirit of Stonewall Rally, a 5K run, and the electronica-focused UNITE! Music Fest.

The biggest draw is the family-friendly (and ally-friendly) parade, which begins at the Hillcrest Pride Flag at University Avenue and Normal Street at 10 a.m. on July 16. It’s San Diego’s largest single-day civic event — crowds peaked in 2015 when same-sex marriage was legalized — and one of the most-attended Prides in the country. From the colorful confetti to the deeply felt camaraderie, the vibe is celebratory to its core.

Among the marchers this year? The all-LGBTQ Youth Marching Band. “We were the first in the country to have a youth marching band,” López says. “They perform at the rally and during the parade. They are the most heartwarming group you’ve ever seen.”

For López, who has worked at San Diego Pride for 11 years and served as executive director for five, the Spirit of Stonewall Rally that takes place the evening before the parade is a high point 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,” López says. “I had been homeless, like many LGBTQ youth, and went to the Spirit of Stonewall Rally. It was powerful. It was the first time I heard the words gay and lesbian said with pride instead of as a slur. I remember feeling, ‘Oh my gosh, 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 the lockdown. 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 my stage of life,” says Viloria, who is of Filipino descent and grew up in Italy before moving to the United States. “At my first Pride in Long Beach, I didn’t know I was queer yet but appreciated that folks could express themselves freely.”

This will be the first full-scale San Diego Pride celebration as a staffer for Viloria, who oversees sponsorships and donations for the organization. Unlike strictly event-based Prides, San Diego Pride offers year-round education and community programs and engages in LGBTQ diplomacy work around the world. The marquee parade and festival are the year’s biggest fundraisers.

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

López says this year’s theme, “Justice With Joy,” reflects all the celebratory aspects of Pride as well as the many challenges faced by the LGBTQ community right now.

“We’ve been denied these opportunities for collective joy for so long,” López says. “Everyone has their first Pride memory and how special it was for them and so many first Prides were denied. We wanted to emphasize our joy this year and that joy is coupled with justice. In the face of oppression and violence, our celebration is justice and our joy is defiance.”

Closing out Pride week, the two-day ticketed festival at Balboa Park fully embraces this theme. For the all-ages event, which features a children’s garden and LGBTQ Youth Zone, the Pride organization sought a diverse group of performers who both bring the fun and use their platforms to call for social justice. The lineup is almost entirely local, with lots of first-time Pride performers.

“We really wanted to highlight our local artists and entertainers,” López says. “Among the hardest hit the last couple of years are the arts and culture people — the singers, the drag queens and so on — who couldn’t make a living. We’ll often highlight brilliant artists from around the world, but this year we put an emphasis on making sure the money stayed in San Diego.”

Pride Fest headliners include rapper Snow Tha Product, who grew up in San Diego and performs Saturday night. In addition to several viral tracks and a video that won an MTV Video Music Award, she’s worked with Ludacris and had a starring role on the TV drama “Queen of the South.” Additional headliners (not from San Diego) include blue-haired singer-songwriter Ashnikko, Grammy-winning 21-year-old sensation Dayaand rapper Baby Tate.

Tijuana-based performer MUXXXE is one of the many locals who will be at the San Diego Pride Festival. The third-gender Mexican artist and rapper, known for a faceless, futuristic, androgynous style, plays intense reggaetón and has built up a following on both sides of the border through a popular Instagram account and club gigs.

“I’ll be performing some unreleased music and rapping a cappella,” says MUXXXE, part of the Mundo Latino lineup. “I want to use this opportunity to showcase everything I do and what I stand for: Being visible, being fearless, 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 claim bigger platforms and open new paths for my sisters out here hustling like I am.”

Like many of the people who’ll be coming out for Pride, MUXXXE is looking forward to gathering with friends after an unusually long wait.

“And my mom will be watching me perform for the first time. It will be a weekend of fun, love, and cute memories and connections.”

San Diego Pride Week highlights

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

Wednesday, July 13: Light Up the Cathedral (7 to 9 p.m.)

Friday, July 15: Spirit of Stonewall Rally (6 to 7 p.m.)

Friday, July 15, to Monday, July 18: UNITE! Music Fest

Saturday, July 16: Pride 5k Run (8 to 10 a.m.)

Saturday, July 16: Pride Parade (begins at 10 a.m.)

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

For more information, go to sdpride.org

Stephens is a freelance writer.


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