San Diego Pride 2018: Where music and LGBTQ activism go hand-in-hand

Since the dawn of the LGBTQ movement, popular music has played a major role in the support and progress made throughout the years. Both through song and outspoken protest courtesy legendary artists like Judy Garland to contemporary figures ranging from Madonna to Lady Gaga, the marginalized members of the community have been regularly championed by some of music’s biggest stars. It’s a longstanding tradition that shines brightest during Pride celebrations, both across the United States and here in San Diego.

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“It’s about understanding the social responsibility they have through art and music and using those platforms and mediums to send a message,” explains Fernando Lopez, the executive director of San Diego Pride. “Those messages could be one of diversity and equality at a time it wasn’t safe for people to be out of the closet, or with contemporary artists and their expressions of love, equality and acceptance.”

This year’s edition of San Diego Pride, which take place Friday through Sunday, is no exception, with the centerpiece of the long-running festival its bevy of musical acts, which for 2018 are made up of a genre-bending hodgepodge of both popular and emerging acts.

“The process of figuring out who’s going to perform at Pride is almost a year-long endeavour,” Lopez says of the booking process, which is led by entertainment director Gardenia Partridge. “We work diligently to ensure the artists that come to Pride are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or allies who not only are very talented but have also brought some sort of public message about supporting the LGBT community throughout their career or lifetime.”

One of those acts slated to appear is Kim Petras, a native of Germany and rising transgender artist who’s been garnering buzz and streaming success for both her catchy pop hooks and fearlesses as a rare transgender voice in mainstream music.

“Pride is important because we’re celebrating the community and how far we’ve come,” Petras tells The San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s important to celebrate your non-conforming self and party.”

Citing the likes of George Michael, Boy George and Big Freedia, Petras explains that she knows the importance of having strong musical allies firsthand and hopes to give back inspiration in return.

“I just hope I can be somebody that little kids can look up to and say, ‘If Kim got through this, I’ll get through it.’ That’s a really cool thing and I love that the community has embraced me and my music,” she adds.

In addition to Petras, the popular R&B act TLC, known for ubiquitous hits ranging from “Waterfalls” to “Creep,” are also slated to appear, with Lopez noting the girl group were early supporters of the community.

“They were supportive at a time when not many people where,” he says, pointing to their ’90s-era activism. “At the height of HIV/AIDS epidemic, there was a lot of fear and stigma. (At the time) they did so many fundraisers and helped normalized and humanized the conversation around it, which was so deeply meaningful.”

The performance is also personally poignant for Lopez: “I’m thrilled that they’re a part of this year’s celebrations since I grew up with TLC and know how much their message resonated with me as a young queer person.”

The similarly outspoken pop singer JoJo, who shot to fame in the early 2000s and is currently in the midst of a comeback, is also slated to perform.

“She’s used her platform to highlight suicide prevention resources like the Trans Lifeline and The Trevor Project, who are strong partners in San Diego Pride,” explains Lopez. “At a time when there’s so much bullying happening to our youth, knowing those resources are out there is critical when it comes to supporting our youth.”

JoJo has never been shy about her LGBTQ fanbase, with Lopez noting that the singer’s been ”very vocal over the years in repeatedly saying that the LGBTQ community has greatly shaped her life and career.”

Aside from the music of Pride, new features of the 2018 celebrations include what’s dubbed an Enhanced VIP Experience, which provides attendees with a designated entrance and special viewing areas.

“Enhanced VIP tickets also include four free drinks a day and catered food,” says Lopez, who also points out that in addition to a general admission ticket for the multi-day event, organizers will also make available a reduced-price single-day pass.

The festivities will include its famed parade on Saturday. Kicking off at 11 a.m. and free to the public, it stretches for a mile and a half and begins at the Hillcrest Pride Flag at University Avenue and Normal Street. Other festival staples are returning as well, including the Friday night Spirit of Stonewall Rally, a tradition since 1975 that honors the progress made in the intervening years.

According to Lopez, this year’s Pride weekend comes at a time when LGBTQ youth are “experiencing bullying like never before,” a phenoma blamed on the current political climate.

“We’ve been faced with more challenges as a community — from anti-LGBT legislation and court cases challenging LGBT rights in the past year and a half than we have in the eight years prior,” Lopez says, noting that the San Diego Pride organization itself fields donations, holds events and doles out money throughout the year.

“Rhetoric has gotten so bad, it’s led to a lot of violence and death in our community in the last year and a half … ,” he says. “I think our community has been very resilient, particularly in California and San Diego, to hold the line and make as much progress as possible.”

Those harsh realities make celebrating Pride more poignant than ever.

“I think one of the most memorable performances in San Diego Pride history was when Cyndi Lauper was on the mainstage and performed her (1986 hit) ‘True Colors,’” Lopez remembers of the singer’s 2002 appearance. “She came out draped herself in a rainbow flag and everyone was singing along. I remember how emotional the crowd was and how connected people felt to that music.

“In that moment that they were seen, heard and respected.”

San Diego Pride 2018

When: Friday, July 13-Sunday, July 15

Events: Stonewall Rally: 6 p.m. Friday at Marston Point, Balboa Drive and Eighth Drive. 5K Run/Walk: 9:30 a.m. Saturday with start and finish lines at University Avenue and Center Street. Pride Parade: 11 a.m. Saturday at the Hillcrest Pride Flag at University Avenue and Normal Street. Festival: noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at Marston Point, Sixth Avenue and Laurel Street, Balboa Park.

Tickets: Festival: $20 single day, $25 weekend (online only, advanced), $30 weekend (day of or at the festival gates), $174 VIP weekend (online only, advanced), $200 VIP weekend (day of or at the festival gates).

Phone: (619) 297-7683

Online: sdpride.org

LeDonne is a freelance writer.

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