San Diego Pride goes virtual, but stories will survive

San Diego Pride parade 2018
Marchers carry a 300-foot section of the world’s largest pride flag in the 2018 San Diego Pride Parade.
(Courtesy of San Diego Pride)

Loss of event that draws 350,000 will be felt deeply in Hillcrest business communities


Just because this summer’s San Diego Pride Parade and Festival were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pride week will go on as planned, virtually at least.

This past week, San Diego Pride unveiled plans for online events in mid-July that will aim to digitally recreate the annual event’s mission, advocacy and spirit of celebration, if not the in-person activities.

Besides dozens of hours of free online programming over eight days from July 11 to 18, there will be an interactive element where members of the LGBTQ+ community are invited to send in videos of themselves describing what Pride means to them. The videos will be shown all day long on Pride’s social media channels July 18, which was the original planned date for this year’s parade and festival opening day.

Fernando Zweifach López
Fernando Zweifach López, executive director of San Diego Pride.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Fernando Z. López, executive director for San Diego Pride, said canceling this summer’s events was painful for many reasons. Combined, the Pride parade and festival are the largest civic event in the region, drawing more than 350,000 people each year and creating a $26.6 million impact on the local economy. It’s also Pride’s largest fundraiser of the year, bringing in about $2.5 million of the organization’s $4 million annual budget.

But López said the event’s cultural and social impacts are even more valuable to the historically marginalized LGBTQ+ community.

“The reason why we celebrate and go out individually and as a group and are so joyful is because for the rest of the year, we’re told we’re a moral failure. We’re told we’re lesser than and we’re discriminated against,” said López, who uses the pronouns they, them and their. “These are acts of celebration and acts of protest against that narrative. Pride is to combat the concept of shame. We give people an opportunity to be together, tell their stories and live their authentic lives, even if it’s only for an hour or one day of the year.”

Military members march in the San Diego Pride Parade in this undated photo.
Military members march in the San Diego Pride Parade in this undated photo.

(Charlie Neuman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

López said the idea of integrating people’s personal videos into this year’s virtual events is a way of giving community members near and far a different way to express themselves. Cellphone-recorded videos of 15 to 30 seconds can be uploaded at Community members are encouraged to share how Pride changed their lives and any special memories from past events. López said some of the videos they have seen are especially poignant.

“The stories we hear are about how ‘Pride was the first time I felt home,’ ‘Pride was the first place where I found my family,’ ‘Pride was the first time I held hands with my partner in daylight,’” they said. “To know that Pride weekend provides these opportunities for people to be their full self warms the heart. But knowing that we can’t do that in person this year also breaks my heart.”

This year’s online Pride events will recreate the usual day-by-day events of a regular Pride week, beginning July 11 with She Fest, for LGBTQ+ women and their allies. Six to eight hours of live-streamed programming that day will include workshops, interviews with leaders, education and a pet fashion show.

At 7 p.m. July 15, Pride will host its annual interfaith event as a live-stream with the annual lighting of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral on Sixth Avenue with rainbow lights, along with a discussion on how faith can be a tool for social justice against anti-black and anti-LGBTQ+ violence and hate. At 6 p.m. July 17, the online Spirit of Stonewall Rally will feature awards and speakers honoring the history of gay rights and addressing the challenges that lay ahead.

Ten hours of programming are planned on July 18, starting in the morning with appearances and performances by the parade’s usual contingents, mixed with the personal videos uploaded to the website. In the afternoon, the festival will be recreated with live entertainment by DJs and singers, celebrity appearances, tributes to the black and Latino LGBTQ+ communities, and more.

Sam Moehlig, foreground, and his mom, Kathie Moehlig, founder of TransFamily Support Services, the 2017 Friend of Pride reciepient, along with Augustus Lawson, Sam's boyfriend, ride in the San Diego Pride parade.
Sam Moehlig, foreground, and his mom, Kathie Moehlig, founder of TransFamily Support Services, the 2017 Friend of Pride reciepient, along with Augustus Lawson, Sam’s boyfriend, ride in the San Diego Pride parade.
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Since all of the programming will be offered free online, López hopes viewers will be moved to donate to San Diego Pride, which has set a fundraising goal for the week of $840,000. That money will go to scholarships, year-round programming and grants. Over the years, Pride has given out more than $3 million to LGBTQ+-serving organizations.

While the show can go on, virtually, for San Diego Pride, the loss of the physical events and the hundreds of thousands of visitors it brings in from around the country will deal a major blow to the communities of Hillcrest, North Park, Bankers Hill and Mission Hills. During Pride week, the hotels, Airbnbs, restaurants, bars, shops and cultural venues are usually filled to capacity. The loss of the event on top of the pandemic-related closures this spring could deal a death blow to many small businesses.

“It’s a huge loss. There’s no way around that,” said Benjamin Nicholls, longtime executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association. “A lot of people in the neighborhood joke that Pride is gay Christmas. It’s that impactful as a huge economic driver for the retail community. To put all of those activities on ice is going to be pretty dramatic.”

Even if the state lifts some of the social-gathering restrictions that would encourage tourism this summer, Nicholls said he doesn’t believe many people will be traveling from afar without the festival as a lure. Even local residents in the Hillcrest area have been slow to return to restaurants, which received the county’s OK to reopen their dining rooms last week, he said.

“People in Hillcrest are cautious and it’s an older community. They also remember not too long ago when there were other real challenges with the AIDS pandemic, which they experienced quite acutely. As a result, these residents are taking COVID-19 very seriously,” Nicholls said.

On the other hand, because Hillcrest survived the AIDS crisis, Nicholls said its business owners have a sense of optimism and enthusiasm for making it through the year. He described one plucky owner of a Mexican restaurant in Hillcrest who reopened his patio and placed mannequins in sombreros at several outdoor tables to give it the festive appearance of being full.

“From what I’ve seen in other business districts, there’s not a light at the end of the tunnel for many of those owners. But in Hillcrest, a lot of people still have their bouncy, we-can-get-through-this attitude that comes from weathering the storms of the past,” Nicholls said.

For more information on Pride events, visit