Santa Cruz Pride ready to party, amid national discord

Scenes from a 2020 Pride celebration at Cowell Beach
Scenes from a 2020 Pride celebration at Cowell Beach.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

This year’s local Pride celebration, kicking off Friday, aims for pre-pandemic levels of activity with its big 50th anniversary on the horizon.

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From Friday afternoon deep into Sunday evening, this weekend is going to be a big one for Santa Cruz Pride, with celebrations, parades, a dance, a film, and even a pool party. But three years from now? That’s shaping up to be especially epic.

This year’s Pride events marks the 47th year of the Santa Cruz’s Pride parade and festival celebrating the LGBTQ community. That means, if the math is right, in 2025, Santa Cruz Pride will mark its 50th anniversary. That year, as distant as it seems now, is worth keeping an eye on because SCP is planning on making Pride a theme of the entire summer.

“I think we can bring in a million dollars into this community that particular summer,” said Pride director Rob Darrow of the slow build toward the summer of ’25. “We hope to engage with other people in the community [to plan] lots of LGBTQ-related events the whole summer … that many of the summer activities that occur in Santa Cruz could have a LGBTQ focus, to draw in lots of people, and to increase the visibility of the broad base of LGBTQ influence in Santa Cruz.”

It’s shaping up to be a particularly newsy time for this year’s Pride activities. National events in the past year, from Florida’s “don’t say gay” schools bill to speculation that marriage equality could be endangered post-Roe v. Wade, have brought concern and alarm to LGBTQ people across the country. Though Santa Cruz has long been more inclusive and welcoming generally, those national events have made their impression locally as well.

As local organizers reflect on what’s happening nationally and look to 2025, there’s a lot of ground to cover between 2020 — when Santa Cruz Pride opted for an entirely online event with lots of locally produced videos of support and a few speakers via Zoom — to the comprehensive, communitywide observance planned for the 50th anniversary. In that context, Santa Cruz Pride ’22, which begins Friday, represents a big step forward.

After 2020’s virtual Pride celebration, the 2021 event was postponed from June to August because of a spike in COVID-19 Delta variant cases locally. Then, in August, Pride held an in-person picnic at DeLaveaga Park.

This year’s Pride observance, however, is going to look a lot like pre-pandemic times. Here’s a brief day-by-day:

  • Friday: Pride’s kickoff event is a screening of the documentary “Genderation,” a new profile of trans artists and activists, which is itself a follow-up of a similar film shot in 1999. The new film has a big Santa Cruz focus, and two of the local people featured in the film, Sandy Stone and Susan Stryker, will be at the screening to participate in a postfilm Q&A. The film screening at the Hotel Paradox. That will be followed by the dance party Pride Majesty at Motion Pacific.
  • Saturday: The traditional Dyke/Trans March is slated to begin at 4:20 p.m. at the Town Clock, with a follow-up party at the Rush Inn. Meanwhile, the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County will host a gay men’s dance party beginning at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday: The big day begins at 9:30 a.m. with an interfaith Pride service in Plaza Lane downtown. The Pride Parade kicks off at 11 a.m. on Pacific Avenue (outgoing Assembly member Mark Stone is one of the grand marshals). That’s followed by the Pride Festival at Abbott Square beginning at noon and a youth Pride event at the Boys and Girls Club at 1:30 p.m. At 2 p.m., the focus shifts back to the Hotel Paradox, which will host “The Deep End” pool party from 2 to 7 p.m.
Scenes from the 2019 downtown Santa Cruz Pride parade
Scenes from the 2019 downtown Santa Cruz Pride parade.
(Via Santa Cruz Pride)

The number of people participating in the weekend’s various events suggests that the 2022 Pride weekend will be a snap back to 2019 and the pre-COVID era. “The number of parade entrants, the number of booths and the number of people setting things up is all very similar to 2019,” said Darrow. “Our parade is going in a different direction on Pacific than it did before, but aside from that, the parade will look the same. Whether there will be the same crowds of people along the way, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Santa Cruz Pride has about 15 people working as volunteers to bring the various events together, in what is the largest and oldest Pride celebration in the Monterey Bay region. (Santa Cruz’s event is one of the oldest in the state, behind only San Francisco and Los Angeles.) Darrow reported that business sponsorships of the festival are up from 2019, a sign that gay rights still have strong across-the-board support in the cultural mainstream.

“Santa Cruz has certainly been become a refuge [for LGBTQ people from different places] and UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College have helped that [as has] the cosmopolitan makeup of the community,” he said, pointing to anti-discrimination and other ordinances Santa Cruz acted as a pioneer in passing.

The wonderful part is,” said Darrow, “that from the school systems to the board of supervisors and the city councils, to the lawmakers, the people in charge and businesses, the people that live here — you know, we all really speak with one voice about how important it is for our community to be welcoming and inclusive for everybody. But we’re never done. We’re never going to arrive, but we’re always working toward that common goal, which is that everybody feels welcome.”

Some events and activities of Santa Cruz Pride weekend are free. Others have ticket costs or donation requests. For a full schedule of events and ticket info, go to SCP’s website.