Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Pink Saturday: Party or police state?

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | June 30, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Politics, The Movement
Tags: assimilation, blackwater, Blue Angel Vodka, Budweiser, corporate sponsorship, dyke march, Michael Jackson, nonprofit, pink saturday, police state, popchips, pride, red bull, san francisco, sfpd, sisters of perpetual indulgence

Okay, so I actually kind of like Pink Saturday, the night before pride when the Castro gets blocked off to traffic and people wander around getting smashed and dancing to terrible music blasted from sound stages in the street. I like it because it's more honest than any other pride event -- no one's pretending to do anything but wander the streets getting smashed, walking back and forth in a never-ending international gay suburbanite runway gawkfest. In all of its disastrousness, it is kind of fun to watch.

Over the last few years, Pink Saturday has gotten younger and younger, probably because San Francisco has never been a great place for queer youth, since there's nowhere for queer youth to go. Except on Pink Saturday, when the bars are turned inside out so that the street is where it's happening and inside just feels like a bad view. Oh, and the other thing about Pink Saturday is that it's probably the only day of the year when dykes outnumber fags in the Castro, since the Dyke March ends right at Castro and Market and that's usually where the main stage is placed. So there's this crazy intersection between every dyke in the Bay Area and beyond, queer youth of all races flooding in from the suburbs, and the usual gay tourists and yuppies.

I like to sit in front of Harvest Market, eating vegan soup and watching the crowds, gasping at the outfits, and cruising the fashion masculinity fags I wish I wasn't attracted to. Over the last few years, this has been a tradition I've shared with my friend Hilary, who is usually visiting from LA, but now she's just moved here -- in fact, this year we actually decided to call it a tradition, and made a plan for 9:30 pm in our usual spot.

I decide not to take the underground to the Castro, since it's always so crowded on pride, but then I regret my decision since the bus is so slow. It looks like Market Street is blocked off earlier than usual, since the bus is taking about 10 minutes per block, so I get out just after Church Street and sure enough there are all sorts of people sprawled out in the middle of Market and it kind of feels festive. I walk towards the barricades, and can't figure out why exactly they go all the way across the sidewalk -- usually there's a place where the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence harass people for "donations," but only several blocks up. This time some guy in an orange security t-shirt starts yelling at me from behind the barricades that this isn't an entrance, I have to stand in line over there, and he points to the other side of the street where there are hundreds of people crammed together, trying to get in. I say oh, I'm just going to Harvest Market, right over there, but he yells at me that I have to stand in line, so then there I am, in line with hundreds of suburbanites and teenagers, and suburbanite teenagers.

One of the Sisters is standing on the median in the middle of Market yelling through a bullhorn that we all need to stand in line, and I yell: why don't you just open the fucking barricades? Then the blonde woman next to me, red-faced with booze, turns to me and says: do you think we should rush the line? I say not a bad idea, but people would probably get hurt, and she looks surprised and sad for a second, decides against that idea.

Get this: the security staff yells at us that we need to form separate lines for "men" and "women"-- I kid you not! Binary gender lines at a queer event in San Francisco, organized by a bunch of queens who dress as nuns. The security staff is frisking people and making people throw away water bottles, asking us if we have any drugs or sharp objects -- wait, I thought this was a public street, I didn't realize we were visiting our friends in the tank at 850 Bryant.

As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone who's working security is straight, and aggressive, and way behind the security line are the Sisters, standing with their donation buckets and acting like they don't notice the screaming hordes. My turn and the security guard pulls my bag out of my hand and tells me I have to get rid of my water bottle. My water bottle is one of those overpriced metal things that I carry around so that I don't have to waste plastic everywhere -- I don't want to just throw it away, so I'm arguing with him and he says I'm not even supposed to let you bring your bag in, you'll have to get in the back of the line, so finally I just throw the bottle to the side, in this pile of discarded plastic bottles, and then I walk through the financial checkpoint so enraged that my eyes are almost closed and it's a good thing no one says anything to me because otherwise I would just rip them to shreds.

Over at Harvest Market, there's no sign of Hilary and I'm worried that I've missed her because now I'm 45 minutes late. But no, turns out she got stopped at another checkpoint and they made her go home to return her backpack. Are you kidding? What the hell is going on? When did Pink Saturday turn into a police state? Not just security at the gates, but roaming around inside are dozens of uniformed SFPD officers. And probably a few hundred of the security monitors in orange shirts, almost all of them straight black men. Did the Sisters consciously make this racialized choice, or did they hire an outside contractor to do their dirty work? Triple Canopy? Dimecorp? Xe/Blackwater? Or perhaps a local favorite like Bechtel Corporation.

I go into a restaurant to use the bathroom and they stop me, I say I don't mind buying something, but apparently that's still not okay. The waitress points me in the direction of port-a-potties, and there they are with maybe 85 people in line.

Back at Harvest, the owner is working the register and I figure maybe he'll have some insight, I say when did they decide to move the barricades so far back? He says I guess this year. I say what the hell is the point of all this security? He says oh I've seen it much worse -- he's probably talking about Halloween, when roaming straights show up with baseball bats and a few years ago the police decided to shut the whole neighborhood down instead of letting anyone in. I say what do you mean, nothing has ever happened on Pink Saturday! He says it's to keep away the outsiders. I say what the hell you're talking about -- 95% of these people aren't from San Francisco!

At least Hilary and I can be angry together. For some reason the cops keep coming over and staring at people's ginger ale bottles, telling people they can't be drinking that in public. This is ginger ale! But guess what -- you're not allowed to drink anything that's not in a plastic cup -- even if you're sitting on the benches provided by Harvest Market, drinking something that you bought inside.

This is crazy. Earlier someone pointed out the huge disco ball hanging in the middle of 16th and Market, but somehow I didn't notice that it was suspended by an enormous crane. Who the hell paid for that? I go closer. Oh, no -- it's sponsored by some new vodka called Blue Angel -- I guess it's like those U.S. Navy fighter jets that terrorize US skies to get people all excited about blowing up Iraqi or Afghani civilians -- drink Blue Angel, and double your pleasure -- get bombed, while you're doing the bombing!

I forgot to mention that one of the other things I like about Pink Saturday is that it doesn't usually have any of the corporate sponsorship -- at least not for the last several years. Way back I remember maybe it was sponsored by Budweiser, and was an official SF Pride event, but I never remember security checkpoints on all sides for blocks around, and right in front of us is a huge booth dispensing Popchips -- "Never Fried or Baked -- Love. Without the Handles." You can even get your picture taken in a free photo booth -- as long as you're holding a bag of Popchips. No doubt to use in their promotional materials. But can I guzzle my Blue Angel at the same time as I'm chomping on chips? Pop!

Then there's a huge video screen suspended from the corner in front of the giant disco ball, Hilary and I are watching it to try to figure out what it's advertising but we're not sure. The dance stage, sponsored by corporate gay dance radio, starts playing Michael Jackson -- everywhere in the world, they're probably playing Michael Jackson right now in one kind of corporate-crazed ritual or another. And then we spot the Budweiser truck parked on the corner -- oh, no! Sure enough, walking further we discover a huge booth, just like the ones at Pride, selling overpriced beer and cocktails and bottled water. Oh, that's why they had us confiscate our bottles -- so that they could make more money-- they don't even do that at pride!

What are the Sisters doing with all this money, I mean all the money that doesn't go to Budweiser or Blue Angel or Red Bull, sponsor of the tables in front of the Budweiser booth, decorated with the Sisters insignia and featuring maybe 20 bartenders pouring drinks. And, of course, across from the Budweiser booth is an enormous booth selling Polish sausage and ribs -- this all explains why most of the neighborhood businesses look relatively abandoned. Supposedly the profits go to nonprofits -- I love that phrase, so let's repeat it: the profits go to nonprofits. I love nonprofits that enforce a security state, how comforting!

But there's more -- just as Hilary and I are trying to make our way through the crowds to get to one of the exit checkpoints, we spot a few friends, and guess what? This year, the Dyke March got stopped at 17th and Sanchez, stopped by the line of straight male security guards who demanded that all the dykes walk single-file through the frisking station. That's right -- on the one day of the year when dykes actually flood the Castro, it's important to make sure there's extra security! Outsourced security, no doubt.

Mattilda also blogs at

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This just seems disgusting. Every time someone or a group of people start something cool, someone else has to buy it and make it stupid. Because we can't have a party without a disco ball or overpriced vendors.

And they wouldn't let you bring outside drinks in? That's just beyond idiotic. At least they have the excuse about bombs in airplanes and stuff, but what were they trying to do there? I think that they started the no drinks beyond security in airports not just to make more money on drinks there (funny that they should have started charging for drinks a little while after that policy went into effect) but also to get us used to it elsewhere.

It sounds like people will have to abandon Pink Saturday and start something else. Too bad some people have to go and screw things up like that.

So much that's right about your description and analysis - and so much that's wrong with SF's concept of Pride, before and after. And still the gays insist that this is a mecca for queer people.

I'm especially glad that you pointed out the cruddy behaviour of the Sisters in all this. It had escaped my notice that they're actually an insidious part of the insidious non-profit-industrial complex (and now, as you point out, a mini-security state), and they need to be outed as such.

Yeah, way to go, SF: Keeping the dykes out on the one day they might actually engage with this ridiculous charade called Pride.

Anonimouse Me | June 30, 2009 6:11 PM

The Sisters aren't spending the money they're making on charity, they're spending it on attorneys and legal fees/documents to sue the NON San Francisco Sisters over trade mark infringement. I kid you not! If you look at their annual tax filings the newly Corporatized Sisters of San Francisco have seen their donations to the community drop rapidly from the 75%+ most 501c3's strive for to aprox 56% in 2007 (and unknown for 2008.)

The worst part is that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence appear to have been taken over by a bunch of corporatist. I'm sure the founding Sisters are embarrassed for them. I know I am. Sooner or later the rest of the community is going to see them for the whores they have become over the last 4 or 5 years.

They should've have just pulled out of the pink party, turning it into a corporate marketing and vendor crap fest like the Castro Street Fair has become is exactly the type of thing they should opt out of. Instead with the corporatist at the helm they've decided to "go with the flow" rather than taking the correct action of bowing out.

Anonimouse, I love this part about the legal fees, that so hideous and corrupt -- please please send me more info!

But wait -- let's not confuse the Sisters with whores -- of course there's nothing wrong with exchanging sex for money, we should celebrate such honesty! But the Sisters' corporatist agenda -- now, that is an entirely different thing...

And, "They should've have just pulled out of the pink party, turning it into a corporate marketing and vendor crap fest like the Castro Street Fair has become is exactly the type of thing they should opt out of. Instead with the corporatist at the helm they've decided to "go with the flow" rather than taking the correct action of bowing out."

So so so so true!!!!!!

Anonimouse Me | July 1, 2009 8:04 PM

Starting about 3 years ago the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco forced the other sister houses to begin licensing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence name. A few of the houses held out, and were met with cease and desist forms from the SF house.

As you can see from their tax filings:
the money stopped going to charity some time ago. My only guess is that the corporatist at the top of the SF Sisters see a chance to create nice well paying 501(c)(3) jobs for themselves.

Thank you, Anonimouse -- but wait, by "licensing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence name, " do you mean the other houses are forced to pay for use of the name?

Anonymouse Me | July 2, 2009 12:06 AM

Not yet, but there is no reason to believe that won't be the case in the future.

Alex -- disgusting, indeed!

And Yasmin, an insidious part of the nonprofit industrial complex security state, so true!

It's very odd for a person who grew up in L.A. to read all of this. S.F.(I know they hate it when you call it that; heh) was always held up to us to be the perfect gay/lesbian/transgender Mecca; the ideal spot to live or play if you were LGBT, as opposed to hardass, spread-out Philistine Los Angeles.
L.A. has at least two(and growing) neighborhoods that have large LGBT populations, but the truth is that GLBT people are assimilating and are widely accepted, if you consider indifference acceptance. L.A. Pride is overpriced, diffuse and a little light on Trans inclusion, but after that description, I'm glad I live here and not there.

Divadarya, no one minds SF -- it's "Frisco" that we cringe at :)

But I do think the issue of the corporatization of pride is a national one, and certainly part of the assimilationist agenda of the gay establishment.

And a friend just wrote to tell me that they now charge for Pride in Bend, Oregon -- for example...

mixedqueer mixedqueer | June 30, 2009 9:03 PM

i was hoping you'd cross post this!

Yay -- thank you, mixedqueer -- I meant to crosspost a version of my marriage/"progressive" radio rant from a few weeks ago too, but then I wasn't sure if it was ready...

leapinleopard | July 1, 2009 1:31 AM

Once years ago at the Dore Alley Fair that I attended, there were Sisters at Howard St. end of the alley with their 5 gallon buckets asking for money to enter a free street fair. Another leatherman yelled at them to go home and stop trying to take over yet another gay event, appearing at every gay function with their 'donation' buckets to pay for their makeup and rent, etc. Many people (including myself) applauded this man's accurate assessment, and roared our approval. I've never been back, except when covering it for the press.
Now, things have gotten much, much worse apparently. Had I gone to Pink Saturday (which used to be QUITE the party!) this time, I would have been sickened and disgusted by the separatism and straight black male security (WTF?!?) frisking everyone and proclaiming the current police state of no backpacks, drinks, water bottles, ginger ale, etc. Chalk it up to one more beautiful event DESTROYED by the Sisters and corporatism.

Leapinleopard, you're absolutely right about the "current police state of no backpacks, drinks, water bottles, ginger ale, etc." But, although in this case the Sisters are certainly part of the hypocrisy, they are not the only cause. Unfortunately, Dore Alley and the Folsom Street Fair are equally corrupt -- sadly, I wouldn't be surprised to see special checkpoints there this year as well...

Stopping you or forcing you in line is questionable. As far as I can tell, unless the board of supervisors passed a specific resolution for that fair, all street fairs must keep sidewalks open for pedestrian use.

Ari, is that really true? Do you know where to find that law?

It's part of the form events have to file to get a street permit. It's section B in the conditions for temporary use.