SF Pride Executive Director Amy André
The little bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village was pulsing with tension.
Though police raids on New York's gay bars were normal, before this night was over, drag queens would escape paddy wagons, use their high heels as weapons, straddle cops and beat them. Several nights of riots followed, marking the Stonewall Inn — a gay bar in the West Village — as the birthplace of the LGBT liberation movement.
Nobody ever thought homos would fight back.
The nation’s first Pride march happened a year later. In San Francisco, a modest group of 30 marched down Polk Street.
“Forty-one years ago, a fierce and feisty group of individuals fought back against police violence,” said Amy André, the third executive director in SF Pride’s history. “Now, 40 years after that first march, that first commemoration of Stonewall, we are still marching, we are still commemorating and we are still celebrating.”
In the wake of Prop. 8 — and the dizzying pendulum swing from second-class status to equality and back again — the Pride has assumed a heightened importance in the LGBT community. The lighthearted theme chosen for this year’s parade, “Forty and Fabulous,” is intended as relief and release.
André, SF Pride’s first bisexual woman of color executive director, has been seen as a welcome burst of energy toward continued progress. Pride institutions have their own convoluted histories of discrimination — bisexual and transgender activists were not allowed full inclusion until 1995. This year, SF Pride will honor transgendered communities by inviting them to be the lead contingent in the parade.
Wendy Herndon, president of NIA Collective – a local nonprofit for lesbians of African decent – said it was a wise and bold move for SF Pride to make André its director.
“That they had the courage to hire her is a positive thing,” Herndon said.
It’s difficult to compete with André’s diverse experience. An MBA and MA holder, scholar on bisexual female health issues and director of a documentary film that tackled mixed-race transgender men, she brings an important perspective to the organization. Yet despite André’s progressive profile, she looks to the past for her inspiration.
“The executive directors before me left some pretty big shoes to fill,” she said. “I’m honored to follow in their footsteps, even while taking Pride in new directions.”
A nonprofit membership organization, the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee is dedicated to education. It also is a grant-giving organization, which has given more than $1.6 million from proceeds of the Pride Celebration and Parade to local nonprofit LGBT organizations and those serving the breast cancer and HIV/AIDS communities.
As San Francisco awaits a ruling on the constitutionality of gay marriage, André’s first official Pride month as executive director draws to a close.
“My hope is that even when we have full rights as LGBT people, we still continue to have Pride events because these events are not just about fighting for our rights,” André said. “They are also about celebrating our culture and our community.”
For more information about SF Pride, visit www.sfpride.org.