After a long walk around the infamous Lake Merritt, I wrote to a friend saying I was in town. When she replied that she needed another hour to get ready and walk up to where I was, I decided to walk to her place, instead. It was only then that I realised she lived on the other side of the lake, another half a mile away. Not wanting to go around the lake again—the sun had come out stronger than I expected—I took a path through the streets observing the buildings flanking the sidewalks.
Oakland was quiet even for a Sunday. Having experienced flabbergasting activity in the streets of San Francisco, Oakland was such a contrast. Walking down empty streets I realised that Oakland was more of a residential town. It helps that Oakland has far fewer attractions than San Francisco. Tourists don’t spend five days sightseeing Oakland. Although there’s plenty to see and do in Oakland—not much interests typical tourists. I was glad I was atypical that way. Spending hours on Oakland streets was great for me.
After a cinnamon coffee and a lengthy catching-up conversation, my friend suggested we hit the Oakland Pride Festival. It was the day after my visit to Castro and so I was all in for another such experience. What I wasn’t sure of, however, was the meaning of pride festivals.
It was mid September, and according to my friend, Oakland always has its pride festival in September or October, unlike the rest of the US does in June. I listened in polite silence. What she said meant nothing to me. I had no idea what a pride festival was, how it’d be, or what people would do there.
I was curious, though.
Perhaps that’s why she suggested it in the first place. She knew I wanted to learn and understand and visiting the festival would be a good way to start. And so we walked a little more. The festival took up two entire streets and traffic was re-routed. Even as we walked towards the end of a long line, we heard music and singing ring through the air. The queue moved fast enough and before long we had our own pride bracelets. Everywhere we turned were people sporting multicoloured clothes, waving flags, calling out hellos to each other, and drowning bottles of water and soda—it was a warm day.
I made a quick observation: Oakland has a massive LGBTQ community. The moment we walked in, high-energy music and excited voices hit us that it was hard not to join in. It wasn’t crowded, though, for which I am thankful. The pride festival of San Francisco, according to my friend, attracted thousands of people every year. Oakland contented with a few hundreds. There were stalls on every side and people walking from one to another buying pride merchandise or just saying hello to each other. Everything imaginable was shaded rainbow—bow ties, flags, t-shirts, scarves, jewellery, fancy costumes, and even eye masks. It was a congregation of all things bright and colourful. Pride festivals are for the allies and the LGBTQ community to flaunt their existence at the same time. Not only is it a way of declaring their rights, but also a celebration of it.
It wasn’t all happiness and laughter, though. Pride festivals bring out so many emotions, I learnt from my friend. Most LGBTQ people have a rough time coming out to the world. Parents shun children, and society gives ill treats them every where they go. This was even more dire during the 60s and 70s. That’s when pride festivals took root. That’s when all these people whom society disregarded came together to share their stories and to encourage each other to stay strong. Nowadays, though, pride festivals have transitioned as a more lighter gathering. Nevertheless, the price scene still invites everyone who’s been hurt or hurting and embraces them with encouragement. After all, everyone should be proud of who they are.
Oakland Pride was a lesson I’d cherish forever.