You can’t talk about Pride in San Francisco without talking about 16th Street. You have to stop on 16th and Valencia Streets to mourn the dive bars and clubs that once hosted the underground homosexual sabrosura (tastiness) of the Bay Area’s Latin American community: La India Bonita, Lime Light, Esta Noche. That’s what we do, my queer “mom” Adela Vázquez and I. She says the ghosts of all the dead locas roam these streets. At 15th and Valencia Streets, we enter Pica Pica for some arepitas. We sit by the window, reminisce about old friends, and discuss San Francisco’s changing queer scene, the evolution of Pride and the death of the queer underground. Vázquez arrived in the city in 1980 after fleeing Cuba, and I, her Colombian “daughter,” came to SF nine years ago after fleeing my homophobic family.
Juliana Delgado Lopera: What was the first Pride you attended in San Francisco?
Adela Vázquez: In 1984, and I’ve been to most of them since then.
JDL: What do you remember?
AV: It was amazing—lots of people. It started at Civic Center and went down to the Castro. I remember some old queens that just stood there, gorgeous, and who later became my friend: Francis, Consuela. Most of them are dead now.
JDL: How was Pride back then?
AV: Pride always started with the dyke motorcycle ride. In 1984 and 1985, it was very political. I had been to Pride in L.A., and there it was more like a party, but here in San Francisco it was very political. People with AIDS were demanding housing and attention. They chained themselves to the Department of Health and Human Services office in Civic Center—the department is no longer there—and stayed there for, like, three years living in tents until they got housing and medicine. I had a girlfriend at the time. I was a dude then, looking like Ricky Ricardo—very Boy George. We both went to Pride and then to an after-party at the EndUp.
JDL: Oh, I’ve seen those pictures of you—you looked good. Pride must have been really sad and hard during that time.
AV: I remember one Pride where people were asking for money. They had a flag, and people were throwing money [into the flag] for AIDS. By the end of the parade, they couldn’t hold it ’cause it was so heavy.
JDL: Did you start building your own Pride traditions back then?
AV: Yes. A bunch of faggots and queens, and some of my straight friends, would come to my house to get ready and get high, and then we would go party. At the time, I was living on Post and Larkin [Streets]. You know, when I look back, there were a couple of Prides that were so memorable—like, when I first walked the parade with you. And I remember one year, in the 1980s, when Grace Jones was the marshal. Back then, it was more community-oriented. And now, with the techies—[those] people are guarding their money.
JDL: I remember when I first got here and went to the first Pride and saw a Bank of America float. I was so confused. Like, why is there a bank in a Pride parade?
AV: See, that’s the thing—back then, it didn’t happen like that. Many local entities and bars like Esta Noche had a float. Now, it’s all commercialized. It started to get a little like that in the ’90s. But the first real Pride that I went to in the U.S. was in L.A., and I cried like somebody died.
JDL: Girl, really?
AV: At the fact that there was a parade for homosexuals. I’m from Cuba—hellooo?! I couldn’t take it. What really touched me was seeing the mothers of the gay people marching. To me, that was like, Wow. What an understanding, what an open mind.
JDL: Were there other things about Pride that shocked you when you first got here?
AV: I was in Dallas, Texas, in 1982. It was the first Pride ever in Dallas: 40 people marching and, like, 200 people protesting—the Ku Klux Klan, the religious people. They’d smash lightbulb glass and throw it at us.
JDL: I feel like the current administration is giving a platform for those forms of violence again. You were also part of a float as Miss Gay Latina. Was that the first time you were actually part of Pride?
AV: The first time that I was in the parade was in 1992, when I was crowned Miss Gay Latina—in the front of a Cadillac, totally flawless.
JDL: What were you wearing?
AV: A red-beaded dress.
JDL: The one that I have? Remember, I have one you gave me.
AV: No, no. This one I rented for the day from a queen. Beautiful, down to the floor. The one you have was Marquesas’s.
JDL: So, tell me: Trans March wasn’t there from the beginning?
AV: HIV was the reason why transgender people became visible. Before, there was a lot of queens, but transsexuals were not specifically part of the parade. It was not even called LGBT. There was no transgender in the mix—that came later on. The first time transgender people were acknowledged in the parade was in 2003.
JDL: When did Trans March become a thing?
AV: That was only, like, five years ago.
JDL: Since you’ve known me.
AV: Yeah, yeah, since you’ve come around.
JDL: You and I went to our first parade together around 2013. Was that with my ex?
AV: No, hija, no. You were not with anyone. It was you and me, solas. The parade I’m talking about is when you and I walked the streets with Marlen. It was too cute.
JDL: Oh, we walked with Marlen, que en paz descanse [rest in peace]. I mean, you and I always do Trans March together.
AV: That’s now. In 2002, when I worked for the Tenderloin Resource Center, I designed something that was called Tranny Week, which would be totally incorrect right now ’cause you can’t say tranny. But Tranny Week was a week of awareness for the transgender community, and it was full of activities. I was the transgender coordinator.
JDL: What kind of activities?
AV: Workshops and sales and all sorts of shit. I’m sure that Trans March comes from Tranny Week, because that was one of the first things that happened in the city that was transgender-related.
JDL: That’s amazing. Until what year was this?
AV: I’m talking 2002, 2003. Then I got fired. It went for, like, two to three years after that, and then I started hearing about Trans March.
JDL: Trans March is when we see our queer family—Alejandra, Nelson. We go around and say hi to people, cruise around the park. But what I love the most is Dyke March. It’s the only time when Dolores Park is packed with dykes. I wish the city looked like that every day.
AV: The first time I went to Dyke March,
I had never seen a woman peeing standing up, and there, behind a tree, she was peeing. And I was like, Fuuuuuuck, yeah. Omigod.
JDL: I especially love Dyke March because it’s the only time, for me, that I’m surrounded only by dykes. Because of insane change and gentrification in the city, we don’t see dykes in the public spaces.
AV: Yeah, in the past five years it’s been
a bunch of straight people that moved here, and they have taken over. They have taken over all the neighborhoods, including the gay neighborhoods. The clubs are closed.
I mean, you don’t even know the many places that have been closed.
JDL: I’ve seen it. They closed the Gangway, which is one of the first gay bars [in SF]. Let’s get back to Pride. How do you get ready? Who do you call?
AV: I start getting ready from the beginning of the year. Depending on the mood of the year is how I’m going to dress. If it’s been like a sad year, I’ll dress all in black. In my mind, I have to get the right clothes, the right shoes. And who am I gonna go meet? Where are we gonna hang out? Every three or four years I walk the parade. I didn’t tell you that, in 1993, we had a float with Las AtreDivas, with Alexandra—a lot of fun.
JDL: No, cállate [shut up]!
AV: Yes, with the people from Proyecto ContraSIDA [a nonprofit HIV-prevention agency]. Alexandra danced in the middle of the parade. You know, the parade started where it starts now, around Market and 5th [Streets]. Alexandra sent somebody to get her another pair of shoes because she had already broken the ones she was wearing. She danced so much, she broke them.
JDL: Explain what Las AtreDivas was.
AV: Hector León was an activist from Mexico who worked at Proyecto ContraSIDA, and at night he would dress in drag and go out into the streets and give away condoms. He called himself La Condonera [the Condom]. When I started working at Proyecto, Hector and
I had this idea of coming out with a float. The AtreDivas was already happening. It was my first HIV-community–related gig. AtreDivas is a play on words, you know, in Spanish: atrevida and diva. We were four queens and a guy. We had shows at Esta Noche every Saturday night that started at 1:45am. We were really popular. We had it for a long time—for almost two years. June is such a good time.
JDL: What do you miss about Pride?
AV: Friends, lots of friends. A lot of people are dead now. The sense of community that was in San Francisco back then—that is not there anymore.
JDL: What do you mean by that?
AV: Well, there is a community, but it’s not like camaraderie. In the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, there were the club kids. The clubbing scene was very unique. It was a community of partiers—that I missed, even though I remember the mid-’90s and the AIDS epidemic and people coming out to celebrate the day of Pride. But you could see they were sick—you could feel the sickness around. It was really sad. It was a party and all, but sad. I remember when I worked with Diane Phillips, who is a total dyke. She would always have her Latino stuff going on at Dyke March, and there was drums, and it was fun. It was unorthodox. When the AIDS epidemic was at its height, dykes were in control. Dykes were taking care of faggots.
JDL: What did that look like during Pride?
AV: There were more dykes than fags. In the mid-’90s to late ’90s, male homosexuals were totally mourning. They lost people. There was all this myth about HIV being a male disease. It was a weird time. But I still love Pride and always will.