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Work hard, play harder - my summer music video: A San Francisco Summer

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For the uninitiated, San Francisco pride was the weekend of June 28-29. And you couldn’t have missed it even if you had blinders on all day. San Francisco is arguably the gay mecca of the world. Much like how you could expect Roman Catholics to throng the streets and plazas of the Vatican for mass on Christmas Eve, San Francisco experiences a similar surge in energy and influx of visitors for pride weekend.

Now, if you’re anything like me and enjoy exploring the city you live in after setting up camp, it wouldn’t take you very long to discover The Castro – a colloquialism for the LGBTQ district anchored around the intersection of Castro and 18th. The streets are lined with a veritable smorgasbord of restaurants, bars, salons and clothing stores designed to cater to the social and shopping needs of a wide representation of this multi-faceted community.

While The Castro is hard enough to miss in itself – the community that identifies strongly with it is even harder to ignore. California is a fairly liberal state as far as the US goes, and as a consequence, gay folk in San Francisco are, more often than not, of the proud and vibrant variety. While you don’t typically brush shoulders with drag queens and butch dykes on bikes on your everyday commute to work, they’re not far from your field of vision if you go looking.

Pride weekend is the one time of the year when the gay community takes over all of San Francisco with the same impunity that it enjoys in the streets of The Castro. As people from all over the world fill into the city to witness and participate in this spectacle, the streets of the city burst into color to herald an event that has now become a badge of honor for the city as a whole.

An ideal itinerary for pride weekend is likely to include a healthy mix of pride highlights such as the Dyke March, Pink Saturday, the pride parade and celebrations, as well as a liberal dose of more low-key ideas such as spending a sunny afternoon out in Dolores Park, exploring nearby districts such as The Mission as well as getting more intimate with The Castro itself.

I am happy to report that my itinerary was not far removed from the one I have identified above. From being part of the 2AM crowd trickling out of The Castro, to lazing around in the grass with friends, to volunteering as a safety monitor on the parade route, I did it all. Funnily enough, diving headfirst into the madness helped me realize just how heterogenous the community really is.

The gay community has people of all shapes, sizes and colors. Although united in pride, their ways of expressing this pride could not possibly be more varied. The festivities range all the way from an intimate BBQ and quietly enjoying the parade, to partaking in vigorous oil wrestling in the sun and spending the entire weekend in a pleasantly drunk/drugged stupor. No matter what flavor of Kool-Aid you drink, you can find it in San Francisco on pride weekend.

As I take a step back from the noise and frenzy around me, I see something even more beautiful: a period of ecstatic celebration that brings together the entire community for one brief colorful flash. But perhaps whats most interesting about pride and the LGBTQ rights movement is the fact that it is one of few that manage to cut across such a vast variety of socioeconomic barriers. Pride is for everyone: gay or straight, rich or poor, religious or atheist, colored or not.

I am not making this up! As a safety monitor for this year’s pride parade and celebrations in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to briefly interact with a vast cross-section of the LGBTQ population and their allies from around the SF bay area and beyond. And they all marched down Market Street in an unparalleled blaze of glory. At some point on that beautiful Sunday afternoon, I realized that pride really knows no boundaries.

As the dust settles and once again my world once again slows down to a more comfortable pace, I’ve had the opportunity to digest my experience at San Francisco’s pride weekend and truly understand what makes pride such a universal notion. In my humble opinion, it is because it ties together some of the most basic human emotions, such as love and vulnerability - emotions that do not discriminate because they are some of the most fundamental aspects of being human.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that although the essence of pride lives on deep in the lifeblood of the community after pride, it doesn’t always show through in a way that can be easily perceived from outside of it. To the untrained eye, the typical pride celebration certainly looks like a veritable orgy (both metaphorical and literal) of alcohol and drug fueled revelry and hedonism that leaves a wake of destruction and glitter in its wake.

This problem speaks to some of the other perceptions of the LGBTQ community as a whole, which is often varyingly labelled as deviant, promiscuous, disruptive, and militant. This misogyny is further perpetuated by the fear and contempt that stems from an incomplete and, more often than not, entirely nonexistent understanding of what it means to be gay from the perspective of a conservative heterosexual individual.

Sadly, while the community is busy trying to defend its image on the global stage, it must wrestle with its own inner demons. Off the top of my head, the stigma of HIV/AIDS, body image issues and internal fractional conflict, are just some of the issues that plague the community from within. Some of these are unique to the gay community in that they are born out of a unique cocktail of vicious social cycles and being repeatedly denied certain basic rights.

But this doesn’t even begin to describe the challenges that individuals face in their day-to-day life. Discrimination with respect to employment, business and services, denial of marriage and adoption rights and the downright fear for personal safety are just a small sampling and sweeping generalization of the issues that haunt queer folk from all walks of life, living across the world.

This brings me to my final point about LGBTQ rights – they are nothing over and above basic human rights that are almost always granted to heterosexual members of society in all countries. Unfortunately, this movement gets flak from all quarters. Shunned from most religions, ostracized by most of society and almost universally discriminated against legislatively, members of the gay community faces a constant struggle to stake claim to what is rightfully theirs.

And yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. For instance, a total of 19 states and federal districts in the United States have legalized same-sex marriage. Although legislation is clearly not the ultimate solution and remedy to decades of discrimination, it sure is the direction the world as a whole needs to head to right the wrongs of years bygone and frames the context of a wider social revolution that is trying to bridge the abyss between the LGBTQ community and the rest of the world.

Pride. It’s not just about being gay. It’s about being true to yourself. The right to be married to someone. The right to raise a family to call your own. The right to love. And be loved.

Pride & Prejudice For the uninitiated, San Francisco pride was the weekend of June 28-29. And you couldn’t have missed it even if you had blinders on all day.
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