50 Years of Pride: Photography Exhibition Documents Five Decades of San Francisco’s Iconic LGBTQ Celebration

San Francisco — The GLBT Historical Society and the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) Galleries, with the support of San Francisco Pride, present 50 Years of Pride, a new exhibition opening on Thursday, May 7 on the ground floor and North Light Court of San Francisco City Hall. The exhibition displays nearly 100 photographs to celebrate five decades of San Francisco Pride, one of the city’s most beloved public festivals.

On June 28, 1970, a small group of LGBTQ people marched down Polk Street—then San Francisco’s most prominent queer neighborhood—to mark an event called “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” Commemorating the one-year anniversary of the historic Stonewall uprising on Christopher Street in New York City, the march was followed by an intimate “gay-in” at Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park. Fifty years later, this modest gathering has evolved into San Francisco Pride, a globally famous annual parade and celebration that welcomes hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators from around the world the last weekend in June.

Encompassing examples of photojournalism, portraiture, fine-art photography, posters and magazine covers, 50 Years of Pride honors how San Francisco’s LGBTQ community has come into its own since that first humble Pride gathering. The exhibition explores how Pride has reflected and refracted the community’s priorities, responses and activism in times of hope and despair, triumph and setback. Images drawn from the GLBT Historical Society’s archives are joined by photographs held by other institutions, as well as works by over a dozen independent queer photographers.

The exhibition is curated by Lenore Chinn and Pamela Peniston, two San Francisco artists with deep roots in the city’s queer arts and culture milieu. “Culling through the archives at the GLBT Historical Society, we found a treasure trove of photographs, snapshots and 35 mm color slides that began to tell a story of the spirit and nature of Pride and what it has come to mean both locally and internationally,” Chinn says.

Thematically, the photographs document the impact of political events and social movements on Pride. They also illustrate the transformation and diversification of the event over the years into a celebration event that represents the full spectrum of gender, race, ethnicity, class, gender identity and expression, sexuality and ability. “Our outreach to photographers and their archives amplified our discoveries,” Chinn notes. “With the rise of gay power and an expanding movement, we saw more participation and more diversity along gender and ethnic lines.”

50 Years of Pride is a collaborative project of the GLBT Historical Society and the SFAC Galleries. “The history of Pride over the last half century in San Francisco is as complex and diverse as our city,” says the GBLT Historical society’s executive director, Terry Beswick. “It is also a great lens through which we can examine the evolution of our LGBTQ rights and freedoms, as well as our awareness of how our movement intersects with other social justice movements. I’m so proud to have curators Pam Peniston and Lenore Chin tell these stories through this exhibit at San Francisco City Hall, where so many people will view it while voting this election year.”

Meg Shiffler, director of the SFAC Galleries, says, “The SFAC Galleries is thrilled to partner with the GLBT Historical Society to produce this expansive anniversary exhibition at historic San Francisco City Hall. SF Pride is a San Francisco treasure that has become a globally recognized and totally integrated part of our civic and cultural identity.” The SFAC Galleries is also celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020.

This exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of San Francisco Pride. “We could not be more excited about the way 50 Years of Pride helps illuminate the complexity of our story,” says Fred Lopez, executive director of SF Pride. “It’s frequently said that LGBTQ history is American history, and that’s undeniably true, particularly here in San Francisco. Exhibitions like this highlight our unique nature as a city at the forefront of all things LGBTQ.” Additional support for 50 Years of Pride is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and San Francisco Grants for the Arts.

50 Years of Pride opens Thursday, May 7 on the ground floor and North Light Court of San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco. There will be a free public reception on the ground floor from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with a short program at 6:30 p.m.

The GLBT Historical Society is also mounting a separate exhibition focusing on the early development of Pride. Entitled Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride, 1970–1980, this exhibition opens at the GLBT Historical Society Museum on April 15, 2020. For more information, visit the GLBT Historical Society website at www.glbthistory.org.

About the Curators

Lenore Chinn is a painter, photographer and cultural activist who works to create structures of personal and institutional support that both sustain critical artistic production and advance movements for social justice. Portraiture, both in painting and photography, is at the core of her visual art practice. Her current street photography chronicles a rapidly changing sociopolitical landscape. A San Francisco native, she was a founding member of Lesbians in the Visual Arts, a co-founder of the Queer Cultural Center and has been active in the Asian American Women Artists Association since the group was founded.

Pamela Peniston is a founding member and artistic director of the Queer Cultural Center, and has been one of the curators for the visual and performing arts at the National Queer Arts Festival since its inception. She has won numerous awards for her work designing and painting sets for national and Bay Area theatrical and dance companies. Peniston’s photographic interests are split among the wonder and beauty of nature, women in windows, the beauty of simple architectural elements and the community and humanity of people around the world.

About the GLBT Historical Society

The GLBT Historical Society is a public history center and archives that collects, preserves, exhibits and makes accessible to the public materials and knowledge to support and promote understanding of LGBTQ history, culture and arts in all their diversity. Founded in 1985, the society maintains one of the world’s largest collections of LGBTQ historical materials. The society’s operations are centered around two sites: the GLBT Historical Society Museum, located since 2011 in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood; and the Dr. John P. De Cecco Archives and Research Center, open to researchers in the Mid-Market district. For more information, visit www.glbthistory.org.

About the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center, the SFAC Galleries makes contemporary art accessible to broad audiences through curated exhibitions that both reflect our regional diversity and position Bay Area visual art production within an international contemporary art landscape. By commissioning new works, collaborating with arts and community organizations and supporting artist’s projects, the SFAC Galleries provides new and challenging opportunities for contemporary art to engage with a civic dialogue. The SFAC Galleries was founded in 1970 and is the exhibitions program of the San Francisco Arts Commission, the arts agency of the City and County of San Francisco. For more information, visit www.sfartscommission.org.

About San Francisco Pride

The mission of the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration is to educate the world, commemorate our heritage, celebrate our culture and liberate our people. Our annual event on the last weekend of June is the biggest gathering of the LGBTQ community and allies in America as well as San Francisco’s largest outdoor event, consisting of a two-day Celebration in Civic Center plus a parade down Market Street with more than 280 contingents marching. Since 1997, SF Pride has awarded over $2.5 million in proceeds to local nonprofit LGBTQ organizations and those organizations working on issues related to HIV/AIDS, cancer, homelessness and animal welfare. For more information, visit http://www.sfpride.org/.

Graphics for Reproduction

A press packet of photographs featured in the exhibition is available for use in media reporting about the exhibition. Contact Mark Sawchuk at mark@glbthistory.org or Meg Shiffler at Meg.Shiffler@sfgov.org.

What's Coming Up

Public Meeting

Advisory Committee of Street Artists and Crafts Examiners (Cancelled)

April 07
/
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

War Memorial Bldg | Rm 125
Public Meeting

Advisory Committee of Street Artists and Crafts Examiners (Cancelled)

April 07
/
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

War Memorial Bldg | Rm 125
Public Meeting

Advisory Committee of Street Artists and Crafts Examiners (Cancelled)

April 07
/
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

War Memorial Bldg | Rm 125
Public Meeting

Advisory Committee of Street Artists and Crafts Examiners (Cancelled)

April 07
/
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

War Memorial Bldg | Rm 125