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San Diego SHAME Festival: Youth NOT Welcome Here

Just when you thought the mainstream gay and lesbian community couldn't get any more cowardly and yellow-bellied, we learn that San Diego's Pride committee has decided to ban all youth 17 and under from the city's pride festival unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian! As if that weren't outrageous enough, they are also charging $20 for admission!

Here at, we often complain about the commercialization and apolitical nature of Pride celebrations around the country. But the travesty going on in San Diego is beyond the pale of anything I ever thought I would see in the LGBT movement in the United States.

First, charging admission to a Pride celebration is contemptible (yes, I know L.A. does it too). We should condemn any Pride celebration anywhere in the world that charges admission. If someone wants to charge for specific parts of the celebration (block parties, special concerts, etc.), that's one thing. But the main event should be open to all. I don't care how much it cost to put the fucking thing on. Yes, it's great to get Cindi Lauper and other big-name celebrities to perform. But Queer Pride is not about celebrity guests. The fact that San Diego Pride established an admission price in the first place, shows that they don't get what Pride is really about.

Pride is about queer people of all shapes, sizes, sex and gender expressions, races, religions, classes, and sexual fetishes claiming public space as their own space for expression, personal and peer-to-peer affirmation, visibility and, yes, pride. As an editorial for San Diego's Gay and Lesbian Times notes, "Pride is more than a parade or a festival. It’s an idea – a movement. It’s about hope and community building, and affirming our right to exist equally and openly in a world not so accepting." [1] But these ideas are not compatible with a Pride committee procuring public space, calling it private property, and then charging people to be in that space.

Second, banning youth from the festival is beyond contemptible. The fact that San Diego Pride charges an admission fee is a major reason for the decision to ban youth (or at least that's their story). Because San Diego Pride charges admission, they, apparently assume legal liability for anything that happens on "their" private property. In other words, they're scared of a lawsuit. [2]

And what, precisely, does the Pride committee fear could happen to youth? Most observers think the Pride committee is scared because right-wingers made a big deal out of the fact that three registered sex-offenders were festival volunteers at last year's Pride celebration (Note: I do not know the nature of those crimes--for all I know, it could have been statutory "rape"). Yet, the San Diego Pride committee swears up and down that the sex-offender issue has nothing to do with their decision [3]. Whether or not this particular sex-offender issue was the reason for the decision or not, it shows that the committee has internalized the homophobic characterization of queer people as child predators and dangerous to youth and acted on this internalization to the detriment of queer youth and the queer community at large.

To get an idea of just how bad this decision is, consider this: Not even the Catholic Church, which everyone knows has child predators in it, prevents young people from doing altar service (a common place of clergy sexual abuse), being sacristans, or having interactions with priests without parental supervision! If they feel as though they don't need to ban youth from these things, what the hell would possess a pride committee to ban youth from a pride festival? As Charles Sharples, who wrote a letter to the editor in the Gay and Lesbian Times rightly put it, "a child is much more likely to be molested at a church social or family reunion that at a gay pride festival." [4] We have nothing to apologize for whatsoever when we welcome youth to queer pride.

Worst of all, it sends the poisonous message to youth that they are not welcome, and says, as Margot Kelley puts it, "Sorry, but you are too much a liability for us so we will have to turn you away." A lot of organizations and people are upset about the fact that this message is being sent by San Diego Pride, when in reality, this idea is expressed loud and clear by mainstream LGBT politics in America. Queer youth, in general, are ignored and cast aside for the sake of "grown-up" issues like same-sex marriage.

Thankfully, San Diego Pride's decision to ban youth from their festival has seemingly unleashed the Furies in the larger queer community and many appear to be considering political action. But I am hoping that this incident, which is an extreme expression of the political ideas of the mainstream, assimilationist, gay rights movement, provokes a larger conversation and debate about the nature of Queer Pride--and the politics of queer liberation. The fact that a ban on youth even crossed the San Diego Pride committee's mind in the first place, and the fact that they thought they could get away with it, should cause grave concern in our community. We should seriously ask ourselves how we got to this point in the first place.

To let the San Diego Pride Committee know how you feel, email 0r call 619-297-7683. A couple of activists working against the policy set up a petition you can sign at

1. "Pride's Minor Problem" Editorial. Gay and Lesbian Times. See:
2. Margot Kelley, "Thursday Meeting Results." 30 May, 2006. See:
3. GLT Editorial.
4. The first paragraph of Mr. Sharples' letter has interesting info about the hysteria that consumed the Pride committee. See:


Mark D. Snyder said...


This is what it has come too. I am speechless! Thank you for this post. What an outrage.

Andrea said...

Well said, Brian. Thanks for your post!

Gay Erasmus said...

I completely agree with you. A couple of years ago, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras managed its own bar during the opening Launch party. This little revenue-raising exercise meant that minors couldn't be admitted to the venue. That was a travesty, because the Mardi Gras Launch is often the first encounter that young LGBT folk have with other queer people. Even worse, that year Mardi Gras reported a $300 000 deficit.