Everyone’s entitled to be wild/ Be a child/ Be a goof/ Raise the roof/ Once a year.
– “Once-A-Year Day” from “The Pajama Game”
On the last Sunday in June, it seemed as though everyone had taken this old Broadway song to heart. It was Gay Pride Day in San Francisco, and 1.5 million people were celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier that same week invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. Eighty unisex couples had married the previous day at San Francisco City Hall. The party on Sunday was, in the words of a San Jose Mercury News reporter, “like the biggest, happiest wedding reception you could imagine.”
My husband and I rode BART up to the city to attend a San Francisco Symphony program, and we were swept up in the festivities as we walked from the Civic Center BART station to Davies Symphony Hall.
As we threaded through the crowd, a conservatively dressed middle-aged fellow with a well-trimmed beard spoke to me. “Are you two a couple?” he asked, gazing from me to my husband, both in our Sunday Symphony best.
“Yes, we are.”
He broke into a beaming smile.
“It’s so great to have people like you here in support! This is such a great day! I never thought I would see this day!”
I didn’t tell him we were there for the symphony, but I wished him a wonderful afternoon.
“It will be!” he replied, as the crowd separated us.
I grabbed a Pride Guide to the festivities from a street stall and perused it while waiting for the symphony to begin. The performance was terrific – the first concert performance of the complete musical, Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” led with gusto by Bernstein’s friend and protégé, Michael Tilson Thomas. The lead singer, minor TV star Cheyenne Jackson, has an amazing vocal range and great ability to sell a song. He was also listed in the Pride Guide as one of the Celebrity Grand Marshals of the Gay Pride Parade.
At intermission, we wandered out to the balcony, from which we could see a corner of the celebration still going on at United Nations Plaza. Traffic was at a standstill on Van Ness Avenue, and people in costumes, carrying balloons, flourishing signs and holding hands were crossing below, waving up at us on the balcony. We waved back.
After the concert, we made our way through the packed throng to the BART station. We passed a group of people shouting and dancing along with a rap group on one of the side stages. We walked by another side stage where a cheerleading squad was performing acrobatic flips and pyramids.
The BART station was solid people, a big friendly mob – no pushing, no elbows, just laughter at our common sardine-hood. We inched our way to the turnstiles, where a guard was assisting people with Clipper cards – we made it through. I have never seen a BART train so crowded, but a young couple in cutaway jeans and pink tank tops jumped up and offered us their seats.
It was a party. It was raucous and joyful and sweet. There are different opinions about the Supreme Court decision and about what marriage means, but it is hard to resist something that made so many people so plainly, euphorically, unreservedly happy on a gorgeous San Francisco afternoon.