It’s always someone’s first time

Posted: July 8th, 2016 | Back Out With Benny, Columns, Featured | 1 Comment

By Ben Cartwright | Back Out With Benny

This year marks 20 years since I first became aware of San Diego Pride.

It was 1996 and I was 16 years old. I remember picking up the Sunday morning San Diego Union-Tribune and seeing a story about the San Diego Gay & Lesbian Pride Parade on the front page of the local section. Having just recently realized that I was gay but still in the closet, I grabbed the section out of the paper and told my family who were assembled around the breakfast table that I was done eating (I had barely touched my plate) and going to go read the newspaper on the living room couch.

Benny Cartwright (Photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography)

Benny Cartwright
(Photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography)

I read and re-read the article — which was a fairly basic account of the parade that happened in Hillcrest the day before — and was fascinated to see that Wilson Cruz (then of “My So Called Life”) was the Grand Marshal. I was a big fan of his from watching the TV show, which also helped me come to the realization that I was gay. It was amazing to me that so many LGBT people came together in one place and I took note that the annual “San Diego Lesbian & Gay Pride” celebration took place on the last weekend in July (it has since been changed to the third weekend); I certainly wasn’t going to miss it in 1997.

A year later, when the last weekend of July rolled around, I made my way down to Hillcrest for the parade’s noon start time (it has since been changed to 11 a.m.).

I was too nervous to park anywhere near Hillcrest in case my car was “seen” so I parked in North Park — which wasn’t a very hip or safe place at the time — near 30th Street and walked many blocks to the corner of University Avenue and Normal Street. I stood behind the pole that holds up 7-Eleven’s gas prices sign, and by myself, I quietly watched the parade contingents go by.

I was in awe at the excitement and pride I witnessed that day and never would have imagined that later I’d be actively involved in the production of the parade, working at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, or even writing for an LGBT newspaper.

A few weeks earlier, I had met a guy — on what now seems an ancient version of a hookup app — who wanted to meet at the Festival, Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m., after the Parade. That also seemed very exciting, but again, I was just too nervous. After circling around in my car for several hours, walking up to the gate and then turning around at least a dozen times, I finally entered the Pride Festival at 7 p.m.

Of course, the guy I was supposed to meet was already four hours into the festival with his friends and they were near ready to leave, but I didn’t care. Just being in that space was magical. It was an entirely new world to me and one that I couldn’t wait to be more a part of; and boy did I become a part of it in the following years!

Now, 19 San Diego Pride Parades and Festivals later, it certainly is different.

While I still can’t wait for Pride each and every year, sometimes I find myself getting stressed about how much work those of us who are involved put into it each year, especially around this time, as we lead up to the big weekend.

All of the preparations can be quite overwhelming, but I continue to do it because each year I remember the tale I just told you of my first Pride. Every year is someone’s first Pride and every year someone is just as nervous as I was in 1997, or just as excited sitting at home somewhere seeing the news and learning that there is a huge prideful world out there waiting for them.

I dedicate Pride every year to those people, who are learning, exploring and experiencing this amazing weekend for the first time; a weekend which for decades, LGBT folks have created to make sure that we can all celebrate who we are and not feel alone. 

Get Out With Benny

With Pride approaching, there is so much going on. Most of the official San Diego Pride events will be listed in Gay San Diego’s Pride Guide insert, and many more “unofficial” events will be on their calendar (pages 21 and 22).

Today, Friday, July 8, the Hillcrest Town Council will host a Summer Social, in lieu of a Community Meeting this month. Everyone knows that Babycakes is my Friday afternoon spot, so come join us from 5 – 7 p.m. for happy-hour priced drinks and bites, fun with Hillcrest friends and neighbors, and a chance to meet HTC’s newest board member, Daniel Merk-Benitez.

A special memorial is being organized by members of San Diego’s Latina/Latino/Latinx community to honor victims of the Orlando tragedy. A huge coalition of community leaders, elected officials and organizations invite the community to St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral on Saturday, July 9 from 6 – 8 p.m. For more info, visit

On Monday, July 11, Rick Cervantes and I invite you to our third annual Cheers! Benny & Rick’s Pride Kick-Off Happy Hour, from 6 – 9 p.m. at #1 Fifth Avenue. Find more details in the calendar on page 21.

My favorite part of the annual Parade is the end! Not because I’m glad it’s over, but because of San Diego Pride’s tradition of pulling out the large rainbow flag and inviting the entire community to grab hold and help carry it to the Music Festival in Balboa Park. I’ve had the honor of helping lead this contingent for many years and invite you to join in.

This year will be extra special because this portion of the parade will be dedicated to the victims of Orlando. So as the parade winds down on Saturday and you see the big flag coming down University Avenue, join on!

—Benny Cartwright is the director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He can be reached at 619-692-2077 ext. 106 or Note: byline photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography.

One Comments

  1. Hi..Super article.I was an activist in LA 70s and 80s. Can remember the first Pride events. A great fun event expressing community. I googled SD Gay and Lesbian leaders to better understand what is happening in the area.

    Been in a two year process of exploring a move to SD County for a couple years. A friend of 30+ years from LA and Palm Springs that I would run into at various spiritual workshops kept suggesting Encinitas is you John. Have made several visits to Mission Beach area and Encinitas. North County Coast is me.(S)
    Hope to meet and particapate in activities once I get settled late 2016.
    My biggest concern is for the 12 to20yo age group that are having difficulty with sexual identity. Counseling professionals tell me a large % of suicides with this group is because of their sexual identity and related issues. How very sad and unnessary. Good Wishes Beautiful SD County.

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