Twenty years of Pride

Posted: July 7th, 2017 | Back Out With Benny, Columns, Featured | No Comments

By Ben Cartwright | Back Out With Benny

We are just a week away from the annual San Diego LGBT Pride festivities, which kick off on Friday, July 14, with the annual Spirit of Stonewall Rally and Pride of Hillcrest Block Party in Hillcrest.

We’re lucky in San Diego because many years ago, organizers decided to move our annual celebration to mid-July, so that when all of the Pride celebrations in most major cities around the world end in June (which is the “official” Pride month), we still have our world-class celebration to look forward to. Also, many are upset that Facebook turned off the “Pride reaction” option effective July 1, so we won’t be able to utilize that feature when our celebration hits.

While the story I tell today is similar to my pre-Pride column last year, I enjoy recounting versions of this story each year, because I think the message is important to remember.

This year’s San Diego Pride is particularly momentous for me as it marks my 20th year participating in the celebration. Growing up as a San Diego kid, I dreamed of being a part of the city’s vibrant LGBT community as soon as I became of aware of it and my own sexuality.
My family always had the San Diego Tribune delivered to our house every day, until it merged to become the San Diego Union-Tribune, and being the local politics geek I’ve always been, my favorite section was always the “Local” section.

I’ll never forget that day in July 1996, when I was 16 years old, and I opened up the Sunday morning paper while eating breakfast and pulled out the Local section, and handed the Comics, Sports, TV guide and other sections to my brothers and mom. That particular cover of the Local section immediately caught my eye, as I saw a photo of actor Wilson Cruz riding on a car in a parade. Wilson was a huge inspiration to me because of his role as a gay teenager in the then hit show “My So Called Life” was a lifeline for so many of us who had no other access to the LGBT community.

I was so excited to see he was in town, and then after reading the headline and story, I learned that he was the grand marshall of that year’s “Lesbian & Gay Pride Parade” which had happened the day prior. This was eye-opening for me. I had no idea there was such a thing, and I immediately told myself that no matter what, I would be at that parade the next year.
That following year I spent many hours cruising around Hillcrest in my car, just looking, observing and hoping that one day I’d be a part of this community. July 1997 finally rolled around and after seeing some posters and ads in the gay papers, I figured out the date of the parade. I woke up that morning scared to death but so excited.

I drove down to Hillcrest, but ended up parking a few blocks into North Park (not knowing that parking is so tight anyway, that’s probably where I would have had to find a spot). I wanted to park one neighborhood over because I didn’t want anyone I knew to see my car near the parade, and *gasp* think that I might be attending it. Ironically, where I parked my car that day was right in front of what was then the Mustang Spa bathhouse — what would people think!?

After parking, I trekked up University Avenue, under the Georgia Street bridge and into Hillcrest, and then stood quietly behind the pole that holds up 7-11’s gas prices sign on the corner of University Avenue and Normal Street, right at the parade’s kick-off point. What a beautiful sight I saw before my eyes! I only stuck around for about 30 minutes before walking back to my car — it was all too overwhelming — but that showed me for the first time what a large, vibrant community we have here in San Diego and I haven’t looked back.

I’ve volunteered with San Diego Pride in some capacity every year since and I couldn’t imagine my life without the experience of “my first time” at San Diego Pride. In fact, while I celebrate Pride now very differently than I used to (Pride here is a lot of work for me now!) and that magic of the “first time” isn’t there anymore, I absolutely love the celebration — and mostly because I remember that it is always someone’s first time. So many of us who have been around awhile get so caught up on worrying about what our “Pride body” is going to look like, or how we’re going to fit in all of the parties we’ve been invited to, or who we will “lay” that weekend. But there is so much more to Pride, especially for the first-timers.

We’ve fought a lot as a community this year. Now I’m the last one to say, “We should all just come together and unify over Pride weekend,” because life doesn’t work that way. We are a very large and diverse community and far from perfect. We can’t forget all the things our community struggles with internally, like racism, transphobia and more, even for a weekend. While we celebrate, Pride is a great time for reflection of our community’s struggles and to recommit to working on being better to each other, so we can be there for those young people who are just finding our community.

As I said, every year there is someone who is standing behind a pole or a tree, trying not to stand out, but taking in this new world that they may have never imagined being a part of. We need to keep celebrating for them — and working to acknowledge and fix our community’s ills — so that they too, can grow into active, vibrant members of our community and know they aren’t alone. That’s what Pride is about to me!

Getting Out With Benny

So it’s just about to be San Diego Pride week and there are more events than I could even begin to list (check out Gay San Diego’s Pride Guide for a comprehensive listing). But here’s a few special Pride week events that I’m looking forward to and hope to see many of you at:

Each year, Rick Cervantes and I host our annual “Cheers! Benny & Rick’s Pride Kick-Off Happy Hour” at #1 Fifth Avenue. We started this four years ago because we recognized that so many of our friends either work in the bar and service industry or are community volunteers who spend the busy Pride weekend serving our hundreds of thousands of guests who descend upon the community.

So many of us locals don’t get to celebrate Pride together because we’re so busy — so on Monday, July 10 from 6-9 p.m. — before the crazyness begins — we invite everyone to a casual, low-key happy hour event. No program, no fundraising, no work. More info here:

To my friends who are SDSU alumni, and LGBTQ or an ally, you’re invited to the first-ever SDSU LGBTQ Alumni Pre-Pride Mixer on Wednesday, July 12 from 5-7 p.m. at Babycakes in Hillcrest.

Benny Cartwright (Photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography)

This will be a chance for alumni and friends to learn more about the university’s great efforts in recent years to make the campus a more LGBTQ-friendly space and how you can get involved in supporting that work. For more info or to RSVP, contact Corey Polant at

Of course, there are hundreds more events to choose from so I hope to see you out and about as our city goes rainbow! Happy Pride, San Diego!

—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.)

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