Despite year of financial heartache, San Francisco's Pride celebration still alive 

As San Francisco prepares to rally under the banner of “In Pride We Trust” at the 41st annual gay pride parade, organizers of what’s billed as the planet’s largest LGBT celebration are marching to another tune this year.

After a city audit last year revealed a looming cloud of debt left hovering over the event by previous festivities, San Francisco Pride underwent substantial structural changes.

But the show must go on.

And through a combination of savvy fundraising, penny-pinching and organizational reshuffling, the nonprofit organization has since whittled its $225,000 debt to $138,000, said Brendan Behan, Pride’s new executive director. By month’s end, he said, the organization plans to trim the shortfall by another $56,000.

“It still does leave us with a deficit,” said Behan, who came on board following the departure of a series of Pride organizers, which left the future of this year’s celebration in question. “This is a long-term problem that we’re addressing, but we are taking the steps right now.”

In throwing the world-renowned two-day celebration, organizers plan to return to a financial formula first used years ago.

SF Pride has downsized its full-time staff from eight to four, Behan said, a formula that benefitted the parade in its heyday. Behan said former Executive Director Lindsey Jones created a four-person staffing model that produced a $100,000 “rainy-day fund,” which is something he would like to bring back.

One major step forward was the renewal of about 95 percent of last year’s sponsors, which Behan said produced about $515,000 in revenue.

Organizers also are employing a more conservative approach to fundraising this year, a lesson Behan said they learned painfully in 2010 when a Pride gala event proved to be a major bust. “Now, we’re holding events that benefit Pride but don’t put any money on the line,” he said.

Due to lessons such as that, there is no question the past year has been a wrenching one for event organizers.

“When this all happened about a year ago, we were all very concerned,” said John Lipp, who serves on Pride’s Community Advisory Board and also is the president of Pets Are Wonderful Support.

Lipp, whose nonprofit PAWS is dedicated to providing HIV/AIDS patients with animal-companion care and has a financial stake in the Pride festival’s success, was one of the event’s more vocal critics after its financial troubles were made public in December.

About 100 PAWS volunteers will work the beverage booth during Sunday’s festivities. PAWS receives a percentage of beverage sales, Lipp said, which are one of Pride’s revenue sources. So when previous Pride officials attempted to change the formula to balance their financial shortfall — a move that would have affected PAWS — Lipp protested the move.

“It was a bigger sign of what was wrong with the Pride organization,” he said.

But rather than just complain, Lipp opted to join the organization and work toward a solution.

“I think they’ve done some tremendous soul searching and have been working really hard towards a new infrastructure,” he said.

Pride’s recent belt-tightening has convinced other observers that the parade will be a success.

“I am 100 percent confident that the parade is going to come off beautifully,” said District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. “Pride has been working very hard, and I feel very good about where the parade is right now.”

Despite his confidence and praise of the organization’s reworking, Wiener said Pride “has a lot of work to do” before this round of financial hurt is over.

But the challenge of throwing the same kind of event in a deficit year hasn’t left the party completely unscathed. The shortfall has forced the organization to prioritize its needs for the event above its desires. Although not a single stage has been cut, Pride organizers won’t cough up cash for the main stage Jumbotrons, which have regularly appeared in recent years.

“I think the thing that the board and I have worked on is that we have eliminated expenses that we can do without and not take away from the event,” Behan said. “Pride is going to emerge from this stronger than before.”

Parade crystallizes aims, support of gay community

Sitting in front of the television in his Traverse City, Mich., home, John Lipp knew he had something in common with the folks on screen.

It hardly mattered that the newscasters made unflattering comments about San Francisco’s gay marchers, who had made the national news. Something told the 10-year-old Lipp he was probably like those people on screen.

“It gave you a sense of hope,” said Lipp, who is now in his mid-40s and serves on Pride’s Community Advisory Board. “Even if the media wasn’t very positive about it.”

Despite planning the 41st annual celebration beneath a troubling financial cloud, Pride organizers insist the deficit won’t rain on the parade. With 2011’s theme being “In Pride We Trust,” organizers expect about 1 million people for the June 25-26 event.

“Not a single stage has been cut,” said Executive Director Brendan Behan of the event’s 25 stages and venues. “When folks get here, they’ll know it’s the same S.F. Pride parade we’ve all come to know.”

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who will be marching in his 15th parade, expects the festivities to be on par with previous ones. “It’s exhilarating to be in a LGBT event of this size,” said Wiener, who attended his first event in his mid-20s.

The focus of this year’s event is the current generation of LGBT youths, an orientation that appeals to many Pride supporters.

“For me, it’s always been about the message to the younger generations … that you’re OK just the way you are,” said Lipp, noting the high suicide rates among gay and lesbian youths. “There are many places in the world where the LGBT community is oppressed. We’re kind of in a bubble. We have a responsibility to the rest of the world. It’s more than just a parade.”

According to a 2007 Youth Risk Survey, LGBT youths are up to four times more likely to commit suicide than straight kids. This year’s parade will occur less than one month after the Giants became the first professional sports team to join the It Gets Better campaign, an online movement dedicated to encouraging LGBT youths to persevere through bullying.

“It’s always important when it comes from the sports community,” Behan said, citing the reach of the championship organization. “It’s an incredible step and we applaud them.”

Lipp, remembering his teen years and dealing with his own sexuality, concurred.

“I love that campaign,” he said. “It’s a huge message, and I think it’s very, very powerful.”

IF YOU GO

41st Annual SF Pride Celebration and Parade

Where: Civic Center
Celebration times and dates: June 25 noon to 6 p.m. June 26, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Parade route & times:
- June 26 along Market Street
- Kickoff at 10:30 a.m. from Beale to Eighth streets
TV: Live coverage June 26: Comcast Hometown Network Channel 104, KOFY TV20-Cable 13 starting at 7:00 p.m.
Live webcast: June 26: SFPrideLive.com, 10 a.m.
Stages and venues: 25
Estimated attendance: 1 million
2011 theme: “In Pride We Trust”
Event focus: LGBT Youth

Finances at a glance

Original debt: $225,000
Current debt: $138,000
Additional amount expected to be paid at end of June: $56,000
SF Pride income sources:
- Sponsorship ($515,000)
- Beverage sales ($40,000)
- Exhibitor booth sales
- Donations at event gates
- Other member donations
- Parade entry fees
- Grandstand seating tickets
- Advertising in the Official San Francisco Pride Guide
- Advertising in Pocket Pride
- Merchandise sales at the celebration
- Grants
- Official events
Total event budget: $1.5 million

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