A parade-goer shows off their costume at Oakland Pride in 2018. Credit: Michelle Snider

For the past decade, the first weekend in September has marked the beginning of Oakland Pride week. That’s still the case this year, although all of the programming for the 11th annual festival will be virtual.

“We started having these conversations back in March and April,” Oakland Pride’s executive director Carlos Uribe said of figuring out how to host the yearly festivities in the safest way possible. “The decision came down to: Can we do this safely for our community that already experiences health disparities, especially HIV, which is so prevalent within the community?” 

2015’s parade along Broadway. Credit: Daniel Miramontes

This year, the scaled-down festival shifted from in-person to what is being called Celebrate-in-Place via Twitch. As part of the virtual programming, Oakland Pride also launched a virtual vendor village that will be live the entire month of September, where visitors can support local businesses. In years past, Oakland Pride hosted up to 300 local vendors. For its virtual inception, Uribe expects up to 100 local vendors to be part of the online shopping experience. “The virtual vendor village is the resource fair that Oakland Pride is meant to be.”

Attendees at Pride 2016. Credit: Courtesy Oakland Pride

According to Uribe, the yearly festivities typically draw over 50,000 people from all walks of life who flock to Oakland to partake in the programming. “We decided this can’t be done safely when we have no vaccine,” he said of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “In June, we announced that we were going to go virtual.”

Bike East Bay at the parade in 2015. Credit: Daniel Miramontes

Since those early talks between the Oakland Pride board and the organizing committee, nonprofit members began developing the logistics of what a virtual week’s worth of events would look like and how to get the plan into motion. “We were lucky to be able to see what other prides were doing throughout the summer, and what worked and didn’t work for them,” he said. San Francisco Pride, which celebrated its 50th anniversary, hosted its weekend festivities online this past June. 

Credit: Alfred Twu

For Uribe and the rest of the organizing committee, it was vital to host pride somehow. “As we approached September, we wanted to make sure that we were still providing a space where people could still feel that community presence, and still feel included in the community.”

The iconic San Francisco Cable Car at last year’s parade. Credit: Kim Beavers

Oakland’s LGBTQ residents, downtown businesses, and visitors all benefited from the array of events at previous Oakland Pride celebrations—whether it be from getting a financial boost or simply having a safe space to mingle and congregate with loved ones. “We had to make something online. I wouldn’t say equivalent, but something that still provides that for people,” said Uribe. 

The parade in 2017. Credit: Theresa Hartwell

Another change to this year’s Oakland Pride is a new logo featuring an updated rainbow pride flag superimposed over the equally iconic Oakland tree logo. The updated version of Gilbert Baker’s 1978 original flag is called “progress flag,” and now includes the colors black and brown added in 2017 thanks to Amber Hikes, a queer Black social justice advocate. The other added colors are blue and pink stripes to represent the trans community. “We want to be more inclusive of our community,” Uribe said.

Between 200-300 local vendors join Oakland Pride every year. Credit: Kim Beavers

The development and creation of an online virtual experience is something that organizers of in-person events everywhere have had to learn to maneuver. It was no different for Oakland Pride organizers. “We had to rethink, relearn, reimagine what Oakland Pride would look like,” said Uribe.

Oakland Pride’s virtual week will kick off on Sunday, September 6 at 12:30 p.m. with the Oaklash Drag Festival on Twitch. A full schedule of weekend events can be viewed on the festival’s website.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.