Since 2008, Oakland’s LGBTQ community has celebrated Pride on the first weekend in September with a parade and a holiday weekend’s-worth of festivities all around town. But Oakland Pride has had to drastically scale back its activities over the past two years, moving the celebration entirely online in 2020 and 2021 due to financial difficulties and the effects of the pandemic. 

Stepping in to fill the void was a group of community members—including some who’d worked with Oakland Pride in the past—who brought their heads and collective resources together to try to meet the community’s need for social connection. Their efforts resulted in the creation of a second Pride celebration for the city, Pridefest Oakland

Port Bar co-owner Sean Sullivan and Olaywa K Austin, president and chief executive director of Oakland Black Pride, two of the lead organizers behind Pridefest, decided to schedule the event on the second Sunday in September to avoid clashing with Oakland Pride. Sullivan and Austin also reached out to others with ties to the LGBTQ community, including radio personality Christie James, event producer Sergio Ardila, Oakland LGBTQ Community Center CEO Joe Hawkins, and others.

Grammy-award-winning singer Mya headlined Pridefest Oakland last year. Credit: Giovanni Steele

The group sprung into action after Oakland Pride was canceled on short notice last year amid financial turmoil at the organization. Landing Grammy-award-winning singer Mya as a headliner gave the fledgling festival a spark, and the inaugural celebration was a hit—with revelers sprawling out over two blocks of Broadway from Thomas Berkley Way to 22nd Street.

“We put together Pridefest in a really short time,” said Ardila of the 2021 festival. “We were able to have one stage and Mya as a headliner—a great accomplishment.” 

Hawkins, the Oakland LGBTQ center CEO, got involved at the urging of  Sullivan and now serves as the festival’s fiscal sponsor. 

“[Hawkins] understood our mission to want to create this new sense of community and pride for downtown Oakland,” said James, who serves as Pridefest’s co-chair.

The team sees Pridefest as a natural extension of other celebrations honoring the LGBTQ community’s roots in Oakland and its contributions to making The Town a thriving cultural hub.  Eventually, the team said they’d like to see Oakland’s September Pride celebrations held in the same regard as San Francisco Pride.

“Oakland is on the map. We are the map. People are coming to us,” James said. “But when we talk about Pride celebrations in the Bay, we talk about San Francisco. Why aren’t we talking about Oakland in any other sense besides all the negative news?”

The festival has expanded in its second year to include three music stages, along with food and other local vendors. New Orleans hip-hop artist and self-described bounce-music ambassador Big Freedia is headlining the main stage. Other artists include house and dance singer Crystal Waters and electronic music producer Madame Gandhi

For the organizers, it was essential to highlight the local talent that’s helping keep Oakland’s music scene thriving, and a “community stage” will feature only local artists. There will also be drag queen performances, house music DJ sets, and more. The third stage, the “party pavilion,” will feature local promoters who host queer parties year-round. 

Pridefest will have two main entrances, one on 20th and Broadway and the other on 19th and Harrison. Expect street detours and traffic delays on the day of the festival. 

Last year’s inaugural Pridefest Oakland drew large crowds to downtown Oakland. Credit: Giovanni Steele

Monkeypox vaccine clinics: Biden administration sending doses to Oakland for Pride events

Given the current state of monkeypox (MPX) throughout the Bay Area, Pridefest organizers have made an effort to put health and safety front and center. The festival is partnering with the Alameda County Public Health Department to host a monkeypox vaccine clinic on-site. 

On Aug. 30, the White House announced that it would also provide 2,400 doses of MPX vaccine to distribute during Oakland Pride and Pridefest. 

Pridefest organizers anticipate a celebration filled with music, laughter, and caring for one another’s well-being. “We are moving forward with an intention of love and community,” James said.

Oakland Pride, Sunday, Sept. 4, 11 a.m., 14th Street and Broadway

Pridefest Oakland, Sunday, Sept. 11, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., free to attend, 20th and Broadway.

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist 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.