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Why Can't San Francisco Pride Attract Any Decent Celebrities?

Adam L. Brinklow | June 27, 2014 | Lifestyle Story City Life

It's Pride weekend, and people up and down the West Coast and around the world have flocked to San Francisco for our 44th annual San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday. Most excitingly, the parade will be led by celebrity Grand Marshals Ross Matthews, Janet Mock, and Roberta Kaplan.

Wait, wait, wait. Who are these people?

If you can't quite place the names, Matthews is an actor best known for playing Ross the Intern on Jay Leno. Janet Mock is a transgender activist and onetime staff editor for People. (Editors aren't celebrities. -Ed.) Kaplan is the attorney who argued against DOMA before the Supreme Court last year. We mean no offense to any of them (especially Kaplan, who is a real American hero), but who the hell are these people that Pride is trying to pretend are celebrity grand marshals? Seriously.

In years past, grand marshals of the Pride parade have included honest-to-god celebrities like Sir Ian McKellen, Alice Walker, and Sarah Silverman. How did we go from Gandalf, the author of The Color Purple, and the author of history's greatest rape joke to a third-rate player on a third-rate late night talk show?

This year, the organizers of the parade fell behind in a Pride bidding war that happens each year. Virtually every major city in America (even Houston) celebrates Pride within the same five-week time frame, and there are only so many high-profile LGBT folks to hold the baton. Prides across America are in direct competition to book the A-list talent—and the contest sometimes gets heated. "It's a lot of pressure, because this event means a lot to people who come in from out of town," said Sam Borelli, managing director of the non-profit that produces LA Pride. Los Angeles' grand marshal for its June 8 parade was recording artist Demi Lovato, who shot her new video at the festivities. (She dated Joe Jonas, but played a lesbian on Glee, so she gets a pass.) "We've been on the receiving end of wrath about grand marshal picks before," said Borelli. "We keep having to go up against these Midwestern cities who try to outbid us."

Most major Prides are multi-million dollar events—but are often staffed by unpaid volunteers. SF Pride has an operating budget of almost $2 million, but only three full-time employees. That means most big cities, including us, LA, and New York, don't offer a paycheck to go along with the grand marshal gig. Smaller cities, on the other hand, sometimes throw in cash to swoop a top draft pick away.

Still, it's hard to feel like SF Pride didn't get scooped this year. Just think of all the celebrity grand marshals we could have picked. George Takei was just in town for the Frameline film festival, but now he's off to Seattle to be their grand marshal. Worse, Seattle even poached Trannyshack founder Heklina as well. "They hired me to host a bunch of events," Heklina told us. "I wish they weren't on the same weekend, but I'm super excited about Seattle." First the Lucas museum goes to Chicago, now this.

The biggest fish this year went to New York City, which scored transgender Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox. Cox was a hotly pursued commodity (both San Francisco and LA Pride made bids for her), but according to New York Pride media director Tish Flynn, home court advantage wrapped that deal up pretty early. "She lives in New York. Her management is in New York. There's no better place to celebrate Pride than your hometown. Besides, we asked first." They also picked up Looking star Jonathon Groff. Which, Jesus Christ! We put him on our cover not six months ago. Did New York do that? Where's the love?

The guy most put out by all this celebrity jockeying is Law & Order's BD Wong. The San Francisco native is in town right now, starring in ACT's Orphan of Zhao over on Geary St. He even wrote a memoir about his and his partner's experience with surrogate pregnancy! "I was kind of disappointed they didn't remember me, actually. It makes me sad. It was like they didn't notice I was here. I've never been in the city with this kind of presence before, but I guess the right people don't think that means anything," Wong wrote in an email. "Or maybe they just don't like me. There's always that. I'm not relevant to the community here like some of the people they've got, maybe? I guess that's possibly true, and okay. And who knows when I will be back. Oh well..."

Best we can tell, nobody thought to call him. George Ridgley, freshly minted executive director of SF Pride, said that he didn't know the actor and acclaimed opera singer was here. "It's not because we don't like him. We certainly would want him to be part of the event. We hope he comes out on Sunday." In Ridgley's defense, he was hired just four months ago to manage an event that last year attracted 1.8 million people. Keeping up on the local musical theater scene was probably not priority number one.

There's still a ray of hope, though. When we asked her, SF Pride spokesperson Wendy Norris wondered if it wouldn't be too late for a last-minute Wong booking. "BD, what are you doing on Sunday?" she asked. "Do you want to drive in the Tesla car?"

Well, what do you say? Is there a chance we could still turn this celebrity thing around? Here's hoping.

The San Francisco Pride Parade kicks off at 10:30 AM on Sunday.

With additional reporting by Andrea Powell

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