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Organizers Cancel San Francisco's Pride Parade In Wake Of COVID-19 Outbreak

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Just as California Governor Gavin Newsom announced large gatherings would probably be banned until the end of summer, organizers of San Francisco Pride announced they were cancelling the 2020 Pride Parade and the weekend Pride 50 celebration.

The parade and weekend celebration of diversity and the LGBTQ community, originally scheduled to take place June 27-28, annually brings massive crowds to San Francisco, presenting a difficult challenge to organizers in these times of social distancing.

"This was not a decision we arrived at lightly," Executive Director Fred Lopez said in a press release. "Far from it: Our staff has been in frequent talks with our Board, our production team, our partners at many departments of City Hall, officials at other Pride organizations worldwide — and most of all, our LGBTQ communities. We have heard from people who urged us to cancel, and from those who implored us not to."

"They had to do it, they really didn't have a choice," said retired KPIX 5 anchor Hank Plante who was planning to host the station's TV coverage of Pride. "The gay community and San Francisco were arm in arm for decades, for generations. So it's a big deal, especially the 50th anniversary to have it canceled."

Lopez said his team had hoped that the public health emergency would end in time for the celebration to be held later this year.

"Since the coronavirus first emerged, we have held out hope that the situation would shift and we would be able to gather later this year," Lopez said. "Well before the first shelter-in-place order, our team began to balance our excitement for Pride 50 and evaluate possible alternatives. With heavy hearts, we have decided not to go forward with the Parade and Celebration in 2020."

Board President Carolyn Wysinger added that the main focus of the organizing team was protecting the health of the community.

"We know what Pride symbolizes for San Francisco — and to LGBTQ+ people around the world," Wysinger said. "We know our decision means disappointment, canceled plans, and one less thing for us all to look forward to. We also know that protecting the safety of all our communities is the most important. We look forward to gathering with all of you, our friends and our families and our allies. In the meantime, SF Pride will offer new and creative ways to commemorate LGBTQ+ Pride."

Perez said Pride organizers still plan to celebrate Pride month in ways that won't conflict with restrictions placed by coronavirus social distancing requirements.

"We're heartbroken of course," said Lopez. "You know, it's our 50th anniversary, and to not have a parade and festival is very disappointing, but we are going to be able to celebrate in other ways. I can say with confidence that the rainbow flags will still go up on Market Street in June. Pride Month is still going to be observed."

As 2020 is a historic 50th anniversary, upward of a million people were expected to attend and witness more than 275 contingents march down Market Street toward Civic Center, where more than 20 community-programmed stages and gathering spaces would have highlighted the diversity of all LGBTQ experiences.

"Pride is one of my favorite times of the year in San Francisco, and no one wants to celebrate with the entire community more than I do," Mayor London Breed said. "However, we are in an unprecedented public-health emergency with an uncertain future, and we must do everything we can to protect our entire community and put public health first."

Other local leaders also lauded the Pride organizers in their decision.

"First and foremost, I want to thank SF Pride for making the right — albeit very tough — decision to cancel in-person pride events this year," said Senator Scott Wiener. "I have no doubt that SF Pride will put together a terrific slate of virtual events for this year's celebration. Pride is my favorite part of every year, and though it's disappointing that we can't be together in person, we will find creative ways to uplift and celebrate the LGBTQ community."

SF Pride does plan to join a constellation of Pride organizations worldwide in a "Virtual Global Pride" on Saturday, June 27. Additional collaborations, primarily in digital formats, will also be announced.

As for other events in the city: the Carnaval San Francisco celebration, scheduled to take place in May, is now postponed but not canceled.

"No, we don't cancel Carnaval, just like we don't cancel Christmas," said Carnaval SF Executive Producer Roberto Hernandez, who hopes to hold the event on Labor Day weekend.

Until then, Hernandez said the multicultural celebration is retooling to help folks in the community by delivering school supplies and food.

"Helping those who don't know about employment benefits, delivering food," Hernandez said. "We are taking our infrastructure in being proactive and helping people who are in need."

Some large events in the Bay Area have not yet announced what they will do. Organizers of the San Jose Jazz Summer Festival told KPIX 5 they will make an announcement on Thursday. No word yet from the Outside Lands Festival. Meanwhile, many other smaller events that draw crowds are having to adjust.

"It's a tough one, it's heartbreaking for everybody this season," said Elaine Schroth of Visit Concord who told KPIX 5 the series of concerts called the Music and Market Series will continue on, but without a live audience.

"Until they're open, we're going to get started with virtual concerts. Some of the artists involved in the music and market series want to continue and promote what they have going on. They don't want to lose momentum with their fans and they're going to get out there and do some free concerts."

Organizers of the PGA Championship, which was moved from May to August at TPC Harding Park, announced that they are looking at the possibility of holding the golf tournament without spectators.

On Monday, Mayor London Breed urged people not to meet in San Francisco or anywhere else in the Bay Area for 4/20, saying that mass gatherings to celebrate cannabis would not be tolerated. Breed said the site of the annual 420 celebration in Golden Gate Park, which was canceled weeks ago, would also be closed off.

Newsom and Dr. Sonia Angell, the director of the California Deparment of Public Health, both cautioned at Tuesday's news conference that life may not return to the way things were anytime soon.

"It's about going forward in ways that are healthy for all of us. But it won't look the same. Different ways that we think about how we do our everyday work will mean that we'll be making changes," Angell said.

Joe Vazquez contributed to this report.

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