Amber’s Got Pride In Oakland

Aug 30, 2014 by

Amber’s Got Pride In Oakland

Amber Todd, the co-founder and chair of Northern California’s second largest Pride event, Oakland Pride, reflects on bringing the community together and five years of Pride

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It’s a cause for celebration! Oakland Pride is turning the big five this weekend and is throwing its first ever Pride Parade.

The Labor Day Weekend Pride festival is the second largest Pride event in Northern California attracting up to an estimated 50,000 attendees to Oakland, Calif. and wraps up the East Bay’s summer festivals.

“We want to have a summer of amazing stuff in Oakland,” says Amber Todd, co-founder and chair of Oakland Pride.

Oakland native Sheila E is headlining as well as being honored as the celebrity grand marshal at this year’s festival. Attendees also should expect the usual popular Latin and Womyn’s stages entertaining the crowds as well as great food and the diversity Oakland is known for.

Girls That Roam sat down with Amber to talk about being the only woman heading up the festival, the powerhouse of women who headline the festival and her vision for Oakland Pride.

Girl at the Table

Amber was only 28-years old and the youngest person at the table when she started organizing Oakland Pride.

That youth gave her the blind vision and courage to see the project through.

“I was the youngest person at the board, but I also had the strongest belief in what we were doing. I was very focused on what was needed to be done,” says Amber, 33, reflecting upon the past five years with a sharp eye on the future of Oakland Pride.

“Now that I am older, I’m able to sit back and say, ‘Here is where we are, how do we improve? What can we do? How can we stabilize? How do we position ourselves so that we are able to move forward and grow in the future?’”

She’s also acutely aware of the fact that she is the only woman on the board and a woman of color at that. She feels the weight of what it means to represent the entire lesbian community in the East Bay by being at the table.

“I really feel like the voice of the lesbian community has to come from me because it’s not going to come from somebody else,” says Amber.

Being the only woman at the table hasn’t impacted her in how people perceive her or how her voice is heard by the other members.

“I don’t ever feel like my voice is not heard,” says Amber, who doesn’t feel like she’s ever had to fight a battle. “I love the fact that I have good people surrounding me.”

“Everyone at the table is just like, ‘We want to do the best that we can for the entire community,” says Amber, who is a special assistant to the city administrator at the City of Oakland.

En Vogue at Oakland Pride 2013 (Photo: Courtesy of www.981kissfm.com)

En Vogue at Oakland Pride 2013 (Photo: Courtesy of www.981kissfm.com)

Girl Power

The best for the community includes a strong representation of women from headliners to the popular Womyn’s Stage.

“I think that we blew the hinges off the door when we brought Chaka Khan the first year,” says Amber. “It’s [an] amazing powerhouse of women.”

Chaka was only the beginning of the powerhouse of female musicians – Jennifer Holiday, CeCe Peniston, En Vogue and this year Sheila E – to take the main stage during the past five years.

Amber is proud of the diversity of the board and the festival, but she still dreams of bringing the lesbian community’s presence back into the fold of Oakland Pride. She would love to see something happen in a similar fashion as Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride, which wrapped up its decade of representing Oakland’s lesbian community in 2011, did, “I think it would be an amazing addition to our festival,” she says.

At the moment, Amber is proud of the Womyn’s Stage headed up by Christiana Remington, former producer of Butterfly Productions, that threw popular all-girl parties Butta, Mo’ Butta and other parties in Oakland and San Francisco, and the strong female artists that have headlined the festival.

The stage was added in the festival’s fourth year, but Christiana took it over in 2012 to women Pride goers delight.

“She did an amazing job. It was phenomenal,” praises Amber. “That’s one of the most amazing things in our community that Pride is offering a devoted area to the women.”

This year the Womyn’s Stage theme is “We Run the World.”

Women can catch live performances by more than five female artists and five DJs at 3 – 6 p.m. on Franklin Street between 17th and 19th Streets.

Bringing the Community Together

Longtime Oakland resident Amber always wondered why San Francisco had all of the incredible centers and programs for the LGBT community, but Oakland lacked similar resources for its large and diverse queer community.

“My question has always been, ‘Why doesn’t Oakland have a center when we have such a large population of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender [people]?’ ‘Why don’t we have anything to support them?’” asks the biracial lesbian mother of four.

She felt that accessing resources, such as finding LGBT-friendly doctors, schools and social services “shouldn’t be such a challenge,” Amber says.

Oakland couldn’t support an LGBT center, but it could support a Pride celebration. An event that could bring the resources to the community once a year until a center could be built.

“I always tell people that Pride even though it’s a one day event you can come there and gain resources,” says Amber, who knows it should be something available to the community everyday but the community isn’t there yet to sustain such a resource. The compromise is Pride, “for one day it brings people together and it allows them to access resources and to meet people and to socialize and have fun.”

“It’s just a great idea and it’s a great starting point,” continues Amber.

Oakland Pride festival (Photo: Courtesy of Oakland Pride)

Oakland Pride festival (Photo: Courtesy of Oakland Pride)

Making of Oakland Pride

Half a decade ago, Oakland hosted its first Pride celebration in seven years. It was a vision lead by Amber and her fellow co-founders Frank Ciglar and Joe Hawkins.

They had no idea how popular the Pride festival would be, considering that Oakland is directly across the Bay from San Francisco which hosts the legendary San Francisco Pride.

“We are confident enough and we are trying to provide something to the community that the community will support,” says Amber.

The celebration of the East Bay’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community was brought back to the forefront of people’s minds when then-at-large Oakland City Councilmember and now Mayoral Candidate Rebecca Kaplan attempted to relaunch the LGBT Roundtable, a working group, in 2008. The roundtable was previously led by former Oakland City Councilmember Danny Wan, which launched the original East Bay Pride in 1997.

The Pride festival ran for six years before it fizzled out due to lack of funding that put it on a seven-year hiatus. The festival was replaced by the now popular Art and Soul Festival.

In 2008, we had good and bad news after the elections. Proposition 8, the anti-same-sex marriage ballot measure, was passed by the voters and Oakland swore in its first openly lesbian City Councilmember Rebecca, says Amber, who was a part of the roundtable.

“From there, ideas were thrown out and I just kept to the fact that to me the community presence is the best way to show people that we are here and that we are important,” says Amber. “I wanted this to be a meaningful presentation of Oakland in many ways.”

For a decade the annual Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride march and celebration the last weekend in August was the only representation of the East Bay’s queer women’s community, but not the East Bay’s entire LGBT community.

Amber and Joe got together and talked about the possibility of hosting a pride celebration, but they recognized the fact that they were across the water from the “Gay Mecca” and a historic LGBT Pride Celebration.

“If we are going to do a Gay Day or an Oakland Pride we’ve got to do it right. We are right across the water from a huge Pride festival and we don’t just want to have something rinky dink, something that nobody is going to feel proud about,” recalls Amber about the early discussions about Oakland Pride.

The group got to planning and strategizing, then opportunity struck to bring back the Pride festival when the Art and Soul Festival outgrew Labor Day weekend. It opened the door for Oakland Pride to step in to celebrate the East Bay’s vibrant queer community in 2010. It was a hit and keeps growing. It now takes an estimated $300,000 to throw the celebration, reported the Bay Area Reporter.

Oakland Pride goers. (Photo: Courtesy of Oakland Pride)

Oakland Pride goers. (Photo: Courtesy of Oakland Pride)

A year later, in 2011, Sistahs Steppin’ in Pride bid farewell to Oakland after a decade. The following year Oakland BlackOUT, Oakland Black Pride hosted at the end of July faded away.

One of the keys to success has been being receptive to the community’s feedback. Amber and her fellow five volunteer board members make improvements to the festival year-after-year based on criticisms from the community, such as providing better space for seniors and families with kids, she pointed out.

“We have a large population of gay and lesbian people raising children here,” says Amber about reaching out to and bringing LGBT parents and kids into the celebration. We need to make sure we are providing a meaningful experience to them.”

“We do our best that it’s an event that is accessible to everybody,” adds Amber. “So, we are really trying to attract more and get more people out.”

Amber is proud the day of the event to see the community come out and enjoying the festival.

She’s even proud of the events throughout the weekend leading up to Pride Sunday.

“I love them all. I enjoy them. That’s probably the best part of Pride that we get to support so many events and that we get to come out and we get to show that Oakland is a support as well,” says Amber.

The Pride Parade is free to the public to watch, unless you get reserved grandstand seating. VIP seating in the grandstands is $5 in advance and $10 at the gate. Access is free for persons with disabilities.

To book your Oakland Pride vacation, contact Heather Cassell at Girls That Roam Travel at Travel Advisors of Los Gatos at 408-354-6531at or .

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