Pride Float Update and My Opinion About The Future

Written by: Geoffrey Sargent, originally published in the May 2017 edition of the CBA Bluegrass Breakdown

Well it’s been an interesting few weeks on the message board, on Facebook, and in the SF Chronicle. What I’m talking about of course is the SF Pride Parade float project. I can say that I have been proud at how respectful the comments have been from folks on both sides of the issue. This is not the first controversy that we have weathered as a community and I am sure it will not be the last. I encourage any of my column readers who have not read the message board on the comments surrounding the Pride Parade project to do so. There are at least 3 threads that seem to have run their course over the week. Yesterday, Saturday April 15, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on the controversy and you can read that here: SF Chronicle article. You can even see me lurking in the background of one of the pictures. I, and many others, have been trying to get the Chronicle to cover some of our events for years and finally it seems we caught their attention…just not exactly the way we hoped.

One of the things that Ted Kuster is trying to do is increase the CBA presence in the Bay area. Ted wants to have a CBA float or presence in several major San Francisco events and parades, which could include, for example, the St Paddy's parade, Chinese New Year Parade, etc. The Pride parade is just one of several that he wants to target and fits in the developmental timeline. Ted came to the Board to ask for our support and use the CBA insurance coverage and most importantly, this is being self-funded. Ted did not ask for a budget and is raising the funds to participate in the parade on his own. This is ultimately a CBA SF area project.

In line with Ted’s vision, we are planning to have a float in the Alameda Fourth of July Parade and will be asking the Board to help support that project similar to the Pride float. While Ted is helping with the 4th of July float, the groundwork is going to be organized by Mariaelena Quale.

So what is the status of the Pride float? Ted has a committee of volunteers from around the Bay area helping. They have a float design, a trailer, a sound guy, a truck to pull the trailer (if you think Ted twisted my arm to use my truck you’d be right), 3 bands, and a small army of volunteers who will accompany the float, hand out CBA materials, and hopefully recruit, recruit, recruit. That is what this is really about…outreach. Thus far about $15,000 has been raised towards the $10,000 goal from an anonymous donation and a gofundme online fundraising campaign. If you want to donate, the link is GoFundMe Bluegrass Pride. We even have an Alameda CBA member, Mark Haskett, offered to provide matching funds up to a total of $1,000 for 10 donations of at least $100. Now most of these donations are between $25 and $100, so do the math, there is a lot of popular support for this.

Wait there is more: Kathy Kallick, Molly Tuttle, and Suzie Thompson performed a benefit concert on May 5th at the Ashkenaz to raise money.

What else…oh yes Laurie Lewis has pulled together a bluegrass band Bill Evans, Tom Rosen, Max Schwartz to play the float, Suzie Thompson and Karen Ceila Heil are fronting an old time band, and Dana Frankel, AJ Lee, David Thiessen and Helen Foley, are pulling the youth band together. What a lineup and that’s just for the float and there will be more, prominent, Bay area bluegrass musicians involved.

If you want to volunteer or support the Pride Parade float go check out the Facebook page at Bluegrass Pride Facebook

Ted’s done a heck of lotta work on this and try to imagine the time and effort it has taken to pull this together. I hope we can use this as a model all over California for outreach in other communities and for other events.

That’s over 500 words just for the Pride update.

What I’d like to do is lay out why I support Ted on this and why I think it is a good thing for the CBA, because at first I was not so sure. It seems to me that most of the folks that oppose participation in the Pride parade have two basic concerns: values and politics. Values, because that by having a float in the Pride Parade we would be endorsing something that is incompatible with strong family-friendly values; and politics because the Pride float could be viewed as making a political statement that the CBA endorses the LGBT community. I’m not sure what folks mean by lifestyle anymore, so I’m not even going to address that.

Here’s what I don’t understand about the values arguments. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances, some are from the LGBT community, some from work, some from extended family, some from community volunteer work, some from the CBA, and all of them, every single last one of my friends and acquaintances, LGBT or not, have the same basic values that I have. They worry about work, income, health, family, Church, their dog, their guitar, the price of gas, taxes, politics, the government, their kids, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, their partner, and the only thing that is different with my LGBT friends is who they live their life with. That is the only thing. So when we say values, if someone has the same basic values that all of us have, what are we really judging? As far as spiritual or religious concerns, I have one philosophy that applies for all of my friends; as far as I am concerned, that is between them and their maker and is not my, or anyone else’s, business.

I think the concern about making political statements is well intentioned and has an honorable objective, but is misplaced. The argument seems to be that we will suffer guilt by association. By participating in events that could be seen as political or controversial the CBA will be perceived to support that event or group and thereby, however indirectly, be tainted or contaminated and that contamination will poison the CBA. And yes, I agree that if the CBA was to directly, overtly, decisively, incontrovertibly support a political philosophy, a political party, an economic philosophy, a spiritual or religious philosophy, then we would be doing a disservice to our members and not doing what is in the best interests of the CBA. But that is clearly not what we are doing with the Pride parade.

In fact I believe that we, and the guilt by association argument, have it exactly backwards. We check our politics and beliefs and everyday lives at the gate and gather together because we love the music and love playing it. I’ve jammed with folks I know who are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Marxist-Leninists, Christian, Jew, atheist, straight, gay, married, single, divorced, old, annoyingly young and good, and never once has someone brought up politics, religion, or gender preference. Jams generally get busted because of playing unfamiliar songs, in unfamiliar keys, too fast, but not for politics. We gather in spite of our differences and it is our commitment to the music and commitment to our community that makes that possible, not the other way around. We don’t gather because we are Republicans or Democrats that play bluegrass. In fact, if we cannot and do not reach out to everyone, regardless of their beliefs, how are we to promote the CBA and our community? This is a serious question because what we are currently doing is not working. Our membership goes up around festival time, it goes down during the rest of the year, and it otherwise fluctuates around 2,600 or so active members. We aren’t growing, we aren’t diminishing, we just kind of tread water with our membership numbers. So whether or not you’ve thought about it, the CBA explicitly values diversity. In practice our doors have been open to everyone and a heck of a lot of diversity has walked through those doors. There is no escaping that.

So I propose we stop being afraid of guilt by association and go out and do bluegrass outreach in conservative communities, in liberal communities, at churches, at synagogues, at temples, at political events whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Socialist. I am only speaking for myself but one job I believe we have as a board is to enable our members as much as we possibly can and for me that means if you come to the board and want to propose producing a CBA event at a gun show, or the Pride parade…I am interested. What I care about in a jam, and what I believe most of us care about in jams, is how good of a picker you are and not what kind of stripes you wear. End of story.

Sorry ya’ll if it got a little preachy. These are things I feel strongly about. And while some might feel that I shouldn’t be using CBA web space to opine about these issues, that we should keep quiet and tip toe around politics, and religion and similar issues, I believe we need to keep the conversation open. The folks in the CBA are passionate about their lives and have big hearts. My money always is on the hearts.

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