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East Bay sports fans showed no fear in going into Pride weekend

Sports fans over the last month in Oakland have had mixed emotions about publicly celebrating victories and events in light of the recent tragedies striking Orlando and Oakland.

Rather than a father or mother taking their child to enjoy the sights and sounds of summer baseball — the smack of the ball hitting the wooden bat, the smell of hot dogs in the air as pesky seagulls float above, waiting for the next meal, parents are forced to ask themselves if a game or a would have been victory parade is a risk they are willing to take in order to watch a sporting event.
And even outside of the walls of the sports stadium, citizens are questioning whether they should have attend San Francisco Pride or other community events over the weekend.  “What-if” situations and questions came to mind as they also think of the lifeless bodies and their stories that flashed across their television screens and social media accounts over the past month.
Sporting celebrations and community events are seemingly becoming more dangerous for attendees to enjoy the festivities, taking away the escape from realities and instead facing them head-on.

Just two nights after Pulse nightclub — a safe haven in which the LGBT community used as an escape from bigotry before 49 were murdered and several others injured — the A’s hosted their second annual LGBT Pride Night, a pre-planned date with some timing as equally fortunate as it wasn’t.

The A’s dedicated the night to the victims and families of the LGBT-friendly nightclub and citizens of Orlando with a moment of silence, passing the first-pitch ball down a line of LGBT community members and allies- including closer Sean Doolittle, CSN California’s Eireann Dolan, and the University of San Francisco’s Women’s Basketball Head Coach Jennifer Azzi.

As rainbow flags flew in the winds of Oakland Coliseum, Out Sports writer Jamie Neal laughs with an ease and graces the stands as if her heart didn’t bear the heavy hurt of the 49 lives lost in the Orlando shootings.
Donning a pair of sunglasses to keep her brown and blonde highlighted wig out her face, Neal sported a forest-green Athletics hoodie and sat in the left-field bleachers with her closest friends and family members.

During Neal’s trip to Oakland to watch her favorite team play a few weeks ago, however, she presented as a man and felt uncomfortable and ashamed of herself in doing so:

“I felt like I wasn’t being true to myself.”

On top of emotions of feeling inauthentic to her true self, Neal was publicly insulted by Twitter trolls after being called “a clown” by the former ESPN commentator Curt Schilling.

After attending the game as a man, Jason, in deciding that she would fully embrace herself and rid herself of naysayers, Neal threw away the last remains of male clothing she owned and embodied the meaning of Pride; being your true self and proud of it:

“Being Jamie at the game was exactly what I had expected it to be and was better than the year before. I wasn’t nearly as nervous. … As for the Curt Schilling fiasco, he just made me dig my stilettos in even more. The thought that people are entitled to their opinions is a great one, but recently I’ve concluded that opinions based in hate and ignorance aren’t valid which means that his aren’t valid.”

The crowd in Oakland was considerably smaller than last year’s events at 13,101 which many of the fans present told SFBay was due to multiple vigils or various memorials held around the Bay Area for the same cause but most definitely not because of the fear factor.

Though the crowd may have been small, pride and inclusivity were not.

A variety of fans used duct-tape to cover the last names of their favorite players and instead wrote out their support for Orlando with messages of love and encouragement in sharpies, such as #PrayforOrlando and #WeAreOrlando.

A handful of fans made a poster they proudly displayed throughout the game with a heart filled with rainbow colors, stating “Oakland hearts Orlando” and danced away as Cher’s “Do You Believe in Love After Love” blast through the sound system, bringing joy to the crowds when smiles had been hard to come by.

One group of ladies, including Katie Pratt, were at the game proudly wearing the A’s promotional LGBTQ rainbow headbands and flashy knee-high socks, shouting “Lesbians for life!” down the corridors of the Coliseum hallways.

Pratt, an Oakland native, dubbed a local celebrity by her close friends, famously married her girlfriend Maria Perez on ABC’s morning show “Good Morning America” during their Wide World of Weddings live stream- where in 24 hours, 100 couples married their partners on live television throughout the world.

Always outspoken in regards to fair and equal treatment, Pratt and her group of friends simultaneously agreed that they would not hide from enclosed spaces or be afraid to go out into public and show their pride. Adding to that, Pratt says she will not shy away from who she truly is under the threat of violence erupting.

Neal also appreciated the pregame ceremonies and that the A’s donated money to multiple LGBTQ programs and allies throughout the Bay Area:

“The pregame ceremony where the A’s honored the victims was tough. The one thing I’ve learned through the terrorist attack in Orlando is that the LGBT community and its allies far outweigh the terrible people in this world.”

She adds:

“Orlando really affected me. That really struck home because it’s like, that could have been anyone in any city at any time. A hateful action like that brings the community closer and forces us to be more absolute in our resolve to educate people and be ourselves.”

Whether or not the tragedy of Orlando affected Neal’s decision to attend Pride Night, or how it affects those attending San Francisco Pride in the next week, Neal states that awareness is the biggest key in attending public celebrations:

“Safety is always a concern, especially at big events. I heard someone say, “My grandma told me I’d better be careful and not go to those clubs anymore. I told her that there was a shooting at my apartment complex, she want me to move from there too?” We have to be aware but we have to live our lives.”
Echoing similar sentiments was the crowd at Oracle Arena for the Game 6 watch party between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, following yet another night of gun violence – this time much closer to home.
Earlier in the month Regginna Jefferies, a 17-year-old girl was gunned down and three others were injured while attending a nearby vigil for friends that drowned a few weeks before.
The seemingly random and odd location for the shooting- the relatively safe downtown Oakland – sparked worry into some Warriors fans, who although felt safe at Oracle Arena said they would question going to San Francisco Pride and the parade had the Warriors won Game 7.
Long time friends Marie and Kawana stated that they would not be attending the potential victory parade or Pride, and advised their friends not too, either.
Kawana, a mother of four sons, was very against attending the parade had the Warriors won and having her family attend, but knew that her husband planned on taking their sons out for bonding time. In support of the much-needed father and son relationship time, she told SFBay she would let them go anyway, stating all she can do is pray for their safety:
 “I have four sons, one of them the same age as the young girl [Jefferies], my husband actually was at her funeral service. It’s very scary to know that he can be at an event and get injured. It’s always very scary, not only what’s going on with young kids and violence among one another but also what’s going on with Oakland Police Department right now and other police departments, so it’s always scary to go out in large groups.”
Marie also said that although it is not her cup of tea, she understands the want to celebrate the LGTBQ community wanting to unite over tragedy at San Francisco Pride- and should be able to do so safely without gun violence or the threat of bombs exploding nearby.
Though the barriers of the stadiums separated the two crowds, both sides were able to agree that the threat of gun violence and hatred would not stop the Bay Area from living their lives to the fullest in celebration.
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