Ridgely Brings Event Experience to SF Pride
The new executive director of the organization that oversees San Francisco’s Pride parade and festival has been on the job just over a month, and is concentrating on sponsorships and retaining the group’s longtime contractors to ensure a safe and fun event at the end of June.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Bay Area Reporter last week, George Ridgely said that his background in helping run large outdoor events in the city means that he already knows the major players in terms of working with city officials, law enforcement, and community groups.
Ridgely previously served as operations manager for the Bay to Breakers foot race and was executive director of the Castro Street Fair. Those two events, combined with running his own gala production company, Pink Collar, means that he has eight or nine years of experience.
Ridgely, who said he applied for the executive director position for the third time following last year’s resignation of CEO Earl Plante, said that he had long sought the challenge of running one of the largest Pride parades in the world.
"I applied before, third time’s a charm," Ridgely said. "I’ve always been interested in it. As an LGBT person, I had my eye on Pride. I love what I do and there are only so many large scale events to do."
Ridgely, 50, identifies as gay but likes the word "queer," he said.
He said that it doesn’t bother him that he was twice passed over for the top job. In the past, it was different boards of directors that made the final hiring decisions.
"In all of those situations the board did a very thorough job. I met with operations people and staff and I feel they made their decisions based on the information they had," he said.
After the last few years of upheaval with the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, Ridgely is looking to focus on the parade and festival before branching out into other endeavors. Fundraising and soliciting sponsorships, he explained, would remain a year-round activity. Previous executive directors had sought to incorporate speaker series and other events throughout the year, but financial and management issues have prevented those from taking place in recent years.
Ridgely said he has a "pretty well-rounded idea of what takes place" at Pride. Over the years he has marched in the parade, been on the main stage, attended the VIP party inside San Francisco City Hall, and gone to the festival. Last year, he had a unique vantage spot inside the bunker on Turk Street inside the Office of Emergency Services.
"I’m so glad I did that now," he said.
The Pride organization relies on corporate sponsorships to cover much of the cost of the parade. The organization, which has a $1.7 million budget, also receives some city funding. In addition to the controversy last year of the previous board’s rescinding grand marshal honors for Chelsea Manning, an Army private who was convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, there was some debate in the community about whether Pride should seek corporate sponsorships, which is also the main reason Pride remains a free event, although donations are requested at the festival gates.
"I have not found the temperature to be anti-sponsorship." Ridgely said of the board. "I think everyone on the board realizes that sponsorships are key to the event."
Funders and sponsors, he continued, want to meet Pride leadership and the first thing they ask, he said, is about his background.
In recent years, social media and tech companies have been Pride sponsors - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was spotted in last year’s parade - but since then tenants and others have taken issue with what they see as tech workers forcing out longtime residents and an uptick in evictions that many link to the tech sector as well as the development of several market-rate condo buildings.
Ridgely said that he would welcome such companies as Pride sponsors.