San Francisco Pride Cat 2023: Where Bike Messenger and LGBTQ+ Culture Meet

In many places, June is Pride Month, or simply “Pride”. What started as a series of civil rights riots in June of 1969 after a police raid of a gay bar in lower Manhattan called “The Stonewall Inn” has become much more. It is now a worldwide celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and the continued demands for basic human rights. For context, it was against the law in the ‘60s to serve alcohol to gays or lesbians in New York City. Legal or civil protections for any part of gay life were essentially non-existent worldwide. Being openly gay was an invitation for discrimination, abuse, or worse.

And the rainbow flag that’s become synonymous with not just Pride but also LGBTQ+ culture as a whole? It didn’t exist yet. That came along in 1978, invented by a US Army veteran from Kansas named Gilbert Baker. The other ubiquitous symbol, the pink triangle, was first used by the Nazis in concentration camps to indicate that the bearer was a gay man. The Nazi laws against homosexuality stood in both East and West Germany until the late ‘60s. Unified Germany would continue to imprison gay men until 1994. The pink triangle itself was co-opted by the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement in the early ‘70s to become a symbol for their resistance against discrimination and their campaign for equal rights.

While many things have changed for the better over time, many things have stayed the same, or have even seen their courses reversed. In 2023 alone, over 417 pieces of anti-gay legislation have been introduced in American state legislatures. And In 64 countries it is illegal to partake in gay “activities,” which is to say it’s illegal to be gay.

In San Francisco where I live, the rainbow flag and pink triangle are everywhere. LGBTQ+ visibility in general is very high. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected politician in California, came to prominence here. The Castro neighborhood has long been a center of LGBTQ+ culture. And, for the third year running, cyclist Alana Mari has run a Pride-centric Alleycat race called “Pride Cat”. Part bike messenger alleycat race, part Pride celebration, part community awareness/fundraiser, Pride Cat is a celebration of two of the largest parts of Alana’s life: fixed gear cycling and gay culture.

Alana only discovered cycling—and fixies—three years ago during the COVID pandemic. In that short period of time, she’s become an active member of San Francisco’s vibrant fixed gear community. I asked her about her rapid dive into cycling, why she decided to throw Pride Cat, and what Pride means to her as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I also asked four Pride Cat riders and two checkpoint volunteers what Pride meant to them. It’s easy to get caught up in both the popular culture and the politics of Pride, but to the people for whom it’s not just a symbolic event, what does it mean? Keep reading to find out.


Alana Mari, Pride Cat Organizer, She/Her

Why did you want to throw an alley cat, specifically? Also an alley cat around Pride?

I didn’t really discover bikes until the pandemic, actually. I didn’t grow up riding bikes. I learned how to ride one after high school, which is very late for a lot of people. When I moved back to San Francisco for the pandemic, I was like, “I need to get around the city. I don’t have a car. I never used my gears in college. Let’s get a fixie.”

So I got my first fixie and I rode around alone for a long time. You know. Pandemic. You don’t want to be around anyone. Then, I went to some group rides and met people through Fixie King’s expeditions, other fixie fools who like to ride hard and fast. I think, for me, riding is fun and riding fixed is REALLY fun. That’s when I learned what alley cats were.

Initially I didn’t know what they were. I didn’t grow up watching the MASH videos. I didn’t really ever know that messengers played games like this. I did my first alley cat pretty soon after meeting a bunch of people in the fixed gear community.

But when I did my first alley cat, I was like, “this is the shit!” Navigating through the streets and using your brain power to figure out the best route is just so stimulating to me, especially being from the city and knowing the city streets. It’s just so much fun. You don’t have to be the fastest. You have to plan your route really well.

And then, one of my homies asked, “Do you want to throw a Pride Cat, like a Pride alley cat? There’s never been one. Why don’t we do it?”

And I was like, “All right, that sounds good. We’re both queer. We’re both in love with alley cats. Let’s do it.”


After the first year he left and then I’ve just been doing it since. This is my third year doing a Pride Cat.

What is the goal for Pride Cat?

Well, one, it’s a fundraiser for the Transgender District. I think they’re a great organization who are founded and led by trans women of color who are doing important work for the community. So, it’s a fundraiser for this awesome organization.

Two is that it brings people together for a good cause on bikes. I just love bringing people together on bikes.

And it is also to celebrate Pride. I think that as a queer person, it’s important to me to use my privileges in ways to benefit other people in our community. That’s the way I’ve seen that I can use my privilege of organizing power, connecting with other people, and getting people on bikes to come together. If that means organizing a fundraiser for the trans siblings that we have in our community, that is what I’ll do.

In light of that current state of America, how important is Pride?

It’s crucial.

I think for us in San Francisco and people who grew up in San Francisco, we see Pride as a fun celebration. It’s a good way to be proud and come together and have a fun time. But for a lot of people in other states it’s actually about human rights. So it’s crucial. It’s not just about coming out here to have fun. It’s not just a party.

It is totally connected to politics and to human rights and social issues that not only affect people in the other states, but also around the world, because homosexuality is still criminalized in many countries. Trans people are killed in our country every year. 2021 was the deadliest year of fatalities for trans people worldwide. So it’s not just coming together and being proud of each other. It’s also realizing that this is crucial to people’s human rights.

Adrian Moreno, Checkpoint Volunteer, He/Him

What does Pride mean to you?


Din, Racer, She/They

What does Pride mean to you?

I think It’s a lack of inhibition, and also expressing joy.

Cres, aka “Skirts”, Racer, They/Them

What does Pride mean to you?

I think it’s an opportunity for people who’ve been really wanting to represent themselves in a certain way to have that nice starting point, you know, having the community all come out and just let yourself be perceived as you wish.

Not a lot of people have the courage to do that spontaneously. We’re all a community and we need to support each other. I know for a lot of people those stripes are a generic thing, especially in a city like this where it started out, but it has a deeper meaning.


Nathalie, Racer, She/Her

What does Pride mean to you?

Existing and living life in the first person, not the third person. It’s my first pride.

Li, Racer, They/Them

What does Pride mean to you?

Pride means being myself and not being afraid to show who I am.

Abrahan, Volunteer, He/Him

What does Pride mean to you?

What pride means for me is basically just, you know, you can be yourself and have the power to express your feelings.

Devin, Racer, He/They

What does Pride mean to you?

What Pride means to me is to be truly confident in yourself. To know who you are and to feel empowered by that. And then to move forward with every step knowing that you are who you are and that there’s power within that.

And it’s great to hold that power.

When it was all said and done, 83 racers attended Pride Cat. Some rode fast, very fast. Li, the winner of both WTFNB and FIXED classes, covered 31.15km/19.15 miles in one hour and three minutes (01:03:00). Others, like the entire Bicycle Book Club crew, took a decidedly more party pace. $2,025 was raised for the Transgender District to support economic, cultural and housing programs for the transgender community in San Francisco. Just as importantly, for people like Nathalie who was celebrating her very first Pride, events like Pride Cat create safe spaces and communities in which they can be one simple thing: Themselves.

About the images

I had originally planned on doing another set of combined 4×5 film/medium format images like I’d done for the Skyline Meet Your Maker event. The Meet Your Maker set had been accidental, basically, so I wanted to see what I could do if I tried to make some with intention. As with all things, life is what happens when we make other plans. I used my Intrepid 4×5 field camera, a hand-modified (by me) brass lens from the 1890’s and Ilford Ortho+ film to make the film portraits and…they came out good. Far too good to mix with the color digital images. For the end piece I decided to let them stand on their own. In truth it’s probably one of the best sets of portraits I’ve ever been fortunate enough to make.

The color images were taken with my steady standby: A Fuji GFX50R and a Nikon F 35-70mm f/3.5 manual focus zoom lens. That combo just keeps working flawlessly.