By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., CSCS, SDL. (He/Him)
The Pride Cheerleading Association is an affiliation of member teams from all over the country who are united by a common philanthropic mission: to raise spirits, awareness, and funds for causes and charities in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.
PCA was conceived in 2004 as a natural evolution to the growth and development of community based and LGBTQ+ inclusive, adult charitable cheerleading programs. The history and origins of LGBTQ+ inclusive charitable cheerleading goes all the way back to 1980 in San Francisco when cheerleading coach, Guy Andrade founded the “Hayward Raw Rahs”. The Hayward Raw Rahs were a group of gay men who formed the first LGBTQ+ centered adult cheerleading group where they would perform at local pride festivals in San Francisco and Oakland. A partnership quickly formed between the Hayward Raw Rahs and the San Francisco Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence when the Sisters invited the Raw Rahs to perform at halftime at the first of the Sisters’ basketball fundraisers. Throughout the 1980s, the Sisters hosted four basketball fundraisers at the Kezar Pavilion with hundreds of spectators in attendance to raise money to support LGBTQ+ causes, charities, and non-profits. The Hayward Raw Rahs performing at each one and immediately laying the foundation that evolved into charitable cheerleading.
In 1982 the first Gay Games was held in San Francisco and the Hayward Raw Rahs were there from the beginning to perform and entertain the crowds while raising money for charity. They also attended the 1986 and 1990 Gay Games held in San Francisco and Vancouver respectfully. In 1993 the Raw Rahs changed their named to CHEER San Francisco, became a performing unit for the Jon Sims Center of Performing Arts and officially incorporated as an official 501©(3) non-profit organization. Cheer San Francisco went on to perform all over the world and for some high-level audiences, including the 1997 presidential inauguration, the SF Giants World Series Victory Parade, and during halftime at the Golden State Warriors.
In 2000, CHEER San Francisco formalized their philanthropic work by forming the CHEER FOR LIFE fund, including adopting an official mission statement and working platform. They went on to partner with the Lesbian and Gay Bands Association as the LGBA’s first and only partner organization, both touring the country to perform. At this time, CHEER San Francisco was truly spreading the spirit and by 2001, Both CHEER Los Angeles down the coast, and CHEER New York across the country was officially founded with the same mission of charitable cheerleading. Cheer New York went on to establish the New York Spirit Fund and in 2004 Cheer San Francisco established the Cheer for Life Foundation, INC which laid the foundation for the Pride Cheerleading Association.
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Just before the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, the Chicago Spirit Brigade was formed and for the first time, members of CHEER San Francisco, Cheer New York, Cheer Los Angeles and the Chicago Spirit Brigade all came together at Gay Games and performed together under the Pride Cheerleading Association banner.
The Pride Cheerleading Association was formally established as a 501©(3) organization with the mission to “advance charitable cheerleading globally by creating community, developing resources, and spreading cheer in pursuit of equity for every individual in LGBTQ+ spaces and beyond. PCA is an affiliation of Member Teams that raise spirits, awareness, and funds for causes in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.”
Under PCA’s four pillars of purpose to develop new and existing teams, support teams and their volunteers, unite member teams and their volunteers, rally for LGBTQ+ causes; PCA began to expand with its four core teams growing and performing all over the country and world. By 2010, PCA organized the first formal cheer competition at the Gay Games in Cologne which stunt groups within each of the teams were invited to perform and compete for medals. CHEER San Francisco, the only cheer team to have attended every Gay Games since the beginning, became the first cheer team to win Gay Games gold, which they won twice in both of the competition categories.
During the 2010s, new teams coming out of Salt Lake City, Seattle, Washington DC, Tacoma, Colorado, Austin, Portland, and Philadelphia were formed. PCA performed at the 2019 World Pride in New York City for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots where members representing all PCA teams joined in the parade. In 2019 PCA also started hosting an annual cheerleading competition at the Sin City Classic where they also organize the cheer bus (our managing editor, David “Dirk” Smith was invited to join, check out the 2022 recap and 2023 recap) to tour other sports as part of the Sin City Classic festival to perform cheers and stunts while raising money for a local LGBTQ+ charity. PCA member teams and individuals (check out Beau’s and Valina’s features) have been recognized on several occasions at the Compete Sports Diversity awards and have been active participants in several Compete Sports Diversity summits.
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While the Covid-19 pandemic slowed things down a bit, PCA and their member teams have come bouncing back and are on the move again, with new member teams, Sacramento Cheer Elite and Cheer Miami joining in 2023. PCA is gearing up for the 2023 Gay Games in Guadalajara and the 2024 Sin City Classic both of which will have a PCA Cheer Bus AND a PCA cheerleading competition (the cheer competitions are OPEN and FREE for spectators!). Every year PCA member teams are welcoming new athletes and volunteers to join their teams and working to develop new PCA member teams in many other cities and states all around the country.
Photo Credit: Federation of Gay Games/ Doug Litwin