It’s been more than a few years since Michael and I attended the Pride Parade or the Pride Festival. One friend, seeing the pics I was posting to twitter, commented, “I thought you didn’t like going to the parade any more!” And I had to explain that it wasn’t a matter of liking, but more a matter of trying to get both of us up and moving early enough on a Sunday to get there.
I like the parade.
I like it so much, that one time I attended three in one year. San Francisco and Seattle weren’t on the same weekend that year (they’re usually both on the last Sunday in June), and the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Chorus (of which I was a member) sang a joint concert with the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Chorus for Pride weekend. So Ray (my late husband) and I flew down to San Francisco, went to a lot of pride events, I sang in the concert, and we watched the gigantic parade. Then, back in Seattle, we marched with the chorus in Seattle’s not quite so big parade. Then, about a month later, we spent a long weekend in Vancouver, B.C., where we watched and cheered a much, much smaller (but extremely enthusiastic) Pride Parade.
When I started dating Michael (a few years later, after Ray died), he was a bartender at a lesbian bar down in Tacoma. Tacoma didn’t usually have a parade, though they had a pride festival a week or two after Seattle’s. For several years he had had to work on the day of Seattle’s Pride Parade (he said it was always a weird night, because half the usual crowd was up in Seattle at our parade and parties). After he stopped working at the bar in Tacoma (by which point we were living together), he got a job at a non-gay bar in Seattle. Working late Saturday night and having to work again Sunday made attending the parade less than fun for him, though he did let me drag up off to it a couple of times.
Then we hit this long period of either having too many other things going on, or one or the other of us being sick, or just not quite up to getting up and moving in time. So we missed a bunch.
Watching most of the parade today (we only watched for three hours… there was still a bunch of parade to go, but we wanted to get to the festival in time to see George Takei on the main stage), the thing that struck me is that the parade has become even more ordinary. I’ve described my first pride parade before, noting that while there were outrageous costumes, more than a few near-naked people (though actually less than most non-gay parades I’ve attended), and so forth, the majority of people marching and riding floats looked pretty ordinary: people or all ages, shapes, and sizes in t-shirts and shorts or jeans. That’s decidedly more true now than it was when we last attended more than eight years ago.
I believe that is less about gays assimilating into mundane society (as some have suggested), as it is about corporations assimilating to the idea that inclusivity is good business. The first parade I attended had a few contingents of employees of some of the large employers in the area, but only a few. This year I saw groups of employees from several major banks, mobile phone companies, grocery stores, airlines, cruise lines, wineries, insurance agencies, restaurants, et cetera, et cetera. About half of the contingents, I would say, were groups of employees. And the standard ensemble for those groups is a t-shirt identifying their employer with pants or shorts.
There were still plenty of the non-profits and recreational groups, and those were where you most often saw the more outrageous costumes (though the Market Optical float was the one with the most scantily-clad go-go boys). There were scantily-clad people, including a large group of people on bicycles and roller skates wearing nothing but body paint. Most of the naked bikers were painted to look like characters from Star Trek. It didn’t occur to me while we were watching the parade that they had probably decided to do that because George Takei was the grand marshall.
I should mention the unpleasantness. Back when the Parade was on Cap Hill (aka, the Gayborhood) every parade I marched in had some “Repent sinners!” protestors. Except most years it was one grim-faced bearded guy holding up a sign at one corner, saying nothing. A couple times he had a small group, but that was it. Apparently now that we’re in downtown Seattle we now get an entire mini-parade of haters. According to the people standing next to us, last year or the year before there were some very angry confrontations. Now a couple of bicycle cops follow along. The haters walk the route before the parade officially starts. It looked like a lot of them, with a lot of signs and one guy with a bullhorn.
I say it looked like, because once I realized who they were, I simply turned my back on them, and refused to look at all. Michael did the same, except he glanced over when a lot of cheering broke out: two womyn ran out into the street and kissed in front of the bullhorn guy. Apparently it happened a lot along the route.
Now I feel a need to digress a moment, here. While I am a fierce advocate of free speech even for people I disagree with, here’s the thing: the Supreme Court has ruled that we have the right to exclude the ex-gay groups and the pedophile groups from marching in our parade, and the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade has the right to exclude gay people from their parade. So, why is it, when the streets have been blocked off because we have a permit for a parade (and we are paying the city for the police to route traffic, and so forth) that we can’t exclude these people from the route that we’ve paid for for the duration? Instead of escorting them so angry faggots won’t attack them, shouldn’t the police arrest them?
I know all the reasons why we shouldn’t push for that: we should show more tolerance than they do, they’ll milk it for fundraising and propaganda purposes how they’re being oppressed, and so on. But you know darn well if we showed up at their church on a Sunday morning and starting reading a “How To Come Out To Your Parents” pamphlet over a bullhorn, they would call the cops.
That’s enough about the bad stuff.
There’s so much more I could share. I kept trying to get a non-blurry picture of the guy skating as gay Batman. He was with two others, one was the joker, and the other had some Superman emblems mixed with other things. As far as I can tell the three were just skating up and down the full length of the parade, so they passed us several times. Then Batman crashed into a woman standing next to us. No one was hurt. It got a little funny, because she kept asking him if he was all right, and he said not to worry about him but was she all right? And that went back and forth several times.
There was a very shy little kid who wanted candy, but would hide whenever anyone who was passing things out tried to give them to him. There were fun floats. There were several bands and drum and pipe corps, including the Police Department’s drum and pipe corps. There were several groups with pets. Lots of youth groups. Lots of trans* groups. There was a troop of librarians doing synchronized maneuvers with book carts. There were kids, lots of kids. And of course lots and lots of rainbows.
It was a great parade. And I’m so glad that we’re marching through downtown now, and filling the Seattle Center with hundreds of thousands of people, instead of cramming smaller crowds into the gay ghetto. I do want to support the businesses up there that have always been ready to answer the call of all the queer non-profits over the years. And since we have three parades now, we can! I think next year we need to make an effort to attend the Dyke March on Saturday and/or the Trans March on Friday.
Because it’s been a long, long time since I did three parades in a single year…