I was hurrying to get to the bus stop on my way to work recently and as I started to cross a side street I was surprised at something I saw on the other side. It looked like someone had planted a bunch of new bushes along a construction fence. This new line of freshly planted greenery was on the exact spot that only a month or so before a hedge had been removed. Clearly the bushes were going to be in the way when workers needed to start demolition work. I had been sad to see them go, as I’ve been walking past that line of bushes for many years. It made no sense to plant new ones now, because they haven’t even begun to tear down the old buildings yet, let alone start the new construction. Why would anyone start planting new landscaping now?
I crossed the street and only when I got closer did I realize what I was actually looking at. They had cut down the old line of bushes, yes. But the roots were still there in the soil. And it was spring time and there was ample sun and rain, so new growth was vigorously re-asserting itself.
I was nearly past the bushes before I decided to stop and take a couple of pictures. Looking down at all that bright green new growth bushing out around the stumps, I couldn’t help think about how tenacious life is. Cut something down, and it will grow back.
It’s hardly an original metaphor, I know. But it’s a process I’ve lived through and witnessed more times than I can count. I was a teen-ager in 1977 when Anita Bryant led her first campaign to repeal an ordinance that would protect people from being fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation. And when he supporters passed a law banning gays and lesbians from adopting or being foster parents. We weren’t even a decade past Stonewall, and getting a few anti-discrimination ordinances passed in some of the most liberal cities hadn’t been great progress, but it had seemed people were starting to come around. Then this happened.
As Bryant led successful campaigns in city after city to repeal those ordinances, it looked pretty grim. But queers and their supporters didn’t give up. People laughed when they found out that gay bars were boycotting orange juice (Anita Bryant’s primary source of income at the time came from making commercials for the Florida Orange Grower’s Assocation). Gay bars and restaurants removes screwdrivers from their menus and added a new drink called an Anita Bryant: vodka and apple juice. Reporters chuckled on air as they explained the boycott on local evening TV shows. Newspapers ran cartoons mocking the sissies for thinking that some cocktails would change anything.
But all the mocking put the information in front of people. And a surprising thing happened. Orange juice sales were hurt. People wrote to the Florida Orange Growers Association to protest their support of these anti-gay campaigns. The Association hadn’t been supporting Bryant’s campaign, but all that mocking coverage of the silly faggots and their boycott made people think they were. Not just silly faggots who brunched together and gossiped over cocktails.
And it put the issue of gay rights in the news in a different way than anyone had seen it before. Certainly I, as a seventeen-year-old living in a small town, had never been to a brunch with a bunch of queers, and I wouldn’t have known that there were actually places where the law might protect a queer person from some kinds of persecution. And the rhetoric of the anti-gay forces made a lot of people that you would never expect stand up for gay rights.
The result was that all over the country, queers and their allies formed new organizations to fight the anti-gay initiatives and referendums, and those organizations kept fighting. And people like me realized that they weren’t alone. There were people out there like us. There were people out there who wouldn’t hate us if we came out.
Unfortunately, we were then hit by the AIDS epidemic. It’s really hard to explain just how horrific that was to folks who didn’t live through it. As I pointed out in response to an online conversation a few months back, it was not simply that most gay people knew one or two people who died. It felt like everyone was dying. There were weeks when my (now late) partner Ray and I had to decide which of several funerals or memorial services happening on the same day we would be able to attend.
But even as we were dying, we fought back. We banded together into new groups like Act Up and Queer Nation and Q Patrol and many others. We banded together to take care of each other while White House press secretaries and reporters openly laughed and made jokes about our deaths. We buried our dead and we mourned and we got right back out on the streets and marched and demanded to be seen.
And the haters ran their anti-gay campaigns again. Initiatives to forbid gay and lesbian people to work in certain fields. Laws to criminalize our terminal illness (sadly still on the books in many states). Proposals to quarantine us in “medical camps.” Laws to ban us from adopting. Laws to ban us from putting partners on our insurance policies.
For every fight we lost, it just made us more determined. Like that hedge, you can cut us down, but our roots go deep. We come back, stronger, brighter, more determined to win the next battle. And every fight we won, when the opposition said, “Okay, fine, you can have those crumbs. Now be quiet!” we refused to go away.
Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God web site, every year explains why he thinks the Pride Parade is important, which he sums up by quoting the old Jewish joke about the true meaning of every Jewish holiday: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Joe then gives his Gay version of the meaning of Gay Pride: “They wish we were invisible. We aren’t. Let’s dance!”
Care to join me?
In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting, President Obama’s remarks were met with criticism from many corners, as they do, but there was a particular comment that seemed to really upset a lot of straight people on social media. This bit really got some folks’ panties in a bunch:
The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment…
Some people had a real difficult time understanding why anyone would refer to a gay bar as a place of empowerment. It’s really hard for most straight people to understand just how isolated and alienated queer kids feel their entire lives. We take a lot of flack, particularly white male queer people, from people of color whenever we draw parallels between our struggle for acceptance and equality with the struggles that racial minorities face. There are more similarities than some people want to admit, but they are correct that there are differences. And one of those differences is that isolation.
A member of a racial or ethnic minority growing up in a racist society is never told that other people like him or her do not exist. At all. Usually a person of color is aware of the existence of other people of color if for no other reason than the rest of their family is also a member of that racial or ethnic minority. They may live in a neighborhood where other members of the minority are neighbors, classmates, and so on.
Not queer kids. Until very recently, queer kids were pretty much guaranteed to grow up being told and shown again and again that every human is straight. Little boys are teased about having a crush on any girl or woman other than a close relative that they get along with. Little girls get told they will be a mommy some day. Every book, movie, television show, family anecdote, et cetera shows us again and again that every boy grows up to have a girlfriend, eventually a wife, and will become a daddy. And they tell every girl that she will grow up to be some boy’s girlfriend, then some man’s wife, and eventually will have that man’s babies.
And anyone who doesn’t do those things? Well, there’s something wrong with them! Unattached characters of either gender appearing in stories and shows are usually treated as the comic relief or as tragically alone. Lonely spinsters that everyone feels sorry for or eccentric bachelors that no one takes seriously are the least horrible futures that society tells us await us if we don’t fall in love with a person of the opposite gender and settle down.
That’s the initial indoctrination. The first level of lying, if you will.
As we get older, we start noticing other fates for men and women who don’t fit into the coupled hetero ideal. They aren’t just taken seriously and pitied, it’s worse than that. Some of those oddballs may indeed have special friendships with another person of the same gender, but that always ends in death for at least one of them. If one survives, it is as a broken creature, forever haunted by guilt and despair because of it.
The lies that we are told is that queer people don’t exist, or at least they don’t exist naturally, and those few queer people that do come about however that happens, will live lives that are filled with loneliness, despair, pain, suffering, and death. But it is a pain, suffering and death that they deserve because they are monsters.
When you are told those lies again and again; when you are made to feel like a freak any time you behave or feel anything other than what is expected; when you are not allowed to see any examples of queer people who aren’t object lessons who deserve pain and suffering—you believe it. Your parents, your teachers, your church, your neighbors, your classmates, and your siblings have all told you the same thing again and again your entire life. It must be true! There must be something deeply wrong with you, and that wrongness means that you can never be happy, never be loved, never know joy, never be accepted.
And you’ve been made to feel miserable any time that any hint of your difference has manifested. You have probably developed crushes on members of your own gender, but realized that the other person didn’t feel the same way. Or if the affection was returned, you both lived in terror of what would happen if anyone found out. If anyone has found out, there were some sort of bad consequences. One or both of your were beaten. You were forbidden to see each other. One or both of you might have been sent away or simply kicked out of your home by your parents.
So, the first time that we walk into a gay bar is usually a revelation. There are other people like you there! More importantly, you find people like you there who seem to be happy. The first visit may be a short one because you’re nervous and not sure what to expect. Or it might be that the atmosphere or theme of the place is catering to a different subset of the community than you identify with. But when you find a place that you can feel comfortable in, you see that there are people there who are living lives other than lonely and tragic. There aren’t just sexual or romantic relationships, there are friendships. People share drinks and a laugh when their life is going well, they share drinks and hugs and commiserations in times of sorrow.
And while you may not be a person who particularly fits in at the bar scene, there is still a sense of community and belonging that you can find there. One that many queer people never experienced before that.
My first few experiences in gay bars didn’t go terribly well. The first place I went to was more of a leather bar and I felt as if I’d stepped into a foreign country. My bright colored nerdy t-shirt didn’t help me fit in, but more importantly, I didn’t understand any of the non-verbal signals that were going on all around me. My second gay bar was filled with loud music that I had never heard before, and everyone was dressed in far more fashionable clothes than I could pull off. I felt like a very ugly duckling surrounded by a sea fashion models and body builders.
For me, the bar that clicked was the old Timberline. It was a mix of lesbians and queer men—a lot of people wearing cowboy boots and blue jeans. Country music was played there, and twice a week there were classes in line-dancing and two-stepping. Same-sex couples danced arm in arm, circling around the dance floor to the kind of music that I had grown up with. It wasn’t every queer person’s dream, but to those of us who are came to Seattle from the south or from rural communities just about anywhere, there were enough cultural touchstones to our childhood to make being an openly queer man dancing with another man feel like a magic transformation where the impossible suddenly seemed within reach.
That’s another reason the shooting hurts so much. Even though I haven’t been inside a gay bar in something like 14 years, the images of wounded people being carried out of the club not by paramedics, but by other people who were clearly part of the bar crowd was worse than a punch in the gut. One of our places was no longer ours.
I’ve rambled enough about this. We grew up being told we were monsters who should either not exist or be invisible. We grew up believing we would never have friends who would accept us for who we really were. We grew up believing that not only would we never find love, but that we didn’t deserve any form of happiness at all. For many of us, a queer club was one of the first places that we learned that all of those things were lies.
And it wasn’t just me who experienced that:
Every year as the date of the local Pride Parade approaches, I start seeing the comments and questions: “If you get a Gay Pride Parade, why can’t we have a Straight Pride Parade?” I can’t decide which is the saddest aspect of this question: 1) that they think this tired old canard is actually being clever, 2) that they don’t understand that 99.9% of all television, movies, news, and other public discourse is geared toward affirming heterosexual life, including straight sexuality (so every day is already Straight Pride Day), 3) that they don’t understand that Queer Pride events are about our very right to exist—an act of defiance against those who want us to be invisible or dead—not merely our right to party, 4) that no one is is stopping them from organizing their own straight pride events (even though I think they’re redundant)?
This year there is a new wrinkle. Some of my less-than-affirming relatives have (after trotting out the thoughts and prayers nonsense) urged me not to go to Pride, because they don’t want me to get hurt if something happens. They make these comments completely oblivious to the fact that the anti-gay memes they share online every day, the anti-gay initiative for which they signed the petition to place on the ballot, the angry calls they say they make to their congressperson after learning of an anti-discrimination law under consideration, and all the rest contributes to the atmosphere of hate that drives people to violence against queers.
And yes, I’ve also gotten, even in light of the most recent publicly visible horror, a few people asking me what’s the point of Pride. “You can get married, now. You won. Isn’t that enough?” Marriage equality was one very tiny battle, by comparison to what remains. We live in a world where:
- Religious leaders openly call for our deaths: Christian Pastor Hopes God “Finishes The Job” And Kills Orlando Survivors
- Politician just as openly call for our deaths: After Orlando, Congressman Defends Reading Bible Verse About Gay People Being ‘Worthy Of Death’
- People think that trans children’s use of school bathrooms needs to be policed: Kansas Bill Would Pay Students A $2,500 Bounty To Hunt For Trans People In Bathrooms (and an initiative gathering signatures in my state includes a clause like this!)
- Religious leaders who claim to preach god’s love think nothing of posting nasty anti-gay messages on their church signs: Vandalized: Georgia Church Sign That Says ‘Satan Made Gays & Transgender’ — and when a local lesbian Christian tried to help clean up the vandalism, the pastor who insists on leaving ht “Satan made gays & transgender” doubled down, insisting the lesbian is not a Christian and that she’s going to hell.
- Because people still think that even acknowledging our existence is “too much”: Boosie Badazz Thinks There’s Too Much Gay Stuff On TV
That last one is just the tip of the iceberg. It is still really common for people to react to any depiction of a queer person’s life as a queer person with, “Why do you have to show us all the time? Why can’t you just be who you are without labeling everything?”
The saddest part of this is that those people don’t think they are being homophobic at all. And they never think about the fact that straight people “shove their sexuality” in everyone else’s face all the time. Have pictures of your spouse, significant other, or children on your desk, wall, or phone’s home screen? Mention your wife or husband in casual conversation? Comment on how hot a particular actor or actress is? 99.9 percent of all movies and TV shows depict opposite sex couples flirting, kissing, and more? Routinely ask about family discounts? Expect that, of course, your spouse will be included in the company health insurance plan? Invite us to your wedding or your kid’s straight wedding? Show us pictures of yours or your kid’s straight wedding? Ever use the phrase “no homo”?
Since we get accused of shoving our sexuality in your face if we merely casually mention the existence of our significant other, we get to count all of those things as you shoving your sexuality in our faces.
Why do we need Pride?
- We need Pride because people are still trying to kill us.
- We need Pride because religious leaders are still cheering on the people who kill us.
- We need Pride because people accuse us of “stealing the tragedy” when 49 of us are murdered in a gay night club on a busy Saturday night during Pride month.
- We need Pride because people still target gender non-conforming children in schools, and now adults aren’t just making excuses for the bullying, they want to pay the bullies bounties for doing it!
- We need Pride because it’s still legal to fire us just for being gay in 28 states.
- We need Pride because people are more offended at the idea of selling us a wedding cake than they are about 49 of us being gunned down in a single incident.
- We need Pride because people get angry when other people acknowledge our existence.
- We need Pride because people get offended if we mention the gender of our significant other in casual conversation.
- We need Pride because religious parents still kick their queer children out onto the streets just for being gay, and it isn’t considered child neglect or abuse to do so.
- We need Pride because queer kids are born everywhere, not just into families and communities that love and accept them, and they need to know that they aren’t alone.
- We need Pride because the world tries to make us hate ourselves, tries to make us be ashamed to love, and most importantly tries to convince us we are utterly alone.
The only way queers like me have been able to stand up and be ourselves is because other queers before us were brave enough to be out—whether it was staging sip-ins to protest laws that made it illegal for a bartender to knowingly along two homosexuals be served in the bar, or fighting back when police raided a gay club, or picketing in front of federal buildings, or marching in the first ever Pride event in June 1970. Those of us who can stand up for ourselves now, owe a debt to the sacrifices the earlier generations of queers made. We can’t pay them back directly, so we have to pay it forward. We do that by standing up and being counted and being visible for all of the people (especially kids) who can’t, yet.
We need Pride not because we’ve come so far, but because for many there is still a long, long way to go.
And every year during May I start constructing a Pride playlist. It’ll be a mix of new songs and old. What they usually all have in common is that they are songs I like to dance to, and resonate in some way with the celebratory side of being out and proud but especially loud. Or, as Miss Coco Peru might said, a life lived out, proud, loud and just a little bit ridiculous.
Some years I feel like putting in songs that are a bit more dirty and flirty, while other years my include some ballads and either more serious or slightly darker in tone. I also throw in songs that are by artists I’ve been thinking about a lot this year. Which is at least part of the reason you’ll see both Prince and David Bowie make an appearance.
Not all of these songs will mean the same thing to you or even evoke the same feelings, of course. And you may see some familiar titles that make you ask, “How can he dance to that?” Don’t just look at the title, but try to find the exact remix by the same artist. You may find that the cover version of an old pop song you think you know has been transformed into something completely different in the particular track I’ve listed.
Anyway, this is my 2016 Pride Playlist:
- “Let’s Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix)” – Prince & The Revolution
- “Feelin’ Free” – Sirpaul
- “Spectrum (feat. Jo Lampert & Gyasi Ross)” – Ryan Amador
- “Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie
- “Reach out for the Stars” – Yehonathan
- “Revolution (feat. Levi Kreis)” – Matthew David
- “What’s It Gonna Be?” – Shura
- “Genghis Khan” – Miike Snow
- “Get Your Sexy On” – Lovestarrs
- “I Wanna Boi” – PWR BTTM
- “The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On” – Pet Shop Boys
- “Just Stand Up!” – Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Miley Cyrus, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Keyshia Cole, LeAnn Rimes, Ashanti, Ciara & Mariah Carey
- “How Deep Is Your Love” – Calvin Harris & Disciples
- “For You” – Quentin Elias
- “The Good, the Bad and the Dirty” – Panic! At the Disco
- “Desire” – Years & Years
- “We Don’t Have to Dance” – Andy Black
- “Feel So Good [Orignal Edit]” – Sean Ensign
- “Eddie Baez Donna Summer She Works Hard for the Money” – Eddie Baez Presents
- “Only Love Survives (Timothy Allan & Mark Loverush Remix)” – Ryan Dolan
- “You’re So Beautiful (White Party Version) [feat. Jussie Smollett]” – Empire Cast
- “Breathe Life” – Brian Kent
- “Try Everything” – Shakira
- “Halo (Gomi Club Remix)” – Beyoncé
- “You Are Unstoppable (7th Heaven Remix)” – Conchita Wurst
Whatever music you prefer, never forget: dance with joy, dance with abandon, dance without worrying what anyone thinks, because life is too short to waste time sitting still!
I’ve written before about how, after divorcing my wife and months of counseling and so forth I decided I needed to do something definitive or symbolic about coming out, so I went to a National Coming Out Day march. I didn’t realize until I got there that it was sponsored by Queer Nation, which was controversial for both their radical attitude but mostly (among the LGBT people I knew at the time) just for insisting on using the word “queer.” I marched, because, damn it, it was National Coming Out Day and I was doing it!
For a variety of reasons that don’t bear repeating at this juncture, my late partner, Ray, and a bunch of our friends saw me marching (actually, we were doing the Queer Hokey Pokey at that point) past a restaurant in the gayborhood. For a while I got teased mercilessly by those friends who despised Queer Nation. And while discussing why I wasn’t embarrassed to have marched with Queer Nation, I went from being ambivalent about that word, to saying, “I am going to call myself Queer if I want to, and fuck you if you don’t like it!” to one friend who was getting in my face about it.
I had been teased and bullied just as much as he had with that word (and many others) as a child. So I understood the reasons that friend (and many other people) didn’t want to embrace the term. But I had also been teased and bullied with a lot of other synonyms for “homosexual” including “gay.” And some of my friends who were girls or young women during those years had been harassed and bullied with the word “lesbian.” So if we could use those two words to describe ourselves proudly—hell, the official name of the Seattle Pride Parade at the time was the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade, Freedom Day March and Rally”—then why couldn’t we use the word “Queer?”
Another reason I happen to prefer the term Queer is because of intersectionality and bi-erasure. I’m gay. I’m a man who loves other men. I am not bisexual, despite having once been married to a member of the opposite sex (no, seriously, I mean it!). My husband is a man who is married to me, a man. We’ve only legally been married a bit over 3 years, but we’ve been together for more than 18 years. People assume my husband is gay. He is not. He is bisexual. Saying that he is gay, at least to me, feels as if it is erasing part of his identity. And I love all him, not just half of him, so I take it kind of personally.
I have a rather large number of friends who are bisexual who have married members of the opposite sex. People assume they are straight. They aren’t. Some of them have told me they aren’t terribly bothered by that assumption, but some of them really chafe under the label. I have friends who have transitioned after marrying a partner who was opposite sex when they married, and they’ve stayed together since. Calling either of them gay or lesbian again, at least to me, feels like I’m erasing part of their identity or history. I have a few polyamorous friends who present as straight, and describe themselves as mostly straight… but who sometimes have threeways with their primary partner and one of the partners of their primary who happens to be of the same gender.
And then there’s one straight friend who once told me, “Describing myself as a straight ally doesn’t feel true, because I think I have a queer perspective—and I feel a closer connection to LGBT people—even though I don’t want to have sex with another guy.”
And as I mentioned recently, in the ’90s everyone in the LGBTQ community who wasn’t a cis white male seemed to be offended if we tried to use “gay” as an umbrella term for the whole bunch. So, for the record, I’m a cis white (and old and fat) same-gender-loving man who identifies as queer, uses queer to encompass the whole community (including allies who consider themselves part of the community), and I don’t intend to stop. I mean, yeah, if you tell me that you, specifically don’t like the term, I will try not to call you that… But I refuse to stop using the term in front of you. Because it is who I am.
We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re FABULOUS!
I hear or read it at least once each year as Pride weekend approaches (or shortly afterward when people post pictures of their local Pride parade): what’s there to be proud of? Usually followed up with comments to the effect that if we are born this way, then there isn’t anything we’ve done to be gay, so why be proud? Why can’t we just be ourselves and go about our day?
The answer is quite simple: because every moment of our lives—from before we were old enough to understand—society at large (including very nearly every single person who raised us, took care of us, taught us, lived beside us, et cetera) has told us again and again that “just being ourselves” is shameful. We have been told that our very beings were wrong. Our selves are a sickness to be cured, or a sin to be despised, or a shameful secret to be hidden. We’ve been bullied, harassed, tormented, shunned, and beaten because of who we are. We have been told (and often shown violently) that our lives don’t matter. We’ve been told we can’t love. We’ve been told that those of us who do fine love deserve what happens to us when the bashers and haters decide to make an example of us.
In a world that insidiously and relentlessly drums that message into us—driving many to attempt suicide as children (and sadly for many to succeed), browbeating us into hating ourselves—just openly being our selves is no small feat.
Merely surviving all of that and managing to piece together lives of authenticity is a monumental victory over incredible odds.
That’s what we have to be proud of.
I used to react to this question by just thinking that the person was clueless. And certainly cluelessness is a factor. But I’ve also realized that it’s just another manifestation of that most basic form of homophobia. “Can’t you just be who you are and not make a big deal about it” is exactly the same as “why do you have to shove it in our faces all the time” which is the equivalent of “go back into hiding where you belong.”
The saddest part of this is that those people don’t think they are being homophobic at all. And they never think about that fact that straight people “shove their sexuality” in everyone else’s face all the time. Have pictures of your spouse, significant other, or children on your desk, wall, or phone’s home screen? Mention your wife or husband in casual conversation? Comment on how hot a particular actor or actress is? Routinely ask about family discounts? Expect that, of course, your spouse will be included in the company health insurance plan? Invite us to your wedding or your kid’s straight wedding? Show us pictures of yours or your kid’s straight wedding? Ever use the phrase “no homo”?
Since we get accused of shoving our sexuality in your face if we merely casually mention the existence of our significant other, we get to count all of those things as you shoving your sexuality in our faces. Straight pride happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, yet you begrudge queer people (trans, lesbian, bisexual, gay, genderqueer, polyamorous, asexual, pansexual, gender fluid, intersexed, gender neutral, and those who love and support us) a parade once a year?
Why am I proud?
I’m proud because they tried to drown us in lies, and we’ve risen above to reveal our truth. I’m proud because they have beaten and tortured us in the name of faith, and we’ve found the strength to show the world our love. I’m proud because they tried to smother us with fear, but we found hope in the most unlikely of places. I’m proud because we have endured hate, which has taught us how to love better. I’m proud because we have fled the shadows, and showed the world our light. I’m proud because no matter how many times we’ve been knocked down, we have gotten back up.
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…