It's a testament to the power of these images that even someone who has never been to a parade will have some familiarity with them. They paint a collective picture of one giant Mardi Gras-like party stocked with shirtless go-go bois on floats, Scantily clad lesbians on loud motorcycles, Drag queens in two story tall heels, and rainbows and glitter flying everywhere.
Now...everyone will have their own opinions about what pride celebrations mean. For some, it is simply a celebration. For others it may be a mind blowing first peak at a gay life. And there are those who have criticised it as being more about selling high priced alcoholic beverages and rainbow covered swag than about promoting gay rights. Some see it as a sideshow complete with rainbow colored clowns... and we all know about the crowd that condemn it as an act of "celebrating sin" and view it as an example of "the homosexual lifestyle"...as if we run around in speedo's and balloon costumes everyday.
Since it is Pride Month...or Gay History Month more accurately...I have been taking some time to reflect on what it all means to me. "Gay Pride" can be a phrase that has become so loaded with cliches and judgments that it can be hard to find the meaning. What does Pride Month mean to me?
I don't tend to think that way I grew up is terribly uncommon for a gay man. I come from a fairly religious family with conservative views in a time when the only way gays were portrayed in media was as comedic relief or as something to hide you children from. By the time I was old enough to go to a parade on my own, I was taking with me a truckload of and stereotypes. I may have been out and already had my ideas about gay people challenged somewhat by then but one of the feelings I remember vividly feeling was fear. These were the "bad people" that my Momma warned me about right? And here I was in the thick of it.I was with my very first boyfriend and a good female friend and I was out in the big bad world on my own. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once.
What I experienced on that day is forever engraved in my memory because it shattered those preconceived notions of what it meant to be gay. It wasn't because there weren't men wearing nothing but a pair of chaps...or drag queens...or topless lesbians...the sex was there but so was much more. There were couples who had been together longer for decades(something I thought impossible at the time), There were gay seniors and Veterans, Churchs and schools marched, and yes...there were gay families. It was all more than I imagined it would be and I began to understand the incredible spectrum of the LGBT life and why it is symbolised with a rainbow. I sorta grew up in that moment. It was about life and all the people in it...and I had finally found my place....oh, and a hearty love for furry guys...lol. But beyond the spectacle, I had no idea of the meaning or history of a pride parade.
Pride circa 1978...
Now...I love to read up on gay history. There are so many holes in our collective history as gay people that many of do grow up on a metaphorical island. That said...trying to relate events you were not present to see first hand means that mistakes will be made....so it will probably here...be patient with me.
Before there were "Pride Parades" there was the 70's and Gay Liberation Marches, gay-ins, and Gay Freedom Day. These were events that were more activism than party. The Stonewall Riots had just occurred and gay men and women were beginning to get the idea that they didn't have to be....no, shouldn't be...invisible anymore. We had enough of being put in mental institutions and given shock treatments, enough of being arrested and roughed up by police for no good reason at all, enough at being made to feel as if there was something we needed to feel ASHAMED of. These events were acts of defiance against a society that treated us as if we deserved all the bad things they did to us. Without the decades of shaming that gays and lesbians had been made to feel...without the violence...there would have been no need to create a day in which we literally stand up to be seen...with pride. And so...time marched on and with it came change. Liberation marches became more of a celebration and a party than a demonstration. They took on the name "Pride Parades" yet they were still moments to not hide from the world...put on your makeup, your feather boa, your leather(or take some of it off) and show the world who you are....Don't be invisible.
Even though Pride events may have become a party event to rival Carnivale and Mardi Gras...the heart of it remains the same. Underneath the glitz and sequins, behind we are human beings worthy of love and respect. We are fully human in every respect, including our sexuality and have learned to embrace, not shame that. We are every culture, every religion, every color. We are your family and your friends and all we desire is to live that life the same way that you do.
But before we could even get to that level of conversation we had to push back. Were some might see an overly buffed up man in a speedo dancing on a float and only see that as a sexual scenario(and it is..thankfully)...but there is also the layer of history underneath that is sending a message. He may be there showing off for the crowd, completely unaware of everyone who has marched that street before him. But he is also sending that same message of push back. Coming out of out of our closets and saying "we will not take this anymore" was one of our first steps too equality...it makes not difference if it's the activists of the seventies or the party goers of today. This fundamental message laid the ground work for many things we enjoy today...including my marriage and my ability to blog these experiences to you.
So after some considerable time thinking about it...this is what pride means to me. It does not mean that I am so special that I deserve my own day and a parade to go with it. It means that we will not be invisible anymore. We will not go back in closets. We will not let you shame us for existing. We will live in the open. We will love who our hearts call us to...and we will reach out to the world to share who we are. We will demand to be treated equally. And yes...sometimes we will cover ourselves in glitter and dance on a parade float (but not me mind you..that would be frightening).
Until next time dear readers...