This weekend is San Diego’s LGBT (gay, for you old-schoolers) Pride Parade and Festival. This is the equivalent of a butch’s high holy days. As big as it gets – at least if you live in San Diego. This weekend is the time that hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, their friends and families, and businesses and services that support us and welcome us line up and march. After the Parade, many of those people will proudly walk into the Pride Festival in Balboa Park. This year, and the last two years, my gorgeous fiancé and I have participated in both.
Predominantly, we participate because we are doing so with my company. Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to know another lesbian attorney at my office and together, we started an LGBT network group. Sadly, this wonderful woman died shortly after we started the group – but she would be very proud of what we started together. The first year we were formed we marched in Pride and had a very small booth at the Festival. Each year since our booth has tripled in size. So, even without any other reasons to do so, my gorgeous fiancé and I, we march.
But how about the rest of you dear readers? Do you think the Pride Parade and Festival is dumb? Outdated? No, on both counts. Here are 5 reasons why.
1. Parades stand for something. It takes time, money, resources, and energy. Permits. People. Support. All of these things are representative of a community that can raise money, organize people, work within the “system” (City Hall, Police, Trash, etc.). You don’t just wake up one morning and decide, “Let’s have a parade!” and get hundreds of thousands of people to show up. Yes, hundreds of thousands.
2. It takes courage to go to a Pride parade, to watch or to walk in it, gay or not. For gays, you feel (probably correctly) that you are announcing your gayness to the world. That can be very scary in a world that, although changing, is filled with hate crimes, firing from jobs, constant media attention to rights/lack of rights, teen suicides, and worse. For straights, it’s the same thing plus, will people think you’re gay, on the down low, or just on the fence? And, if so, see the previous few sentences.
3. It’s incredibly important for gays and gay-friendly people to see that we are not alone. It is so empowering, that I still tear up every year that I look around the group that I march with and see my straight friends there with me; still get a chill when I see the throngs of people cheering, being proud, embracing themselves and their friends. The PFLAG group is always a tear-jerker. These are the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Think of it as a wonderful support group for the families and friends of us gays. They will have lots of signs like “I love my gay son,” “My lesbian granddaughter is awesome,” and the always super cool, “I love my 2 Moms (or Dads).” For a community that has so often lost family when coming out of the closet, this contingent is always moving. Also, this year in San Diego, members of our armed services will march in full uniform for the first time because of the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Talk about a pride-inspiring moment.
4. It gives the gay-friendly businesses a chance to prove it. Car dealerships, realtors, plumbers, lawyers, and other service people will march in the Parade. The message is: “We love our gay employees and our gay customers; come work for us and patronize us – not those other guys who aren’t here.” A more recent phenomenon is that national brands have stepped up to the plate and are eager to show the gay community and their allies that they are welcoming and celebrate diversity. Certainly, there are long-time supporters like Budweiser and Miller (dating way back), but now there are companies like Albertson’s, AT&T, Cox Communications, Cricket Wireless, Hewlett-Packard, Jack In The Box, Johnson & Johnson, Orbitz, Qualcomm, Sempra Energy, Sony, T-Mobile, Vons and Wells Fargo in the Parade and Festival (at least in San Diego, but other cities as well, I am sure). This visible support is incredibly important to us gays. It means that you stand for equality. Not just tolerate it. It means that we want to be your customer – not your competitor’s. Oh, and as a community, we’ve got money and we are loyal. Pay attention if you work for a national brand!
5. Some of us in the LGBT community get frustrated by the media’s obsessive coverage of the, shall we say, “freakish” fringe at our Pride Parades and Festivals. You know what I’m talking about. This is the flamboyantly gay man in a thong on roller skates with a rainbow feather boa. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The dyke on a big bike with no shirt on. The West Hollywood Cheerleaders. Someone in assless chaps walking someone else on a dog collar. Right? You know who I’m talking about.
We get frustrated because these people don’t represent us gays – that is to say, they are not a typical representation of us. And yet, that is all the media will show on the evening news. Why? Because it’s the evening news and they specialize in the fringe, the salacious, the “other.” Pictures of my family marching down the street would not be voyeuristic and provocative enough – even had I dyed my Mohawk into a rainbow.
But also, these people are “us,” and can of course also be found in the straight community. Straights just don’t have this kind of parade where people can let their freak flag fly. If they did, we’d see the same cast of cool and interesting characters. Plus, these people don’t always dress like this. The dude on skates might be your accountant. That dyke on the bike is a surgeon. The guy in the dog collar works at Starbucks. Pride is the weekend when our community celebrates, and everyone celebrates differently. I got my hair done so my hawk would be tight. Someone else pulled out her “Vagitarian” t-shirt, which she only wears on this day each year. To each her own. Freak flags and all.
Anyway, the freakish fringe is no reason not to celebrate. Embrace it. If anything, our beloved freaks make the rest of us look regular and boring. Not such a bad thing for a community still struggling for acceptance within the broader mainstream.
This weekend, I proudly join hundreds of other people (gay, straight, and otherwise), service organizations, schools, police, sheriffs, firefighters, churches, temples, businesses, politicians, and the military to march 1.5 miles through the streets of San Diego in front of 200,000 onlookers for one purpose – to celebrate being gay or lesbian.
So, no, it’s not dumb or outdated to march in a Pride Parade. Maybe someday it will be unnecessary to have a parade showing the world that we celebrate being gay, but until then, march away!
It’s butch to be proud. Be Butch.