6.22.2009

Everybody loves a parade!

The Portland gay pride festivities were this past Saturday. The Better Half and I were otherwise committed, though we were actually in Portland at the time. Having now been in the New York City gay pride parade twice, and the Boston parade once, I was mildly bummed to have missed it, on the same order as having missing an episode of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."

I say all of this to establish my gay pride parade bona fides, which I feel are sufficient that I can criticize Cord Jefferson's article on gay pride parades in The Root. He's not a fan, it turns out.
Probably the most succinct critique of the modern pride parade is a 2001 article from satirical paper The Onion, "Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years." In it, a straight female witness to a gay pride march in Los Angeles says, "I'd always thought gays were regular people, just like you and me, and that the stereotype of homosexuals as hedonistic, sex-crazed deviants was just a destructive myth." She then adds, "Boy, oh, boy, was I wrong."

The quote, like the rest of the article, is an exaggeration, of course, but the underlying point stands. With their ribald costuming and hyper-sexualized theatrics, pride parades are certainly things of joy, excitement and bawdy humor.

But at the risk of sounding like a staid homophobe, I'm often left wondering where the pride part comes in.

[snip]

Knowing that there are people—voters who have the power to deny them rights—who will judge them based on the flamboyance of their appearance in one parade, why hasn't the gay community decided to tone down the pride festivals?
Jefferson's premise is that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s conservative attire played a role in changing the perceptions of Americans regarding the civil rights struggle. He maintains that we are at a critical juncture in American attitudes towards gay rights, and that we had best not freak people out by parading around in thongs and chaps.

I think there are a lot of things to say in response to this. It's telling that the (admittedly satirical) article Jefferson cites as validation for his point is eight years old. The more flamboyant members of the LGBT community have let their freak flags fly for lo these many years, and yet attitudes continue to change regardless. I don't think it's a big surprise to anyone that, yes, some gay men behave like epicene satyrs, and some lesbians behave like Hell's Angels with glandular issues (at least once a year.) LGBT rights continue to progress because straight people have gotten to know gay and lesbian people in their families and workplaces as our normal, boring, mundane selves.

Further, gay pride parades are a mixed bag. In addition to the drag queens and leather-clad lesbians, there are plenty of other groups marching around. As I mentioned, I've been in three parades, and I would rather drink a Drano margarita than wear a thong in public. All three times I've marched with a contingent from the Episcopal Church, twice in the company of a bishop. (Once it was the openly-gay bishop of New Hampshire, but the first time it was just the really, really progressive bishop of Newark.) For all the attention Jefferson focuses on the more hedonistic or outre aspects of the parades, most of the people marching are pretty damn normal.

Finally, as Ta-Nehisi points out in his own response to the article (which is how I came upon it in the first place), the parades are more a celebration of LGBT liberty than a political statement. Sure, there are plenty of political statements made in the course of the parade, but it's mainly just a big celebration of the freedom to be ourselves, with a little bit of reaction formation thrown in. Jefferson confuses the purpose. When we have a civil rights point to make, we usually wear ties (or military uniforms).

So, yeah. There's some spicy stuff that happens along the parade route from time to time. I'm 100% sure that James Dobson has made as much hay with it as he possibly can. In the long run, it won't make any difference.

6 comments:

  1. You make some good points, but I disagree with the MLK attire analogy for the following reasons:

    1. Jefferson's premise is not that MLK's conservative dress rallied people, but that kooky, flamboyant dress can turn people off.

    2. It's hard to believe in 2009, but during the late '50s and early '60s, I didn't know anyone who didn't dress conservatively. It was the norm.

    Barbara

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  2. First of all.... I would rather you drink Drano than to expose yourself in a thong. :) (Actually that was a very funny line and I loved it). Secondly I have to agree with your statement, "why hasn't the gay community decided to tone down the pride festivals?" Yes they are campy but also they are used by the likes of FOX News to show how we, "Really are." By the way you are a very clever writer. Thanks

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  3. Barbara, I recognize that Jefferson isn't saying that MLK's attire per se was responsible for his success as a civil rights hero. I recognize that perception shapes reality, especially in matters of public opinion. But I disagree that the debauchery of a gay pride parade (such as it is) actually has that big an impact on the attitudes of the country at large.

    And thanks, anonymous.

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  4. Anonymous, Dan has been a clever writer for nearly two decades; he really should write a book!

    Barbara

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  5. For those of you seeking proof that my mother reads my blog, I submit Exhibit A.

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  6. Hi Dan. Anonymous was over at our home today and she brought us a "Slice Of Pie" pie. She brought it as a gift as "we" celebrated our 6th civil union anniversary. Anonymous is such a wonderful person. She just has to be someone's mother. Anyway, Anonymous introduced me to your blog. I've enjoyed it so far... You do use quite a few expletives though...hahaha.

    Eddie

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