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    June 25, 2008

    Getting through Gay Pride puberty

    Posted by: Chris

    Parisrainbowthumb It’s Pride season again and this grumpy gay man is wondering when we’re all gonna grow up already. For years now, a lot of us Baby Boomers and Gen-X’ers have watched as the whole Gay Pride thing seemed in arrested development – all rainbows and pink triangles, just like our baby Prides lo those many years ago.

    Back in the day, Gay Pride parades felt edgy – even dangerous. As recently as the early ’90s, when I came out, gays were non-existent on television and the butt of jokes in the movies. AIDS was going full-tilt, mowing down a generation of gay men and scaring the bejeesus out of those of us in the one that followed.

    I still remember how my heart was pounding when a hot summer afternoon traffic jam back in 1990 forced me practically into the parade route for Atlanta Pride. I circled the gayborhood in my car for an hour, sun visor down and heart pounding.

    A couple of years later, still neither out nor proud, I rode my bike along the outskirts of Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., and I remember being shocked (shocked!) that Laura Branigan had agreed to perform for these perverse masses.

    Since then, of course, gay has gone mainstream and the new generation gays seems blissfully non-plussed about what all the fuss is about. We’ve gone from Jerry Falwell hissing at Ellen “Degenerate” for coming out on prime time to the Republican candidate for president coming on to her daytime chat show to wish her well in her pending nuptials.

    But have Gay Pride events and their accompanying movement matured along with the culture? For years now, big city Pride fests seem geared more for the suburbs and surrounding region, places where coming out is still edgy and being proud can still be dangerous.

    It’s maturation only in the cushy couch potato sense. Those energized calls for equality of yesteryear – the air filled with chants of protest and counter-protest – have been replaced by crass commercialization and corporate sponsors. Even the bible-thumper with barely legible placard seem to be phoning it in.

    With the exception to a few political bromides and opportunistic candidates, most Pride stages are fluff entertainment these days. There’ll be folk rock for the dykes; bad drag and disco for the fags.

    All that’s not bitter, just descriptive. If Pride still helps clear the closets of suburbanites, small town queers and rural gays, while even raising a bit of homo and hetero awareness, then it’s better than harmless fun.

    The real problem is that our gay civil rights movement also seems trapped puberty, or worse yet gone fat and complacent, losing any connection to those of us who’ve been “out” longer than we were “in” at this point.

    There’s a dangerous disconnect here. The deep and broad cultural advances we’ve made as gay and lesbian Americans have not been matched by political and legal advances. At the federal level, there’s not a single gay rights law on the books – still. Congress has refused to protect us from discrimination at work or at home, and even hate crimes meant to terrorize us go unchallenged except as petty crimes.

    What’s worse, Uncle Sam himself is still discriminating against us. Not only are our valid marriages and civil unions refused any federal recognition, but our brave gay service members still risk discharge even as they risk their lives.

    The political party that calls itself our friend and champion took back the Congress almost two years ago, and yet even the most benign legislation on our behalf remains as mired in the mud as ever – despite bipartisan backing and overwhelming public support.

    Despite landmark gains in the courts and some select state capitals, the D.C. beltway remains the blackhole of the movement, sucking up millions with nothing to show for it. The bloated organization that sits at the head of our movement pays outrageous salaries to its top executives – more than a quarter-million dollars annually to its leader alone and six-figures each to almost another dozen – even though their signature achievement is to have none.

    When workplace and hate crimes bills died an ugly death this year, the “largest gay political organization” issued a press release – thanking the failed leaders of Congress. Do we really think we will “nice” our way to equality?

    Hoping we’ll forget the broken promises of the 2006 election, the Democrats and their apologists at the Human Rights Campaign are claiming anew that this is “the election our lives depend on,” as former HRC chieftain Elizabeth Birth has been saying every November since anyone can remember.

    All that’s not bitter; it’s descriptive  -- and angry. If only some of that energy will rub off on all those g.d. rainbows.



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    1. Lucrece on Jun 25, 2008 3:04:07 PM:

      Pride parades do very little to coax suburbanites and those living in more rural places to come out. When you see such frivolous, opulent, and childish displays of "PRIDE", you want to run in back to the closet. Very few would like to be associated by their families to lascivious, ridiculous-looking leather daddies and drag queens.

      Most importantly, Pride Parades have become commercial events, not political ones. This is merely consistent with gay culture, decidedly more frivolous and hedonistic than other cultures. I will bet you anything that most queers won't even be informed about their political/legal landscape. Whenever they find themselves in an debate, most often than not they put their foot in their mouth.

    1. Tim on Jun 25, 2008 5:09:45 PM:

      I think they are fine, they help build a sense of community and keep people aware that they are not alone. There's nothing wrong with an event moving from political to commercial, hell we still celebrate Christmas and that can't get much more crass.
      Like the internet there are groups present you would never have anything to do with but who knows maybe you'll find a reason to join a bicycle club or run into an old friend.

    1. Lucrece on Jun 25, 2008 5:39:53 PM:

      The exception being that Christmas is not intended to be about a message from a movement. It's a day of celebration and meditation, not about mobilizing a political agenda.

    1. Charlie on Jun 25, 2008 5:54:17 PM:

      I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with Pride parades and festivities, and the commercialization of them is a hint at our mainstreaming... and I assume the mainstream is what we're fighting to join. Perhaps the festivities are a distraction, but gays love to party, and there's no reason we shouldn't.

      I do think the parades no longer even remotely serve the purpose they were created for, though. My understanding of their genesis was that there was a time that there was absolutely zero mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, and gays were driven into dark corners where they would be routinely terrorized by police or homophobic groups, and powerless to do anything about it, and the assumption all around was that being gay was shameful and something that should be kept secret. The pride festivities were a public mobilization of a previously invisible group announcing, figuratively and quite literally, "We're out and we're PROUD of it."

      Now our political landscape has changed, mostly for the better, but to cling to the word "pride" as if it refers to our current situation is to hold our movement back. Simply stating "I'm gay and proud of it" is complacent when we could be striving for so much more.

    1. Scott on Jun 25, 2008 7:11:12 PM:

      I agree with you Chris that little has been achieved with respect to gay rights and I would say culturally too.

      GALLUP: Should gay relationships be legal?
      1982: 45% yes, 39% no
      2008: 55% yes, 40% no

      GALLUP: Is homosexuality acceptable?
      1982: 34% yes, 51% no
      2008: 57% yes, 40% no


      The gay rights struggle is far from over legally or culturally. Gay liberation marches must continue, there are many gay people who are closeted. Gay kids need to know they are ok and to have positive validation.

    1. The Gay Species on Jun 25, 2008 9:08:02 PM:

      It's one thing to meet in gay bars, it's another to see one million gays and lesbians, joined by friends, family, and colleagues, stand on Market Street from the Ferry Building to Civic Center, and hope our numbers might keep Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, and Mel White FAR from manipulating us for their respective agendas. Some homophiles recoil when the proverbial half-bed truck with gay men in tight thongs gyrate to Sylvester, under the illusion that any Gay Pride event comes near a New Orleans Mardi Gras.

      I RECOIL from homophiles who have no sense of history, no respect for those trail blazers who made the lives of others easier and freer to be open. I RECOIL from homophiles who cannot find a voice of authenticity for the belief only ONE VOICE speaks for all. In other words, I often recoil most at homophiles who are duplicitous in their double-standards and myriad demands of "entitlement." I RECOIL over men so afraid of any male not their perfect image, or inferior in masculinity, to the Al "Goldman" Parker who is "butch" enough to take motorcycle handles up his ass, but never content that another male, lovingly might do the handle better; to those who watch and RECOIL: THEY AIN'T GAY, they is queer. One reason it is still GAY PRIDE, not another moniker.

      Don't bother us with your presence. We all appreciate it.

    1. Allan on Jun 26, 2008 1:39:43 AM:

      Chris, you can attempt to inoculate yourself from charges of bitterness by denying it twice, but bitter is as bitter does.

      You sound as alienated from the community now as you were when you were a self-loathing closet case.

      Try loving people a little more and judging them a little less and see how that works for you.

    1. Kevin on Jun 26, 2008 9:00:57 AM:


      Spot on and absolutely right. We won't "nice" our way any further than niceness has gotten us since Bill Clinton's election in 1992. We have to hold both parties to ever higher standards and leverage them to deliver on political promises and show results. Otherwise, we are indeed rolling over and accepting an unacceptable level of powerlessness, symbolized by the way in which our Pride celebrations are turning ever more inward, more segmented, more driven by consumption and marketing rather than action and real consciousness. I think you've written a very provocative piece here. We are at a tipping point as a community, I think. This election might just turn out to be more of a test of us than the political candidates before us.

    1. Kevin on Jun 26, 2008 9:17:11 AM:

      p.s. - Elizabeth "Birth"? Freudian slip, perhaps? :-)

    1. ClydeOnline on Jun 26, 2008 9:54:08 AM:

      Gay Pride has issues. Perhaps it needs to be segmented, so that leather pride and other groups have prides more reflective of their subgroups, and ordinary gays have a pride that is representative of most gay men, not the fringes and the exhibitionists.

    1. SeaMex on Jun 26, 2008 2:11:08 PM:

      I just don’t get the “Just sit in the back of the bus and keep quiet” folks. I am not one to sit in the back and just keep quiet. No one has the right to tell me where to sit. Thank God for folks like Rosa Parks and yourself. Our Civil Rights are being violated and this just must stop. It’s not with liberty and justice for SOME.

    1. Hawyer on Jun 26, 2008 3:24:52 PM:

      Chris - while I totally agree with you on the arrested development of our legal landscape, I think you need to lighten up on Gay Pride:

      Here in Atlanta - I've seen the annual Pride Parade evolve from a motley crew of cliched leather daddies and dykes-on-bikes to an utterly mainstream party - attracting about as many straights and gays. EVERYBODY goes to the Pride parade.

      But perhaps most importantly, is the huge presence of corporate sponsorships, emblematic of the "symbiotic" relationship with the gay community and its employers. A few case in points here in Atlanta:

      Delta - Hell, if weren't for us homos, those planes would never get off the ground.

      Wachovia & Nationsbank - Count the gay tellers and account managers - whoa, talk about the money connection.

      Federated Stores - Can you say retail queens? They'd have to shut their stores.

      Home Depot - They don't call it Homo Depot for nothing. Even this rock-ribbed Atlanta-based company now offers domestic partner benefits.

      UPS - Oh those ripped gay delivery boys; your fantasy knock at the door is all over the road here!

      While the politicians out-craven each other on our rights and protections - the corporations have an altogether different agenda: the bottom line - and we homos are lining their pockets.

      TALK ABOUT SUPPLY-SIDE ECONOMICS! While this may sound like a Republican - I think the market now outdistances the politicians in taken us into the fold.

    1. Geena on Jun 26, 2008 4:27:18 PM:

      >Kevin - This election might just turn out to be more of a
      >test of us than the political candidates before us.

      Back on the leverage topic, when those who support Obama and Democrats are unwilling to be critical ( public financing switch ),
      they have no reason to listen.

      Evangelicals don't let their political allies skate on the issues. Their sharpest criticism is often saved for weak kneeded conservatives. Thus Republicans fear evangelicals walking away.

      At some point GLT's need to put more political fear in someone besides HRC and Budweiser.

    1. Scott on Jun 26, 2008 5:05:45 PM:

      To the other Scott: I would argue that the movement in those numbers has more to do with more people coming out than gay pride parades. Nowadays most people know someone gay. 1982? Not so much.

      I can remember my father saying -- when I was a closeted teenager -- that "those people should be shot" when watching footage of a gay pride parade on the national news.

      Now that he has an out gay son, he openly supported a gay woman in his small town church when she was attacked by some other church members for who she is. I assure you that change didn't result from a gay pride parade -- it happened in spite of them.

    1. marty on Jun 26, 2008 5:38:49 PM:

      I see the disintegration of purpose for the PRIDE parades as indicative that there really is *no* gay "community" at this point -- what progress we have made in society is countered by no longer needing to be cohesive amongst ourselves. The GLBT alphabet soup may present a facade of unity, but individually none of us are in this together -- we have devolved into cliques and cults and then there are those of us who just want to live our lives quietly.

      The mainstream perceptions are based on what gets seen in our "ghettoes" and that ilk of our movement makes the most noise, and is seen most vividly in the PRIDE parades. The people who are really making progress are living quiet lives amidst the "normal" people in the small towns and suburbs, the *non*-ghetto areas of the cities, in between the coasts, and living working class instead of the hedonistic extravagant ideal that gets paraded (pun intended) as what classifies as our "common denominator".

      PRIDE parades were once about uniting all the different factions of GLBT life, instead now they just seem to be celebrations of our corporate sponsors and god-awful dance music. Most of the noisy youth in the parades would dub me as OLD since I am 38, but many my age are bewildered by what we see that youth getting up to in the name of "equality". Drugs and partying, leather and drag, none of that has anything to do with my life here in Michigan.

    1. outpostah on Jun 30, 2008 5:06:33 PM:

      Chris, sometimes I think you make silly arguments like this to drive up your page views. It's not fair to judge the legal and political progress of our community by the number of federal laws passed. Since the years you skulked around Atlanta's pride, millions upon millions of gay Americans have gained legal protections in housing, employment and partnership rights. And those substantial and extremely quick changes continue to lay the groundwork for changes at the federal level. And the groups you decry, the ones headquartered in D.C., some of them can absolutely lay claim to much of this success.

    1. Nimmo on Jul 4, 2008 11:21:02 AM:

      Pride parades are a thing of the past, wasteful and counterproductive. The absurd costumes and antics embarrass me and I'm no shrinking violet or prude.

      As Chris pointed out, there's no concomitant political energy to match the tomfoolery that passes for "activism" during parade season.

      If only we could get 1% of the anger and determination to be harnessed for political involvement I think we'd be in full possession of our civil equality.

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