I’ve been going to the Gay Pride Parade for about 26 years since my friend and guide Mike first introduced it to me. This year was the 45th anniversary, so I feel privileged to have been to more than half of them.
You see, then and now, I never really wanted the things most straight people seemed to expect me to want. They tolerated my punk wannabe years in college and my post-college pursuit of low-paying, yet highly rewarding nonprofit jobs in the city. But the “you should get married, have kids, and move to the suburbs” track never seemed far from the collective mind, and sometimes it felt as if they were simply waiting for me to come to my senses. Meanwhile I was making friends with unconventional people and plotting how to never, ever make that kind of sense.
And then Mike took me to the Gay Pride Parade, where I saw thousands of people being unconventional and creating new families out of like-minded friends, and forging their own paths. They were forced to, of course, because society discounted them. In a much smaller way, society discounted me too, and I found strength and inspiration in their courage. I would merely get looked down on for my choices, while they lived with the very real risk of persecution or worse every day. How could I refuse that call to find my path and to support the cause of gay rights? And, how could I possibly resist the fabulous creativity of the drag queens?
So, I signed up, and have since met a great circle of friends and have been there every year since—to be an ally, to be a cheerleader, to be inspired, and to be reminded of the courage and strength it takes to live the life you need to live. I did end up falling in love, getting married, and I brought along my then husband. And when I had a kid, I brought him along too. If my son decides to have a kid someday, I’ll bring him or her too, and bore the poor kid to death with my grandma stories: “Back in my day, everyone was half-naked and covered in glitter and pasties. Nowadays, people just look normal. It’s a damn shame.”
It’s true that every year the parade seems to get bigger and more, well, conventional, with school groups, and churches, and big corporations all marching. It’s very cool, and I’ll also admit that I kind of miss the outrageousness, but being accepted is the point. As I watched with my friend Becky this year, she recalled the earlier years when the parade pointedly went by the state house as a protest and political statement. We are here. You can’t ignore us forever. And we were right. Gay marriage laws continue to pass, and the ultimate form of acceptance has also arrived—there are gay characters and gay relationships all over TV.
Or you could judge it from kid’s point of view. A friend of mind was a kid living in Boston where he witnessed the first Gay marches, and they scared him–they were angry protests in response to the raids on gays in the Stonewall Inn in NYC. Fast forward 40 plus years and my friend Gloria’s young daughter was with us and having a grand time gathering up all the candy and the beads and Pride swag being thrown out by happy, smiling people, some in drag, many in street clothes, and a few sporting strategically placed stickers. It reminded me of when my son was that age doing the same thing, perhaps about 10 years ago. She got twice as much stuff as he ever did, and she saw a lot more kids her age than my son ever did. And neither of them were scared by what they saw.
That’s the kind of outrageousness I can get behind.