Saturday, June 18, 2005

What’s the big deal about Gay Pride, anyway?

About a decade ago, I went to my first gay pride parade. I was just coming out and figuring out what it meant to be queer. I read a lot of great books during that time, and my wonderful girlfriend, who had always been in touch with who she was, encouraged me to learn more about the gay community, issues, and the subculture surrounding queers.

So I went to my first Pride parade with my friend G. G was a little older, and whole lot more "out" than I was. He had worked professionally in the gay cause, and was an awesome gay role model for me. He and I talked about my coming out, about the early dramas of my now 10-year relationship, and his amazing stories of being gay and coming out in the decade prior, and what it meant to him as a proud, gay man.

G and I had a prime spot for the parade on SW Broadway. He wore his “I Marched on DC” 1980's-something t-shirt, taken out of the drawer and worn with pride that day. He was so excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought there’d be a few hundred fellow queers, a couple of floats, and some drag queens. My only other memory of Pride was from when I was 12, and on a family vacation in San Francisco. We discovered our vacation in the motherload of gay cities coincided with Pride weekend. (There were a few uncomfortable moments.)

What I discovered on the day of my first Pride parade, attending as a newly-found queer, was something that has and will always stay with me. Thousands of others—male, female, androgynous, old, young, families (!)—I had never seen such a cross-section together, in one place, at one time. Couples holding hands. In public! And pure, unadulterated celebration. In the light of day. Celebration for who we are. I was in awe.

G clapped and hooted and hollered for every contingent walking in the parade. Political representatives marched or rode in cars, and he ran out there, shook their hands, and thanked them for supporting us. All with excitement, happiness and pride. We danced along with the dancers on the Boxxes float. We saw people we knew marching, and cheered for them.

I saw fierce, amazing women, riding without shirts, on fast, loud motorcycles. I was in awe. I was embarrassed. I was excited. I was surrounded by people who were either just like me, or who embraced people like me. I was in a place that I felt safe. And I realized that was a very rare thing in my life. I was safe.

G and I applauded for every single marching contingent. But when PFLAG approached, G got misty. There were mothers, and fathers, and brothers and sisters, all marching in support of their gay family members. “I Love My Gay Son” was a sign carried by a mother walking hand in hand with her son. I was speechless.

And they came, one chapter after another, from Roseburg, Medford, Eugene, Portland: all vocalizing, and marching in support of those they loved. G told me how important this was, and how incredible these people were. I knew. My biggest fear at the time was coming out to my family, and not knowing if they would support me. We clapped as hard as we could, and thanked them for marching—mouthing THANK YOU when it was too loud to hear our voices. And we cried, for the families that loved their children so much to march in Pride, publicly declaring their love.
Tomorrow is another Portland Pride parade. It’s been 10 years or so since I went to my first. A lot of queers don’t “get” Pride, and I understand. I used to not get it either. But G taught me it’s about our history, about connecting with our family, and celebrating who we are. For so many of us we hide parts—or all—of our authentic selves, being queer in a straight society. Pride, historically, has been about letting that go and being true to ourselves. And seeing the thousands of others around us who are doing the same. We're not alone.

Tomorrow I’ll be true to myself, to the love of my life who will be by my side, and to the memory of G. Sometimes I think if he had been able to connect with the love he felt on Pride, he could have loved himself to keep living. But he’s gone.

And tomorrow I’ll clap for those marching, I’ll thank the politicos for making a statement by being there, and I’ll dance to the disco floats and their dancers. But when PFLAG appears, I’ll cry for G, and clap as loud as I can. And thank them.


Rozanne said...

Excellent, important post.

I've never been to the PDX gay pride parade, although I went to several in Chicago. Next year I must go!

I hope you had a wonderful time.

Joseph said...

I've never been to Pride. I've deliberately avoided it every time, and this weekend in Seattle is Pride. I've never really felt like I'm part of that aspect of Gay Culture, that I don't 'fit in', but now after reading this, I think mostly it's because I didn't 'get it'. You made me want to go, but I'm working at the Nursery all weekend for the big sale.

Kathryn said...

Great post Lelo. I wish I didn't have to work on Sunday morning and I could have gone. I'm glad that you did, and I will certainly make it next year.

I did go out and party on Saturday and wore a very cute (but butch,) white sleeveless shirt with a rainbow on it. All the girls loved it.

CarpeDM said...

This is a wonderful post and a good memory of your friend.

I had the opportunity to work at the Pride festival in Minnesota, handing out balloons and applications for products and job opportunities for the copmany I work at.

It was a great experience to be able to talk to all of these different people from different walks of life and emphasized the fact that we're not all that different. I'm straight, they're gay. But we're all human, aren't we? I really had a great time. Well, until I almost passed out due to heat stroke.