By Todd Whitley | Contributing Columnist
We have a problem.
Many have known it for a long time. Some deny it. Others — like me — who LOVE the parade are waking up to the realization that all things are not equal in the Dallas LGBT community.
A march that originated as a defiant celebration of personal expression, sexual freedom, and individuality, has turned into a parade. A parade full of rainbows, pulsating music and pelvises, and unbridled joy. A parade where straight allies and churches march along with drag queens and kings, leather daddies, go-go dancers, and all manner of lesbians and gays. A parade that people in our community celebrate with their families. A parade that now has corporations participating and giving us money to be a part of it.
And a parade that many question whether it actually reflects all LGBTQ people, whether it’s outgrown its purpose, whether it’s off-track, whether it’s even necessary.
In many ways the evolution of Pride is inspiring even as it’s troublesome.
Let’s talk about some of those trouble spots.
First off: The forebearers of the current Dallas Pride parade have maintained a legacy for the Dallas gay community for 31 years and they deserve our gratitude, especially for doing it in a time where it was nowhere near acceptable or safe to do so.
But several issues make it appear the event has lost its way — or hasn’t evolved as it should. And further, I believe Dallas is not unique in the controversy — too corporate, too exclusive, too white — surrounding other Pride celebrations.
At the predominately LGBTQ (some of us prefer “gay and straight together”) church I belong to, I would hope, in my heart, that all people of all orientations, gender expressions and races would know they are welcome. And regardless, I respect their right to organize/attend churches they might better identify with — churches that might be largely heterosexual, or mostly African-American, for example
Similarly, there is absolutely a specific need for separate events like Teen Pride, Tejano Pride, Black Pride, and in other cities, Trans Pride. These communities have specific issues to address that don’t necessarily reflect or aren’t being addressed by the at-large community. However, to drive these folks into these events specifically because they are not welcomed is a poor expression of the solidarity that should bind us.
And therein lies the problem: When we fail to acknowledge, understand or admit there’s a problem, we cannot even begin to change it.
The burden of feeling welcomed is not on the individual, it is on the group doing the welcoming or lack thereof. If someone doesn’t feel welcome, our response should be to ask why, not immediately go on the defensive and justify how we do include them. We must ask ourselves, honestly, “ Are we really actively seeking to represent everyone and do our actions reflect that?”
All lesbians, gays and transgender people are children of the Queer movement. We are counter-culture. As diverse as we are, we all want — and deserve — to be treated fairly and with equity, especially within our own community.
Some of us want to become more mainstream, while others of us want to maintain our unique queerness.
Some of us want marriage; others of us do not want to assimilate to that societal structure.
Some of us want to express ourselves with our bodies; others prefer not to.
Some of us are twinks, some are bears, some are into leather, BDSM, dressing in drag; others are not.
Some of us congregate with people who are more like us in one way or the other but I suspect most of us do not do so intentionally to exclude others.
Some of us love the spirit of a parade while others want a more vigorous march and protest.
But we are all of us QUEER. And as I’ve said before, we have far more in common than we have separating us.
Back in June, the more traditional month of Pride, Mused Magazine published an article entitled “Gay Pride is for White People” rejecting the notion that Pride is only “synonymous with white, skinny, able-bodied, cisgender maleness.” [Preach!]
I reposted this article and asked people to comment. Hardly scientific, this survey nonetheless yielded some not-so-surprising (at least to me) results.
Of the few folks who would actually wade into the debate, the white folks were somewhat mixed in their observations while every non-white person asserted Pride is at the very least unwelcoming if not downright exclusive. (Incidentally, not a single lesbian or trans person commented on my post.)
Here are some of the responses:
• From a white person: Too often the face of gay Pride is young, white, male, slender and upper middle class. I don’t think that’s an accurate image. The reality is more of a rainbow. It includes LGBTQ people of all races, gender expressions, shapes, ages and classes.
• From an Asian person: I feel that Asians get marginalized and fetishized. You are only visible if you are white and affluent. If you are a minority, you are a sex object or accessory.
• From a black person: The black community generally has it’s own Pride events, I’m thinking mainly because of the segregation that occurs within the gay community and the difference in celebration styles.
• From a white person: I personally haven’t felt or seen marginalization in the parades here.
• From a black person: We still have a long way to go with equality but I think what we are failing to realize is it starts within our community.
• From a Latino person: Every Pride event I’ve ever been to — East Coast, West Coast, Dallas, Houston —has included diversity as far as I’m concerned. But if for example someone’s going to say that my people, Latinos, are under-represented, first of all I would question that, and also I would say it’s up to my chicos to get up there on a float, not wait to be asked.
• From a white person: I do think that this issue in the LGBT community reflects issues affecting the society at large.
• From a black person: I don’t know if it’s just my city or the because I live in the South, but I don’t feel welcomed at gay functions that are predominately white let alone feel apart of the gay community.
• From a white person: As an older member of the LGBT community, I don’t necessarily feel “celebrated” by the younger ones, but that’s just how it is. There certainly is plenty of racism, ageism, and sexism in our community, and especially discrimination among the sub-groups.
Sadly, the Dallas Pride Parade’s history of all-white grand marshals propagates the notion that “Pride” isn’t for non-whites. Their recent evolution allowing the community to submit nominations is a step in the right direction but it’s not near enough.
Also deeply problematic for us is that we allow groups to give us money with one hand while their other hand is extended to those who would oppress us and continue to marginalize us or used to marginalize their own employees. I am deeply concerned that we will just take anyone’s money to support us. Frankly, if you’re going to vote against my equality or support causes that marginalize me, you can keep your damn money. Period.
And beyond our [un]intentional exclusivity, it’s important to consider what a Pride parade is all about anyway. I believe it is first and foremost a celebration. But it is also a vigorous, counter-cultural display of solidarity and assertion of our queerness.
As much as gays and lesbians have become accepted into mainstream society (we still have much work to do on behalf of our trans sisters and brothers), there is much work to do to reach a point where we are all respected for who we are — even if we choose not to assimilate.
We all love a good parade, especially a gay one. (Wait! Aren’t they all pretty gay?) But sisters and brothers, we must MARCH!
Cathedral of Hope minister — and someone I refer to as a spiritual matriarch — the Rev. Shelley Hamilton challenged us last year in her Pride Sunday sermon: “It’s time to give up parades and start marching.” [And trust: she had a LOT of other good things to say, too! “Hallelujah and Amen,” indeed!]
So, those are the trouble spots.
Here’s what I want to know:
How do other community members get involved in the leadership of the Pride celebration?
What is the organizing group doing to make sure that every single facet of our community is represented?
Why isn’t there a purposefully diverse parade committee — diverse in every area in terms of race, gender expression, sexual identity — appointed to plan the parade?
Why do we not create a morals and ethics committee to vet every single sponsor to ensure they’re there to SUPPORT our community and not exploit us.
How can we come together to create a festival that is free to everyone who wants to attend?
The parade appears to be “owned” by a group, but PRIDE is not owned by any one organization, any one race, any one sexual identity. WE — people of every gender, every race, age, HIV status, yea every group — We have done it without corporate money before and the results were world-changing. And we can do it again.
There are some people who think the “image” of the Pride parade should be cleaned up, edited. Folks, our self-expression is not what needs to be cleaned up. Our hearts need to change and our actions need to reflect that change.
I believe there is room in Dallas Pride for all of us and yet, perhaps Dallas is a two-Pride-events city. Regardless, let’s create a community in Dallas that includes everyone, that respects everyone, that holds accountable those who would proclaim to support, and that gives each other — and our allies — room to grow.
The notion of PRIDE is to celebrate who we are. To educate the community and world around us. To march proudly for ourselves. To act up.
Let’s come to the table, all of us, and start working toward that. Together.
I leave us with this:
“Each of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm. When we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.”
― Maya Angelou
Todd Whitley is a local activist who can usually be found tweeting (@toddwhitley), holding a picket sign, thrift store shopping, or eating Tex-Mex. Read his blog at tdub68.wordpress.com.