From the early protest days to today’s air of celebration, Pride parades have always served a purpose, and they always will
Every year at this time as I get ready for the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, I ask myself, what the heck am I doing?
Years ago when the Tavern Guild assumed the responsibility for the parade, I began cynically calling it the "Bar Pride Parade." But I have mellowed since then and have rarely missed the event, either as an observer or a participant, and primarily the latter.
So why do I do it?
As I put on my leather vest and high boots in the still steamy temperatures of September, I ask myself that question a lot. But I still do it. I still march or ride down Cedar Springs, waving at the crowds and tossing beads and candy.
I suspect the reason is this: I remember a time when I denied my sexuality and tried desperately to fit into the "standard model" that society encouraged. I pushed my attraction to men and my proclivity for kink into the closet and lived pretty much like most straight folk.
It didn’t last. I came out of that closet by kicking down the door.
I now know it was a perfectly understandable reaction to sealing up all those feelings. I wore my sexuality on my sleeve and refused to hide it from anyone.
I marched in those early parades not so much in celebration but in protest of the inequity I saw toward me and my brothers and sisters. We marched with our fists in the air and chanted slogans of anger at the prejudice we had felt.
We were proud of our sexuality, but we were mad that we couldn’t express it like straight citizens. So we gave voice to that frustration in an open and very visible display of who we were.
In time, that became less of an angry protest and more of a celebratory event. That is a healthy evolution in my opinion.
Being LGBT citizens and having one day when we can parade down the city streets for everyone to see is a liberating act. Contrary to the derisions of the "A-Gays," I believe that dressing up in leather or drag or club kid clothes and making a spectacle of ourselves is a good thing. It lets the world know that we are a broad spectrum of people with a range of sexual and affectional twists that are indeed different from the "standard."
It shows the world that we are unashamed of who we are and who and how we love. It puts a very visible face on the LGBT alphabet soup of our community. It also encourages others to share in the celebration with us.
As the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade kicks off again this year, there will be thousands of people lining Cedar Springs to watch the floats and general festivities of the parade. Many of those folks who come to watch are part of the LGBT community, too, and that’s no surprise.
What is a surprise is the vast number of straight men and women who attend the event.
Sure, some of them are there just for the swag. Parade participants annually throw tons of plastic beads, souvenirs and candy from the floats. It is as close to Mardi Gras as Dallas gets.
Still, many who attend come just for the fun and festivities, and that’s good, too. What is especially positive is the number of families who attend.
Now let me add a caveat here: I suspect a lot of those families explain to their kids just what all the barechested men and drag queens are all about and some do not. Kids might not even know that the glamorous women on the floats and in the convertibles are not what they seem; some might figure it out.
What is important is that these families see the event as part of the fabric of the city and enjoy the celebratory atmosphere. Those children will grow up having been part of yearly celebrations of diversity.
That is what the parade is really about — celebrating diversity — and that is why I have come to accept the move from Gay Pride Month in June to September.
It makes the parade a clear and separate event from the Million Gay March in June and that’s a good thing. The June march and rally is about equality and demanding our equal rights. It is a very political and very much needed event that reminds people of the glaring legal inequalities that still exist for LGBT people.
Though the Pride parade may have a political theme, its primary focus is celebration, and that is a good thing as well.
That celebration means we as a people have embraced our sexuality and find nothing wrong with it. In fact, we put it on display for everyone to see and that act can be as profound as the protest march in June.
Together, these events give a face and a voice to the LGBT community that would otherwise be missing.
I am reminded of a time when I was a child, a long time ago, and I asked my mother, "Why is there a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day and no Children’s Day?" She always replied, "Every day is Children’s Day."
Well, today I understand that every day is Straight Pride Day. So it’s fitting that at least on a couple of days a year we can express our pride.
Perhaps someday when we really have equal rights, the protest marches will no longer be needed. But the celebration of the Pride parade should always be a part of who we are.
Now get on your rainbow T-shirt, your drag or leather, and join the celebration! •
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2009.