DAVID WEBB The Rare Reporter

While Pride parades in other big cities can tend toward the wild side of things, Dallas keeps things milder and more ‘family-oriented’

Of all the sacred institutions in the Dallas-Fort Worth LGBT culture, there is none more inviolate than the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade in September, produced by the Dallas Tavern Guild.

Just the hint of anyone wanting to change the date, the time, the route or the structure of the parade is akin to sticking a finger in a wasp’s nest.

If that happens, stand back because a blitz of stinging barbs will soon be flying.

With the parade scheduled to kick off Sept. 19 at 2 p.m. for the 27th year in a row, organizers, sponsors and participants plan for it to go off just the way they want it. The staging of the city’s largest parade is a complicated, time-consuming process that usually starts as soon as everyone has recovered from the most recent one — in other words, almost immediately.

It’s big business, and a lot of money changes hands during the parade’s orchestration, promotion and production.

This year’s parade, themed “One Heart, One World, One Pride,” likely will flow pretty much to plan, thanks to the generosity of the corporate sponsors, Andrews beer distributing, Smirnoff, Heineken, Jagermeister and American Airlines.

Of course, every year there’s some kind of glitch, such as the year many of the members of one high-profile political contingency arrived drunk, creating chaos for parade organizers. Then there was the year an acrobatic group got carried away with its performance and wouldn’t move forward, prompting threats to ban the group from future parades.

But unforeseen technical difficulties aside, this is an acutely-organized, expensive event that is unique in comparison to other Pride parades seen across the country.

Its origins were similar to other gay rights parades, but the Dallas event has evolved over the years into a promotional vehicle that has greatly benefited the LGBT community in terms of gaining public acceptance.

The Dallas parade is tame, almost bland, in comparison to the ones staged in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Those parades, which generally occur during National Gay Pride Month in June, often trend toward the wild side of our culture, whereas in Dallas it’s more of a family-friendly atmosphere.

It’s the type of parade that straight public officials are comfortable taking part in because it’s mostly non-confrontational. It’s not offensive to anyone other than the evangelical Christian fanatics that like to hang out at the parade’s end in Lee Park, jeering at the participants, which for years have included the mayor, City Council members, the police chief and other city department heads.
It’s a celebration, not a protest.

That’s why the recent launch of the Facebook page “Take Back Dallas Pride” — an offshoot of a national movement — is unlikely to draw much support locally.

The organizers of the movement argue that the 40th anniversary of the first gay rights parades in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco in June 1970 should see a return to the roots of those first marches.

Those events were protests, complete with signs and angry voices demanding equality and an end to official and professional harassment.

Because of all of the major strides that we may be close to accomplishing, such as the long-worked for dissolution of the military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the passage of a gay-inclusive federal nondiscrimination employment act, the organizers of the movement want the Pride events to become more militant this year.

That’s not the Dallas way these days. But it does make some sense to me.

It would be an accurate reflection of the past and a return to where we started.

Just like everywhere else in the country, the gay rights movement in Dallas began with people who were fed up with discrimination and harassment from police officers and prosecutors, who in the 1950s and 1960s were still raiding parties in private homes and arresting and prosecuting people for nothing more than same-sex dancing.

That first parade in downtown Dallas, decades ago, got the attention of a lot of people, and more importantly, it empowered a whole generation of local people to get involved in the gay rights movement.

What started off as a small group led by drag queens grew into several hundred marchers who were inspired to step off the sidewalk and join the march.

We wouldn’t be where we are today if it hadn’t taken place.

So I’m thinking maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to get a little more brazen this year — carry some protest signs and scream a little in demand of equal rights. When you get down to it, isn’t that what it’s all about?

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice who lives on Cedar Creek Lake now. He is the author of the blog TheRareReporter.blogspot.com. He can be reached at davidwaynewebb@embarqmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.