In its first year downtown, the Houston parade couldn’t have been better timed, drawing record crowds
This could be nicest piece ever written about Houston by someone from Dallas.
I was in the Houston Pride parade and they did everything right. OK, there were a few things that made this Dallas queen cringe, but in the end it was perfect.
As in impeccable.
Best parade I ever attended.
And I grew up in New York, raised on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
OK, so there were no Bullwinkle Balloons in Houston, but that televised New York parade is filled with Macy’s employees holding the balloons and actors pitching plays, films and TV shows.
The Houston Parade? Held one day after Marriage Equality Decision Day, there were no actors, no employees. There was pure celebration and joy. Non-stop cheering and elation.
But while I was there celebrating with everyone else, I was wondering: What do they do so right that 10 times the number of people flock to
Houston for their parade than attend the Dallas parade? An estimated 450,000 people lined Houston’s downtown streets (later estimates ranged as high as 700,000).
What did they do so right? Lots of things.
During the day it gets a little hot in Texas in June, July, August, September, even October. Houston’s parade begins as the sun is setting.
People from the Austin parade participated with a wonderful float and asked me to let everyone know their parade is Aug. 29 and also takes place at night. So does San Antonio’s, on Saturday, July 4.
There’s one other large parade in Texas and it’s held when the sun is highest. That’s right. In Dallas, we’re tough.
The Houston parade has great floats. Lots of great floats. And not just great floats from the bars. A whole parade of great floats. Schools — like Rice and University of Houston — had elaborate floats. And the trans group. And Houston Health and Human Services. And religious groups. And companies, including a cake baker.
The companies that participated didn’t just drive their truck down the street. They, too, created imaginative floats. And the floats weren’t thrown together but were created by designers.
I marched in the parade with Keshet Houston — Houston’s LGBT Jewish group.
The front of their float was designed to look like a giant wedding cake topped with a wedding canopy. Under the canopy, Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend, the couple who married in Austin in February under court order, stood exchanging vows and placing rings on each others’ fingers a dozen times. They were followed by a klezmer band and about 75 marchers.
So where does this tradition of great floats in the Houston parade come from? One NASA employee who was in the entry ahead of us mentioned the city’s Art Car Parade. That’s an annual April event in Houston that features imaginatively decorated cars.
The NASA employee said groups participating hire designers to create great parade entries and pay big bucks for their entries.
Lots of people
Many groups brought in people from around the state. The Houston LGBT band had people from Oak Lawn Band as well as Austin’s and San Antonio’s bands. Very few of the entries were just one person in a car or pickup waving.
Virtually every entry was diverse and there was a diversity of groups. While close to 100 people were on or around or carrying banners for the Houston Trans Community, trans people participated with lots of other groups. There were a number of African-American groups, but people of color were part of almost every group.
I was impressed with the group I marched with — a group that could be very homogeneous. It wasn’t. There were white Jews, Asian Jews and black Jews. There were old Jews and young Jews. There were gay Jews, lesbian Jews, bi Jews, trans Jews and allied Jews. There was a
Jew in a wheelchair. There were leather Jews, Jews in drag and rabbis — all celebrating together.
Dallas City Council regularly participates in Dallas Pride on one of our parade’s nicest floats.
But in Houston, those who participated, appeared with a throng of supporters.
Several mayoral candidates rode, including candidate Sylvester Turner, who made his presence known with more than 100 supporters surrounding him, most carrying his signs. If his energy and outreach is any indication, Turner may well succeed Mayor Annise Parker at Houston City Hall.
Rep. Al Green, who represents south and west Houston, walked the parade route with a number of his supporters. Yes, not just city and county officials were at Houston Pride. It’s OK for members of Congress to march with us too.
The timing of this parade couldn’t have been better. The day after Decision Day by the U.S. Supreme Court. A coincidence — but brilliant.
Of course, Houston’s parade always coincides with Stonewall.
While 2,000 people marched from Cathedral of Hope to the Legacy of Love monument on Decision Day, shortly into the rally, torrential rain quickly flooded Cedar Springs Road and ended the celebration.
Lightening in Houston was just an added attraction.
“How did they do that?” people asked looking at the light show in the sky, thinking it was just another way the city was celebrating marriage equality and Pride. But the lightening was real, not a special effect and it did start to rain — right after the last parade entry passed the finish line.
Perfect planning, Houston, perfect.
This was the first year the parade moved downtown. To encourage entries, parade organizers lowered the cost to just $60 and they got their wish. Lots and lots of entries with no cutoff.
Downtown. I talked to lots of people before the parade. In fact, we were lost looking for line up, so we talked to lots of people to find where we were going. Many seemed ambivalent about the move, questioning the wisdom of taking it out of the gayborhood.
Until the parade started.
The streets were packed. Along the route were a number of high-rise parking garages. One 12-story garage was packed with people hanging out of every level, waving and cheering. A reviewing stand more than a story high was packed with people hooting and hollering. And all along the street, people stood 10 deep to see Pride.
The Houston parade attracted 450,000 people. That’s a lot of people. We turned one corner, saw throngs of people and simultaneously everyone in our parade entry just said, “Wow,” looking at the crowd.
Lots of people came from out of town. Lots of allies packed the streets. Everyone was cheering marriage equality and celebrating Pride with their LGBT friends and families.
So what was wrong?
But like I said, at one point I cringed. We were looking for Keshet, entry No. 73. In Dallas, there are taped numbers along the street to easily find your starting location. Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said the Austin parade is organized that way too.
But entry 37 was behind entry 29 and No. 42 was next to 56, with no markers telling anyone where to line up. Somehow everyone fell into line and in order. But in the end, if 73 didn’t follow 72, did it really matter? No one noticed.
One other unwelcoming element — the cops.
In Dallas, our cops love our parade. They apply to work our parade and are vetted and handpicked. In Houston, not so much. Or so it appeared. Maybe they were on high alert the day after marriage equality came to Texas, worried what some extremists might do. And rightly so.
One man with a Bible stood among the entries lining up and began screaming, “Repent” or something silly like that, and he could have gotten himself hurt, surrounded as he was by so many people who weren’t in the mood for him.
Police hauled him off, but others might have gone to Pride with something more violent in mind.
Still, I’m more used to Dallas and the large lesbian presence on the police force. They’re just as serious about keeping our parade orderly, but they’re also beaming with pride while doing it.
Numbers and ornery cops aside, Houston, best parade I’ve ever been to. Congratulations on a great Pride.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2015.