Early LGBT activists demonstrate in South Australia in the 1970s. Pride events are a global phenomena.
Sunday will mark the 40th year the New York City gay community will take to the streets, marching to the call for equality. Similar Marches will occur in Chicago, San Francisco, across the country and around the globe, this Sunday and this month. The evolution of pride events has some activists wondering if sometimes there can be too much of a good thing?
I happened onto this very early video on YouTube. The poster didn't know when or where it was shot, describing it as only, "A Pride Parade from the 1970s." Commenters seemed to have identified it as Chicago, circa 1977.
It provides some very interesting perspective on how Pride events have evolved over last 40 years. Pride events have unquestionably grown into the best show in town. No longer a rag-tag collection of unashamed radicals and misfits, the cast has expanded exponentially. The media often aims their cameras on the most colorful participants. As such, it can be lost on the casual observer how these events have swelled by the addition of legions of more ordinary walks-of-life folks. LGBT doctors, lawyers, accountants, firemen, police, teachers and others have joined the march and are represented by their own industry-specific contingents.
We see countless straight allies, among them grassroots and larger orgs like PFLAG to SWISH. LGBT sports teams and leagues have been a staple for years, and this year in Chicago, they'll be joined by the professionals from the Cubs and the Blackhawks, Stanley Cup in tow.
Earlier decades chants of "We're here! We're Queer! Get Used To It!" seem prescient. America has. Crowd counts at the major events now number in the tens, even hundreds of thousands, of mostly cheering, supportive spectators. Tourists fly in from all over the world to see the event, often prompted by partnerships with official government tourist bureaus, who see the gold in the rainbow.
And where there are crowds, there are always those who show up to sell something. No longer afraid to voice support of our issues outside the echo chamber of our community, Democratic politicians (and even some Republicans now) jockey for prime positions.
Hissy fits Tense negotiations are staged over who gets to march when, where and in what order? The test for politicians is no longer "will you show up?" It's "will you speak and walk the entire parade, or just swoop in momentarily for a photo-op?" The LGBT community watches, and takes notes.
Also forgotten are the days where a company couldn't attach their name to the LGBT community without fear of backlash in the marketplace. Many, many companies not only support the community with their corporate policies, and market their products directly to them, they proudly pony up big bucks for top billing. Boston Pride's Corporate Sponsorship page is like a who's who in blue chip America.
It hasn't gone without notice that on the page above, the actual LGBT organizations, like "Out at night" "Rainbow Times" and "Edge Boston" seem crowded right off the page, relegated by their meager budgets to play supporting player to Bud Light, Google, Verizon and W Hotels.
Organizers' inclination to snag superstars to headline LGBT events, like Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez and Janet Jackson has even received pushback from some in the LGBT community, asking, why not spotlight members of our own community? [Although the advisability of cutting a paycheck to Elton John may be up for debate right now].
All this has led some activists in the LGBT community to ask, what's this all for? Who's it for? Why do we do this? Has all this spectacle overwhelmed the message, the call to action? Has Gay Pride been taken away from the people who started it?
Enter Take Back Pride. Operating from the perspective of "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention," they have released a video.
It includes a beautiful montage of contemporary and historical photos. The effect is uplifting, but enlightening. The message is not a scold, but a reminder of the history of these events, and to the community of the many injustices, inequities, disgraces, abuses and incidents of discrimination and violence that are still visited daily upon us. And it concludes with their simple and playful call to action:
"In 31 cities across the country, we will take back pride.
We ask that this year, you march with a purpose.
Wear your thong if you want, but carry a sign.
Put on that sequin gown, but scream about injustice as you sashay down the block.
Let's put the "March" back in Pride march.
We owe it to ourselves."
Hat's off (or thongs, or tiaras, whatever) to this group for attempting to harness the energy and creativity that goes into these marches and direct it productively. And for reminding us, particularly those of us lulled into complacency in the urban centers of progressive states, that we still need to keep our eyes on the prize, and that it still alludes us. Prizes like
open honest service for our soliders, ENDA, UAFA, DOMA repeal, DPBO, SNDA, amending the Fair Housing Act, the epidemic of gay homeless youth, and so many others. Take Back Pride's site asks you, "what indignity moves you?" and challenges you to find your own voice in the call for change.
In conclusion, there is much to celebrate that is undeniable. We've arrived in a place where many of us have the freedom to let our freak flags fly, apologetically. Or choose not to be a freak, if that is your inclination. Let us recognize that, and celebrate the hard-fought freedoms we've gained.
But let us also remember, there are still many, many places where the LGBT community does not enjoy such freedom. Let us recognize our fight is far from over.
"I am gay." Even in 2010, it only took those three little words to destroy the career of an Army Lieutenant with a West Point diploma, fifteen months experience in the war zone of Iraq and Arabic translation skills. In any language, in any state, in any country, those words are still an invitation to harassment, intimidation, discrimination, violence and even murder.
Constance McMillen and Lt. Dan Choi at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Pride Week LGBT BBQ, held at Gracie Mansion.
Constance McMillen just wanted to share a special night—her high school prom—in the company of her own special person. And her school board made it a Federal case. And even after being vindicated by the Constitution, she was still humiliated and thwarted in her attempt to be treated exactly the same as anyone else. She spoke at Mayor Bloomberg's LGBT Pride Week BBQ Wednesday night. She received a thunderous, prolonged applause.
But the warm east coast reception cannot compensate for the cold shoulder she receives at home. Constance has expressed her intention to attend college in
Tennessee. Mississippi and move to Tennessee. Her heart, apparently, lives in the south. Absent Federal legislative relief, it seems she's staking out a perilous road for herself. She is likely to pay a high price, for choosing to be both southern, and an out lesbian. This is the reality of today. The LGBT community still compromises our choices in expressing the many facets of our identity. We are asked to choose between being gay, or being southern, or being a soldier.
We've followed the struggles of a young man in this very community as he found himself unwelcome in his own home, by his own parents, because he was no longer willing to hide or lie about who he was. There's a temptation to think his story has a happy ending as he's found refuge in the supportive home of his aunt. But outside the walls of his aunt's home, Florida is no refuge. He still lives in one of 29 states where he can be fired from his job, without opportunities for redress, just for being gay, or suspected of it. [Gender identity is protected in only 12 states.] And he also is barred from adopting children there, should he want to make the choice to do so.
Gay Mormons join Los Angeles' Pride March in 1979. Three decades later, the Mormon Church played a major role in lobbying efforts to pass CA's Proposition 8.
There is still much work to do. As great as it is to see our leaders walking beside us, and as great as it is that big companies are increasingly turning a deaf ear to threats of boycotts from conservative groups, there is a reality. Our political allies' commitment to our equality often quickly crumbles (and often is excused) when faced with political realities. A Bud Light is cold comfort if you haven't got a job or a home, or the DHS is determined to deport your wife.
Ask yourself, how many years must we put on these displays until we arrive at legal parity with non-LGBT Americans? When will the government recognize our spouses—not in speeches and proclamations—but under the law? When will our troops be promoted or discharged based only on their job performance, not by their adherence to a draconian, discriminatory policy?
If you skipped the video at the top, I'd encourage you to go back and watch for straight allies interviewed at the 6:30 mark.
Opponents of LGBT equality have taken to floundering from one argument to another (witness how US General John Sheehan, having been humiliated internationally by his attempt to blame genocide on gay soldiers, has now switched to fear mongering AIDS).
But decades ago, in 1970s Chicago, our allies said:
"We want to say it's beautiful that people stand up for their human rights. Whether they are black or gay or yellow or crippled or whatever, you know. They are just as deserving of civil rights as any other group."
In 2010, his vocabulary choices may have evolved, but the message endures, because he speaks a universal truth that is both just and timeless. And in 2010, our struggle continues.
Celebrate how far we've come. Recognize how far will still have to go!
To join those who wish to commit to Take Back Pride and join the campaign, please email your name and affiliation (if any) to email@example.com. They are looking for volunteers in New York and leaders in other states and cities to TAKE BACK PRIDE where YOU live.