Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Pride Unifying For Us, Exploited by Others

By Steve Charing

The streets surrounding the Pride block party and parade have long been swept and trash picked up. Pieces of wrapped candy, rainbow trinkets, beads, plastic bottles, confetti—all gone now. The grounds at Druid Hill Park have also been restored to its former state. Although those remnants of Pride 2008 are no longer, the fond memories will stay with us.

On balance, this edition of Baltimore’s traditional June extravaganza was superb. I credit the outgoing Pride coordinator, Joel Rosado, as well as the GLCCB and the legions of volunteers who made for a smoothly run, professional and extraordinary weekend of June 21-22. Phone calls to Craig Wiley, executive director of the GLCCB to ascertain his perspective on Pride, were not returned.

The parade was kicked off by the campy high-heel race. The fabulous procession that featured gay and straight-owned businesses, lgbt organizations, political groups and other clubs actually began on time. Crowds lined the short parade route along both sides of Charles Street and cheered each float and cluster of marchers.

As soon as the parade ended, almost on cue, the block party began. Thousands packed narrow Eager Street made even narrower by the food and merchandise vendors. If you didn’t know the person pressed up against you, it was only a matter of time that you did.

The block party is always a fun event. If you can manage to slither up and down packed Eager Street, undoubtedly you will encounter an old friend or two who you have not seen since, well, last year’s Pride.

Drinks flowed; people consumed the array of aromatic food, and danced to the eclectic, high-energy music performed on stage at the intersection of Eager and Charles.

The next day’s festival in the park attracted thousands more. There was less partying and not quite as young a crowd that showed up on Saturday. It was more of a family atmosphere as many lgbt folks brought their children and, of course, dogs.

People came from all over Baltimore and beyond with some even venturing from Ohio to attend the festivities.

A variety of very good entertainers did their thing as people sat or laid out on the grassy field in front of the stage and relaxed on this warm, humid day that had been threatened by ominous weather forecasts.

Pride-goers meandered their way through the park’s trails to visit a wide variety of booths that presented such notable organizations as PFLAG, Equality Maryland, Chase-Brexton, Human Rights Campaign, and as a sign of things to come, Gays for Obama.

A group representing state District 43 was situated along side the comparable folks from District 45—both districts in Baltimore. They were there to organize lgbt and supportive residents in their respective districts to form a grass roots movement in an effort to secure marriage equality in Maryland.

Merchants peddled their wares and crafts. Food and drinks were in abundance. Affirming religious organizations had booths and tables to show that you can be gay and still be welcomed by churches and synagogues. Venerable groups like the OWLS, Prime Timers and C.O.M.M.A.N.D. were in force. Even newcomers to the festival like GAY.COM were there to give away T-shirts.

Naturally, thousands of gay people enjoying themselves could not be allowed to stand by a handful of Bible thumping zealots who can cite Leviticus but most likely can’t spell it. They were harassing the crowd early on, but they were skillfully and professionally forced by Security to conduct their unwanted preachings at the festival’s outer perimeter. Some festival-goers taunted the sign-waving goofballs which, unfortunately, gained them the attention they were so badly craving.

But they weren’t the only ones exploiting our Pride for political points. The day before, WBFF-45 was among the few media outlets that covered the parade. But some saw it as an opportunity for the FOX station to offer a platform for right wing, anti-gay conservatives.

Columbia residents Rob Lance and his partner of 30 years Tim Edwards were, along with some others, interviewed by the reporter on questions ranging from what marriage plans the couple may have in light of the California legalization of same-sex marriage to what Pride meant to them. Rob and Tim thoughtfully explained that if the amendment to California’s constitution failed in November, it would bring them that much closer to gaining marriage equality in Maryland—the preferred site of their marriage.

Much of the response, however, wound up on the cutting room floor. "I think WBFF reduced all those interviews down to basically nothing of substance while giving a platform to Don Dwyer to spew his venomous and vile anti-gay B.S.," fumed Lance. "Nice that they used Pride as well as California's ruling for marriage equality to let this dumbass do his usual shtick."

With this wonderful rainbow-laden Pride celebration fading in the rear-view mirror, our community must focus on some significant issues. For one thing, the disturbing news that HIV/AIDS is increasing among young men who have had sex with other men warrants attention. I think the younger members of the community are getting too lax and feel immortal—a dangerous attitude for those who scoff at unprotected sex. We need to push hard that barebacking is unclean and life threatening.

We also have an important election in November that will determine the chances of any success on the equality front. And we should do everything we can to help fend off the referendum in California, which would stop the marriages of same-sex couples.

Nonetheless, the enjoyment of Pride is still fresh. I had been interviewed at the festival by Washington, D.C. radio station WJFK. The reporter asked me what Pride meant to me. I essentially told him that it was a time for our diverse community to come together as one and celebrate all our accomplishments through the years and look towards the future.

During these two Pride days, at least, our community is unified with a common purpose. Others, however, don’t want to see that.

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