Sunday, July 19, 2015

There'll Always Be a Place For Pride

All that talk of mainstreaming, assimilating, acceptance, the loss of gay bars, and the potential loss of LGBT organizations, one has to wonder why there is even a need for LGBT Pride anymore.  Given these shifts in our own culture as well as society as a whole, I posed that very question to one of our popular LGBT leaders while we were discussing Pride.  She set me straight, so to speak.

“We most certainly need Pride to gather as a community and celebrate our identity at least once a year,” she stressed without any hesitation.  And upon further contemplation, she is absolutely right.
I guess I had been soured by what Pride has evolved into. The notion that Pride is aimed at celebrating the Stonewall uprising and the fight for gay rights is a quaint one.  It’s no longer the case.

Back in the day, that was the motivation for the parades and rallies.  Gay liberation was the battle cry.  People of all ages, genders, walks of life and ethnic backgrounds held up signs and chanted slogans.  It was indeed an assertion that gay people should not be relegated to second class citizenship and that we are proud of who we are as human beings who just happen to be LGBT.  We were not about to go back into or remain in the closet because straight society would like us to.  It was a day to proclaim our identity, and we demanded the rights that others enjoyed.
Ironically, these demonstrations proved to be counterproductive.  Opponents of such rights were aided by the media’s coverage of Pride parades with their ratings-conscious focus on the more flamboyant and exhibitionists among us.  This served to feed the stereotypes to information-starved heterosexuals who found comfort in this selective portrayal.  It reinforced their beliefs; their bigotry had been validated.

As key victories began to amass, the political and emotional impetus for the Pride celebrations that was so evident in the first three decades following Stonewall have all but dissipated.  No longer do you see numerous placards and banners with compelling messages.  No longer do you hear political speeches from officials clamoring for equality. 
Sure, there are folks going around soliciting donations or asking people to sign up on organizations’ mailing lists and perhaps sign a petition or two.  But it is no way the same as the grass roots movement that carried us through those difficult years.

“Where can we drink?” is the operative question.
Instead, our Pride festivities, especially the block parties, have become similar to other events that celebrate ethnic or national identities.  We get the crowds, the music, the food vendors, the entertainment and the booze.  No political speeches and no serious subjects are engaged publicly.  Make no mistake it has become a party, plain and simple. 

This is no one’s fault, mind you; it is now what most attendees want and expect.  The GLCCB, which runs Pride and who needs it to succeed to keep that organization afloat, is simply satisfying the demand.  “Where can we drink?” is the operative question.  If there was a ban on alcohol, how many would still show up?

I may be old school in that I appreciate our LGBT history and try to understand how our movement has been shaped.  But I love a party just like anyone else.  I just need to recognize that the current generation does not see these celebrations through a historical prism.  It’s sad because of the sacrifices made by our LGBT pioneers and that these folks and their efforts are not recognized at Pride events.

Nonetheless, I will continue to celebrate Pride by acknowledging the distance we have traveled and the progress we have achieved.  Nobody thought five years ago that marriage equality would be the law of the land but it is.  Nobody thought we would see a transgender person making a speech to primarily a sports audience on national television that received a standing ovation and the degree of widespread praise it garnered despite a pushback from within and outside the LGBT communities.
We must acknowledge, however, that much work remains.  We need a federal all-inclusive anti-discrimination law.  We need to address the disproportionate amount of LGBT youth who are homeless and bullied and to deal with the reasons why these kids are still unaccepted by their families and schoolmates.  We need to strive to end the harmful outdated nonsense called reparative therapy.  We must convince our younger generation that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is far from eradicated and risky sexual behavior remains dangerous. 

We must also be wary of the backlash stemming from our success on the marriage front, and expect that we will be used by Republican presidential candidates during the campaign to appease their bigoted voters.  
A little less division within our own community would be helpful.  When one part of our community succeeds, we all succeed.  When one part fails, we all fail together.  Strong leadership is required to help galvanize our communities the way it once was in those early post-Stonewall Pride celebrations.

Pride should be an opportunity to reflect upon these challenges.  But it’s a party now, so having some fun is not all that bad either. 
Happy Pride!

1 comment:

Don said...

Well written Steve. You're right on the money. How so many of the new generation forget it was after the Stonewall that caused the movement. And now seems to be just a party. There is so much more that needs to be accomplished as you stated.