Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reflections on Gay Pride Day

On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, as was routine back then. This time, however, the patrons fought back. The rioting that ensued is credited as the birth of the modern gay/lesbian rights movement in the United States and other countries around the world. The last Sunday in June is celebrated as Gay Pride Day (also simply, “Gay Pride”) in many American cities, unusually involving a parade and festival of some sort.

Not surprisingly, a lot of podcasts and blogs have been talking about Gay Pride, since it’s Gay Pride Month in the Northern Hemisphere (some cities hold their events on other weekends, so as not to conflict with bigger cities’ events, or because of other reasons, like local climate). Some of the commentary I’ve seen has been about how Gay Pride’s time has passed. Some have said that it’s all well and good for younger people just coming out, but for those who’ve been out awhile, well, it’s all just so passé.

To be sure, the online world has changed everything. Gay men can log onto any number of online sites where they can find other men to hook-up with. How this is in any way evolution from the days of cruising in bars is beyond me, but it’s a fact. As gay men have left the bars for their keyboards, bars have closed, taking with them not only the vibrant nightlife, but also the community they supported, including GLBT newspapers and even community organisations.

“Well,” some will say, “we’re all beyond that now, and we don’t need those institutions. We’re far more accepted now.”

Oh, really? Recently I wrote about a young gay man who was killed in a hate crime, but his killer will serve only 18 months in jail. I wrote how a shameful 36 percent of Americans feel that there should be NO legal protections for gay relationships.

Then, too, the news recently reported how researchers confirmed the existence of structural differences between the brains of gay men and heterosexual men, and between lesbians and heterosexual women. Speculation resumed immediately that this difference may be caused by hormones, and that means that one day they’ll be able to “fix” it.

GLBT people are not accepted by the mainstream in America: It doesn’t value our lives, our relationships or even our very existence. If you think otherwise, you’re fooling yourself.

And what of Gay Pride Parades? For years they were a sources of strength, the one place and time in which the queers would outnumber the straights by hundreds—or even thousands—to one. There was a power in that, even though the effect was, more often than not, simply to make people feel better about themselves. When the crowds cleared, people returned to their lives, and even those who were more cloistered than closeted nevertheless adopted a cloak of invisibility to the rest of the world.

When I was young and newly out, and also newly out in the bars, people would comment on the guys who’d get a boyfriend and retire from the scene. As an activist, I used to wish mightily that gay couples—especially those who’d been together for years or decades—would come out to the bars sometimes to show the rest of us this was rather common.

I was reminded of this recently when I heard some people say that they don’t need Pride Parades because they’re happily coupled. That’s probably true, but just maybe the Pride Parades—and those who are attending for the first time—need them.

I know that I’ll never convince anyone that Pride Parades are necessary, nor that everyone should take part in them if they can. But there’s one last point I’d like to make about them.

Very often you’ll hear some gay person complain about how the only people who go to the parades are drag queens or leather daddies. They won’t, as so many have suggested over the years, go to the parades to change the ratio.

But our enemies don’t make those distinctions. To them, we’re all the same defectives, and they truly believe that at any moment we’ll live up to their stereotyped images of us. So, my final question is this: If our enemies see us as all the same, as one big colourful community, why can’t we?

Happy Pride!

Related: A long and powerful post, "Watching the Defectives" over at Joe.My.God


lost in france said...

I, for one, am in favor of Gay Pride. There is always some more terrain to gain in the fight for equality and, for me at least, Gay Pride is good to remember that I am part of a wonderful, colorful community.

This is true, even if the French don't believe in communities. At least that is what they will have you believe. A symptom of what Daniel Borrillo talked about in Saturday's "Le Monde" as part of the societal homophobia here?

Roger Owen Green said...

I was having dialogue with GayProf on this topic, more last year than this. My general sense is that it's NOT passe esp. in the smaller cities.

Arthur Schenck said...

Yeah, I agree, and I think it's still necessary, especially in places that lack freedom and justice, but even in places that have it for the community aspects. Building stronger links in and among communities has got to be a good thing, I think.

d said...

I believe that "Gay Days" are still quite popular in Disneyworld (although held in early June). Esp since such a high percentage of Disney employees are gay.