gay pride parade

[Written around 2002]

Two weeks ago I marched in my first gay pride parade. I marched in the San Jose Gay Pride Parade with members of the local bar association LGBT committee. The parade route was only five blocks, and took no longer than fifteen minutes to walk, but the experience will last a lifetime.

The crowd along the parade route was thin. In some places the crowd was no more than one or two people deep. But they cheered us on with 110% of their effort.

My group had no performance to give. We merely walked along, holding our sign. But the crowd cheered at us and supported us, because we were gay, and because we had helped to progress society to the point where we could march down the street and be cheered, and not booed.

As we passed a handful of religious protesters, the chorus which was marching behind me began to sing a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. It brought tears to my eyes.

Two weeks later, I watched the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Because the San Francisco parade is so much larger, and takes place in a gay mecca, I expected my emotional experience at the parade to be magnified. Sadly, it was not.

The first contingent to pass was Dikes on Bikes, which was a phenominal mobilization of hundreds of gay people, and was truly moving to watch. About thirty minutes later, the PFLAG contingent passed where I was standing, and I yelled out "Thank you!" to all of the parents. I almost cried at the sight of the signs that said "Proud parent of a lesbian" and "I love my son."

But beyond those two contingents, there was no emotion for me in watching the parade. I found myself cheering for contingents based not on their contribution to progressing the gay community, but rather on how well they performed a routine, or how much effort they put into their costumes. And some of the contingents got no applause, because it was not apparent who they were, or what connection they had to the gay community.

I reflected on the history of gay pride parades, and specifically the parade in San Francisco. The parade started in 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which was the birth of the modern gay rights movement. As I watched the parade, I realized that the contingents receiving applause were not the contingents which advanced the gay rights movement, but were the contingents which had enough money to build an attractive display. Some contingents which have had a tremendous impact on gay rights received little applause.

When I was driving up to the San Francisco parade, I thought about small cities, and cities which are not gay friendly, and the gay pride parades they have. I wondered why they even bothered to have a gay pride parade. Now I know why. Gay pride parades are not about numbers of people, or numbers of floats. They represent the progress we have made. And oftentimes smaller parades represent that progress better than the large commercialized parades.

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