Cathy Renna

Pride, Parties, Progress and Perspective

Filed By Cathy Renna | June 25, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Christopher Street Liberation Day, Gay Liberation, Pride, Stonewall, visibility

This is a big Pride week for me, my family and colleagues. We spent time at Capitol Pride in Washington DC last weekend and this week is New York Pride. While exhausting, it was more fun than work to be at the LGBT Center's annual Garden Party, the only LGBT tasting event (I mean food, people) and with over 2000 people, major politicos, celebs and activists in attendance, it is the official NY pride kick-off.

The week of event and parties culminates in what I think is the best and most genuine LGBT Pride parade in the country (sorry, SF). I'll be lucky enough in the front with the Center (a Grand Marshall this year, celebrating their 25th anniversary) and SAGE (hoping that they may let me ride on their fabulous trolley since it is a looooong way down 5th Avenue).

But for all the fun, there is a very serious side of this for all of us.

Every June, I try and take some time to reflect on that kind of progress we have made - each year I watch closely to see what has changed in our communities' climate and mood. Sure, marriage is the big thing this year - but let's try and have a little perspective. I think there are a few things we could look at that will give us that.

The first - an exciting find for anyone interested in community history - is some 8MM film of the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March in NYC from 1970, which was given to the LGBT Center by a SAGE member and had been digitized and made available. It is a great example of that adage about "the more things change...."

In June of 1970, a year after the Stonewall Riots, a march took place on what was then called Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day. It went up one lane of traffic on Sixth Avenue to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. As part of their Center based television program, there are 2 episodes of "Out at the Center" that focus on seniors and include the footage of Jerry Hoose, who was at the very first Gay Liberation Day and documented it.

I encourage you to take a look:

iPhone users: Click to watch

iPhone users: Click to watch

We have the privilege at Renna Comm to work with both the Center and SAGE, but this is more than a plug, this video is both a wonderful testament to our history and an inspiration to us to do more.

What I hope looking at this video does is help us get past some of the rhetoric and frankly, blatant corporatization of our movement. Look at the faces in this crowd - mostly white with some diversity, more men than women, having a great time but heavier on the party than the politics. I know, that is what a parade is supposed to be - but it begs the question of how little we have changed or matured. Unless, of course, you count the large corporate floats in the parade nowadays - which is great when the corporations support our community with resources, but make me feel like we are more of a market than a movement sometimes.

In this video you see a lot of homemade pom poms, clearly pre-marketing days, where we have vendors selling anything they can slap a rainbow on, turning Gay pride into our version of the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

And does anyone else notice the great paradox here? For all the attempts by some LGBT groups to create these squeaky clean "we are like everyone else" images, how is it that the wonderfully queeny Christian of Project Runway gets to have his t-shirt design sold by HRC? All due respect to HRC (and I don't mean to pick on them, but I watched the Project Runway finale and Christian makes Jack from Will and Grace look like the Marlboro Man). As I always say to journalists who ask what "the community" (that mythic, monolithic thing) thinks of "Jack," I would tell them: if you ask ten people there are usually 4 that love him, 4 that hate him and 2 that are him. You figure it out.

In fact, while I am on the topic - let's talk about image. In my opinion, the place where we have made the least progress in visibility is the representation of our community as racially and culturally diverse. Our leadership is still mostly gay white men and I applaud NGLTF for putting Rea Carey at the helm - qualified and butch (or is it futch, I'll ask her) - it's not like we are not out there. The public will continue to see us as affluent and white until they are told the truth - it's time that we all focus on that more.

And there are frightening undercurrents out there, I think, for our movement's progress and image. You may be surprised to hear this from someone who is at the center of the communications efforts of our community and who spent many years at GLAAD, but I think we are watering down and over simplifying our messaging efforts - over "focus-grouping" if you will - as we focus on very mainstream issues like marriage and the military. There is a way to genuinely represent our community and our lives and not force those of us who are visible to be perfect.

Much like the kids of LGBT parents who often feel pressure to be perfect and conform and of course never be queer, I fear we are falling into that trap for shorter term success that will come back and bite us in the ass in the future. The public may be ignorant but they are not stupid. People will realize that we are not the gay version of June and Ward Cleaver and that we are, in fact not "just like everyone else."

Sure, I have a lot in common with the rest of the world (aka the straight world). As a parent, sometimes I feel like I have more in common with other parents of any kind than folks in our community who just don't understand why we would have wanted a child. Our diversity is the great strength - and the Achilles heel - of our movement. Our diversity strengthens us and challenges us, unites us but can be a source of conflict and division.

I feel strongly that a lot of this hesitance and conservatism is about internalized sexism and homophobia. It is really about our queeny men being feminine, right? It is about our own dormant, subconscious, internalized notion about gay men preying on children that tells us not to put gay male parents out there, lesbians are "less threatening." Think about it.

How we live with that conflict and resolve some of the issues related to it is critical for our community and I feel we are at a very critical juncture. When I hear things about couples being told not to show "too much" PDA at weddings in California and the now boring lament about drag queens at Pride, I want to tie some of our leaders to a chair and make then watch this Christopher Street Liberation video. That might give them some perspective: lots of shirtless guys, and some gals, everything from the Homophile Community Health Project to the New Jersey Daughters of Bilitis chapter to a lone marcher with a sign saying "I am a faggot." Overall, a pretty group with some pizazz tossed in by the drag queens and leather folk. Some shots of two girls kissing, t-shirts that proclaim, "Gay is Good" (thank you, Frank Kameny) and Gay Power.

On the other hand - the Gay Liberation crowd was also mingling with the great masses in Central park, since there were no blocked off streets. That kissing lesbian couple was buying hot dogs at the same stand as the family spending a day in the park. No pretense, no shame, just being themselves in part of the larger world. I think we could all learn something from that.

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That's some great footage, Cathy.

It's interesting to see you write about the image that many PR people put on same-sex marriage and the community to make us seem more tame. I just wrote a post earlier today about what PR people out in California were saying people should do to make their marriages more presentable to the public - no group marriages, keep it butch for the men, don't seem political or like an activist (even though the drive to be normal is activism and artifice).

I just don't think the best tack to take is to seem completely tame. Obama did that, and now they're calling him a snob. I think that presenting ourselves as rich, white, and normal just makes it harder for people to identify with us.

I loved those videos. Too many of us have no idea of anything more than the word "Stonewall."