I have become so accustomed to the "post-Pride" debate that it truly feels like Groundhog Day. For the last 2 decades (for my part) it always goes like this:
Accusation: too many pictures of white hunky men on floats, drag queens, sensational and outrageous characters.
I say still guilty as charged, for the most part.
The New York Times, for example, has this as their slide show, but to their credit they also have this story about one of my personal heroes that very few people know about.
CNN was covering NYC Pride live and focused on the controversy over a gay Catholic group.
But if you image-google Pride, you know what you will find. An extended version of the Times. Facebook will have more and better pictures since people will take pics of themselves, their friends and a broader diversity of our community, I bet.
This is a conversation and debate that I have had for years with people in the movement. When I was traveling around the country for GLAAD and doing our media trainings, it was inevitable that the issue of "how XX city or town covers Pride" would come up. I would field questions and angry reaction from attendees about how the media focuses on the fine folks mentioned above. The internal hostility directed at drag queens and leatherfolk in particular was always disturbing to me. My answer would be pretty simple: one, that is what the media finds interesting, eye-catching and knows people will pay attention to, but it also plays into old stereotypes, ones that also happen to represent the people who fought at Stonewall and have made a lot of what we enjoy today possible. Two, if you don't like it, do something creative that will get the media's attention. I once famously advised a local GLSEN chapter to rent a school bus and fill it with people, flanked by volunteers dressed as crossing guards asking the folks lining to streets to give up their "lunch money" as a donation. It worked on all levels.
But here is the other challenge with Pride. Like the proverbial elephant being touched by 20 blind men, it is a lot of things to different people. To newly out people it can be a call to get active or simply a chance to feel safe in a group of people. For organizations, it can be a chance to reach out to the community and educate (Really? There is a group for API lesbians like me? The local LGBT Center has a program for recovering addicts I can attend without fear? A political group that is working on the one issue I care about the most?). It is also a chance to fundraise - hey, look at the Kiehl's sponsored float in NY Pride, how cool it that? Are they handing out samples?
Pride a political statement - a march and protest to demonstrate our numbers and passion? Or is it a parade à la Mardi Gras? It is obviously both, and we need to make the best of that because that dichotomy isn't changing any time soon.
This year, as we see more and more independent, outside of the power structure (aka Gay, Inc, a term I am not always comfortable with, but if the shoe fits) groups making their voices heard. This year, a group called Take Back Pride launched - see this excellent article in Gay City News.
When I was at GLAAD, I would annually debate the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity on the merits of Pride the day after the parade. Their view was it as a bad thing, too outrageous, made us look bad, blah blah blah. Let me recount two moments that continue to seem timely. Once on Hannity and Colmes, I brought with me a copy of the New York Post, whose coverage consisted of one photo of a man dressed from head to toe in sunflowers. As I said to Sean - if the Post thinks this is representative of the entire community and tried to pass it off as such their journalism stinks and besides, you know this guy is probably an accountant the rest of the year. The he tried the "but there is no Straight Pride" lame-o line. Right, I said - our culture is an everyday celebration of Straight Pride. Or am I missing something? Do we judge all heterosexuals on the basis of behavior at Spring Break or Mardi Gras? Funny how that segment got cut short.
Bottom line is this: Pride is what you make of it. And for me, every day is Pride Day.
My family recently moved to a small island off the East End of Long Island, and not exactly Fire Island, if you catch my drift. But the wonderful thing we are finding is that by simply being ourselves we demonstrate Pride. Telling people who we are, what we do for a living and introducing them to our family, we are being welcomed in ways that relieve and excite me. And I am in the position of coming out every day to multiple people, in the library, grocery store and everywhere else. Trust me, there are about 2500 people here and they all know each other. We are not the only LGBT people but there are not too many of us, that's for sure.
Now I know there are probably folks who are saying, "Did you hear about the lesbians who bought the old farmhouse?" But that to me is an opportunity. And I am proud to be able to say I spent Pride weekend at a neighbor's son's high school graduation part and Sunday's big pride day with my daughter, being out and proud in our own way.
After all the Prides around the country I have experienced, it was so often the picnic and small parade ones I enjoy the most, where there is a real sense of community connection and the idea that anyone there was welcome and could find a point of entry no matter who they were, drag queen or lawyer, softball player or teacher. If we could somehow get that back into the larger events that would be remarkable, and do we ever need it now.
So this year maybe let's not simply Monday morning quarterback, let's find a way take that all and run with it every day, whether in high heels or sneakers.