Cathy Renna

Pride through a dark, light, or rose-colored lens

Filed By Cathy Renna | June 28, 2010 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: GLAAD, politics, Pride

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.

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>> every day is Pride Day.

Bingo has been called.

I just point out that the reason for pride is still that those people who "embarass" or who "make us look bad" are the ones for whom the political efforts are most important.

And that anyone who doesn't want to support their freedom to be themselves isn't really supporting the right of LGBT people to be themselves.

Which means they are being part of the problem that they are, themselves, fighting, and thus they are fighting themselves.

When you fight yourself, all you do is get beat up.

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 29, 2010 7:23 AM

this is SO on the money and something i wish we would pay more attention to - i am guilty myself at times but what a great way to describe the "eating our own" mentality and a good reminder

"When you fight yourself, all you do is get beat up"

I would rather Pride parades were smaller, more connected to the real communities in terms of race and inclusiveness and expunge the corporate aspects of their sponsors. I watched a big float at SF Pride from Kaiser Permanente, the very insurer who denied me individual health coverage 8 or 9 times because I'm trans. And I was standing there while their float was blasting disco with gyrating bodies and they had some b.s. catch phrase about inclusiveness... blah, blah. And the reason I'm sick of seeing drag queens at Pride Parades is because the people who put them on the floats actually think that somehow means they're responsive to people who are transgender (which they're overwhelmingly not).

I've been seeing Pride parades since 1979 and they're about mythologies and PR, not real activism. Fairies are great— corporate sponsored fairy tales are not.

Nelson Smith | June 29, 2010 3:08 AM

I remember my first pride in Seattle, WA. This beautiful person, some say drag queen, had a yearning look in his eyes. I shouted out, "You're beautiful". It was a cry from my heart to thank him and recognise his, and our significance. He came over, we hugged, and as we parted both our eyes were full of tears. For the sake of freedom and right we must get active in all fronts. I feel especially strong about this as I work with suicidal gay youth, as young as 12, who need us to act for them.

Conservatives and liberals are really the same species in different clothing. Both groups focus on controlling the behavior of other people. The conservative mind set which promotes oppression of gays is fundamentally no different from the liberal mind set which promotes oppressive gun control laws, for example.

Meanwhile, sitting nearly outside the awareness of conservatives and liberals, is this from the U.S. Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Had I been asked about the sunflower guy that Cathy Renna mentioned I'd have asked what was is about the Declaration of Independence that the questioner was having difficulty with.

Of course our Declaration of Independence was written by a group of dandies that enjoyed wearing wigs, makeup, fancy clothing and taking drugs which are now illegal. Who'd ever want to pay attention to what they had to say?

Mary Barber | June 29, 2010 7:26 AM

Only the most uptight or right-wing among us still have a problem with the drag queens, dykes on bikes and leathermen (or women). Yes, it was great to see the Kiehl's float, but many of the more flamboyant participants were actually less corporate, just dressing up and having a grand ole time on our day. I say, if you can walk in those heels, go for it!

My only complaint about Indy Pride was how many commercial floats/booths there were compared to the amount of actual LGBT orgs. Since Indiana isn't a hotbead of queer orgs, those few that there are get quickly swallowed up by the vendors and insurance agents and whatnot. Of all the national orgs, only HRC & Lambda Legal set up a booth at Indy Pride - and that's one more than usual, I must say.

The Task Force, GLSEN, NCTE, none of the other large groups have even set foot in Indy at Pride time. I wish they'd come and help us feel connected to the wider movement.

bigolpoofter | June 29, 2010 8:03 PM

Preach, Sister Renna....and I don't mean a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence! Particularly in around DC, the annual critique of Pride regalia is tiring. Do white heterosexual men lament the depiction of some of their own annually parading about in fezs and driving teensy cars?

Paige Listerud | June 29, 2010 10:11 PM

There's a huge reason why drag queens, dyke on bikes and leathermen get all the attention--because the doctors, lawyers, dentists, and other so-called "respectable" LGBT are boring. You heard me. BORING! Your floats are boring, your do-nothing politicians waving from boring cars are boring, your gentrifying, commercialized representations of middle class normalcy are boring. You've normalized the queer out of you and now you complain that those with more revolutionary fervor than you have are stealing your limelight. Boo-hoo.

Look, there's YouTube now. If NYT or CNN won't cover your boring gay ass then why don't you just film yourselves and put it up on YouTube yourselves? Everyone is putting their piano playing cats on YouTube, so why not your lot and your boring floats? Or are you afraid to come out to that many people, Mr./Ms. Respectable?