In the background in any Scooby Doo chase scene, chest of drawers, doorway, and grandfather's clock flash by on a continuous loop as Shaggy and Scooby run past, down a never-ending hallway. To me, the Pride parade can be a lot like that. But instead of chest, drawer and clock, it's shirtless dancer float, dykes on bikes and bedazzled flock of drag queens, over and over again.
In Prides past, I used to take offense that those were who got the ink and airtime, those groups of "extremes," the VERY uppercase versions of the LGBT spectrum. But on my own journey through this colorful community, it doesn't bother me any more. Whose notes of "normal" are we trying to hit, exactly? Where I once looked at them with a raised eyebrow, I now think: "That is an act of bravery. Good for you." I steal a little bravery from each I see.
But, thumping, bumping and grinding down 5th Avenue, bravery sometimes takes a backseat to other things. The last Pride parade I went to was just after the marriage equality victory here in NYC, and it was sheer buoyant joy that kept those floats floating high, the marchers reveling in a big gesture of acceptance. We were dancing for history. Or at least tapping our toe on the sideline. And even on the sidelines, the joy was contagious, and we were all shining, our inside "secret" finally in the sunlight, like a thousand dazzling Edward Cullens.
That year, in a fortuitous moment of timing, I managed to get a big hug from marcher Mike Thompson, as he paraded with the GLAAD group he then headed. I got a charge out of it like I had met a sports hero, and the warmth of his welcome and smile meant more to me than I imagine he knows.
Other than that, the Pride parade on the (high)heels of the Cuomo-led marriage victory, my favorite Pride moments are, as many indelible moments can be, much smaller.
This year, my Pride is a little melancholy, but my very first NY Pride was on the steps of the New York Public Library. In 1995, I had just moved to New York, just starting a new job, and secretly terrified to be in a city of nine dollar sandwiches and rents that seemed to be paid in lira. My boyfriend at the time, Robert, had come up from Ft. Lauderdale to ease my transition, and he and I watched the world go by, in the street and on the sidewalk. He was the very first man to take my hand in public, in New York or anywhere for that matter. I don't think he ever realized how grateful I was for that hand and his company, there with him on those steps, besides the guardian lions in this brand new Oz.
In later years, my best hosts for Pride were a straight couple. My friends Joe and Debbie had an apartment in Greenwich Village that was an all-inclusive Party Central, and I remember rainbow flags made of Jell-o shots by my best friend Vinnie (do you know how hard it is to still find "Berry Blue" Jell-o?) and doing a karaoke rendition of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (the disco remix, 'natch) that probably saved me the actual coming out announcement. Here, on this stoop just steps from the parade, I was lucky to be among friends, in a safe place where I could be silly and as Gay as I wanted. I loved that moment, and those friends, because they loved me not in spite of my being Gay, but also not because I was gay. To me, that's always been an important distinction. I've also learned that straight folk can be some of our fiercest allies, and I never forget that.
A Bigger Picture
But these are just my memories, and Pride is something bigger, communal, unique, varied, as multifaceted as a disco ball, sometimes a little bit fragmented, but shining in all its glorious whole (pun and innuendo intended... there's often an underlying smell of sex to it all). It's an alphabet soup made of many individual characters. I like the big picture of smaller ones painted by friends new and old, near and far, like one of those images made up of a thousand smaller ones. Together, public or private, of sweetness or sadness, inclusion and acceptance, eyes opened wide or a simple reason to party, these memories combine to create the ultimate definition of Pride. And it's not always all about the parade.
Ted Van Why remembers back to 1973, NYC. "It wasn't called 'Pride' yet; it was still referred to as a Gay Liberation March. My friends warned me to watch out for stuff being thrown down at us from the buildings by certain less-than-enthusiastic New Yorkers. After marching the parade route, we congregated in Washington Square Park for a rally. A big limousine pulled up behind the arch where the stage was set up, and out popped Bette Midler. She sang "Friends," which was the de facto gay anthem at the time. It may not have been called Pride then, but I definitely felt pride - maybe for the first time." He adds, with a wink, "Crap, I'm old." But the reality of that timeline is that in at least one man's lifetime, much has changed. It's worth remembering how far we've come, so fast. The only things being thrown at parades these days (aside from a little drag queen shade) are cosmetic samples from M•A•C and other corporate-branded giveaways.
Stuart Gilchrist goes back in time too, to his moment of Pride, for a bittersweet memory of life, loss and friendship. "1994, San Francisco. Checking in to the Mandarin Hotel, overlooking the city, with my best friend Roger Michael Ross. This was the first Pride celebration we spent together. Roger passed away the following year. The fact that I was able to spend Pride with my best friend, inseparable since 4th grade, in a stunning suite overlooking Market Street, before he passed, made this the most memorable. The Mandarin is still there, as is the memory of my dearest friend. If you knew the two of us, you would understand why this, to me, defines Pride. It defines community. It defines the world."
My wonderful friend Mike Cahill remembers two moments. The first was in 1992 in Morristown NJ. "I was one of six people interpreting for the deaf. It was uplifting, inclusive, informative... happy. The second was the NYC Pride Parade where a guy who looked like Animal (the Muppet drummer) on steroids walked by in a t-shirt that said 'That's MISTER Faggot to You.' Gave me an entirely new perspective on the full range of attitudes you can take."
For some, moments of civil disobedience made the memory. My friend Spence Halperin's most vivid memory was lying down on 5th Avenue in front of St. Patrick's cathedral, with colleagues from ACT UP!, and I delight in picturing this thoughtful and reserved man, prone for Pride in the stone-faced shadow of St. Pat's.
For others, the joy came from support for supporting. Randi Reitan and her husband Phil marched in the Pride parade with PFLAG. She recalls, "Tears streamed down my face the whole way... the crowds cheered and yelled for the parents marching on every block. Will never forget it." I am grateful for both of these past moments: for those who lie down, and those who stood up. They've both kept us marching along.
What It Is, What It's Not
Sometimes, Pride makes a mark for what it's not...
It's not always the big cities where the memories are forged. Melissa Richard remembers "Out In The Park," 2011. "Our annual LGBT festival moved out of the shadows of an obscure park at the edge of town to the very center of town in the heart of the waterfront district. We waited anxiously to see how sleepy old Norfolk, that Southern harbor town, would react as that grey, drizzly morning arrived. When the sun broke almost precisely at noon, when we were set to kick off, the crowds poured in, to the tune of seventeen thousand attendees, loving, partying, supporting our LGBT community in this "sleepy old" town... it was amazing."
As my friends Joe and Debbie taught me, and my straight friend and hilarious college buddy Isaac Regelson reminds me, Pride's not always just a gay thing. Isaac tells a story of a mother's reaction. "I was in the house with my then-85-year-old mom, who was watching television. She started screaming excitedly for me to come down and see the late breaking news for which she was very positively excited; that Don't Ask Don't Tell had been repealed."
Like Isaac's mother's moment, Pride doesn't always stick to a timeline. Curtis Robertson's moment didn't align with the calendar. "Getting married to the man beyond-my-wildest dreams. Wasn't during Pride week but was a very 'Pride' moment nevertheless."
Photographer Bruce Barone sums it up, "All weeks are Pride Weeks." Or should be.
But the memories that linger are not always upbeat ones, yet indelible all the same. Antiques dealer Philip Bewley remembers imagery from a parade in 1982 that still carries a heavy weight. And relevance. "In the parade there were women wearing the dress-for-success suits of the time with skirt and a blouse with a bow. They all had paper bags over their heads, you know, the kind from grocery stores. They were all carrying signs on sticks they held naming corporations like IBM, saying that they could be fired at their work for being gay or lesbian. I suppose because I was just entering the world as an adult at the time that seeing that was crushing."
Philip bent but did not break under that weight of what he witnessed. "I never did go work for a corporation after seeing that. I chose to find places where I could be out and open." Even though things have changed, in some places still today, much stays the same. "Since you can still be fired in 29 states just for being gay, I would say that Pride does point out the truth and makes visible what is really going on." As pressure still surrounds ENDA, these kinds of Pride, en masse, still seem worth repeating, especially in an election year.
Most reminisce, as many do, about their first. College friend and talented architect Scott Briggs remembers a moment, maybe a little late to the party, welcoming all the same. "New York City, 2000. My first Pride as an out gay man at 35. It was like freedom to finally find myself."
Across the pond, Chris Terry remembers experiencing Manchester Pride, "Getting on the train with everyone going towards Manchester with my best friend and having one of the best times ever!" Sometimes that's all it is: a journey, where a few join many, a day spent with friends, out in the sun, out of the shadows.
Eric Steidinger Ward, raising daughter Savannah, now a lovely young woman, with his partner Jim, remembers back (but not that far back) to Pride, 1997. "Jim and I pushed a 2 year-old Savannah in her stroller in the Chicago Gay Pride Parade. The next morning the cover of the Chicago Tribune had a picture of the three of us, plus a drag queen and a guy in buttless chaps. When I complained about that, a friend said, 'Dude, last year it was just the drag queen and a guy in buttless chaps!' That made me very proud."
Even if things sometimes seem to move at a parade's pace, with stop lights and interruptions along the way, barricades at almost every intersection, it's nice to know we're moving forward, and bringing more along for the ride, whether the wheels are on a drag queen's rollerblades or strollers. Happy Pride, however you mark the moment.
Photo: used with permission, Paul Pearson, NYC