Local LGBT publications across the country are full of notices and “event calendars” telling us of Pride Parades scheduled in cities near and far. But I asked myself, “Why do we march?” Here is what I decided.
Now, there are many sorts of parades you will see in any year you choose. There are parades on Memorial Day, when we pause to honor and remember those men and women who sacrificed so much to keep us free. And for all the problems we LGBT folk may have in this country, it’s much, much worse elsewhere in the world.
Then there are those Fourth of July parades, where we celebrate our independence – purchased at the cost of a violent revolution – by which we have the power to govern ourselves. And even when our representatives decide – in their patriotic wisdom – that people like me cannot be trusted to go into a stall, close the door and attend to my business in private – still, things are better here than in many other countries.
And finally, we all know those many other parades – more like “bar crawls that got out-of-hand” – where some group or other is permitted to make a happy, uninhibited spectacle of itself in a very public place (which, we all hope, may encourage them to end the celebration at a reasonable hour, as some of us have to get up early and go to work tomorrow). The Irish have a parade like this every year, as do the Italians and – in my city – the Hungarians, the Greeks and the Croatians (but not the Germans – they are too likely to re-name their “parade” a “Blitzkrieg,” and fortify the floats with names like “Panzer”).
So if you have been to a Gay Pride Parade, you will agree that it, too, is a form of very public celebration of our LGBT community: Where we get dressed up and carry rude signs and march down the street until we get to that part of our city where most of the gay bars are located. So yes, it’s part “celebration.”
But that’s not all. Our parades have one other, very special aspect to them, which we must never forget. Which is: That every marcher will have as a part of his or her (or their) own personal biography, a memory of that day, that hour, when he stepped “out of the closet” (I’ll use that old terminology) and into the light of day. When hiding was no longer tolerable. When out of bravery or desperation or maybe some angry orneriness, that marcher decided, “This is who I am. So deal with it!”
History tells us that in the past, we LGBT folk were expected to do “whatever it is we do” in secret, so that we did not show any disrespect to God or the Bible or the Koran or God-fearing people, generally (who did not want to be reminded that we exist).
Today we are in the middle of a contentious electoral campaign – the Presidential election only a few months away – and all across the country there are politicians – and preachers – who are making speeches and proposing legislation that would grant absolute legal protection to all those pious, church-going citizens who do not want to make any accommodation for us – and would prefer to exclude us wherever they can.
They propose – for example – that henceforth all the high schools of the land be operated as if there were no gay boys or girls in attendance, and certainly no children (no matter how young – and this means you, Jazz) who refuse to live as if their genitals had the final say upon their gender.
They intend – by legislative enactment, enforced by all the power of our police and courts and prisons – to force our country’s entire citizenry to pretend that we do not exist. They expect us to go back into the closet. Back to those days when it was unthinkable – even dangerous – to speak our truth aloud.
So to me, this is the unique purpose of a Gay Pride Parade: To show the world that we refuse to live in secret. That we are here in numbers – a population too large to be ignored, and too brave and strong to be silenced. Each of us knows it is not easy to “come out” – or to “live out” – in our world, but if there is one thing we have learned in the last twenty years, it is that sometimes we must fight and sacrifice to gain those freedoms which our Constitution promises to all.
So you see. Our parade is unique. We are the only group for whom the parade – itself – is how we fight to gain our freedom. March with me, won’t you?