Gay Pride—Again? (Sigh)

“Gay Pride” was created as a response to the fact that being gay was a stigmatized identity. But nearly 40 years after Stonewall, is it OK to abandon the notion of gay pride? Is it all right if I just feel OK about being gay, and not make a big fuss—an overcompensatory fuss, frankly—about how proud I am?

If you are young and/or newly out of the closet, you might take pride in your psychological achievement of confronting the remaining stigma and your courage in coming out. And for a few years, you might need the encouragement that the notion of “gay pride” can provide. But after five or ten years, I hope you’d find something else or something more to be proud of.

To be sure, for a long time, there will be areas of hostility to gays, primarily religious or ethnic. So, where those have considerable influence, “gay pride” is still a valuable (if oversimplified) message to send to young and closeted gays within those communities.

For the rest of us, it is possible to take a kind of derivative pride in the achievements of gays and lesbians in the past—and they are considerable—but it is best to feel pride in something you personally achieved in your life. If that achievement somehow is related to being gay, so much the better.

For instance, you might take pride in being a volunteer for some gay community or AIDS service organization. Or, and I am anticipating a future column here, you could be part of a gay group that provides services to the broader community—not everything has to be directed inward. I am thinking of the “Toys for Tots” projects that leather clubs used to undertake. But, no doubt, plenty of work still remains to be done in our community.

The annual Pride Parade is useful, despite its occasional silliness, as the largest and most visible representation of our community to closeted gays and to the general public. It shows our range of religious and social service organizations, the range and vibrancy of gay businesses, and the level of support large corporations increasingly provide for us. All this helps legitimize us, and demonstrates that the gay community is a bustling, thriving community. It also serves as a kind of psychological boost (however brief) for not-very-active gays. It is not unknown for some parade observer on the spur of the moment to step off the sidelines, and join a marching contingent.

For those wary of the television cameras, I will share a personal anecdote. I used to live in a small university town. One year, maybe 30 years ago, during the week after the Pride Parade, a student I hardly knew came up to me, and asked diffidently, “Were you in Chicago last weekend?” “Yes, I was.” “Were you in some sort of parade?” “Yes, I was in the Gay Pride Parade.” “Cool. I saw you on television.” So the cachet of being on television outweighs any other response.

A few suggestions:

The service organizations that depend on volunteers strongly should encourage their volunteers to march in the parade. For instance, the local community center claims “hundreds” of volunteers. If so, show us. And show the general public our level of community spirit. That might encourage others to volunteer as well.

A generation ago, it was difficult to get any politicians except the most liberal from the safest districts to participate in the parade. Not any longer. The number has grown quite large, as every office holder and political aspirant wants the publicity of being in the parade.

So, now, in order to qualify for admission to the parade, politicians should have to sign a statement saying they support domestic partner benefits in their office, and civil unions or gay marriage. If they don’t, what are they doing in our parade?

The large corporations that enter floats should have to disclose whether they have a nondiscrimination clause, whether they offer domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees, and whether they have and support a gay employees organization. And they should be encouraged to indicate any corporate support they have given to gay organizations. That information could be noted in the program book for the parade.

And finally, I wish the parade would include groups advocating sexual freedom in opposition to the Puritanism of conservative religious sects and the present administration; a group advocating gun ownership and martial-arts training for gays as means of self-defense; a gay teachers and professors group; and an artists group advocating community support for the arts.

Maybe next year.

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