[Note to audience: According to Wikipedia, citizens of ancient Rome used to wave their toga flaps to express approval for public performances. In the style of the Golden Globes, the Golden Raspberries, the Golden Goggles, and other alchemical plaudits, the Golden Toga Flap will be a regular feature on IWtSLtY that affirms people working to improve the world. Anyone is eligible: A-list actors, small children, teachers in rural Illinois, frat guys behind me in line at Grocery Outlet. I’m not writing these blurbs for any sort of commission; I just want to spread the word about great people doing lovely things. If you have nominations for the Golden Toga Flap, please feel free to leave them in the comments or send me a private message.]
Today I went to my first pride parade.
As a fairly new ally, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t have any rainbow-themed clothing, but I did have a purple shirt, which my hazy memory told me would be a good choice. A quick Google search confirmed this, and off I went.
The first part of the parade went about as I had surmised. There was a group of Boy Scouts, and a motorcycle squad, and a delegation from PFLAG that included one woman holding a sign proclaiming, “Proud Mormon mom.” There were groups from major corporations, several local support groups, and quite a few churches. Everyone was in colorful tights and shirts and tutus, handing out beads and stickers — standard parade behavior, by all accounts.
Then there were some groups that took me aback: a large delegation of Goths, and a dozen nude bicyclists, and a couple of floats representing the local community of BDSM enthusiasts. As these groups hadn’t really been present in my experience of this city so far, I had some fairly strong reactions to their sudden appearance. Reactions like “There are small children here” and “How is this related to gay pride?”
But then I started thinking about those reactions. What did a bank or a restaurant or an airline have to do with gay pride? Couldn’t sexuality affect every part of a person’s life, from employment to clothing choice to entertainment? If I had faced a legacy of prejudice and persecution for something as important to me as my sexuality, wouldn’t it be fantastic to see such a diverse group of entities publicly standing up for me and my community? And if I was concerned about preserving children’s best interests, why hadn’t I been concerned about them seeing the float from Controversial Corporation X and possibly associating the company with fun music and free candy?
By the time the last group rolled through, I had a very different picture of the pride parade movement. Sure, it started as pushback against the majority idea that a couple meant one man and one woman. Sure, communicating and normalizing broader definitions of relationships is still a super-important initiative, as is protecting the safety and legal rights of the people in those relationships.
But beyond these enormous objectives, I think there’s a bigger principle at work in pride parades. The people on those floats, painting their faces and putting on corsets and donning wigs, are human beings. The logical next step here would be to say something like, “They worry about bills and calories and global warming too — they’re just like us!” But is it really fair to justify someone’s existence by assuming that they conform to my ideas about social norms? I don’t think so. Maybe that drag queen in the sequined bustier works as a high-powered executive in a big-name firm; maybe not. Maybe the male stripper gyrating to “Wrecking Ball” in the back of that pickup truck has two kids he loves dearly; maybe not. Either way, it shouldn’t affect my respect for the human being in question.
So way to go, pride parade advocates, for giving human beings the chance to appear publicly in roles that are supremely important to them, whatever those roles may be. We know that these people are more than those roles, but we appreciate the chance to learn more about the wide rainbow of people with whom we share this beautiful planet.