It had been years since I've been to the Gay Pride Parade in New York. I remember the first few times I went I wasn't all that comfortable, not for myself, but the way sexual innuendo made the event not very palatable to a broader public. I always felt that if what we were striving for was acceptance the parade wasn't helping. It was titillating and exuberant but it seemed to reinforce the notion that being gay was only about sex.
Now that I've gotten so involved in producing this blog I'm continually on the outlook for design issues and events that I can write about. Since I was in New York last weekend for Pride Week I thought I'd head over to the parade. With Orlando just weeks ago it seemed important to show solidarity and strength in defying fear. I set out an hour and a half before the parade was scheduled to start and got a front row seat, well standing space, on Fifth Avenue between 31st and 32nd.
The mix of spectators lining the street on both sides was a bigger mix of genders, ages and families than I had remembered from before. The screamers and gyrators were there, a lot of young men with gym acquired bare washboard abs and dykes in boots and muscle shirts but the majority where more like the kind of people you'd expect to line the street for a Fourth of July parade not the Gay Pride Parade. There were families and older people who had set up their folding chairs. Next to me on one side was a group of four women all way into their sixties. On the other side a clearly straight young couple his arms tightly wrapped around her from behind, he had picked up a rainbow flag she had tucked in her hair.
The parade began as I had remembered it had done in the past with the Dykes on Bikes but this time they did it with their tops on.
This was a relief, but what followed was the first thing to bring a lump to my throat, the Boy Scouts of America, leaders and boys of all ages carrying a hundred flags. It set a tone that although mixed with celebration was more pride than anything I'd felt before.
The next in line were those who had been around for the Stonewall riots still wearing their flamboyance and defiance and doing it with smiles rather than fear.
Then came the symbol so associated with the pride movement, the parade of balloons. Five columns of rainbow balloons held down by a cadre of volunteers cast another rainbow of light on the pavement as they marched down Fifth Avenue. It was as if they were turning the street into a cathedral, the balloons like stained glass windows spreading colored light and enlightenment through the sun from above.
Whereas last year's parade was such a celebration of the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage this year's parade had a more somber feel.
Even the recognition of the Stonewall becoming a national monument felt more about the struggle and less about the victory and recognition.
From there came real heartbreak as group after group paid homage to the Orlando forty-nine. There were cheers of encouragement to many of the groups that passed by but there was one in particular that stopped the crowd, lowered all the rainbow flags, and hushed everyone into total silence. Forty-nine men and women dressed in white each with a white veil obstructing their faces wore an image around their necks of each person killed at the Pulse. They walked in a slow cadence never acknowledging the crowd. You could hear a tear drop, the silence was so powerful.
Of course the politicians were there and the groups supporting those currently running for office were also there both on a national and local level. Bernie's kids led the way but clearly their numbers had dwindled.
Hillary's contingent stretched almost an entire block
and the Donald's never showed up.
What with Orlando so fresh on everyone's mind a new group had formed, Gays Against Guns. Given such little time to form between the shots and the parade it was amazing how many people were in the group and how well organized they were.
They would, as a group, walk about a half block and then on mass all collapse onto the ground and chant, "How many more!" The theatrics were riveting but the knowledge that this group might just have the organization and determination to become a leading force in actually getting gun control moved a step forward was something they made seem possible. This is one area, political action, where the gay culture knows the ropes and has the power and clout to get things done.
The next biggest surprise for me was the show of support and sponsorship coming from corporate America. In the past most sponsorship was local and then mostly from gay specific companies; mostly gay bars. Now the sponsorship was broad and in some cases astonishing. I think every major bank had a contingent. The tech world was also well represented perhaps because it has a relatively younger employee demographic
but what surprised me most was seeing a float from organizations I would have thought still harbored some homophobic undercurrents. I never expected to see Walmart pulling a float through the parade.
Or who would have guessed that a major sports organization, the NBA, would have had players dribbling down the street alongside a float baring their logo.
Of course the characters necessary for any gay parade were there as well but most were the equivalent to the clowns that accompany a circus parade. Their job was to amuse and let us laugh and smile but different from the past the smiles and laughter was with them not at them.
Then there were the police. This whole movement of acceptance of diversity and inclusion in the whole of humanity began with an u”Us against them" riot all the way back in 1969. The police were the enemy. It was evident that the truce had been signed. It was no longer an atmosphere where we feared men in blue, or having places where we gathered being raided or the thought that they might look the other when we were in harms way. It wasn't an atmosphere of fags being less than human.
This time there was complete trust that they were there to guard our safety as equals as brothers and sisters in an inclusive world. They were there as sentries of protection on the streets and not because they were required to but because they wanted to be there. They were there as our eyes against harm and they were there as musicians in a marching band and they were there as gays themselves and proud of it.
Just before I left and near the end of the parade. The Ackerman Institute's Gender and Family Project sponsored by Bank of America came down the street. They wore blue t-shirts with the words "Pride is for Kids Too" silk-screened on them. There were many children either transgender or the children of gay parents marching in the parade. Then there was one little boy, I'd say he was around ten who walked along the edge of the route. He stopped to hug everyone in the crowd who'd lean across the barricade. I wish my picture could have been better but my hands were shaking too much.
Duo I, Mexico, 1990
Herb Ritts, Photographer
Represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery
Saturday was the 34th running of the Mermaid Parade. I'd never been to Coney Island. I'd heard about the parade. I decided this was the time to go see it for myself and boy am I glad I did. I hopped on the "D" train that takes you right out to Stilwell Avenue, the last stop on the line. I rode out next to an older couple all dolled up in their best attempt at a mermaid look and a young woman straddling a beat-up snare drum.
You get off the train and you're right there, right at the corner where Surf and Schweikerts Walk meet, where Nathan's hot dogs has stood for over one hundred years,
where the Hot Dog Eating Contest countdown clock ticks off the time to the next eating frenzy. It couldn't have been a better day for the parade. It was warm, cloudless and the perfect gift from Mother Nature: a great ocean breeze.
The sidewalks along the parade route were packed with onlookers by the time I got there. I tried to squeeze my way into a position where I could get a couple of shots of the parade.
The parade starts out with a police escort and then a line of vintage and comic cars. I hadn't taken into consideration that a parade means motion and unless I wanted to shoot video I'd have to come up with another plan.
I decided to give up my original position but not until the first band came down the street. There in the front row of an all girls marching drum brigade was the woman who sat across from me on the ride to Coney Island and she was rocking it. After I did capture on video their pounding brilliant march I walked down to where the parade was to start.
This was the best vantage point to catch all the mermaids and mermen milling around waiting for their entry into the queue of participants and from there it was hard to take a picture that wasn't perfect.
There were guys who had fashioned hats honoring the amusement rides at Luna Park.
There were protestors with a political message about ocean pollution stressing how plastic bags are destroying the ocean and killing sea life.
One guy took his protest right to the one pollutant deemed by him the biggest offenders, McDonalds.
Then there were the girls with the floating wings dancing their way through the sea of participants
their pleated swordfish fins sparkling in the sun
You weren't fully clothed if you didn't carry a parasol the color changing the light and bathing those that carried them in hues as wide as the rainbow.
Disney characters where everywhere both sweet Ariel and the nasty Ursula.
The valiant crusaders of the sci-fi genre were out there either to frighten us or protect us, I couldn't tell the difference.
Creatures of the sea swam down the street along with the rest. There were seahorses,
a pod of krill
and a huge group of jellyfish all floating away
And then there were those taking us on a costume history lesson in vintage swimwear, makeup and hairdos you would have seen here seventy years ago.
Age seemed no barrier to walking the parade. I have to say this octogenarian's bra hat was one of my favorites.
There was a place for kids.
Gender was bent all over the place.
Even dogs got in the act.
Size had no limit. Whether you were thin as rail, or pleasingly plump you were welcome to come and parade your stuff!
If you were scarily tall or on the short side it didn't matter as long as you had a mermaid's tail or Neptune's scepter.
Nations from around the globe made their ethnicity present from Mexico
to Ireland and everywhere in between
Never having been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans I'm not sure how many women there may have been willing to show their boobs, but at the Mermaid Parade
there were boobs everywhere from eggs to melons. No one had to shout "show me your tits”, they were out there and proud.
Yet nothing could have made me prouder than this young woman fiercely posing as she walked the parade. She was so empowering it wasn't until I got home and reviewed my photos that I noticed her mastectomy, one perfect boob, one missing and a winning smile of shear in-your-face confidence.
It was just one more big check off of my bucket list.
The parade is publicized as an art parade and it truly is. THE GALLERY
Weeki Wachee Mermaids, Florida, 1947
Toni Frissell, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery, New York