Thursday, June 30, 2016


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

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