Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Changing Face of Gay Pride

In last week’s edition of Portland’s gay paper JustOut, friend and columnist SMB suggested that this year we demonstrate our pride by skipping the parade. He laments the crass commercialization of the event by mega-corporations hoping to cash in on our patronage. He recalls the cold, rainy night on which thousands of Oregonians (myself notably excluded, mea culpa) gathered downtown to protest the delay of the state’s brand-new domestic partnership law by a judge who agreed to hear a challenge from an out-of-state conservative activist group, and essentially asks of the marketers, drag-queens, glitter-smeared party boys and shirtless lesbians, “Where were you when it mattered?”

Good points, all.

However, I would propose that we take a step back and re-assess what the annual pride celebrations are all about these days.

Two years ago, I wrote a long, personal, provocative (and much commented-on) post about what pride meant to me, and while I think those points still resonate, I also think now we might be allowed to celebrate as well as protest.

Let’s take a look at where things stand in the present moment. John McCain may not be the LGBT community’s best friend, but just a few weeks ago he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and, while saying he believed marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman, expressed support for some limited forms of recognition for same-sex couples. Compare this to 2004, when Howard Dean was labeled a hopeless left-wing extremist because Vermont permitted civil unions. This is a massive shift in public attitudes, when what was radically progressive just four years ago has become the default stance of the Republican nominee. On the Libertarian ticket, nominee Bob Barr has declared that the odious 1996 Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed; and he wrote it!

While Barack Obama has publicly drawn the line at civil unions, he also supports the full repeal of DOMA and DADT. He and Senator Clinton actively courted the support of GLBT voters in their primary campaigns. We used to be ignored and invisible, and after that we were vilified and made scapegoats. Now we’re pandered to. I call that progress.

Portland’s Pride Festival is this Sunday; just two days after that, California – the nation’s most populous state and the fifth-largest economy in the world – will start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, following a protracted court battle that ended in the groundbreaking recognition that gay people are a suspect class. The Republican governor openly opposes amending the state constitution to repeal that right. The proposed amendment faces an uphill battle: recent polls now show a slim majority of Californians in favor of marriage equality, and the November ballot includes a Republican candidate who is unpopular with the family-values crowd and a Democratic candidate with fervent support among younger voters, who are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality (68% of 18-29 year-olds).

Back here in Oregon, today’s breaking news is that the petition effort to put the new domestic partnership laws on the November ballot has failed. Meanwhile, New York has determined that nothing in state law prevents them from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts, California or other jurisdictions where they are legal.

Obviously, there are still battles to be fought, and we’re not home-free yet, but when Republican presidential candidates sit down for cordial chats with out-lesbian talk-show hosts, we're in a completely different world.

We should think of the June pride celebrations as a commemoration of the Declaration of Independence that was thrown down by a bunch of drag queens at the Stonewall Riot 39 years ago this month. Just as the 4th of July is now a celebration born in struggle, I see no harm in partying on Pride. Yes, let’s still gather in the rain to protest injustice as it arises, but let’s acknowledge the amazing victories that have been won through our collective hard work over the last several decades.

So grab your cha-cha heels, dust yourself liberally with glitter, throw away your bra and let's march!


Anonymous said...

Really cool post... many compelling points! Thank you for your thoughts!
"Commercial" or not... whether they all showed up when we needed them to support our vigil or not... I am definitely going to PRIDE this year! We missed last year, and we are looking forward to it this year!

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of comments. While the Field Poll showing that slightly more Californians favor gay marriage than oppose it is encouraging, the odds of the ban passing this fall are very high. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, people lie to pollsters. Especially when they fear that their opinion is politically incorrect. Frankly, I think that the fact that not supporting gay marriage is seen as politically incorrect is progress. However despite this progress, I have little doubt that if the election were held today the ban would pass. Back in 2000, Proposition 22 (a law to ban gay marriage as opposed to this year's constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage) passed 61 to 30-something. Polls then showed the electorate much more evenly divided, though slightly in favor of the ban.

Two, despite the fact that the Republican Nominee for President, Mr. McCain is not all that attractive to religious conservatives (at least, not yet) do not underestimate their willingness to come out and vote for a ban. They will also probably hold their nose and vote for McCain while they are in the booth too. Normally, I would say that this could put California “in-play” for the Republicans. But Mr. Obama’s virtually limitless financial resources should easily compensate for any nascent groundswell for Mr. McCain in the Golden state.

Three, what the article that Andy linked to, and the Filed Poll press release, failed to mention is the group most likely to oppose gay marriage is African-Americans. (See the third to last paragraph here.) I suspect that turn out among African-Americans will be quite high this year. If African-Americans do not change their mind between now and November I don’t know how anyone can put together a coalition to defeat the ban.

I have a little hope that the measure will fail, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of money. Frankly, I think it will depend largely on how aggressively our Republican Governor, Mr. Schwarzenegger who is on record as being opposed, and the Democratic Nominee for president, Mr. Obama who may or may not be opposed, campaign against it. While Mr. Schwarzenegger has little to lose and everything to gain, Mr. Obama is in just the opposite situation. I feel for him. That said, I’m considering withholding my vote for Mr. Obama if he doesn’t take a risk and campaign actively against the ban. Which in California simply means doing a commercial.

Since I know that most of Andy’s readership is outside California, you might be thinking to yourself what can I do to fight the ban? Plenty of the funding in favor of the ban is coming from out-of-state organizations like the Utah-based Church of Later Day Saints and the Colorado-based Focus on the Family. So there is no reason that Andy’s out-of-state readers cannot contribute to our fight against the ban. Please go to Equality for All, click on donate.

Now that I off my soap box about gay marriage, I just want to say that Gay Pride celebrations should be about partying and enjoying ourselves. It is the one day when Gay folk get a taste of what it is like to be in the majority, to be in charge, to freely walk down the street holding hands, to kiss your partner in Starbucks without fear, and to be totally surrounded by other homos.

The homosexual Gay Pride naysayers, like the columnist Andy mentioned, are just embarrassed when they see topless women on motorcycles (aka Dykes on Bikes) or hot guys in their underwear gyrating their hips to Leona Lewis on a float advertising the local sex club. They are embarrassed because they tell themselves the only way we will get equal rights is if we ask politely all the while acting and dressing like straight people. The fact of the matter is no one got any rights by asking politely. (Though, most 30-something gay guys I know dress as if they are 19-year-old straight college boys.) If the only picture of the parade that makes it in the paper is full of skin. So be it. Sex, even gay sex, sells papers. We’re here, we’re queer, finish getting used to it. Go to pride. You’ll be glad you did.


Anonymous said...

I thought those parades had died out years and years ago. Does anyone watch them? Do they hold them everywhere or just in Portland?

Andy said...

Anon: Ummm...

Anonymous said...

Well, knock me over with a feather!

I assumed those things had died out by now.

Is it mostly older people who attend and participate?

No one my age goes or even mentions it.

Anonymous said...

So, are you going to 'dust off' the little red dress, glitter up and dance in the parade?


Andy said...

Ha red dress, this time, but I am wearing a red t-shirt with the parish logo. I'll be dusting off my freedom rings from 1992, LOL.

tully said...

As you say, the fight is not over, and to some extent for you to celebrate at this point would be like Adams and Jefferson celebrating after the winter subsided at Valley Forge- the OPPORTUNITY for victory isn't to be met with enthusiasm, but rather with fear and trembling when so much is at stake.

To put the comparison more clearly, July Fourth is the celebration of individuals upholding an aspect of their identity and commemorating the struggle to make possible the upholding of that aspect (nationality).

Frankly, a pride parade is not part of the struggle to realize the upholding of that aspect of your identity- I take it that it's much more a diversion (perhaps a cathartic release of frustration with bigotry and intolerance). Fourth of July celebrations are diversions, in the same way, and if the Chinese invaded in early July, you can bet that I and every other sensible American would lay off the M-80s and invest in real hand-grenades to actually engage in the struggle. Let there me no mistaking, though- we would party with all the more vigor when the struggle was over.

If you believe that you are right, you have to struggle as effectively as possible. My approach would be that on whatever day you call "Gay Pride Day," every gay person engages at least one neighbor in an ethical dialogue about homosexuality.

tully said...

I heard that an Anglican wedding took place between two priests. Will Andy be covering it?

When Tracy Green is the first to cover these stories, something is amiss in the blogosphere!