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 On the Libertarian ticket, nominee Bob Barr has declared that the odious 1996 Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed; and he wrote it!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!