I'm gay. Unapologetically, unashamedly, praying-for-a-husbandly gay.
But I've never marched in a Pride parade.
When I tell this to my gay friends, they get confused and sometimes even angry.
"But you're gay," they remind me. "Why wouldn't you march?" It's a no-brainer to them. I should march because my community is marching.
Let me say outright that I believe there are many good reasons to participate in public demonstrations against inequality and injustice. In the wake of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, the gay community was absolutely justified in organizing a Pride parade to draw attention to their struggle. The march was to be an annual reminder of the ongoing conflict between gays and the mainstream culture that wanted to make them invisible. To show they would not be forced into silence, the LGBT community took to the streets, parading in front of government buildings, churches, schools and post offices, announcing their presence to those who denied their existence or legitimacy. "We are here, and we are numerous," they chanted. One of the original goals of Pride was, in a word, visibility.
There's a certain sense in which these early marchers succeeded. Turn on the television, search a hashtag, browse your Facebook newsfeed: the LGBT community is not — repeat, we are not — invisible. That fact was made more than plain in this week's Supreme Court decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and restoring the right to marriage equality in California — something that would have been inconceivable not long ago. I'm not sure it's necessary to take to the streets of Baltimore to announce my presence to a world that already knows I'm here.
But surely there are other reasons to march. What about dignity? Maybe I should have marched in Pride to show that I have dignity as a gay man. But if that's the reason to march, then some of the goings-on of the parade confuse me. It would be hard for me to convince my parents that I take pride in myself were I to march down their block in butt-less chaps and high-heels. I mean, in the proper contexts, sure, those things can be great, campy fun, and I understand the value of celebrating the queerness of queer. But I don't know that those things are really helping me make the case to my parents that gay people, too, have traditional family values.
Whether or not these marches are actually typified by hypersexual antics, the point remains that those on the outside looking in sometimes see it that way. We can't just say, "So what? Who cares what your parents think about Pride?" because isn't that missing the point? While there certainly is a fraternal component to Pride, it seems to me that the event is designed to be a public statement — if not, then why have a parade in the first place?
I raised a similar point to a friend who was angry that I didn't go to Pride events. He told me that I didn't know what Pride was all about and that I was buying into homophobic views of the parade. He told me I should have come and experienced the diversity of our dynamic community and networked with gay-friendly organizations, vendors, churches and political lobbyists. I told him I was encouraged to hear these things were happening at Pride because, judging from the several hundred photos he put up on Facebook, I assumed Pride didn't have much else to offer me besides shirtless men in neon beads getting their abs fondled by drag queens. He thought about it for a second and then told me that maybe his Facebook pictures were misleading. (He also told me — and I quote — "maybe next year I will wear pants that cover my cheeks.")
One of the things I'm trying to do is to remind my friends on the political right that they don't own the market on traditional family values. I, too, desire to be in a committed, loving, monogamous marriage and to raise children to love God and their neighbors, to be productive members of society, to work for social justice, and to march against oppression when necessary. I understand that this is a personal goal and that different gay people have different aspirations. By not marching, I'm not downplaying their goals; I'm just trying to remain faithful to mine.
If my point to my conservative friends is that "we're the same," then I don't want to participate in an event that seeks to highlight how countercultural I am. In this way, not marching is a conscientious decision for me: I'm making a strong statement for gay equality, but I'm going about it in a different way. I think there is a subversive power in living out my gay life in a way that seeks to emphasize the common ground I share with straight communities.
When I think about political marches, I think about the legendary 1963 March on Washington, which culminated in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. More than 200,000 protesters marched in front of the Lincoln Monument and demanded the passage of civil rights laws. To me, this march had less to do with black pride than it did with human dignity, which is something that is always worth marching for.
King wasn't marching to show that he was black; he was marching to show that he was human in the same way that white people were. He was marching to remind the white majority that he, too, could sing America. He had a dream that one day blacks and whites would sit down together at the table of their common humanity, in the name of mutual respect and admiration. He didn't want his children judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Reverend King preached that a person's identity was not reducible to blackness or whiteness.
Extending King's metaphor, I wonder if there is a certain sense in which we in the LGBT community do want to be judged — so to speak — by the color of our skin. I wonder perhaps if there are times when we want to reduce our complex, nuanced and gigantic identities down to a descriptive label that encompasses only our sexual orientation. And then we take to the streets to make sure that everyone knows who we are — you know, the gay ones! We're the gay ones!
Maybe this is why I haven't yet participated in Pride. My identity is multi-faceted and contains contradictions, nuance and quirky shades of gray. Sometimes I feel that to march in Pride would be to give up all of my grays for a rainbow. As a symbol of diversity and inclusion, I will gladly wear that rainbow; but I'm wary of that symbol if its primary purpose is to be my sole identifier.
I was talking a few weeks ago with my former high school English teacher about marching. She and her wife have been together at least since she had me for English class over a decade ago. They have two children and are wonderful, intelligent, friendly people. If the two of them were to ask me to march with them to demonstrate my solidarity with them, to attest to the fact that they are wonderful parents, and to pledge my support for their family, I would take their hands and say, "Let's march!"
Similarly, if a friend from Pennsylvania (a state in which I lost my job for being gay) were to ask me to march to raise awareness of workplace discrimination, I would put on my walking shoes and join him. Or if a bullied high school student were to ask me to walk with him to lend him my courage, I would very proudly take my place beside him along the parade route. And honestly, if my drag queen friend with the less-than-modest chaps asked to march with him to show that I love him, I would do that, too.
I will march for justice. I will march for equality. I will march against any person or law that infringes upon human dignity.
There are many, many reasons I would march with my gay brothers and sisters. But marching just because it's that thing you do in June if you're gay isn't one of those reasons. The Supreme Court has cleared the way for the federal government to recognize gay marriage. And, hopefully, marriage equality will help pave the way for equality under all laws. I hope that Pride can embrace its activist roots, providing gay people and allies another platform to make the case for equality and humanity. I would indeed be proud to march in those demonstrations.