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Voice Male - Summer 2005


Pride (Marches) and Prejudice

By Carl Erikson

Gay Pride Marches fill May and June around the U.S. I'm ambivalent about them, particularly when media coverage dwells on the things I don't like about them. Instead of making me proud as a gay man, they drive me into my journal to explore my connection with "gay" and "gay community." They cause me to ask a number of questions to which I don't have adequate answers. Here are a few:

Should we focus public attention on our differences--our extreme differences? Are they that crucial to us? If they aren't crucial to us, why are we flaunting them in the public's face? Isn't a large chunk of me just like everybody else? I worry about paying bills, keeping my job, selling my artwork, getting my books published, navigating my social life, figuring out how to be a good father to my grown that any different from my next-door neighbors?

And what about the "gay community" thing? From my experience and the comments of many other gay men, the publicly visible gay community--the one on display in Pride Marches--is often a pretty ugly scene, incredibly shallow and vindictive. A lot of gay men act just like fourth graders: taunting others for their clothes, for wearing glasses, and for (me) not being able to hit a baseball. Fortunately, a lot of gay men are real people; it just takes time and effort to find them. Unfortunately, the public doesn't see them and their kindness, intelligence, and creativity out on the streets. Where are they hiding? How could they "demonstrate" their/my qualities in a parade?

Or maybe the Pride March isn't about the "gay community" but something else. Like what? Like a statement of our numbers and therefore a statement of our power for political reasons; to protect the safety of and respect for gay men and lesbians; to tell the public that we recognize who we are and that there are enough of us to protect ourselves physically if we have to; like a statement to the fearful and trapped that life can be lived in ways different from what society demands and expects--maybe this ("gay") is not for you, but you can make a life on your own terms and neither you nor the world will blow up or collapse; like a statement to the closeted and questioning that gay is okay, that you can be gay in any kind of body you have, in any kind of job you do, in any kind of things you do.

The "proper people" complain about Pride Marches and all our efforts to be honest and be safe: "You're forcing a 'gay agenda' on the world, and on me in particular," they say. But I've yet to see or hear any gay person knocking on doors to convert anyone to a gay sexual identity, and I've never heard a gay person tell someone that he or she ought to have gay sex in order to be respected or saved or to live a life of his or her choice. The only gay agenda I've ever heard or seen is our desire to be safe and respected, to be free to live our choices respectfully and fully in our own lives and homes.

All well and good, but I still don't like the sex and anarchy messages Pride Marches so often deliver, which are enhanced by the three-second media sound bite treatment. This isn't me; this isn't what I want to tell the public about me. I don't think it's what many gays and lesbians want to present to the public either. How do I tell the public that I'm an intelligent, compassionate man who pays his taxes, causes little harm to anyone, drives safely, keeps several organizations financially organized, brings great beauty to people interested in his art, and treats chocolate with the obsession it deserves? I don't have a clue.

So, what do I do about Pride Marches? Sabotage them, agitate to ban them? Give my money and time to plan and support them? Yes, I could tolerate them and ignore them, but this feels like a copout. Whether I like it or not, Pride Marches affect my life--distantly maybe, but concretely.

I have to conclude that the statements Pride Marches make are too important for me and for lots of unknown people in this society to be ended, wiped out of our society. Maybe, like democracy, Pride Marches are a bad system but the best available to deliver the messages and opportunities many people need to hear and have. Maybe I just have to hope that, long after the parade passes by, its anarchy and raunch will fade from a viewer's mind, that he or she will give honest thought to people who are gay and lesbian and figure out that the lives of the viewer and the gay person have a lot in common.

Seems a mighty slim hope in the midst of all the naked and near-naked bodies and circuslike atmosphere of a march. Do I trust that most Pride March viewers will make that kind of effort? Ten percent of them? One of them? I'm sure of the one, but that makes it a very long time before Pride Marches become unnecessary. Maybe I can hope for a dozen; that will speed things up.

A frequent contributor to Voice Male, Carl Erikson is a textile artist and writer, and former director of operations for the Men's Resource Center for Change where he is a volunteer support group facilitator for the MRC's Gay/Bisexual/Questioning men's group.

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