Is Gay Pride a Shame?

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Dear Diary,

This past weekend was LA’s Gay Pride celebration, three days of drinking and debauchery in honor of our Community. As is always the case, I noticed a lot of haters this year, bagging on Gay Pride from a number of different viewpoints. The most obvious protestors are the uber-religious zealots holding “God Hates Fags” signs along the parade route. And then there’s the classic self-hating gays who think the festival makes us all look like freaks. But this year was the first year I noticed so many progressive, Gay-positive people who were totally alienated from the entire weekend of Pride activities. The first year I heard so many people joke it should be called “Shame” instead of “Pride.”

For the first time, I noticed a lot of my friends forgoing the parade, the parties, and the poppers and just staying in. Just kidding. I don’t know anyone that does poppers. I just wanted another “P” word. Watching so many people say no to Gay Pride caused me to question my own feelings about the whole thing. Sure, I’ve always loved community festivals, bright colors, and people wearing outlandish costumes, but did I feel like this festival represented me and my interests? Not really.

A few of my friends brought up the fact that Gay Pride seems to be catering to the lowest common denominator. The floats and all the advertising for parties and events uses cheesy pictures of shirtless men to grab your attention and sell products and get people to drink more. And it makes sense because sex sells. We are a community united by our sexual preference after all. But being simplified in such a way can be alienating to some people. Yes, it’s nice to be acknowledged, but maybe it would be nice to be acknowledged as something more than culturally maligned hedonists.

It’s really easy to be judgmental about Pride. Regardless of how it is organized, there will always be critics. But I am curious why a lot of my friends felt it wasn’t for them. It’s supposed to be something that makes people feel included and represented, so why do all my disaffected hipster friends think it’s just for the mainstream Gay party boys and drama freaks?

One thing I think is missing from LA’s Pride celebration is the collaboration with the straight/ally community that happens in other cities like San Francisco and New York. I’ve been going to Pride celebrations since I was 18 and San Francisco’s has always been my favorite because the whole city comes alive and celebrates together. In Los Angeles, our Gay Pride takes place in West Hollywood and is, for the most part, filled with Gays from Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. In San Francisco, you get this sense of “Hey, the city all came together to celebrate what Gay people have contributed to our culture.” In LA, it’s more like “Your Gay festival is over there in Gay West Hollywood, shirtless Gay dudes only.”

When I told a writer friend of mine I was planning on writing about Gay Pride he practically barfed all over the place. “Your perspective tends to lean toward gay self-hate,” he told me. But I’m not really who I’m talking about here. I went to Pride. And I liked it. But it worries me that so many of my friends, friends  who I know are intelligent, complex people, think Pride is a joke, a stain on our community.

One of my friends described his displeasure that the most cartoonish and outlandish participants in Pride tend to be the ones that get the most attention from news reporters covering the event. “Perhaps there’s some resentment as [the most outrageous/scandalously dressed people] want to be the face of a community that we may or may not agree with.” Another friend expressed his displeasure at the overtly sexual nature of Pride events, feeling that all anyone wants to do is hook up. “I mean, Pride is ultimately a meat market,” he told me. These concerns are legitimate ones, but one could make the same argument about any large festival or party, Gay or Straight (see also: Coachella).

Yesterday morning, with all these conflicted thoughts about Pride rattling around in my head, I walked down Crescent Heights Boulevard with some friends, heading to “watch” the parade from the top of the Palihouse. “Watch” is in quotes because what we were really watching up there on that hotel rooftop was each other, ogling a sea of men in tank tops and no-tops. Once we hit the parade, I started to remember what Pride was all about. It’s just fun. It’s just frivolous. And it’s meant to make people feel good. It’s not rocket science. And it didn’t come easy, those who fought for Gay rights made Gay Pride events possible. So that we could come along 30 years later and be like “Gross, that’s tacky.”

With the recent stream of totally unfathomable gay bashings across the country, now more than ever is a time to come together as a community and demonstrate our strength. Maybe the aesthetics of Gay Pride are gaudy, but the spirit behind them is genuine and admirable. “Let’s get together as a community, show people that we exist, show people that we celebrate difference, and express the joy that comes with being happy with who you are.”

As I find myself agreeing with those who don’t feel wholly represented by the cheesier, tackier aspects of Gay Pride, I also find that the best thing you can do as someone who feels that Gay Pride doesn’t represent you is to show up. The committees and volunteers who organize an event as large as Pride can’t possibly be responsible for representing every type of Gay that exists. But showing up shows that you, too, are a member of our diverse, complex community. In short, the easy way out is joking about calling it “Shame,” but perhaps the more productive thing to do is to show up wearing a tasteful outfit (or a festive tank top if that’s your thing).

In the end, what really helped me enjoy Pride was watching my boyfriend react to it. He just came out a few years ago. One reason many people cite as why they remain in the closet is that they don’t want to be associated with “those people” (meaning “weird” non-conventional gays). But he was able to relax, able to enjoy the guys in dresses, the people wearing bondage gear and face paint. That made me super proud of him. And that is what everyone should do at Pride. You may not want to wear a dress and a clown wig whilst riding a unicycle down Santa Monica Boulevard, but the fact that we welcome people who do that is what makes our community strong. We are not afraid to be different and Pride is the best reminder of that.

Love,
Orlando

PS: What are your thoughts on Pride? Which city do you think has the best one? What do you like about Pride? What do you wish was different?

28 Comments

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28 Responses to Is Gay Pride a Shame?

  1. Dan

    As a young man in the early 90s, Pride was increadibly important. And I’m grateful for all the freaks who make Pride what it is, for me, truly about. As a clean & sober 40 year old, I no longer feel the need to attend Pride events. Especially as crowds don’t half get on my wick.

    I lived in San Francisco for many years and whilst I enjoyed the day itself every other year, what made it really magical was the lead up to it…the flags along Market Street and the giant pink triangle on Twin Peaks. And Pink Saturday in the Castro was always a blast…it always felt much more of a community event & less of a corporate hoe-down.

    If it weren’t for Pride events, I doubt I’d be able to live in a small market town in the English countryside and to be fully out, to feel comfortable in my own skin and to banter with the folks at the Post Office without feeling any shame.

  2. Pete N SFO

    Joe of JoeMyGod runs an annual column about this very element. One line I really liked, paraphrasing: “Do you think women lifting their shirts at Mardi Gras are worried how the whole world will judge straight people?”
    PRIDE is a fun party, open to everyone. You’re never going to change the minds of imbecilic fanatics or the fact that media seeks the most outrageous… so just have fun, and realize that while you live the other 364 days of the year in the most authentic way possible, it’s the freaks that once upon a time pushed-back so that you could do exactly that.

  3. 30 years ago…I understand the Pride events. Now, I feel like it’s a fun celebration but with no meaning behind it besides drinking til you pass out(it is fun sometimes). That’s like African Americans having a pride parade every year since Slavery has been abolished. I’m gay and I’m kinda annoyed so I can’t imagine what straight people think. Maybe I’m just a bad gay lol. I just want to one day be able to come home to my husband; it doesn’t need to be newsworthy or televised.

  4. esanz12

    Interesting entry.

    Being Pride month, I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject and have come to the conclusion that our community is not what it was 30 years ago. Within these years, we have evolved as a community and as individuals; we have established our presence and the issues we are fighting for are no the same we did 30 years ago; we are fighting for equality in marriage, not just our sexual acceptance, and we are fighting for federal rights, not just the right to dance with whomever I or the poerson next door wants. With that said, it feel Pride is stock in a 1970s mindset and has done little to evolve and better represent the interests of today. While I agree Pride should be a representation of our presence and strenght, and our community coming together, Pride today still screams for a sexual revolution; a revolution we won years ago.

  5. Elisa

    We have been going back and forth about going to pride this year. San Francisco does come together as a city, which is so lovely to be a part of, but there is still an element of complete debauchery and commercialism that make it not as prideful as it could be. The civic center is filled with booths trying to sell you random stuff that have nothing to do with pride. Everyone is drunk and crazy and parting like its the end of the world. I’m grateful to be in a city that lets my girlfriend and I be open and proud, but I don’t know that pride weekend is really for us anymore.

  6. Bravo, completely agree with this post. But I have to remind you that you are the writer of “10 reasons why gay guys hate their bodies”… More fun than a Gay Parade is hearing every gay guy in this world talking about how he is not represented by the image that emerges from the ‘Gay Pride’ or the ‘Gay Community’ itself, when we all are part and bearers of it.

  7. Here is the brilliant post Pete referred to in his comment. Joe says it way better than I ever could:
    http://joemygod.blogspot.com/search?q=gay+pride

  8. That’s an interesting take on Pride. I kind of agree with you in some aspects: I don’t feel represented by Pride in the least and neither does my partner. We both feel it’s kind of a feast of the excess and we calmly and cautiously watch from a distance. It’s great that many people passionately partake in celebrating it, but that’s just not us. Year after year, we always end up hanging out with your gay and straight friends, enjoying some BBQ, grabbing a few beers, watching the parade for a little while and then heading back to one of our apartments to eat/drink a little more and probably watch some True Blood. The day in itself is always great fun… it’s just not really Pride-ish, unless you understand being proud of being gay like we do: celebrating our non-eventful, fun, warm and friend-loving gay lifestile, sans-excess 🙂

  9. Danny

    This might be true for LA, but try attending some Pride events in smaller cities and you’ll see why it still matters. In places like West Virginia, Tennessee or Indiana the corporations haven’t taken over the parades and they’re still an important cornerstone for local gay communities.

  10. eqi

    I don’t think Pride events, esp. the LA Pride, are now “shame” or “stain” I think rather, like a few others whol commented before me, these events are stale, same ole “sh*t” different year, not as evolved as the whole society nowadays which includes the LGBT community. (Here’s a blog from LA Weekly: http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/06/la_gay_pride_outdated_mess.php)

    The Pride events are essential for young people and for those who have just come out, for them to see they’re not alone, they’re supported & loved, and let’s have fun; but, for those who have been around, these events have stayed largely in the old format, lagging behind the social and political developments in recent years/decades.

    I’m a 1st generation immigrant, who came to the US to go to college, and came out then in my 20’s in the ’90s. My coming out experience was quite painful, like many fellow LGBT youth, while I was so excited to attend the Pride events! I attended every year, everywhere in So Cal – Long Beach, San Diego, LA, and Palm Springs, and even San Francisco.

    I was also involved in a non-profit organization, that I marched in the parade and manned the booth in the festival. And I’ve had my fair share of getting drunk, drugged, and crazy, and shirtlessness… Then, suddenly now in my 40’s, I’ve found myself less and less motivated wanting to go watch the parade, not even mentioning wanting to spend $20 to get in the stupidly Commercialized festival w/ over-priced but low quality food and drinks.

    And, I had a bit anxiety attack this past Friday – Feeling old, well, I have to face the fact that my looks have gone down/aged, my body could use some leaning up even though w/ 3 times gym workout and 2 times beach volleyball every week I’m not a complete fat ass yet while I’m no longer motivated to go on a strict diet for a visible 6-pk abs; and, from the experience in the past years, that depressing lonely, empty depressing feeling after a whole weekend of drunkenness, spending tons of $, (feeling gross the next day) one-nighters or not able to hook up at all, and ever lurking hangover…

    So I made the decision not to have hangover and spent less $ in the past weekend which I did – I went to a party w/ a few friends and watched the parade on a balcony, walked around a little after that and ran into a few acquaintances/old friends, and skipped going in the festival. After all, it wasn’t bad, I had a good time, BUT, my view on the whole pride didn’t change, which means I do think the event’s has become stale and out of pace w/ the society’s steps of development in the recent years/decades. (Ooops, I’m repeating myself here, must be getting old!)

    I do think some changes need to be done for future pride events, and as a grownup, I need to find myself age, mind-set appropriate things to do instead of partying like an adolescent.

  11. What Pride means to me, is being a good person and taking pride in that. I’m no more proud of being gay than I am of being right handed or brunette. It is a part of me, but it’s not something I can change or even build on. The choices we make as individuals are our true accomplishments and THOSE should be celebrated. Pride has gone from noble beginnings to just another excuse to act appallingly and call it a political statement. Do we really need an excuse to get drunk and naked, parading down the streets of town? No, we can do that any ol’ time. Equality is a form of conformity, so therefore, by definition, you have to blend into the crowd, at least in someways. My goal has never been for people to see me hand in hand with another man and say, “YEAH there goes a gay!” but rather say nothing at all, just let me be, as I let them be. Nothing more and nothing less.

    • Jess

      I’m very late to this, as it is a few days later, but I feel that your post is very thoughtful and straight forward. I appreciate your no-nonsense way of presenting your life. As a straight woman, it has always been interesting to me to see some of these gay pride parades- is this really how gays want to be presented? (I questions the women at Mardi Gras as well) But I have never had a gay say “I’m no more proud of being gay than I am of being right handed or brunette. It is a part of me, but it’s not something I can changer or even build on.” Very elegantly put, and I am impressed with your sense of self.

  12. I went to watch the parade with two gay friends of mine. In a country (and world) that is still fighting for equality, I believe it is a chance to celebrate and be proud. So instead of people calling it ‘shame’ or even pride, it should be also called proud! Is Pride cheesy? Hell yeah it is, but that’s surely why people come back to it time and time again. Having said that, most festivals in this day and age have become somewhat a caricature of themselves so Pride shouldn’t be singled out it that way. But that being said, if people want to avoid the cheese-fest it’s easy done, they can just ignore the cheese and actually enjoy spending time with their friends. As a straight female I may not be taken as seriously on this but I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends who are out and proud and I am proud of them. As with everything Pride has evolved since its heyday so drinking and commercialism do play their part and at some point the crowds will become overbearing for some. Will I go again to catch up with friends who are in town for the occasion… HELL yes! Like everything, Pride is what you make of it. And at the end of the day it’s just a good excuse to hang out with friends, let your hair down and have fun, right?

  13. Jim S Oakland Ca

    Bravo Orlando. Bravo.

  14. Kit

    I happened to be in Gothenburg last weekend during their Pride festivities and my housemate and I were just blown away. I plan on posting about it soon because the city was completely taken over by rainbow flags. It looked great and was amazing to see how supportive the city was of the events. We happened to come across the tail end of the parade and were both surprised how emotional we got (we’re both straight, single ladies). There was a mix of people marching- the drag queens and topless men, but also gay couples (men and women) with their children (they got a very big clap), church groups, traditional dance groups, bands. It was just a really fun and fabulous mixed parade. I personally loved it.

  15. Pingback: When Pride Was About Pulling | Musings of a Mild Mannered Man

  16. I never thought of Pride representing anyone individually, it simply represents the freedom to be whomever one wants to be (or feels one is).

  17. Mario

    Pride for me is an opportunity to spend time with a bunch of friends, supporting those who have more courage than myself to parade down the street in a dress, costume, whatever. It is an opportunity to show our existence in numbers, not just by marching/parading but also by attending the festivities. ACTUP taught me way back when that visibility = acceptance/survival. We owe it to those who came before us who sacrificed so much so we could do what we can these days, and we owe it to ourselves to be proud of ourselves and our community.

  18. When I was in my early 20s I went to Sunset Junction with my uncle and his boyfriend. what I liked about that fair was that it was such a diverse crowd. You had the homies, the families, the straight folks, the subtle gays and the assless chaps all together in one place and it didn’t seem odd at all. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a specifically “Pride” parade but it’s not only gay folks that like to be flamboyant while celebrating.

  19. John

    Sounds a lot like someones trying to be Straight Like. Get over it.

  20. I went to the Pride Parade every year when we lived in San Francisco. For a girl from rural Indiana, it was a beautiful experience and I spent most of the parade weeping little tears of happiness on the sidewalk to be surrounded by such an amazing community.

  21. I sort of akin your distaste for West Hollywood Shirtless Only Plz gay pride to my own reluctance to identify as “bisexual” (I’m about 15% bi, but I live my life as a fairly straight gal). The associations some people make are so incongruous with my nature: I’m not poly, I’ve never been all that promiscuous (not for lack of trying, heh), and I’m not, ya know, into Girls Gone Wild belly shots off some nineteen-year-old who’s like totally into girls too OMG. You know? Obviously, these are huge stereotypes, but I feel like I’m hearing you react to a celebration that highlights the absolute extremes of gay culture and stereotypes.

    So here’s my proposed solution: a Boring Gay People float! And allies, too, but basically just a bunch of Orlando types wearing their immaculate clothing and hair and tans and smiles just hanging out on a float with incredibly clean beautiful design, maybe a few of your pets, and a bartender mixing classy understated cocktails. Sort of a “how some of the rest of us live” float. I’ll bartend. 😉

  22. And yes, OBVIOUSLY I’m highlighting a few other stereotypes, which may be just as problematic as the glitter explosion stereotypes that many pride celebrations embody. But I hope you see my point. 🙂 I think the less outlandish-living gays would appreciate a float that more closely reflected their reality, even if we’re all individuals and not all of us have immaculate gay sofas or what have you.

    As always, I continue to adore your writing, O!

  23. Tyler H

    I went to my very first Pride festival in Salt Lake City, UT two weeks ago. I live in the heart of Mormondom on earth, Provo, UT and my family is a very religious and conservative bunch. Growing up gay and mormon was not an easy path into adulthood. Anyway, I was able to go to the parade with a few friends and I really had no idea what to expect. Needless to say I was very surprised as I saw straight, gay and lesbian couples and families with children of all ages.

    It was like any other parade I had ever been to, but there was a sense of love and acceptance everywhere we went along the route. During the parade there was a bunch of floats and people marching, it was great seeing support for the gay community from different companies and organizations here in Utah. About halfway through the parade a group of people dressed in church attire came marching down the road. It was by far the largest group of people walking in the parade with around 400 people marching in it. They were holding signs that proclaimed love and acceptance for everyone. The group was comprised specifically of Mormons who were not afraid to say that they love and accept the members of the gay community, it gave me chills and it warmed my heart that these people were willing to show their love and support for a group of people that is often ostracized and brought down by people in their own religion and other christian religions and the fact that they were the largest group astounded me.

    I was also impressed because the overall message that I got from Pride was not just about accepting homosexuals, but anyone who is deemed different by society. There were so many different people there, yeah sure most of them were gay or had a friend or relative tied to the gay community, but I felt like overall it was a celebration of everyone who is different and accepting those people for who they are. It was such a great experience and I’m so glad that I went. It helped me to gain a better understanding of what it is to be a human and to accept and love other people no matter how they choose to dress, or who they choose to love.

  24. Serena

    What does being against an event that exposes children to men marching around in naked chaps have to do with hatred? Why do I want these people representing my elderly gay neighbors who want to be known for celebrating the best Xmas Party on the block and not the debaucherous spectacle that is gay pride parade? Common guys, Liberace had class and kept his private life private, why can’t you do the same?

  25. So your response to the people that do not feel represented by an event which is supposed to represent them, is to merely ‘suck it up’ and conform to the herd mentality?
    While it is also a display of degenerate hedonism and decadence, Mardi Gras is not comparable to Pride, because it is not explicitly heterosexual or claiming to represent heterosexuality in any context.
    Pride events are foul displays of public nudity, sexual behavior, drugs, alcohol and promiscuity. Sure, do that stuff in the privacy of your own property, but do not do it in public while claiming to represent gay people.

    I have no place in the LGBT community, and neither do a lot of my gay friends. We’re ostracized for not being mindless hedonists with a fetish for flashing women and children.

    This piece started out well by questioning whether or not us ‘hipster-gays’ had a point, but then you dismissed us completely. Thanks a lot, buddy.

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