My husband and I attended Pride Day in Indianapolis with friends of ours, a gay couple partnered 27 years. This was their first-ever Pride event. Their straight son attended last year, encouraged his dads to go with him this year. What should we expect? they asked. I didn't know what to say.
Like sex, Pride is better experienced than explained. It's party time, yes. Celebration and song, friends, fun. Our day to shine. To dance. To strut our stuff. To remember where we've come from and how far we have to go.
Pride turned 40 this year. The first Gay Pride celebration and parade took place in New York City, one year after the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. Pride has grown into an international event observed annually by millions.
They weren't all at Indy Pride, those millions. One estimate put the crowd at 75,000. My husband and I arrived before many of them did, met our friends (and their son and his female partner) and easily found open sidewalk space along the parade route. Looking down and across the street, I was struck by the size of the crowd—literally. Have we all grown so large, so hefty? In a subculture that worships the body beautiful, many of us, myself included, do not qualify as objects of adoration.
I looked for those who would fit my sexual attraction grid. Mmm, a 20-something androgyne with long brown hair, slender build, green and white striped shirt, tight jeans. Ooh, a man in white shirt, curly hair, shades, beautiful arms, nice chest.
And there, a smiling middle-aged woman in a t-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow-striped shirt and the words "I [heart] my son." I blinked back tears as I would again when the PFLAG contingent passed, as I do whenever I see the parents I wish mine would have been, could have been—accepting, active, advocating. We met a husband and wife attending Pride for the first time. Their teenage son had come out to them two months earlier. What should they expect?
As is traditional, lesbians revved their motorcycles and led the parade. I counted four floats featuring scantily clad sexy men. I lost count of the number of politicians and employee groups. It was easy to keep track of the number of floats featuring scantily clad sexy women: one.
Near us a raven-haired woman in a red head scarf and flowing orange dress stood with her two young sons, ages five and six. Candy-throwers and trinket-tossers targeted the kids. Their mom grew accustomed to this and held out her hand as a matter of course for two of the small packets a parade participant was handing out. After a quick glance at the small plastic bags, she handed them to her boys. Finding no candy inside, the children slipped them into their pockets. I checked the packet I received and found a flyer promoting safe sex, a condom and lube.
Last in the parade line came gay men on motorcycles. As they smiled and waved, we made our way to the vendor booths and concert area. Soon we were elbow to elbow, inching our way along. The sky grew overcast, threatened rain. "Let it get hot and steamy," I thought, "so we'll have men taking their shirts off." As if the weather gods heard, muggy weather ensued. Soon every man and woman I passed—without exception—was hot.
But more than their physical attractiveness, what impressed me was their sheer number. I wanted to take photos of each person I passed. I wanted to find out where they had come from. And where they would disappear to at the end of the day.
Living out in the boondocks, I spend 364 days a year thinking I am perhaps the only gay man in the rural Midwest. Then I come to Pride and am overwhelmed by the mass of people. Here, before my own eyes, proof I am not alone in the world. I am so not alone.
Pride for me builds a sense of community. Pride reminds me that I am welcome in the world, that I belong to a tribe of men who love men, of women who love women, of people who know what it is to live and love in liminal space outside society's easy acceptance. Pride gives me a taste of what it might feel like to inhabit a world in which people are celebrated for who they are, how they are, however they are.
Pride gives me hope. Maybe I can expect more of my world, of myself. Maybe I can be the change I want to see.
This essay appeared in The Community Letter, August 2010