The Case Against Gay Pride Festivals (…and for them)

When I had my first boyfriend, I was still in the closet.  I remember very specifically one time driving through Hollywood with him when he put his hand on my leg.  With survival-skill reflexes, my brain instantly remembered that a coworker of mine lived in the neighborhood.  What if she happened to be walking by at that exact moment and looked into the car and saw another guy’s hand on my leg!?  I began to panic, but as always, I kept my cool and found some way of temporarily resolving the issue while avoiding the underlying problem; I asked him to adjust the air conditioning vent, then I quickly put my hand on the gear shift and blocked his access to my leg.

Appearance of straightness, accomplished.

There’s all sorts of things wrong with the fact that my brain was wired to react that way. First of all, my boyfriend’s hand was at the wrong angle to be seen from the sidewalk, my coworker actually lived over a mile away from where we were, and even in the incredibly unlikely event that she had taken a long walk that day, climbed a step latter on the sidewalk of Hollywood Blvd, and turned to look into traffic at that exact moment… I already knew she had no problem with gay people and neither would anyone else at my job!

In hindsight, it wasn’t my proudest moment.

My relationship with gay pride festivals has been about as complicated as my relationship with my own gay pride.  The socially progressive church I grew up in was located in San Diego’s gay neighborhood of Hillcrest.  Every time San Diego Gay Pride came around, our church would organize groups to go support the festivities and for a few years even had a float that ran in the parade, but I never attended.  Although it’s a bit disconcerting to know that my parents have participated in more gay pride festivals in my lifetime than I have, I do have a justification.

One of the major reasons for having gay pride festivals is to increase gay visibility – the idea being that more exposure will result in more acceptance – but I think gay pride festivals can do the gay community a real disservice in this regard.

Ignorant people and homophobes figure all gays are either depraved leather-daddy sex fiends or prissy rainbow-flag-waving flamers, and they use those stereotypes to define us as “others” who they can be justified in hating and wanting nothing to do with.  So after every pride parade, what sort of images do the media outlets feature in order to open these people’s minds about the gay community and redefine harmful stereotypes?

“Dear homophobes, you got it right.” – the mainstream media

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a leather daddy or femme twink, but why can’t the media ALSO show the average, everyday (and clothed) gays who comprise the majority of the crowd?

Oh yeah, because that’s boring as hell.

Since this type of media coverage can contribute to a potentially harmful and inaccurate representation of the gay community, I avoided pride festivals completely… until a few years ago.

I was driving to pick up my leg-touching boyfriend for dinner in the week leading up to LA’s gay pride weekend, when I passed by a marquee outside of one of the clubs on Sunset Blvd with a message that really stuck with me.

I never saw the sign again, nor did I mention it to my boyfriend, but as we drove to dinner tother that night, I put my hand on his leg.

It was a simple slogan that I’ve since discovered was actually part of an advertisement for LA Weekly.  But those two small words had a very real impact on me; they’d made me more comfortable about my sexuality and more proud of who I was.  It begged the question, what could an entire parade do!?

It was then I realized that I had been thinking of gay pride the wrong way.  While it is an attempt to raise acceptance outside of the gay community (and I still think my complaints in that department are valid), its even more important role is to raise acceptance inside each individual member of the community.

I’ve attended pride festivals ever since.  Last year I was even lucky enough to be accompanied by my parents at San Diego’s pride parade where I saw another sign that made me even prouder.

Thanks mom!

Now I am a big advocate for pride parades, and I encourage everyone to attend their local festival, because you never know how even the smallest thing you might see or do can have a significant positive impact on your life.  Hell, I went from being the guy who’s afraid to let his boyfriend touch his leg in the privacy of a car to the guy who spent the last LA Gay Pride wearing only these:

And no, my friends haven’t stopped giving me grief about it.

Happy pride!



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12 Responses to The Case Against Gay Pride Festivals (…and for them)

  1. This was an awesome post! It was nice to read about the pros and cons of gay pride festivals. And I agree that pride raises acceptance within oneself.

    I went to my first gay pride festival last weekend and I feel much more comfortable with myself after the experience. It’s all about love and freedom and positivity. I had a wonderful time.

    Love those shorts btw. 😉 I might have worn some booty shorts to pride as well…haha

  2. Ami Horowitz says:

    As always I love your writing. But I must say, I disagree with you a bit here. Pride is all about freedom and people should be free to express themselves, even if they fit some random stereotype. I write a bit about my thought about pride in a post on my blog from a while back

    Keep on writing and happy Pride :)))

    • Holy Hyrax says:

      and of course, Ami and I have had our major disagreements regarding the public display of such sexuality (the same would go with a hetereo one as well). The fact that you have freedom to do so, doesn’t necessarily mean you should do so. Not everything FELT is wise to do.

  3. Letopho says:

    Love these thoughts. :]

  4. Aquarian Woman says:

    Very thoughtful article, and indeed it made me think. Coming out is a tricky business, for individuals or groups. I believe the gay pride parades have, for the most part, been essential to a collective social growth, certainly in the US. Having said that, I’ve got to admit that when I see a “red neck pride parade,” it shivers me with all my hideous bigoted opinions. It certainly does not make me more understanding. So, what does it all mean? I really don’t know, but I do feel responsible to support causes for social liberalism, tolerance, and acceptance to counter those in our communities who are socially repressive. So, yeah, celebrate and be proud! You rock Mr. Lin! Love your blog.

  5. Mom says:

    I have to make a slight correction – you weren’t accompanied by your parents to the San Diego Pride parade, you accompanied them. 🙂 I carry my sign proudly every year. Love, Mom

  6. Dennis says:

    Maybe it’s my personality, but a crazed collection of vibrant hedonism and Bacchanalia have never attracted my interest in any context, gay, straight, college, work, etc..

    And so I have my own reservations about the pride parades. Plus, having worked at the Happiest Place on Earth, I generally have a disdain for parades anyway.

    But, to each their own. At least you can derive something positive from them.

    • There is certainly a fair amount of “a crazed collection of vibrant hedonism and Bacchanalia” at gay pride, but unfortunately it’s disproportionately reported on. There’s also parents of gay kids, attorneys for gay rights, gay couples with children, physical and mental health providers and all sorts of other positive supporters of queer life. For some people, that “crazed collection” is the appeal, for others it’s all those other things. I’d hate for people to write it off as I used to without at least having participated in a gay pride festival first hand.
      Some images may be too strong to see past for some people – the proverbial fly in the ointment – but the way I see it at least, writing off pride because of those objections is (to use another cliche) like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  7. N!LoC says:

    random question …. are you the one in the black tanktop?

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