The Counterproductive Nature of Pride Parades

Editor’s note: Joe Jervis made his first post of “Watching the Defectives” in 2005 and began reposting it every June since; here’s an index of them. 

In his Saturday, June 19th posting of a piece titled “Watching the Defectives” on his blog Joe.My.God, Joe Jervis published an updated version of his perennial Pride-season rant — which I suggest you read in its entirety, as it affirms his support of the current state of Pride Parades. Part of what he wrote is as follows:

… even if Pride doesn’t change many minds in the outside world, it’s our PARTY, darlings. It’s our Christmas, our New Year’s, our Carnival. It’s the one day of the year that all the crazy contingents of the gay world actually come face to face on the street and blow each other air kisses. And wish each other ‘Happy Pride!’ Saying ‘Happy Pride!’ is really just a shorter, easier way of saying ‘Congratulations on not being driven completely batshit insane! Way to go for not taking a rifle into a tower and taking out half the town! Well done, being YOURSELF!’

I’m not worried what the outside world thinks about the drag queens, the topless bulldaggers, or the nearly naked leatherfolk. It’s OUR party, bitches. If you think that straight America would finally pull its homokinder to its star-spangled bosom once we put down that glitter gun, then you are seriously deluding yourself. Next year, if one of the Christian camera crews that show up to film our ‘debauched’ celebrations happen to train their cameras on you, stop dancing. And start PRANCING.

All you suburban, lawn mowing, corpo-droid homos out there, hiding behind your picket fences, the ones wringing your hands and worrying that Pride ruins YOUR personal rep, listen up. Do you think that straight Americans worry that Mardi Gras damages international perception of American culture? America, land of the free, home of ‘Show Us Your Tits!’? They don’t and neither should we. Our Pride celebrations are just our own unique version of Mardi Gras, only instead of throwing beads, we throw shade. No one has to ask US to show our tits. We’ve already got ’em out there, baby. And some of them are real.

Unlike Joe, I am absolutely convinced that Pride Parades have not only outlived their usefulness, but are downright counterproductive toward our achieving equal rights for LGBT people!

Shortly after Stonewall, I believe Pride Parades were necessary to both affirm the identity of LGBT people as well as to help provide a sense of community, of belonging, to so many LGBT people who often lived lives of isolation, aided and abetted by LGBT people being viewed as mentally ill and even criminals. These onerous constraints still exist, but not as acutely and savagely as they did in that era in the U.S.!

We are now, and for a long time have been, in a position to get beyond that phase of the struggle, and meaningfully organize at the grassroots and organizational levels; take what monies and energies are directed to Pride Parades and put them to use in street and organizational activism, and in civil suits against those institutions that discriminate against full equality for LGBT people.

Straight people have their Mardi Gras, but Straight people are not usually defined by their sexuality. Unfortunately, the fiction still persists that Gay=Sex, and salacious and indecent exhibitions that often exist in Pride Parades merely serve to confirm that myth, furthering the alienation of potential Straight allies, not all of whom are homophobic.

To put a finer point on it, for many potential Straight allies, the only face of Gay people that they often see is what they see in media coverage of Pride Parades; seeing what many consider to be indecent images as solely defining Gay people, merely reinforces the fiction that Gay=Sex, a fiction that has done a great deal to hamper the struggle for full and equal civil rights! Indeed, that fiction has provided a lot of fodder for professional homophobes, many of whom have made quite a handsome living off of showing those images.

On Joe’s post, I wrote the following comment that I feel must be taken to heart by all LGBT people and allies who are truly concerned with the fight for equal rights:

I understand where you’re coming from, Joe, but you neglect the crucial role of potential Straight allies who are not homophobic, but who genuinely don’t know, and can’t relate to, what they see as being typical of LGBT people when they see many Pride Parades. Parading in chaps and sequins isn’t likely to win over potential Straight allies who are very much needed in the struggle for equal rights for LGBT people.

In your post you neglect the role of potential Straight allies who are shocked when people like me tell them that most Gay people are not typically represented in those parades. One man who works for the Navigators, a Conservative Christian organization, was actually and visibly shocked when I told him that. He didn’t realize that Gay people were ‘normal’ and lived ‘normal’ lives like anyone else; they were no different than are Straight people, save for sexual orientation. And he’s in his ’70s!

You state: ‘Those straight people love our freaks, bless them…I’m not worried what the outside world thinks about the drag queens, the topless bulldaggers, or the nearly naked leatherfolk. It’s OUR party, bitches.’

We have to be very concerned about that outside world because LGBT people live in that outside world, and discussions in the political and judicial arenas are occurring as we speak, and those discussions and deliberations will have tremendous consequences for LGBT people’s civil rights (And no LGBT person is a “freak!”) Right now, Prop. 8, DOMA, DADT, and ENDA are up for grabs, and many Pride Parades merely act as exhibitions that might as well be paid for by Focus on the Family.

It would be great, and far more productive, if we took that money and energy that are put in Pride Parades and directed them at political street and judicial activism.

I gave a guest lecture a couple of years ago to a friend’s class on “Gay Studies,” and I rhetorically asked the following in regard to Pride Parades:

What are you proud of? What are you celebrating? Are you celebrating the fact that you are viewed as second-class citizens? Are you celebrating the fact that you do not enjoy the same civil rights that heterosexuals enjoy? Are you celebrating the fact that you are viewed as perverted heterosexuals? Are you celebrating the fact that ENDA, DADT, and DOMA are still legal?

It’s time to stop the frivolity and start getting serious about this struggle, this fight, for full and equal rights! All Pride Parades now do is help confirm the negative stereotypes potential Straight allies have about LGBT people! Pride Parades have now outlived their usefulness as we are well beyond Stonewall!

Instead of putting money and energy into such displays, let’s, for example, select one homophobic church in each city or jurisdiction and continually picket it each and every time they have church services, telling all who will hear that that church bears false witness against Gay people and preaches a false gospel of hate and exclusion.

Let’s also put our energies and money into meaningful and coordinated grassroots and organizational activism, as well as into civil litigation again