Don’t Let The Parade Pass Me By

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This year’s NYC Pride Parade got me thinking. I’d heard rumblings from others about the new and shortened parade route. And that our more political and radical groups, which normally lead and anchor our parade, were taking a backseat to the mainstream corporate interests now supporting the LGBTQ community. Our acceptance by the mainstream is an amazing step forward for our civil rights and in our fight against discrimination. But, at what cost?

The LGBTQ community is a complex group that includes a diversity of both gender identity and sexual orientation and crosses all ethnic and economic boundaries.  As the rest of society begins to open it arms to us, how do we preserve and protect the essence of who we are as LGBTQ people? Assimilation threatens to overwhelm and dilute the very qualities which define us.

The change in this year’s Pride parade route offers a good example of how we may potentially be ruined by our success. The route change has been justified as part of a greater plan to prepare for next year’s 50th anniversary parade, expected to bring 5 million people to the city— double this year’s attendance of 2.5 million. As there were no arrests or major disturbances this year, the parade’s organizers probably consider this year’s change to the parade route an unqualified success.

But, for the first time, the parade neither started nor ended on Christopher Street, the site of the Stonewall Riots which gave birth to the march (which later become a parade).  With this omission, are we losing a sense of our heritage and the reason for what was once a protest march, but now is becoming a tourist attraction? 

Also, by not starting or ending the parade at the Christopher Street Pier – traditionally the site of the annual Pier Dance (now called Pride Island) or at the base of Central Park (where the parade used to end in its early years), the traditional rallying of our community after the parade is being shortcircuited.  Are we losing our parade to accommodate the smooth handing of tourism to our city?

I participated in this year’s parade, stationed on a corporate float in a front section of the procession, by virtue of corporate sponsorship of a non-profit whose board I chaired the last five years. Because of logistical problems, our group”s movement forward was delayed for an hour, which allowed me to observe a decent swath of floats and groups passing by.  None of them remotely qualified as “activist”.  I was unable to observe which groups led off the day’s parade OR which ones brought up the rear hours later.  Yet, I fear that what I’d heard — that corporate groups had usurped the prime positions in the parade — had, in fact, happened. 

Had our more radical LBGTQ community elements been sidelined? Had corporate money bought more beneficial placement for sponsors without a concomitant effort by parade organizers to find room for traditional activist groups at the front of the parade? 

Our community was built on the shoulders of outsiders—and will always include a fringe population. In fact, we are a community of minorities, of disruptors, who will always be different no matter how successfully we may assimilate.  How do we preserve and champion our diversity as we become “mainstreamed”? Is it possible to become fully a part of mainstream society, yet retain and encourage our diversity and individuality, remaining our unique queer selves?