Atlanta's annual Gay Pride celebration took place last weekend. I planned to skip writing about it this year – not because the event isn't important in its commemoration of the beginning of the gay liberation movement in 1969.
Mainly, I wanted to avoid engaging with the gay whiners who inevitably disparage the celebration. But, year after year, these people make the same points in an avalanche of personal e-mail and commentary in the gay press.
The most vocal group are those who say the parade's theatrical displays of overt sexuality and gender bending are more shameful than proud. The yearly parades, they whine, are bad PR for the gays – despite the Atlanta event, like those in other big cities, turning out tens of thousands of participants and spectators. It's pretty obvious that it's mainly the whiners, hiding at home, whose sensibilities are being offended ... or would be if they were there ... or something.
Then there are those, too, who frame the superficially more sophisticated argument that Pride no longer serves a useful political purpose. Just being visible in great numbers was a big deal when gay people were still being arrested simply for openly being themselves, they say.
Now, these activists argue, when John McCain is showing up on TV to congratulate Ellen DeGeneres on her upcoming wedding, there's nothing very politically useful about the visibility created by a parade. They argue that gay people should be setting a more pointed, serious political agenda – like civil rights legislation – instead of archaically trying to boost self-esteem and public awareness by wearing rainbow Speedos in a frolicsome parade.
In my experience, complainers of the first type usually still have one foot in the closet and believe the rest of humanity is incapable of realizing that gay people don't live every day as if they were on a parade float. The second group are usually jaded urban types who think all gays would wake up and see the world in the "mature" fashion they do if we'd just take ourselves as seriously as they do. They also are exceedingly out of touch with the great majority of gay people, who still live quite "invisibly" outside large cities.
I think these arguments are tedious in their either-party-or-politic framing. If you want to grant them credence, however, there's a simple solution: Stop calling the annual blow-out "Pride." Call it "Gay Party Day" or whatever. The character of the celebration won't change, but nobody will have anything to complain about since the event will be stripped of political pretense and the illusion that "pride" depends upon outrageous visibility. This is seriously proposed rather frequently. Somehow, I'm betting the whiners won't be any happier until such events are completely stuffed into a gentler, kinder closet.
Meanwhile, as the whiners battle it out about image and political style, I open my e-mail and read messages like the following, to which was attached a report about the alarming increase in the HIV-infection rate among young gay men. It's from the charmingly named "KK Killmeany":
"Why don't you make your fellow BUTT BUDDIES aware of these facts when they are in town for the annual FAGFEST this weekend, Clifford???"
Putting aside the fact that my name isn't Clifford, I wonder why Mr. KKK and other bigots of his ilk have such a fascination with anal sex. Years ago, when I did a weekly gig on WGST-AM (640), Sean Hannity would invariably remark upon my butt. Finally, I publicly asked him exactly what he was trying to communicate and told him that, if it was the usual, the answer was definitely "no."
When I read crap like Mr. KKK's e-mail, which exploits tragedy to justify hate, I'm quickly reminded of the reality that still confronts young gay people. There's the horror of AIDS, yes, but that's actually more avoidable than the poisonous hate of people like Mr. KKK, a toxin that arguably does even more harm to the young.
Pride celebrations are flawed, to be sure, but something that brings joy for a day – albeit wacky, raucous and raunchy – is still a needed antidote to the toxin of hate.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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