Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pride Protesters and Why I Love Them

First things first, Columbus Pride 2011 was awesome. It was also a time to reflect on a couple of issues. First and foremost, Columbus Pride turned 30 this year, the same year we (unfortunately) celebrate 30 years since the first diagnosed case of HIV/AIDS in this country. The same year funding from the federal government may get slashed, right when we are on the cusp of finding a cure and/or a vaccine. Bittersweet, but that's a political diatribe for another time.

The other thing that made me reflect on what it means to be an out and proud gay man were the protestors. I was saddened that I didn't get to see them march in the parade of drag queens, topless women, and men in their underwear (and the dozens of cute couples on "Anniversary" floats celebrating anywhere from 25 to fifty years of partnership. So cute! <3.<3). But I did get to see them at the corner of High and Goodale streets shouting about how "filthy" and "vile" we are, holding their signs that said things like "G.A.Y.: God Abhors You" and "Jesus' Blood is not HIV" (I wonder if they knew I'm Catholic and found the transubstantiation joke hiding in there) and "No Parking in the Rear: Penal Code Lev. 18:22" (my personal favorite!). I also saw the gaggle of children they had brought along, teaching them to be some of the most intolerant people on the planet at such a young age.

I also saw several people baiting them, shouting at them, treating them the way they were treating us. One man was yelling about how being "a faggot is better than an idiot". The fact that the security people standing between us and them were so relaxed made me feel better. There hasn't been a history of violent confrontation at Columbus Pride, and there was no reason to expect one this time. In fact, once the man with the megaphone was done yelling about how much "gay sex has no future" and "leads to extinction", they quietly and politely packed up their things and embarked on the walk home. Peaceful assembly for us, and peaceful assembly for them. Nice.

Now, the question is, who offended me more? The sign-toting Christians who said "Homos Need Help, Not Rights" or the half-naked man trying to bait them into a confrontation? I'm really disappointed that I need to say that it was the half-naked man.

For thirty years, Stonewall Columbus has been organizing this event so that we as a community can express how proud we are to be who we are. For thirty years we have fought to be treated as equal on every level. But do we really know what that entails? What is Pride? What is gay pride? Do we wear our sexuality as a badge of honor? A badge to be flaunted and thrown in the face of anyone we pass? Or does it imply something bigger? Something less flashy? (OMG, a gay man saying that something needs to be less flashy! Abomination!)

Pride to me is less that I am proud of my sexuality and more that I am proud that I can be gay and still contribute on an equal level in society. I can volunteer at a hospital or animal shelter and not have to hide who I am. I can attend the same university as everyone else and receive the same healthcare at the hospital without fear. It also means I can proudly enjoy an event that is all about my community, and know that people who disagree with the morality of the whole thing can stand there and simultaneously express their opposing view.

Pride is not a lifestyle. It is a community. Pride is a community that does not discriminate, though I think a large part of this message has been lost. As homosexuality becomes more and more ubiquitous, the question of the relevance of Pride comes to the fore. Why do we do it? If it's simply to show off that we're gay, we have no pride. We have self-indulgent attention-seeking complexes that should be examined by a professional. But if it's to celebrate diversity, and I mean TRUE diversity, and all it entails, be it black, white, gay, straight, atheist, christian, tolerant, or intolerant, and we allow everyone their voice no matter the message, then I think we have a great deal of pride because it shows we are mature enough to handle what it means to demand acceptance. If we can demand it, we can dole it out when the picketers decide that calling us names is the right thing to do.

So, to all you half-naked men and women who think it's your civic duty to shout down the protesters--you have no pride. You defeat the purpose of what our struggle has been about. You set back to the clock to the days when the only way to get anyone to even look at us with any degree of seriousness was to get violent. 1981 is a long time ago. Lessons have been learned on both sides. But to what degree these lessons have been internalized and retained by the community at large? That's a completely different question that we have to answer ourselves, and then put the right answer into action.

So here's to an amazing (and violence-free) Pride 2011. May there be many more, and may the protesters always be there to remind me that their protest and their right to protest legitimizes our right to stand up, speak out, and be heard. We're here. We're queer. And we support your right to say and be anything you want, cuz, baby, you were born this way.

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