Where’s the Pride in Pride Parades?

In a politically important moment for the gay community, thongs and theatrics don’t cut it.

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There's a famous photograph, taken by Charles Moore, of Martin Luther King Jr. being shuffled off to jail by two Montgomery, Ala., police officers. King had been loitering, meaning he sat down for a meal at a segregated restaurant. The image of the crime's aftermath is striking for a number of reasons: the cops' stone-faced indifference; the bucolic bushes behind the three men, which belie the violent tension of the scene; the way King is waving away some anonymous person, as if to say, "Let them do their job. Everything's going to be fine."

To anyone who's ever spent time in the Deep South in the summer months, the picture is notable for another reason. On the day it was taken, Sept. 3, 1958, the high in Montgomery was 91 degrees, and the humidity was at a sultry 81 percent. It was the kind of weather that keeps people up at night, sticking to them like a hot, moist patina.

 

Looking at King, however, you'd be forgiven for thinking he'd been picked up in the winter. As natty as a movie star in a gray wool suit and pressed white shirt, his eyes remain calm beneath the shade of a wide-brimmed fedora. It's a gentleman's outfit, similar to others he often wore to appear in public, and it must have been a horribly uncomfortable get-up on such a muggy day, not to mention in a dank prison cell.

Fast forward five decades to the civil rights movement currently at the forefront of American politics and minds: that of the LGBT community, which has been on a roller-coaster ride in recent weeks. There have been notable successes (marriage rights affirmed in six states) and surprising failures (the endurance of the military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy). This month, hundreds of thousands of men and women around the world will take to the streets to march for visibility and solidarity in gay pride parades. Much like Dr. King before them, the LGBT marchers ask simply for the basic rights granted other Americansthe right to work, the right to safety, the right to equality.

 

Unlike Dr. King, few of them will appear in suits.

Probably the most succinct critique of the modern pride parade is a 2001 article from satirical paper The Onion, "Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years." In it, a straight female witness to a gay pride march in Los Angeles says, "I'd always thought gays were regular people, just like you and me, and that the stereotype of homosexuals as hedonistic, sex-crazed deviants was just a destructive myth." She then adds, "Boy, oh, boy, was I wrong."

The quote, like the rest of the article, is an exaggeration, of course, but the underlying point stands. With their ribald costuming and hyper-sexualized theatrics, pride parades are certainly things of joy, excitement and bawdy humor.

But at the risk of sounding like a staid homophobe, I'm often left wondering where the pride part comes in.