I was a marshal in this year’s Pride Parade, walking with a women’s motorcycle club called the Sirens. The Sirens lead the parade, along with a men’s motorcycle club called Empire City. We rev up the crow, as it were, before the grand marshals come by sitting on the back of convertibles. The main grand marshal this year was Edie Windsor because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was declared unconstitutional as a result of her lawsuit. Edie sued the federal government because when her spouse Thea died in 2009, the IRS said that the tax exemption for surviving spouses only applies to heterosexual marriages on account of DOMA even though Thea and Edie were married in Canada in 2007 and their marriage was legally recognized by the state of New York. Edie and the ACLU challenged DOMA, and a couple of days before the parade, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA with a 5-4 vote. The crowd at the parade was excited to cheer Edie. They cheered Earl Fowlkes, too, even though most people probably were unaware that his organization, Center for Black Equity, is currently the only international black LGBT organization in the world. Harry Belafonte was a Grand Marshal too because he has been a lifelong activist for civil rights and gay rights are civil rights too.
As a marshal for the Sirens, my main job was to take water to the women whenever we had to stop to let the rest of the parade catch up. Mostly, though, the marshals walk along beside the bikes, waving at the crowd. It’s really fun to holler, “Hello, New York!” because everyone cheers and wants to high five or clasp hands for an instant. It’s how the people watching the parade connect with the people in the parade. We have lots of parades in New York City, and frankly, I don’t really like to go to parades because it gets so crowded. When my kid was little, we went to the Macy’s parade for several years in a row. The Macy’s parade is one long marching advertisement, but it was fun to watch the Bart Simpson balloon careening down Central Park West back before it damaged a street light so badly it fell down and conked a woman on the head. There were plenty of companies using the Pride parade as a public relations/advertising opportunity because this is America and somebody is always selling something. The Pride Parade wasn’t always a major event, however.
It all started at a bar on Christopher Street called the Stonewall Inn. NYPD regularly raided Stonewall because it was one of the very few places where same sex couples could dance together. On June 28, 1969 the customers at Stonewall had had enough. They took a stand against the cops, and the resulting riots are generally recognized as the beginning of the Gay Rights movement in America. The first Gay Pride march was organized by the Christopher Street Liberation Day committee in 1970. Back then, the march went from Christopher Street uptown to Central Park, but now the parade starts near the Empire State Building and goes down 5th Avenue to Washington Square, cuts across town on 8th Street then turns onto Christopher Street and goes right by Stonewall. There is lots of information about the Heritage of Pride at the website nycpride.org
Here’s a picture of Stonewall my friend Donna took this year. She was riding in the truck behind the motorcycle clubs with the water, first aid kit and other sensible equipment. It’s the building with the Queer Nation flags flying behind all the people.
We were just down the block from Stonewall when we stopped for the Moment of Silence, remembering all the people who have fallen along the way and holding all the LGBT people who are brutalized around the world in our awareness. This year, just before the parade got started, the announcer specially recognized Mark Carson who was shot and killed in a hate crime on May 18th as he and a friend were walking down 8th Street. Gay related hate crimes in New York City have increased by 70% this year even though the overall incidence of hate crimes has decreased. Looks like a lot of violent homophobes are reacting badly to marriage equality.
When we were circling together for the moment, a police officer stood a little behind us, clearly a little uncertain about how he should act. My friend, code name Honoria,the redhead in this picture, reached out her hand and brought him into the circle. You could tell he was glad to be included – and this whole parade is about inclusion and acceptance.
Inclusion and acceptance is what attracts me to the Pride Parade in the first place. When I marched back in 2006, I was blown away by how excited everyone was to celebrate the freedom to be exactly as you are – whatever that is – whether you’re LGBT or not. Maybe it’s because in twenty or more years ago, ACT UP and Queer Nation were happy to shout, “We’re here; We’re Queer – Get used it!” Even though I march as a bourgeois, straight woman of a certain age and haven’t experienced the kind of struggle that many LGBT folks have had to face, it’s exhilarating to be cheered just for walking down Fifth Avenue. For me, it’s an afternoon where everyone sees me as sexy and fun despite the patriarchal attitudes pervasive in American culture about women’s looks in general and our bodies in particular – whether it’s our weight or our fertility as defined by a country so committed to producing an endless supply of soldiers that it’s getting more and more difficult to get birth control.
Celebrating sexy fun suddenly seems wildly subversive.
Maybe that’s why the Ancient Order of Hiberians, who run the St.Patrick’s Day parade here in the city, still won’t allow queer groups to participate in their parade. It’s okay to drink green beer until you vomit at their parade, but it’s not okay to be gay – as if openly accepting LGBT people would somehow threaten the sanctity of their damn perverted Church – the very same church that killed off the Druids in Ireland so they could take over, which is what St. Patrick’s day is all about in the first place.
Thousands and thousands of people around the US who don’t have a drop of Irish blood in their background embrace the idea that we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s day. It will be great when all those people are glad to call themselves queer on the last Sunday in June.