As I talked with my friends and enjoyed the community and fellowship of my first Pride event–on the Circle in Indianapolis–a man walked slowly and deliberately through the celebration. Wearing a gas mask. It was the early 90s and also my first experience with a Pride celebration. And with abject hate. That man wanted to send a message that I was an aberration. That I didn’t deserve to live, love or prosper. I remember the sick feeling I got in the pit of my stomach, watching him walk through the Circle. Brimming with naïveté, I wanted to go talk to him. To reason. But my older, wiser friends–protecting me–persuaded me otherwise. People like him didn’t want to listen or debate.
Soon after, an exuberant gaggle of ACT UP members (an AIDS/HIV activist group) showed up, paraded around the Circle in force, shouting out words of love, peace and acceptance that drowned out the gas mask guy or the few protestors with lame signs like “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” They were the cavalry. And they bolstered my trembling hope for the future.
I’ve never been ashamed to be gay–even on that day in the Circle. Even when confronted with haters or bullies. Like many of my contemporaries, I’ve gone through difficult times–particularly when I came out. Before “Will & Grace.” Before a gay best friend was considered a necessary ingredient in a rom-com. Before the internet and the connectedness it provides. There were no role models. No good ones anyway. When I was growing up, if someone on TV was gay, he was considered a deviant. Sick. Most of the time even they themselves were portrayed as wanting to be “normal.” It was disheartening to say the least. But it didn’t ring true for me. I wasn’t sick. Or deviant. Or an aberration. I was me. And I was deserving of all that life can offer.
When I first moved to Chicago, I lived in Lakeview’s “Boystown”. It was safe, nice and in close proximity to all the bars and clubs. It was the place to be for a 20-something gay in the early 1990s. The Pride Parade was a highlight of the year as it rolled through the neighborhood and–for a couple of them–I lived in an apartment on the route where I could watch from my window. There is a connection that is made when you wave to someone on a float and make eye contact. Just for a second. A connection of sameness.
As I got older and moved out of Boystown–and out of Chicago for a while with Ken–I got away from going to the parade. I’ve never been someone who relished crowded situations. (I get twitchy.) But in 2015, a friend persuaded me to go watch it. It was really fun–a small way of reconnecting with my past and remembering what the day was for.
This year I discovered that the best way to see the parade was to be in it! The LGBT groups of my employer Accenture, along with partners Microsoft and Avanade, shared a double-decker bus in the parade. About a week before the parade, I decided it was something I should experience.
The BBC News piece I contributed to in the wake of the Orlando shootings reminded me how important it was to celebrate our diversity, and to connect with other LGBTs and allies.
Riding on the float and whooping and waving to the people packed along the parade route was akin to being bathed in loved. So many smiles. So much unadulterated joy. So many characters from every walk of life–all life: gay, straight, in, out, up down. All the opposites and everything in between were represented. And they were all having the time of their lives, suspended in something special without any of the weight life assigns us. They were all participating in something huge and amazing. Bigger than all of us. Something that bound us all together for that day. Again, in sameness. (And I did my level best to make eye contact as I waved to the crowds.)
Days like this are a reminder that the world is a good place. That most people are good. That the future can…be…if we remember all the things we have common, rather than the few we don’t. Embracing the joy and celebration and sameness of this day feeds all the best parts of me. The creative part. The hopeful part. The loving part. The parts of me which have lived, loved and prospered. This Pride Day experience, like the cavalry, once again bolstered my trembling hope for the future.
Also published on Medium.