(Our first Pride Day together in 2001. Notice Ken’s (l) nail bling.)
This week I watched “Out & Proud in Chicago” on WTTW, our local PBS station. It was riveting. I always love a good documentary that focuses on Chicago’s contribution to anything. That this special, narrated by “Glee’s” (and Chicago’s very own) Jane Lynch, focused on Chicago’s role in the gay civil rights movement made it a must-see for me. It’s so easy for me to take for granted that as an out gay man, not only am I accepted/liked/loved by the different echelons of my world, but that it’s illegal and punishable by law to hurt, fire or discriminate against me because I’m gay. It’s hard to fathom that it’s only been that way for less than twenty years (at least in Chicago.)
The documentary, along with a brief email from my real estate agent wishing me a happy pride, reminded that it is indeed Gay Pride month across the country, and this weekend in Chicago. Obviously, Pride has been the least of my concerns over the last few Junes. But even prior to that Ken and I never attended a parade together. In fact, the first few years we were together before moving to LA we went to the watering hole where we first met during the parade when it was vacant to hang with friends before leaving soon after the drunk parade revelers returned.
(From Pride 2002, one of my favorite pics of Ken and our friend Tina.)
(Another one from 2002 with Ken and his beautiful bestie, Kim–all smiles.)
I guess I felt like I “aged out” of the raucous insanity of the parade and all its crowded, hot annoyance around the time I turned 30. After I met Ken I was even less interested in going. I’ve never been into large crowds, but large, rambunctious, drunk crowds were even less appealing. (I prefer my drunks in intimate settings.) I told a friend recently I felt like it was up to the kids of today to attend the parade and party, and it was up to me to write checks and try to help fund all the good work that is being done by the Human Rights Campaign and like-minded organizations.
I served my time, mind you. For two years, I lived on the parade route across from the Jewel in Boystown early in my Chicago tenure. Watching from the comfort of my own apartment was the best way I have ever seen the parade. A ring-side seat, unending free cocktails, no interaction with others, and a bathroom. Perfection! But there were a few other times I stood along the route hungover and stuffed between the other plebs, sweltering in the summer heat. Not as enjoyable, but the feeling of the day was still palpable and undeniable: peace, love and utter acceptance. Everyone was nice to everyone else whether they knew them or not. That’s the part of Pride I found truly magical.
My first pride event was in Indianapolis in 1990 (I think). It was semi-early in Indy’s Pride celebration history. Since I lived in Lafayette at the time, going to Indianapolis’ Pride was just the thing to do. I accompanied a group of friends who were a little older than I was and had been to (at least) the prior year’s celebration. I was doe-eyed and not really sure exactly what we were celebrating, but, curious, I tagged along nonetheless.
Various LGBT groups from around the state had set up tables all around Monument Circle in heart of downtown. Just like the Prides in Chicago I experienced later in my life, the feeling was jubilant and light and exciting. And scary. I wasn’t out then, and I had dramatic notions that the event would be crawling with media and I could just imagine my parents, eating dinner, watching the news and seeing me at a Gay Pride Event. Oy.
I don’t recall seeing any media there. But the one striking image I do remember seeing was forever seared into my memory. As I sat, basking in all the excitement of my first Pride and in realizing I was part of a rich, bright and loving collective, and more importantly–that I wasn’t alone–cutting across the circle was a man dressed casually, in stark contrast to the military-grade gas mask he was sporting. It still sends shivers up my spine. I watched, speechless as he strolled through our event, leaving in his wake as many emotions as there are colors in the rainbow flag. It crushed me, deflated all the levity and giddiness I’d enjoyed up until that moment. It reminded me of the hatred and ignorance that was all-too-prevalent in a time when “gay” and “homosexual” were heard as “AIDS” or “HIV” or some horrifying epithet.
I remember thinking, “I can’t believe that guy hates me so much without even meeting me.” (If he’d met me, I think we’d all understand.) But he hated all of us. Every single gay person there–and those who weren’t. Not because of anything we’d done, but because of who we are. I’ll never forget how he sauntered casually, never making eye contact with anyone as he circled the monument. I remember feeling hopeless, submitting to the thought: “being gay will never be okay.”
Just then a group of young people–like my age at the time (early 20s) and maybe some younger–swarmed on this guy, chanting stuff like “hey, hey, hey, ho, ho, ho, homophobia has got to go!” My heart swelled with–appropriately enough–pride. And strength. Though chanting loudly at the interloper, that group of kids were also whispering in my ear “you’re not alone.” It was one of those true and beautifully distilled moments that happen in life where good triumphs over evil or ignorance, and your faith in humanity, the future, and in yourself is restored.
This documentary really helped remind me of the sacrifices my progenitors made in the name of acceptance and equal rights that I have most certainly benefited from. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to be one of the many who helped change the way LGBT is perceived, but I hope I would have. It also reminded me of the leaps that have been made in the last 20 years (again, at least in Chicago and other urban areas). Though our journey for equality continues, I can certainly understand Pride as a day to give thanks and celebrate.!
Though Kallie and I won’t be attending the parade on Sunday, I’ll take time for gratitude as we take lots of trips outside to “make,” followed by treats and many, many naps. And maybe write a check or two.
Happy Pride to all.