There are times when I think LGBT stands for Lets Get Bitter Today. We can be too harsh about our own community, especially in June. Thats the month when my friends complain that Gay Pride Day is tacky and predictable when the fact is that all American holidays are tacky and predictable. Many of my friends take an inordinate amount of pride in proclaiming that they would never go watch a gay pride parade, let alone march in one. Invariably, someone laments, They always show the freaks on the local news when they cover the gay pride parade. They never show regular gay guys, they always show drag queens and guys in leather chaps with their asses hanging out.
We hold ourselves to a standard that straight people would never embrace. You never hear straight people whining that drunken football fans with their faces painted blue on Super Bowl Sunday are giving the world a bad impression of the heterosexual community. Straight people dont believe that a few weird apples will make everyone assume that theyre all fruitcakes.
If you want to experience an authentic sense of gay pride, its still possiblealthough youll have to leave New York or San Francisco and attend a gay pride celebration in one of Americas smaller cities or towns. Over the past few years, Ive performed at gay prides in Juneau, Alaska; Norfolk, Virginia; Northampton, Massachusetts; Asheville, North Carolina; and Wichita, Kansas.
In small town prides waving a rainbow flag isnt a clich, its a sign that you refuse to wave the white flag of surrender. It still takes guts to attend a gay pride in a small town, let alone organize a gay pride in a small town.
Wichitas pride was an event where everyone in the communitythe Ls, the Gs, the Bs, and the Tsreally did work together to make the celebration happen. When I arrived in Wichita, the organizer of the event bragged, The Wichita Bears volunteered to do our food. Theyre running our barbecue. That inspired my first joke of my performance, which was, Lets hear it for the Wichita Bears for volunteering to cook the food for todays event. After the crowd applauded I added, Maybe its just me, but does it disturb anyone else that the hairiest members of our community are cooking the food? I dont see any full-body hairnets. From the stage I could see the Wichita Bears grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. The bears laughed along with the crowd but then one very hairy man got me back by bringing me a hamburger while I was on stage. Of course I took a bite, swallowed, and then pretended to pick a hair from my teeth.
My favorite gay pride is Juneau, Alaskas. Juneau is the state capital but the entire city and surrounding area have a population of only 45,000. It has no gay bars and is, in fact, the only capital city in the U.S. that you cant drive to. You have to fly or take a boat to get to Juneau because the ocean and impassible mountains and glaciers surround the entire city.
Eight years ago, Juneau pride was started when Jeremy Nolden and Chris Beane, with the assistance of their close-knit circle of friends, decided that Juneau needed a public gay event.
Chris is an artist and for years he designed the poster for Juneaus pride. The first year Chris put up posters for Juneaus pride, they were almost immediately torn down. Many businesseseven gay-owned businesseswere afraid to put pride posters in their windows. But when I performed at Juneaus pride a few years ago, every business in town displayed pride posters in their windows. The mayor of Juneau even spoke at the pride event, which was held in the six-car parking lot of the Silverbow Inn and Bakery.
The day I performed was rainy but the lesbians who were running that years eventJeremy and Chris had passed on the batonwere prepared for Juneaus fickle weather. They hung a plastic tarp over the Silverbows parking lot. The food vendor at Juniors pride was an employee of the bakery. He grilled burgers, hot dogs, and, best of all, fresh halibut. He had a sign that cheerfully read: Enjoy a wiener cooked by a straight man!
Straight people felt very comfortable attending Juneaus pride. Straight couples would run into their gay or lesbian friends and stop to chat and have a beer. At one point I saw an extremely handsomeI believe the proper term is totally hotman sitting at the Silverbows tiny bar. Of course, I asked Chris about him. Oh, hes a fisherman, Chris said. Hes straight but he doesnt care. A partys a party to him.
The entire day did feel like a delightful party. People hung out for hours even though you could take in all of the craft vendors in 15 minutes. There were lesbian folksingers from the Yukonyeswho were happy to be called Klondykes. And when I performed, my most popular joke, with straight and gay alike, was an observation I had made after several trips to Alaska: Whats with the straight women in Alaska? I asked. They all look like lesbians. Ill be talking to this woman with a crewcut. Shell be holding a chainsaw and Ill think, God, I love the dykes up here. But then Ill find out she has six kids and has been happily married for 40 years.
So my advice is that the next time you feel like griping about gay pride, go to a small citys pride event. Although I agree with the people who hate gay pride on one thing: You should be proud to be gay but you should be embarrassed to march in a rainbow pride vest. Yep. There are some things that should stay in the closet.